Re-Judaizing Jesus

jewish-cross.jpgMy daughter, Dorothy, informed me that a couple of weeks ago, Time/ABC World news did a TV special on “Ten Ideas that are Changing the World”, the tenth one being the ‘Re-Judaizing of Jesus.’ They quote a Jewish New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine. I missed this program but coincidently I am now reading her book, “The Misunderstood Jew”. Her book is excellent, providing us with a very positive picture of Jesus as seen from a Jewish perspective. The following is an excerpt from Time’s website, and it gives a fairly precise synopsis of this idea and the tensions it is causing among some Christians (as well as some Jews);

Recently a popular blogger — let’s call him Rabbi Ben — zinged the scholarship of a man we shall call Rabbi Rob. R. Ben claimed R. Rob did not “understand the difference between Judaism prior to the two Jewish wars in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and later Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism.” He helpfully provided a syllabus.Actually, neither man is a rabbi. (Sorry.) Ben Witherington is a Methodist New Testament scholar, and Rob Bell a rising Michigan megapastor. Yet each regards sources like the Mishnah and Rabbi Akiva as vital to understanding history’s best-known Jew: Jesus.This is seismic. For centuries, the discipline of Christian “Hebraics” consisted primarily of Christians cherry-picking Jewish texts to support the traditionally assumed contradiction between the Jews — whose alleged dry legalism contributed to their fumbling their ancient tribal covenant with God — and Jesus, who personally embodied God’s new covenant of love. But today seminaries across the Christian spectrum teach, as Vanderbilt University New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine says, that “if you get the [Jewish] context wrong, you will certainly get Jesus wrong.”

The shift came in stages: first a brute acceptance that Jesus was born a Jew and did Jewish things; then admission that he and his interpreter Paul saw themselves as Jews even while founding what became another faith; and today, recognition of what the Rev. Bruce Chilton, author of Rabbi Jesus, calls Jesus’ passionate dedication “to Jewish ideas of his day” on everything from ritual purity to the ideal of the kingdom of God — ideas he rewove but did not abandon.

What does this mean, practically? At times the resulting adjustment seems simple. For example, Bell thinks he knows the mysterious words Jesus wrote in the dust while defending the adulteress (“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone,” etc.). By Bell’s calculation, that showdown occurred at the same time as religious Jews’ yearly reading of the prophet Jeremiah’s warning that “those who turn from [God] will be written in the dust because they have forsaken [him].” Thus Jesus wrote the crowd’s names to warn that their lack of compassion alienated their (and his) God.

A trickier revision for readers involves Paul’s Letter to the Romans, forever a key Christian text on sin and Christ’s salvific grace. Yet this reading necessitates skipping over what seems like extraneous material in Chapters 9 through 11, which are about the Jews. Increasingly, says Jason Byassee, an editor at the Christian Century,, scholars now read Romans through those chapters, as a musing by a lifelong Jew on how God can fulfill his biblical covenant with Israel even if it does not accept His son. Byassee the theologian agrees. But as a Methodist pastor, he frets that Romans “is no longer really about Gentile Christians. How do you preach it?”

That’s not a frivolous query. Ideally, the reassessment should increase both Jewish-Christian amity and gospel clarity, things that won’t happen if regular Christians feel that in rediscovering Jesus the Jew, they have lost Christ. Yet Bell finds this particular genie so logically powerful that he has no wish to rebottle it. Once in, he says, “you’re in deep. You’re hooked. ‘Cause you can’t ever read it the same way again.,28804,1720049_1720050_1721663,00.html

That last line is exactly how I have come to see Jesus. Although I firmly believe this has caused a better understanding and corresponding strengthening of my faith, others feel this is akin to heresy. Do any of you have a problem with looking at Jesus and his teachings in this way?



  1. #1 by michael allerton+ on June 17, 2009 - 2:21 am

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments. My dad was Jewish via his mom. My maternal grandfather was a Sephardi Jew via his mom as well. I am not considered Jewish per the established Rabbinical system. However, I am glad to have the genetics.
    We must remember/consider some things concerning how we express our “Jewishness” in the church. In Romans St. Paul declares that Abraham operated in faith before circumcision, far before the “Torah” was given to Moses. We know that much of the ritual of the Torah is impossible now because there is no temple. But, we can walk by faith as Father Abraham and the Patriarchs. How Jewish do we need to be? Paul acted as one under the law around the Jews. He expresses his freedom in Messiah when he was around Goyim as one not under the law (but not without the law of Christ). He said he did this that by any means he may win some.
    Would it be appropriate for evangelists to go to Turkey and try to convert Muslims to Christ and then demand a Jewish circumcision, or demand they hold to a more Jewish form of Passover? Thank God the Gospel can fit into every culture and the embracing of the finished work of Calvary is the center of the matter.

  2. #2 by Christian Beyer on June 17, 2009 - 3:49 pm

    Welcome, Michael.

    Good points. Good questions.

    My understanding of the Mosaic laws is that one of their intents was to insure that the Jews would remain a distinct and separate people and retain their identity through their exhile(s). This certainly has worked.

    So there would be little point for non-Jews to adhere to these laws. Especially followers of Christ.

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