The author is himself a rabbi, and a young one, being only 37 when the book was published. He feels passionately that both Christians and Jews need to pay greater attention to Jesus’ Jewishness. The final paragraph of the book (184) reads: “Victor Hugo once said, ‘All the forces in the world are not as powerful as an idea whose time has come.’ Seeing Jesus as a Jew is an idea whose time has come.”
The book is worth reading. Nobody should be surprised that Jesus was a Jew and that much of what He said and did reflects that background, but it’s useful to lay it all out in a biographical sequence. Much will be familiar to anyone who has used a study Bible that links what Jesus said to Old Testament verses, for example, but there are some interesting nuggets and broader points, some more persuasive than others of course.
Consider: The importance of water to the Jews is discussed, with the Hebrew phrase for “living water” (see John 4) briefly mentioned, in the context of baptism (31); the author makes an attempt (140) — interesting but ultimately unpersuasive in my view — to characterize some of Jesus’ teaching as an effort at what rabbis call “building a fence around the Torah”; the author makes a bold effort at drawing parallels between Jesus and David (163-65), and while I’m again not entirely persuaded I found the discussion interesting.
When you think about it, it really must be a quandary for Jews today to figure out what to do with Jesus. Of course, all of us have to grapple with the Jesus issue, but precisely because He was a Jew whose followers ended up taking the faith in a different direction, it is especially hard for Jews not to have an opinion about Him. The last chapter, “Five Rabbis Explain Jesus,” showcases the heterogeneity of Jewish views of Him. But some of those views — and much of what the author suggests in urging Jews to recognize and appreciate Jesus’ insights and wisdom, even as they should not accept Him as divine — runs into C.S. Lewis’s trilemma objection. That is, if someone says he is God, then he’s either a lunatic or a liar or the lord, and it’s hard to argue that someone making such a claim is none of those things but just a really wise and insightful fellow who happens to have this little quirk about saying he is the Great I Am.
Other items of note:
- The Old Testament book that Jesus quotes the most is Deuteronomy (55).
- As a lawyer, I rather like this sentence (95): “In legal terms, Hillel might be considered a more liberal constitutional scholar, whereas Shammai would be a strict constructionist.”
- Genesis 18:17-19 is the only instance of a divine internal monologue in the Old Testament (149).
- There’s weird but intriguing speculation among Jewish sages that the king of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah, who orders the city to repent, is … the pharaoh from the Book of Exodus! (158). This is impossible as a matter of time and space, but spiritually profound in that it shows anyone can repent.
- Finally, I don’t understand why people (and the author here does it a lot) begin sentences with “Yet,” or “But,” — the immediate and automatic comma makes no sense. I hasten to say that this is a grammatical objection, not a theological or moral one.