Skip to comments.Jesus the Jew
Posted on 11/06/2001 10:13:10 AM PST by JMJ333
*I know this is an extremely old article [I dug it out of the back of my closet} but it is well worth the read.
Jesus was a committed Jew of his day. And to truly understand Jesus, we need a solid background in Jewish religious, social, and political history.
Jesus, a rural Jew, lived in Galilee, in the northern part of Palestine. And in Jesus day, Galilee was divided into an upper and lower region. The lower region, where Jesus lived was a rich valley that stretched from the Mediterranean to the sea of Galilee, a distance of about 25 miles.
As far as we know, in Jesus' time there were four principle Jewish sects: The Essenes, the Zealots, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees.
The Essenes, whose name may come from an Arabaic word meaning "pious," had already withdrawn from Jerusalem and Temple participation by the time of Jesus. In isolated monastic communities established in the Judean wilderness, they studied scriptures and developed a rule of life. Essenes were known for their piety--daily prayer, prayer before and after meals, strict observation of the Sabbath, daily ritual bathing, emphasis on chastity and celibacy, wearing white robes as a symbol of spiritual purity, and sharing communal meals and property. Nowhere in the Gospels, however, is Jesus presented as adhering to the Essenes way of life.
Jesus was not a zealot either. Zealots were Jews who vehemently opposed the Roman occupation of Palestine. But there is no evidence in any of Jesus' teachings that he encouraged revolt against Rome.
Jesus also was clearly set apart from the Sadducees, whose name in Hebrew means "Righteous ones." These Jews believed in a strict interpretation of the Torah and did not believe in life after death. Jesus, of course believed in bodily resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)
Contrary to common understanding, Jesus may well have been close to the Pharisees, even if he did debate them vigorously. Many of Jesus' teachings and much of his style was similar to theirs. To understand this, we need to compare the central teachings of the Pharisees to Jesus' teachings.
The Pharisees were a lay reform group within Judaism. The name Pharisee itself means "separate ones" in Hebrew, which refers to a ritual observance of purity and tithing; the word Pharisee can also be translated as "The interpreter," referring to this group's unique interpretation of Hebrew scripture.
As reformers, the Pharisees did not oppose Roman occupation; rather their focus was on reforming the temple, especially with respect to its liturgical practices and priests. And the Pharisees turned their attention toward strengthening Jewish devotion to the Torah, which, they said, had to be continually readjusted within the framework of the contemporary Jewish community. While the Pharisees insisted that the 613 commandments found in the written Torah remained in effect, the commandments had to be carefully rethought in light of new human needs.
The temple priests, though, looked upon the precepts of the Torah more literally and primarily in terms of sacrificial observances at the Temple. The Pharisees, on the other hand, taught that every ordinary human action could become sacred--an act of worship. Doing a "good deed" for another human, a "mitzvah" in Hebrew, was accorded a status that in some ways, surpassed Temple worship. This was truly a revolution in religious thinking.
In addition, a new religious figure in Judaism--the teacher--or Rabbi--emerged within the Pharisaic movement. For their part, rabbis fulfilled a twofold role in the community: They served as interpreters of the Torah and, more importantly, they helped make its teachings relevant. Their principle task was instructional, not liturgical.
From the Pharisaic reform emerged what was later called the synagogue ("assembly of people"). The synagogue became the center of this movement, which quickly spread throughout Palestine and the cities of Jewish Diaspora. Unlike the Jerusalem Temple, the synagogues were not places where priests presided and sacrifices were offered; rather they were places where the Torah was studied, rabbis offered interpretations, and prayers were said. Thus, synagogues became not merely "houses of God" but far more "houses of the people of God."
The Pharisee also emphasized table fellowship--a way of strengthening relationships within a community. In the eyes of the Pharisees, the Temple altar in Jerusalem could be replicated at every table in the household of Israel. A quiet but far reaching reform was at hand. There was no longer any basis for assigning to the priestly class a unique level of authority.
