Meet the Very Jewish Jesus

In Sunday school, I learned about a white Jesus who never existed. In seminary, I learned about the “Christian Jesus.” Early in my ministry, I promoted this fictitious Jesus.

In 1990, I heard about the Jesus Seminar, run by Westar Institute, which involved over two hundred scholars from many different fields (e.g., Old and New Testament historians and linguists) promoting scholarship, not Christianity. Its well-vetted Jesus was historical, not Christianized.

I realized that for forty years, I had promoted a composite Jesus designed by the Gospel writers rather than the Jewish Jesus, who is different from the New Testament one. Finally, it had sunk in. The historical Jesus was Jewish. But I’m a gentile with no background in Judaism, so I don’t understand the Gospels written by Jews about the Jewish Jesus.

Bishop John S. Spong, one of my heroes, wrote a book called Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes, which I have read many times. However, I know I can never have Jewish eyes. I’m a gentile.

All this led me to the Great Courses, a curriculum from the Teaching Company. I’m a good customer. A few months ago, I purchased Introduction to Judaism, taught by Professor Shai Cherry of Vanderbilt University, and enjoyed all twenty-four sessions. Shai is Jewish and an excellent teacher who has given me new insights into the Jewish Jesus.

Let me share some examples. Even before Jesus was born, through his Jewish mother, he was being fed (literally and figuratively) the Jewish culture and traditions. For the rest of his life, he was living Judaism and learning how to live his race, culture, and religion. Jesus was circumcised and was a religious child, studied Judaism intensely, and at age twelve or thirteen had his bar mitzvah. The Gospels don’t cover what Jesus was doing from about age fourteen to his late twenties. (Speculation: Could Jesus have been involved with such a group as the Essenes, an ascetic group of Jews living close to the Dead Sea in the desert? Here, he may have become literate in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek as he studied the Torah and other Jewish writings.)

Jesus was an obedient Jew who followed the 613 laws, obeyed strict Sabbath requirements, honored all Jewish holidays, understood the power of atonement, prayed for the coming of the Messiah, and addressed God as Yahweh, and, like most Jewish men, he was probably married (my speculation).

Jesus ran into trouble when he challenged the Jewish laws and attacked the rabbi and hierarchy of his religion. He wanted his people to honor Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 (versus the 613 Laws), which are about loving God, neighbor, and self. This is agape, unconditional love for everyone, full of forgiveness and genuine caring. This threatened the rabbis, who wanted to get rid of him and did.

Bottom line: I have a much better understanding of the Jewish Jesus, who never started a new religion or the Christian church. This has resulted in me reading the New Testament as a Jewish document, not a Christian one, and developing a much clearer picture of the historical Jesus.

Peace Love Joy Hope Kindness



Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

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