Monday, September 10, 2007

Now Jesus is not Jewish?

I have been so busy with the start up of classes that I haven't been able to keep up with the blogging world. But both Loren and Geoff mention that scholars on one of the list serves are discussing that Jesus wasn't Jewish. Loren mentions also the article by Jack Elliott. Doug Chaplin has also posted on the subject.

What is happening to us? I thought that "Judaisms" was bad enough, but now are certain scholars moving in the direction of deconstructing Judaism so that it will not exist at all in the Second Temple period? And/or are they really trying to argue that Jesus cannot have been Jewish?!

In my opinion, this is either nonsense to try to say something original (and perhaps sell more books and confuse the public who are finally beginning to hear that Jesus was Jewish and not a Christian!) or nomenclature gone wild (thanks to post-modernity which lately has gripped our imaginations).

Whether Jesus was a Galilean or a Judean can be an interesting erudite discussion, but it means nothing in regard to whether or not Jesus was Jewish by our conventional definition of that term. Like his brothers and sister Jews who lived in the south, Jesus was a Torah-observant, Temple-oriented, apocalyptic teacher who felt very strongly that God's covenantal promises would be fulfilled in Israel. He kept Sabbath, celebrated the festivals, was kosher, and worshiped Yahweh.

I think that it is time for us to face up to Jesus' Jewishness, and ask ourselves why the some in the academy (which many of us are a part of) continue to want to deny, ignore or get around this.

22 comments:

Steven Craig Miller said...

Actually, the basic argument has been around for sometime. I think I first came across it 10 years ago, or so. The NT contains a number of statements which appear to be anti-Semitic. If one translates Ioudaios as Judaean, then they appear less anti-Semitic, perhaps even not anti-Jewish, only anti-Judaean. And, well, who cares if their anti-Judaean or not? But that is what is at the root of the desire to change the terminology. (cp. BDAG)

Deane said...

April wrote:
And/or are they really trying to argue that Jesus cannot have been Jewish?! In my opinion, this is either nonsense to try to say something original (and perhaps sell more books and confuse the public who are finally beginning to hear that Jesus was Jewish and not a Christian!) or nomenclature gone wild (thanks to post-modernity which lately has gripped our imaginations). Whether Jesus was a Galilean or a Judean can be an interesting erudite discussion, but it means nothing in regard to whether or not Jesus was Jewish by our conventional definition of that term.

Deane:
Your objection seems to only relate to describing Jesus in modern terms as “Jewish”, referring to his general ethnicity rather than his particular political locale. Nothing has changed here. Nobody’s arguing that Jesus isn’t an ethnic Jew (in modern language), nor that he didn’t participate in the general cultural-religious milieu. What they are doing is pointing to an anachronism in doing so.

You also seem to think that the distinction is arcane and without any practical implications. To the contrary, I think this discussion has very great potential. The distinction concerns the emic self-identification of Jesus and his movement, and it is being argued, as far as I can tell, that this movement considered itself to be still separate from the Judeans to the south. A great many questions suddenly arise. How does the Jesus Movement relate to the Samaritans and Samarians which are likewise treated within the Judean worldview as a separate group? How does this further inform our understanding of the sectarian nature of those claiming to be “Israel”. Does Paul draw on a long-standing tradition in Romans 9-11 in distinguishing Judeans from Israel, and who do we associate this tradition with? How does this affect our understanding of the specific nature of Galilee as a centre of apocalyptic, revelatory Israelite religion, as opposed to the (possibly) more Torah- and Temple-centred Israelite religion of Judea?


April wrote:
Like his brothers and sister Jews who lived in the south, Jesus was a Torah-observant, Temple-oriented, apocalyptic teacher who felt very strongly that God's covenantal promises would be fulfilled in Israel. He kept Sabbath, celebrated the festivals, was kosher, and worshiped Yahweh.

Deane:
But did this picture of “common Judaism” really apply as commonly to all of the competing Israelite religions as the summary suggests? What does such a definition conceal as well as disclose? While both Jesus and his “Judean” opponents make claims to observe Torah, would they have made the same claim about each other? If the pattern of a religion is as much in the balance of ingredients as in the ingredients themselves, does this resort to generalising definitions risk homogenizing groups which were as diverse as Mormons and Presbyterians?


April wrote:
I think that it is time for us to face up to Jesus' Jewishness, and ask ourselves why the some in the academy (which many of us are a part of) continue to want to deny, ignore or get around this.