The Pharisees saw God not only as creator, giver of the Covenant, and much more, but in a special way, as the Parent of each individual. Everyone had the right to address God in a direct and personal way, not simply through the temple sacrifices offered by the priests.
The Pharisees also believed in resurrection. Those whose lives were marked by justice would rise once the Messiah had come. Then they would enjoy perpetual union with God.
There is little doubt, then, that Jesus and the Pharisees shared many central convictions. The first was their basic approach to God as a parent figure. In story after story in the Gospels, Jesus addresses God in this way. And Jesus' central prayer begins by invoking God as "Our Father" (Matt. 6: 9-13). The effect of this emphasis was fundamentally the same for Jesus as for the Pharisees (although Jesus had a unique position as God's "Only begotten Son"). More than anything, this approach led to both an enhanced appreciation of the dignity of every person and ultimately to the notion of resurrection--and perpetual union with God.
Jesus' own public stance closely paralleled the evolving role of the Pharisaic teacher. Jesus on a number of occasions in the Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus teaching in synagogues.
Jesus clearly picked up on another central feature of Pharisaism as well, that of the oral Torah, which refers to interpretations given by the Pharisees to various Torah texts. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers interpretations of Scripture quite similar to those of the Pharisees.
Finally, Jesus also embraced the table fellowship notion of Pharisaism. The meal narratives in the New Testament are an example of this. In the end, He selected table fellowship for a critical of his ministry, the celebration of the first Eucharist.
Then why, in the Gospels, do the Pharisees appear as the archenemies of Jesus? Here is gets complicated. For one thing, some Pharisees were praised by Jesus (for example the scribe of Mark 12:32). And we know that Jesus ate with Pharisees (Luke 7:36; 14:1).
But there was still conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, nevertheless. And here scholarship offers three possible explanations.
The first sees Jesus and his teachings as quite similar to the Pharisees. The animosity in the Gospel results from subsequent interpretations of Jesus' action. For example, Jesus' practicing healing on the Sabbath or his disciples picking grain in the holy day were actions clearly not supported by the Pharisees.
Another possible explanation results from our enhanced understanding of the Talmud, the collected teachings of the Pharisees and their rabbinic heirs. In the Talmud are references to some seven categories of Pharisees, which clearly shows that the Pharisaical movement encompassed a wide range of viewpoints and, more important, that internal disputes, often of the heated variety, were quite common. The Gospel portraits of Jesus disputing with the "Pharisees" were examples of "hot debates" that were common in the Pharisaic circles rather than examples of Jesus condemning the Pharisees.
A third scholarly approach stresses positive connection between Jesus' central teachings and those of the Pharisees. In light of these, one becomes suspicious about the so-called texts of conflict. Surely Jesus would not denounce a movement with which he had so much in common.
Hence, either Jesus was speaking in a very limited context, or what are commonly called "the conflict stories" represent religious tensions existing in the latter part of the first century when the gospels were written. The Christian community--now formally expelled from the synagogues--was engaged in intense competition for Jewish converts. The New Testament statements about conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees may reflect that competition.
Regardless, one fact remains. Jesus' own Bible was the Hebrew Scriptures. His attitude toward the sacred writings is summed up in the assertion "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish the Law but fulfill (Matt. 5:17).
On the whole, Jesus' teachings were wither literally biblical or filtered through the Pharisaic use of the scripture, or both.
The way the Pharisee and Jesus used the Hebrew Scriptures becomes more clear when Jesus argues his position by using so-called "proof-texts." Here, Jesus quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to prove a point or refute a critic (See the Sermon on the Mount Matt 5, 6, & 7). In such instances, Jesus was drawing on a technique used by the Pharisees in trying to make a point.
The "Proof-Texting" that Jesus used did, at times, pit him against the Pharisees--such as when He challenged certain claims they made about the unwritten law and called them hypocrites for placing higher value on teachings of humans than of God (Matt. 23: 1-36).; such as when He used scripture to refute the Pharisaic teachings about plucking grain on the Sabbath (Matt 12: 1-8). or unwashed hands (Matt. 15:20).
