Friday, 9 January 2009

Jesus the Jew - again!

Channel 4 begins a new series on Sunday evening at 7pm called Christianity: A History. This is how it describes the series:
This provocative eight-part series explores the history and global impact of the world's biggest religion through the personal views of leading British figures.
Over the course of the series, eight high-profile personalities - including Michael Portillo, Rageh Omaar, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Cherie Blair - look at the origins and history of the Christian faith.
In each film the presenter addresses a subject that means something particular to them. In doing so, they bring their own perspectives to a challenging and comprehensive debate that explores Christianity's role in shaping the modern world.


The first episode is titled Jesus the Jew and is presented by the writer Howard Jacobson. If what Jacobson has written in The Guardian today is anything to go by then I don’t hold out much hope for the series. His article Behold! The Jew Jesus is largely focused on Christian anti-Semitism which he argues has disowned the fact that Jesus was a Jew. Let me say that Jacobson’s criticism of the history of anti-Semitism in Christianity is perfectly justified and he clearly identifies attitudes towards Jews and treatment of Jews for which we as Christians should be ashamed.

However, where Jacobson comes unstuck is in the second part of his article when he writes this:
Explain it how you will, Judaism is Christianity's guilty secret, and God help whoever happens to be the occasion of a people's guilt. "When will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust?" asks that dark philosopher John Gray. There is a prior question. When will Jews ever be forgiven giving Christianity its religion?

Now I don’t know what New Testament scholarship Jacobson has read and I don’t know which experts have been consulted for the programme he presents but Jesus being a Jew is no guilty secret. The primary focus of N.T. scholarship of the last thirty years has been on Jesus the Jew! In the early 1980s when I studied Theology at Durham and Oxford leading N.T. scholars including E. P. Sanders and J. D. G. Dunn spoke and wrote of little else. N.T. Wright argues that you can’t understand Jesus without understanding later Second Temple Judaism while Funk, Crossan and The Jesus Seminar argue that Jesus was nothing more than an itinerant Hellenistic Jewish sage. The one criticism of contemporary studies of Jesus that cannot be made is that it doesn’t take the fact he was a Jew seriously. This has been the main concern of what has been termed The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus.

There are other throwaway comments in the article which don’t stand even superficial examination, for example Jacobson writes:
In this matrix of fear, superstition and distaste can be discerned the hand not just of the early Church fathers who set out deliberately to malign the Jewish religion, but also the apostles - "Ye are of your father the devil," the Gospel of St John has Jesus say to those whom John is already calling "the Jews", to suggest Jesus is no part of them. In order for Jesus to be extricated from his Jewishness, Jews themselves had to be discredited, demeaned and ultimately diabolised.

Set aside the question of the authorship of the Gospels and look at Jacobson’s claim. Jacobson is guilty of the very thing he accuses Christians of doing, denying peoples Jewishness. The fact is that the Apostles were Jews, whether or not they wrote the Gospels. The N.T. does not hide the Jewish origins of the disciples or of Christianity, otherwise why would it be the centre of so much debate within the texts. Marcion was rejected as a heretic by the Church Fathers precisely because he attempted to excise any positive portrayal of Judaism from the scriptures.

The basic problem with Jacobson's piece, which at times becomes little more than a rant, is that he seems to be arguing that Christianity somehow arose out of somewhere unconnected with Judaism and reinterpreted the life of Jesus the Jew. He denies that any of the central claims of Christianity; Jesus as Son of God, Jesus as Saviour and the resurrection, for example, have any basis in Judaism. Well where do they come from then? Jacobson fingers Paul as the culprit:
It took Paul, however, to realise the transforming power not only of the supernatural but the universal. Christianity triumphed over Judaism when it abandoned the law and the people to whom it had been given. Christians may glory in that if they choose, but such had never been Jesus's intention.

But Jacobson’s done it again; Paul was a Jew. Jacobson can’t have his cake and eat it. He cannot argue for the Jewishness of Jesus and deny the Jewishness of Jesus’ followers who proclaimed the Christian faith.

Who is the Jesus that we are left with according to Jacobson.
Remove the slippery metaphor of personal salvation and the blasphemy of his being the Son of God - with neither of which concept Jesus himself had the slightest bit to do - and there is nothing that he is reported to have said or performed that would have raised the ire of his fellow Jews sufficiently for them to chant for his death. In so far as we can separate his actual words from later theological interpretations of them - the historical Jesus from the person Christians writing after the event needed him to be - the voice we hear is that of an unequivocally Jewish healer and teacher.

To me this looks much like the sort of stuff that was doing the rounds in the 1960s & 1970s perhaps best articulated in The Myth of God Incarnate edited by John Hick. This leaves me with the following question:
Is this Jesus a person worth believing in, worth dying for, someone that would change peoples lives. Yes, Jesus was a Jew but if Jesus was no more than a simple Jewish healer and teacher then what was all the fuss about?

There is one other issue which Channel 4's series raises for me. Here we have a group of 'high profile personalities', including a Jew (Jacobson who is clearly hostile) and a Moslem (Omaar), presenting their views on a history of Christianity. I look forward to a similar series on Islam, Mohammed and the Qur'an but I won't be holding my breath.

5 comments:

Anders said...

