A Jew’s Jesus
In this new series, we discover insights into Jesus from people of other faiths as they read the Gospels. In part one, Ed Kessler brings a Jewish perspective
One of the certain facts about Jesus is that he was a Jew. He was a child of Jewish parents, brought up in a Jewish home and raised in accordance with Jewish tradition. Throughout his life, Jesus lived among Jews and his followers were Jews.
No other Jew in history has rivalled the influence of Jesus. The words and deeds of Jesus the Jew have been an inspiration to countless millions of men and women. His death marked a turning point in the history of the world. In his name a great religion was founded and Christians have carried his message to the remotest corners of the earth. Strange, is it not, that most Jews have given little attention to the life and teaching of this outstanding Jew?
This is because the Christian followers of Jesus came to cherish beliefs about his life which no Jew could hold. When the Church persecuted Jews in an effort to convert them, Jewish indifference to Jesus turned to hostility. It is a sad fact of history that the followers of this great Jew have brought such suffering upon the Jewish people that for centuries it was very hard for any Jew even to think of Jesus without difficulty. Until recently, most Jews have chosen not to think of him at all and certainly not read the New Testament.
There has been a dramatic change however. Jewish scholars have come to study the Gospels; Jews have striven to appreciate his teachings. A re-evaluation has taken place, and, although the hostility of centuries cannot be eliminated in the blink of an eye – nor the traditional Jewish attitude of indifference to Jesus – the signs are encouraging.
Christians also have come to admire the true greatness of Judaism and ceased to affront Jews with the oft-repeated slander that Judaism is nothing but a mere set of formalistic rules. Christians have begun to realise the immense debt Christianity owes to Jews and Judaism.
The Gospels describe Jesus and his family as observant of Torah. They would have paid tithes, kept the Sabbath, circumcised their males, attended synagogue, observed purity laws in relation to childbirth and menstruation, kept the dietary code – one could go on. While the Gospels record disputes about Jesus’ interpretation of a few of these – such as his conversation with Pharisees about cleanliness – the notion of a Christian Jesus who did not live by Torah, or at least by its ethical values, does not fit historical reality. Unlike some of his contemporaries, such as Philip and Andrew, Jesus bore a Jewish name: Yeshua. Family names indicate a strong commitment to Judaism and it is worth recounting Jesus’ brothers – James (Jacob), Joseph (Josef), Judas or Jude (Judah), Simon (Simeon) – and his father Joseph and mother Mary (Miriam)…
This is an extract from the June 2016 edition of Reform.