At other times though, Jesus' "proof-texting" placed him on the side of the Pharisees. Once in an impressive debate with the Saduccees, He used Hebrew scripture to reinforce his belief, and that oft he Pharisees, in an afterlife. Jesus was so impressive he won the Pharisees' applause (Matt. 22: 23-33).
Possibly the best example we have of Jesus' use of Hebrew Scriptures is his teaching on love. "Teacher," one Pharisee asked, "which commandment is greatest?" And Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronamy 6:5, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment" (Matt. 22: 36-39). Them Jesus went on quoting Leviticus 19:18, "The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In brief, Jesus was proof-texting his answer.
Jesus' use of the Hebrew Scriptures, therefore, was unabashedly Jewish. And it was similar to that of his contemporaries, particularly the philosophy of the Pharisees.
Knowing and appreciating the Jewish origins has at least three advantages: First, it helps us revise negative understandings of the Pharisees. It also helps us to avoid anti-Semitism. Finally, it allows us to better appreciate the Jewish roots of Christianity. Ultimately, understanding Jesus as a Jew will help us to better understand both our own faith and that of the contemporary Jews.
Don't go trying to change the subject. You said you had evidence that Jesus wasn't a Jew. Where is it?
Are you Orthodox? It was my understanding that Orthodox Christians have the same understanding of the nature of the Trinity and of Jesus as do the Catholics. That is, the Trinity is three persons in one nature. Jesus, believed to be fully God and fully man, is one person with two natures: a human nature and a divine nature (the 'hypostatic union'). The word used in the Council of Nicaea is homoousion, meaning "same essence", thus the "one in being with the Father" of the Nicene Creed. According to Orthodox Christology, you cannot separate the human person of Jesus from the divine second person of the trinity. Orthodox Christians do not believe that merely the body of Jesus died on the cross. When Jesus, as they teach, became incarnated, GOD became MAN. You cannot discount the human body of Jesus as having nothing to do with God; according to Orthodox doctrine, it has everything to do with God.
By the way, if you are a Jew, tell us how Judaism regards Jesus.
Yes, I am a Jew, and a traditional Jew at that, not a messianic one. Jews believe that Jesus was a man, a charismatic preacher, but not divine, and not the messiah. Jews believe that the messiah will be just a man, not divine or even necessarily a miracle worker. Within his lifetime, he will fulfill all of the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus did not do so, which is why Christians teach of a second coming of Jesus, at which time they believe he will fulfill the prophecies he did not meet the first time around. There is nothing in the Hebrew scriptures which prophecies a second coming of the messiah.
See Lurking Libertarian's #99.
Hi wimpycat. Note RightWhale's #122. He hasn't even read the whole article.
"Charismatic preacher" I suspect is not the whole truth. It's like saying that Zhirinovsky is a "charismatic politician" when one really means "mad clown". Do Jews regard Christianity as heresy and Jesus' teachings as false?
I thought the article did a good job comparing the beliefs of the Pharisees to that of Jesus and especially meals. He chose table fellowship at a critical point in his ministry to pass along the most important thing there is to Catholics--the Eucharist.
It doesn't matter to me if Jews don't accept Christ. They are falliable and so are we. What matters is that we stand up for what is right--and what is happening in Israelto the Jews by the Palestinians isn't right.
Barukh haba b'Shem Adonai
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord
I didn't say that God is a Jew; Jews do not believe that. Such a statement could only be made by someone who believes that God became man in the person of the Jew Jesus. The logic is clear if you accept the premise:
1. Jesus is God.
2. Jesus is a Jew.
3. Therefore, God is a Jew.
Now, Jews do not accept premise #1, so we of course do not reach the conclusion #3. A Jew is someone who is born of a Jewish mother, or who converts to Judaism. God is obviously not a descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so no, we do not believe that God is a Jew.
"Charismatic preacher" I suspect is not the whole truth. It's like saying that Zhirinovsky is a "charismatic politician" when one really means "mad clown".
I use the term 'charismatic preacher' because it fits what he did. I could have said 'itinerant preacher', and that would have suited him as well. He went from place to place, preaching in the different towns he visited. I said 'charismatic' because he developed a following. I in no way meant it to be derogatory.
