Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Jewish Jesus

As hard as it may be to believe, there are still people out there who don't understand that Jesus was Jewish. They know that he was born, lived and ministered in Israel, taught in synagogues, prayed in the temple and read from the Hebrew Bible, but they don't really understand that he was Jewish. Many followers of Jesus think of him as being the first Christian, not a Jew. And there is a lot in church history that has lead them to this way of thinking. For a time, New Testament scholarship interpreted Jesus more as a Greek philosopher than a Jewish sage.

Since the Holocaust, however, there has been a greater awareness of Jesus the Jew. And there has also been a greater appreciation for Judaism. I suppose that it would be difficult to point to any aspect of New Testament studies that has not been rethought in light of this new appreciation for Jesus as a Jew.

At the same time, some Jews have also begun to appreciate Jesus the Jew. Since most Jews do not read the New Testament the only exposure they have had to Jesus is through Christianity. And I don't think I need to explain why that has not always been a positive experience. But more recently, Jews have been studying the New Testament. I have a number of colleagues in the field who are Jewish AND excellent interpreters of the New Testament.

Even more recently has been the attempt by some Jewish scholars to help their fellow Jews better understand Jesus the Jew. Amy Jilly Levine has helped edit the Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2011). It is a study Bible that provides the Jewish background and culture for the New Testament. Also published recently is Kosher Jesus (Gefen, 2012) by Shmuley Boteach who tries to portray Jesus as an observant Jew. Both Levine and Boteach hope that Jews will read their books and take a fresh look at Jesus.

The PBS website has posted some videos in which Levine, Boteach and others explain their take, as Jews, on Jesus. Below are two of the videos on the site. The first features several speakers. The second is an extended interview with Amy Jill Levine. There are other related videos on the PBS website.

Watch Jewish Jesus on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

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