Culture At Large

Rethinking Jesus and Judaism

Andy Rau

The Sense of Events blog reports on an interesting-sounding book about Jesus and his relationship to the Jewish religion of his day—The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine, a respected Jewish scholar. From Sense of Events' description, the book challenges the popular view (in evangelical circles, at least) that Jesus' life and ministry were a strong break from traditional Jewish teachings and practice. From Sense of Events' summary:

[Amy-Jill Levine] wishes to introduce the reader to the Jewish ordinariness of Jesus himself and of his place and time. Just as importantly, A-J explains simply and thoroughly the errors of both the Church and the Academy in drawing conclusions about presumed monolithic Judaism; both blocs have generally supposed that whatever Jesus seemed to oppose must have been normative in Judaism of his day. That is, clergy and scholars alike haven't studied Judaica to speak of, but nonetheless think that the New Testament describes Judaism both accurately and exhaustively. It just is not so.

What's your reaction to that?

I'm intrigued, but also hesitant to comment due to my general ignorance of ancient Judaism. I will say that a lot of my reading and education growing up has encouraged me to see Jesus primarily as more of a "rebel" against established Jewish religious tradition—but now that I think of it, most of Jesus' "rebellious" activity was in response to overzealous religious leaders, not necessarily to everyday Judaism as it was practiced. This verse springs to mind as possibly relevant: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

What's your reading? Does the New Testament paint Jesus as a good and faithful practitioner of Judaism? Have Christians overstated the extent to which Jesus broke from tradition? And how does your answer to those questions affect the way you read the New Testament and think about Jesus?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Theology