Do Jews regard Christianity as heresy and Jesus' teachings as false?
Let me take these one at a time.
1. Are Jesus's teachings false?
Since we don't have any writings by his hand, but only what was recorded by his followers, we can only know what they preserved. IMO, much of what Jesus taught was true and well within the framework of traditional Jewish doctrine. (I agree with what the article that began this thread had to say about his teachings.) I have much greater problems with the teachings of Paul than I do with the teachings of Jesus. I believe that what is taught about Jesus is false.
2. Do Jews regard Christianity as heresy?
Not for gentiles. Judaism does not teach an exclusionary salvation; we do not believe that you need to convert to Judaism in order to be 'saved'. Converts are welcome, but you do not need to convert in order to escape eternal damnation. We believe that the righteous of all nations will have a place in the World to Come. Jews are bound by the Covenant and the Law; gentiles are not. A Jew who converts to Christianity is considered an apostate, not a heretic. It is wrong for a Jew to do so, because belief in a triune God and a God made man are incompatible with the Torah. Furthermore, Jews who convert generally cease to follow the Law, which is also wrong according to our scriptures.
However, gentiles, who are not under the Law, have more latitude in their beliefs. We do think your understanding of the nature of God is incorrect. But Christianity is generally considered an acceptable form of monotheism for gentiles. The Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides preferred Christianity to Islam because Christians accept the inspired nature of the Hebrew scriptures (Muslims think they have been corrupted). And of course the Christian moral code is essentially equivalent to that of Judaism, another point in your favor, from our perspective.
Thanks for your work, it's much appreciated. BOOKMARKED!
I quit ordering Catholic Digest in 1996 when the long-time editor, Richard Reese, died. It became too liberal for me--I couldn't take looking at Mario Cuomo and Cokie Roberts on the front--and also articles by Margaret Carlson. But I saved every last one of the old ones. :)
I will recommed one other issue, and that is Dec. 1994--the article entitles "The Face of Our Lady of Guadalupe," is spectacular. I may get around to posting it as well.
Yes, they are very exciting to understand. Like the Jewish wedding ceremony. When the bridegroom and bride are betrothed, the bridegroom "goes away to prepare a place for the bride". When the time is perfect, the Father gives the signal for "the bridegroom to go and get his bride".
That is exactly how the "rapture" will take place. But ... studying how the Jewish tradition of the bride and bridegroom are handled, you can see it is the same process for the rapture; facinating!
It wasn't a trick question. I just asked you what was Paul trying to convey in Gal 3:16-29.
Paul says there was only one promised seed made to Abraham, and not seeds (v.16). The law which came 490 years after the promises were made to Abram, did not affect those promises (v.17-18).
Paul closes the chapter by saying.
Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Gal 3:29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Thus, all the blessings, and promises come via Abraham through the only promised seed. Abraham was justified solely by his faith, and before the law was given at Sinai.
There are believers, and non-believers. The Israelites have no temple, they have no priesthood, and therefore they have no sacrifice for their sins. The good news, is they have a God/Savior who loves them, and He will open their eyes to the gospel at a time of His choosing...
(Heavily dependent on Brown:)
Here's what Judaism and Christianity have in common:
b. personhood of God
c. verbal revelation
d. God intervenes in human history
e. the coming judgement
f. ethical rigor
g. moral obligation
Here is where Judaism and Christianity diverge:
Judaism has moral obligation and the 600 odd commandments because God delivered them from captivity
Christianity has moral obligation because of the Resurrection
With Christianity comes quite an assemblage of dogma
The difference between Paganism and Christianity:
Pagan - what is truth? John 18:38
Christianity - I am the . . . truth . . . John 14:6
There might be some Pharisee attitude in this, as well as some of the rest of the Essenes, the Zealots, and the Sadducees. Whether we need an intermediary or can speak directly with God and what the nature of the intermediary (BVM, Christ, local functionary) might be seems to be a moot point among various flavors of monotheists.
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