You write: “The basic problem with Jacobson's piece, which at times becomes little more than a rant, is that he seems to be arguing that Christianity somehow arose out of somewhere unconnected with Judaism and reinterpreted the life of Jesus the Jew. He denies that any of the central claims of Christianity; Jesus as Son of God, Jesus as Saviour and the resurrection, for example, have any basis in Judaism. Well where do they come from then?”

Le-havdil (to differentiate):
The research of world-recognized authorities in this area implies that first century Ribi Yehoshua from Natzrat (Nazareth) was a Pharisee (a Torah-practising Jewish group - who according to 4Q MMT practised both written and oral Torah). As the earliest church historians, most eminent modern university historians, our web site (www.netzarim.co.il) and our Khavruta (Distance Learning) texts confirm, the original teachings of Ribi Yehoshua were not only accepted by most of the Pharisaic Jewish community, he had hoards of Jewish students.

The Saviour-doctrine and “Son of g*od”-doctrine are indeed nowhere in Tan’’kh. They are anti-Torah concepts.
1972, Paqid Yirmeyahu served notice to the scholarly world with his book, The Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu–which most of the scholarly world still refuses to deal with. That has remove all anti-Torah doctrines which Dead Sea Scrolls 4QMMT proofs no Pharise could ever had said – including Ribi Yehoshua.
If you want to learn about the Historical Ribi Yehoshua, whom Orthodox Jews can live with (witness the Netzarim Jews in Raanana, Israel, members in good standing in an Orthodox synagogue), you must start with books like How Jesus Became Christian by Prof. Barrie Wilson (most bookstores) and Who Are The Netzarim? (publ. www.schuellerhouse.com) by Israeli Orthodox Jew, Paqid Yirmeyahu Ben-David.

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim(www.netzarim.co.il)

Philip Ritchie said...

Anders,
Thank you for your comment. I would make the following points.

1. Your assumption is that Jesus was an early C1st Rabbi and Pharisee who could not and would not have said things which contradicted what we know of Pharisaic Jewish teaching at that time. But this is an assumption that can only be supported by stripping away anything from the Gospels which does not conform to this view of Jesus. This is no different from the work of The Jesus Seminar. You start with an understanding of Jesus and then remove anything from the text which contradicts / challenges that view as being a later addition / imposition of the Christian church. This is one of the problems with the quests for the historical Jesus - they make certain assumptions and then make the evdence fit those assumptions. 'Because we believe Jesus was this he couldn't possibly have said that'.

2. You don't deal with my main point which is that Christianity began within Judaism and the Saviour doctrine and Son of God doctrine are early professions of faith within the Christian community. Even if you accept (and by the way I do not) that Jesus never claimed to be Son of God or Saviour, these are claims made by the early confessing church and are therefore claims made by Jews who had become followers of Christ. So the question still stands, where did they come from? Jesus, Paul, the Apostles? All were Jews. I'm not disputing that these may have been new doctrines unfamiliar to later Second Temple Judaism - my contention is that they were what the early church believed about Jesus and in its earliest days the Christian community and its leaders were Jewish.

3. You say, 'If you want to learn about the Historical Ribi Yehoshua, whom Orthodox Jews can live with (witness the Netzarim Jews in Raanana, Israel, members in good standing in an Orthodox synagogue), you must start with books like How Jesus Became Christian by Prof. Barrie Wilson (most bookstores) and Who Are The Netzarim? (publ. www.schuellerhouse.com) by Israeli Orthodox Jew, Paqid Yirmeyahu Ben-David.'

Your own words highlight the issue: you recreate the historical figure of Jesus as someone 'Orthodox Jews can live with'. This still doesn't answer my question: what was so different, so distinctive, so out of the ordinary about Jesus that led people to follow him and give their lives because they believed he was Lord and Messaiah? Where did these beliefs come from if nor from Jesus and his apostles?

Anders said...

Thanks for your reply!Thanks for your reply!
It is not an assumption that Ribi Yehoshua was a Ribi. He is called “Ribi Yeshua” on the Talpiot Tomb to name one thing.

See www.netzarim.co.il ; “History Museum” (left menu); “Mashiakh”-section (top menu)..

Prof. of Statistics Andrey Feuerverger has demonstrated that, contrary to the mathematically-challenged critics of the Yaaqov ossuary, the chances that the ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb aren't those of the family of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua are 1:1600 (Feuerverger, Prof. Andrey – The Final Word, http://projecteuclid.org/aoas).

So the burden of proof is on you if you state that Ribi Yehoshua is not a Pharisee.

All our research is based on logic and science. If you want to learn more you will find books in the “Israel Mall” (left menu) in our website.

I am not recopyist; so it’s you who have to read our historical and logical research; or stay in logical contradictions.

You write:
“Your assumption is that Jesus was an early C1st Rabbi and Pharisee who could not and would not have said things which contradicted what we know of Pharisaic Jewish teaching at that time.”

Pro-Torah, 1st century, historical, Jew, Ribi Yehoshua and (Le-Havdil) the anti-Torah, post-135 C.E., Roman-syncretized counterfeit, J*esus (= Yesh"u) are mutually contradictory, intractably antithetical, polar opposites! Logically, these two diametric opposites must, therefore, be rigorously distinguished from each other. Following either necessarily requires resolute rejection of the antithetical opposite.

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim

David V.S. said...

Anders visited my blog with the same troll-writing. My rebuttal is here.

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.