Academic journal article Shofar

Jesus through Jewish Eyes; Rabbis and Scholars Engage an Ancient Brother in a New Conversation

Academic journal article Shofar

Jesus through Jewish Eyes; Rabbis and Scholars Engage an Ancient Brother in a New Conversation

Article excerpt

edited by Beatrice Bruteau. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001. 191 pp. $20.00.

Although Jesus is the most influential Jew who ever lived, the Jewish tradition has almost completely ignored him until modern times. The few Jewish sources that exist on Jesus are varied, but all are very negative. The Talmud views Jesus as an illegitimate child who became a magician and led Israel astray. Medieval views are equally pejorative. Even Moses Maimonides, who spoke of Jesus as "one who served to clear the way for King Messiah to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord," stated in his Epistle to the Jews of Yemen, when speaking of Jesus, "May his bones be ground to the dust!"

In the last few hundred years, many positive perceptions of Jesus begin to appear. The most prevalent view that begins to emerge is that Jesus belongs within the Jewish tradition, first and foremost. For many of the Jewish writers, his views come closest to those of the Pharisees, although some believe that he may have also been influenced by the Essenes and the apocalyptic writers of his day. Most agree with the prominent Jewish writer from the University of Jerusalem, Joseph Klausner (1874-1958), the author of Jesus of Nazareth, that "Jesus was a Jew and a Jew he remained till his last breath." This view is supported by such prominent Jewish scholars as Jacob Agus, Salo Baron, and Robert Gordis. It seems that all these Jewish writers have been influenced by the great Jewish scholar and leader of the Reform movement in Germany, Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), who argued that Jesus was a Pharisee who "lived and thought Judaism." (See the recent brilliant book by Susannah Heschel titled Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus.)

The book under review, edited by a Christian spiritual writer who aims to build bridges between Jews and Christians, includes articles by twenty Jewish writers and continues this positive evaluation of Jesus as a Jew who is seen as being essentially part of the Pharisaic world of the time. Most of the contributors write in the spirit of dialogue of Martin Buber, who speaks of Jesus as "my great brother" and "a great figure in its [Jewish] religious history," but like Buber, do not see Jesus as divine or as the final messiah. In one of the most provocative essays, Rabbi Byron Sherwin, who was recently awarded a presidential medal by Lech Walesa for his work in Christian-Jewish dialogue in Poland, gives Jesus a role in Jewish messianic theology. …

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