Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

Article excerpt

By Bruce Chilton. New York and London: Doubleday, 2000. xxii + 320 pp. $25.00 (cloth); $14.95 (paper).

In a discussion group on Jesus, we concluded that the trouble with this book is that there are too many paragraphs like the following:

The moment when the flint cut Jesus' foreskin must have been particularly poignant to Mary. She probably knew her son would always be considered a mamzer, an Israelite of suspect paternity. Such men and women lived in a caste apart, unable to many within the established bloodlines of Israel, and so were often excluded from the mainstream of religious life. Although Mary may have been teased and shunned because of her promiscuity, she knew that Jesus' circumcision assured him a place in Israel: the bond of blood united all Jews, even those of the mamzer caste (p. 12).

It is perfectly reasonable to assume that Jesus was circumcised. It is moreover a good thing to speak (even at length) of Jesus' Jewish identity. Descriptions of and inferences from Jesus' circumcision, however, belong to historical imagination rather than historical record. More speculative still is the imputation of poignant feelings to Mary because she knew of Jesus' outsider status and because Jesus' circumcision would overcome the shadow of her promiscuity.

Chilton's reconstruction is based on his answer to the question: What about Jesus' birth generated the divergent understandings of it in Jewish and Christian literature (p. 5, fn. 3)? How and by what means does his reconstruction provide the best answer to this question? Even assuming that Jesus was a mamzer ( and this is not the only explanation of the evidence), why is the best interpretation of Jesus' childhood his overcoming of social ostracism as a mamzer? …

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