Monthly Archives: June 2012

What a Friend We Have in Jesus by Paula Fredriksen

Paula Fredriksen, a Professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University, has written an excellent article on the collective conceptual transformation of Jesus. An excerpt from the article is below. Hopefully sufficient to entice you to read the full article on the Jewish Review of Books website. You can learn more about Paula Fredriksen in the Spring 2009 Bostonian interview with her.

Arguments over who has the authority to interpret traditions of Shabbat observance. Reprimands for bad behavior when food appears after community service. Boasting of accomplishments in Jewish education. Concern over the proper size of tefillin. Discussion of the holidays, both minor (Hanukkah) and major (Pesach, Sukkot, Shavuot). Collecting funds in the diaspora to send back to Jerusalem. Endless infighting over the correct way to be Jewish. Sound familiar? It’s all in the New Testament.

An anthology of 1st-century Jewish texts written in Greek, the New Testament provides some of the best evidence we have from (and for) the rough-and-tumble days of Judaism in the late Second Temple period. The intrinsic Jewishness of the New Testament—and that of its two prime figures, Jesus and Paul—has long been obscured because of two simultaneous and linked accidents of history: the rise of Gentile Christianity and of Rabbinic Judaism.

As with Gentile Christianity, so with Rabbinic Judaism: both asserted, very loudly, that though Jesus may have been a Jew, he was a special sort of anti-Jew. (Paul had a more checkered career, either as the ultimate apikoros or, in some Jewish retellings, a secret agent of the high priest working to ensure that something as outlandish as Christianity would flourish only among the goyim.) The anti-Jewish rhetoric of the Christian churches in late antiquity helped to produce long centuries of sporadic violence. Yet, at those times in Western history when Christian scholars availed themselves of Jewish learning, there came moments of fleeting recognition: the gospels tell a Jewish tale. [More…]

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The article quoted above is What a Friend We Have in Jesus by Paula Fredricksen published in Jewish Review of Books.

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Kosher Jesus by Shmuley Boteach

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Kosher Jesus is a project of more than six years research and writing. The book seeks to offer to Jews and Christians the real story of Jesus, a wholly observant, Pharisaic Rabbi who fought Roman paganism and oppression and was killed for it.

While many Christians will be confused by its assertion that Jesus never claimed divinity and not only did not abrogate the Torah but observed every letter of the Law, they will find comfort in my tracing most of Jesus principal teachings back to Jewish sources, this before he was stripped of his Jewishness by later writers who sought to portray him as an enemy of his people. This is especially true of Jesus’ most famous oration, the Sermon on the Mount, which is a reformulation of the Torah he studied and to which he was committed. A small sampling: Jesus: (Matt 5:5) Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Hebrew Bible: (Psalms 37) The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Jesus: (Matt 5:8) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see G-d. Hebrew Bible: (Psalms 24) Who shall ascend the mount of the Lord the pure-hearted. Jesus: (Matt 5:39) But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Hebrew Bible: (Lamentations 3:30) Let him offer his cheek to him who smites him…. Jesus: (Matt 6:33) But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Hebrew Bible: (Psalms 37:4) Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Jesus: (Matt 7:7) Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. Hebrew Bible: (Jer 29:13) When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. Jesus: (Matt 7:23) Then I will declare to them, I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers. Hebrew Bible: (Psalms 6:9) Depart from me, all you workers of evil…

The book is also for Jews who remain deeply uncomfortable with Jesus because of the Church s long history of anti-Semitism, the deification of Jesus, and the Jewish rejection of any Messiah who has not fulfilled the Messianic prophecies. We Jews will forever reject the divinity of any man, the single most emphatic prohibition of our Bible. And we can never accept the Messiahship of any personality, however noble or well-intended, who died without ushering in the age of physical redemption. But as Christians and Jews now come together to love and support the majestic and humane Jewish state, it s time that Christians rediscover the deep Jewishness and religious Jewish commitment of Jesus, while Jews reexamine a lost son who was murdered by a brutal Roman state who sought to impose Roman culture and rule upon a tiny yet stubborn nation who will never be severed from their eternal covenant with the G-d of Israel.

Kosher Jesus, on the other hand, represents a sort of vernacular translation of the work of the late English scholar Hyam Maccoby. For Maccoby the synoptic gospels’ accounts were thin contrivances through which one can still glimpse the real Jesus, a man who adhered fully to Jewish law and who sought, above all, the deliverance of his people from servitude to the Romans. What Boteach has gleaned from Maccoby’s work he has blended with his own thoughts on Vatican II; the charge of deicide; the Romans (Romans liked war; Jews, however, liked peace); the true meaning of the gospels; America; modern evangelicals; and much, much more. [Source]

Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ

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In July 2008 a front-page story in the New York Times reported on the discovery of an ancient Hebrew tablet, dating from before the birth of Jesus, which predicted a Messiah who would rise from the dead after three days. Commenting on this startling discovery at the time, noted Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin argued that “some Christians will find it shocking—a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology.”

Guiding us through a rich tapestry of new discoveries and ancient scriptures, The Jewish Gospels makes the powerful case that our conventional understandings of Jesus and of the origins of Christianity are wrong. In Boyarin’s scrupulously illustrated account, the coming of the Messiah was fully imagined in the ancient Jewish texts. Jesus, moreover, was embraced by many Jews as this person, and his core teachings were not at all a break from Jewish beliefs and teachings. Jesus and his followers, Boyarin shows, were simply Jewish. What came to be known as Christianity came much later, as religious and political leaders sought to impose a new religious orthodoxy that was not present at the time of Jesus’s life.

In the vein of Elaine Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels, here is a brilliant new work that will break open some of our culture’s most cherished assumptions.

Boyarin is a scholar of Talmud at University of California, Berkeley; Boteach is a media personality and popular author whose website identifies him as “America’s Rabbi.” The intellectual muscle mass of the two works corresponds accordingly. Their common goal seems to be to take what, as a Christian datum, seems very strange and foreign to Jews, and then to prove that this datum is in fact profoundly and/or originally Jewish.

For Boyarin, that datum is Christian theology about the divinity of Jesus. In his book’s four chapters he brings together an assemblage of (canonical and non-canonical) ancient Jewish texts well known to scholars and juxtaposes these to aspects of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (A much briefer sample of his technique is available in his essay on Logos/memra and the Gospel of John in The Jewish Annotated New Testament.)

Boyarin’s premise and conclusion is that ideas of radically divine mediation figure prominently in all of these late Second Temple texts, not just the “Christian” ones. The authors of the gospels—and maybe Jesus himself, though Boyarin proposes this rather than argues it—were thinking with these ideas when they framed their teachings. The Jewish Gospels concludes by inviting the reader to place gospel traditions of Jesus’ divinity “within the Jewish textual and intertextual world, the echo chamber of a Jewish soundscape of the 1st century.” [Source]