Deane:
Firstly, this statement infers a fallacious ad hominem. The danger of such an ad hominem today is that it is also used by people to avoid logical argument about the removal of academics who speak out against the modern state of Israel, such as Israel Finkelstein. Despite the obvious anti-Semitism in many Christian works still today, you can’t seriously level such a broad-brush accusation at those who are discussing this issue. Secondly, your statement is incorrect. Nobody is denying the Jewishness of Jesus in our modern language’s generalising way of referring to his ethnicity. Jesus is not a blue-eyed Aryan. You’re not dealing with little Gerhard Kittels here. What they are doing is pointing to an anachronism in naming such an ethnic identity in first century texts, that’s all.

Geoff Hudson said...

Deane, Romans was written to diaspora Jews. References to Gentiles are all later Pauline interpolations. In the Pre-Pauline original of Romans 9, the discussion about Israelites was to show that pre-Moses, some Israelites obeyed and received the Spirit of God and in effect were cleansed and made acceptable to God. These pre-Moses folk did not pursue a law of righteousness, (9.30) (the temple cult), but obtained a purity of spirit or heart by the Spirit whose purifying presence in them was demonstrated by their obedience (Pauline faith). But post Moses Jews who pursued a law of righteousness, did not attain such purity before God. (9.31). The reason they did not attain this purity, was because they pursued it not by the Spirit but by the law. (9.32). There was a cultural revolution going-on in first century Judaism. And a prophet from Judea was behind it. 'Jesus' coming from Galilee is a nonsense.

Loren Rosson III said...

Deane's reply is excellent.

What is happening to us? I thought that "Judaisms" was bad enough, but now are certain scholars moving in the direction of deconstructing Judaism so that it will not exist at all in the Second Temple period? And/or are they really trying to argue that Jesus cannot have been Jewish?!

Jesus cannot have been Jewish for the simple reason that Judaism didn't emerge until the third century. Getting our nomenclature right -- that is, translating Ioudaios as "Judean" instead of "Jew" -- isn't the same thing as overcautiously pluralizing the term. ("Judeanisms" leaves me cold just as "Judaisms" does.)

In my opinion, this is either nonsense to try to say something original (and perhaps sell more books and confuse the public who are finally beginning to hear that Jesus was Jewish and not a Christian!) or nomenclature gone wild (thanks to post-modernity which lately has gripped our imaginations).

There is nothing sensationalist or especially postmodern in what Elliott and Esler have been proposing, though it's admittedly confusing because of how we've been trained to think. As I've noted elsewhere, I'm under no delusion that "Jew" will soon drop from the academic vocabulary when discussing the pre-70/135 period... but one may hold out hope for the not-so-near future.

Whether Jesus was a Galilean or a Judean can be an interesting erudite discussion, but it means nothing in regard to whether or not Jesus was Jewish by our conventional definition of that term. Like his brothers and sister Jews who lived in the south, Jesus was a Torah-observant, Temple-oriented, apocalyptic teacher who felt very strongly that God's covenantal promises would be fulfilled in Israel. He kept Sabbath, celebrated the festivals, was kosher, and worshiped Yahweh.

But our conventional definition of that term is precisely the problem being addressed. And this is much too simplistic anyway: Jesus was anti-Torah, in tension with the Torah, or Torah-observant depending on the issue at hand. No one is denying his Israelite matrix -- or even a Judean matrix, loosely speaking, if we want to favor outsider language -- but the anchronistic "Judaism" maps to a different (if related) matrix.

I think that it is time for us to face up to Jesus' Jewishness, and ask ourselves why the some in the academy (which many of us are a part of) continue to want to deny, ignore or get around this.

Perhaps the question should be turned around: why do many in the academy want to insist so shrilly that Jesus was Jewish? Bill Arnal lights on some telling reasons in The Symbolic Jesus, and I think he's right: it's gotten to the point where a "Jewish Jesus" makes us feel secure about ourselves and our politics, and we're not always thinking like good historians. The vested interest in maintaining a Jewish Jesus is often a case where politics trumps good scholarship, not the other way around.

Jared said...

I was wondering if anyone would like to chime in or discuss Shaye Cohen's distinction between Judean and Jew in his book _Beginnings of Jewishness_? If I recall correctly, I think Esler takes Cohen to task in his dating of the shift from "Judean" to "Jew," which is combined with Cohen's discussion of conversion. Or if the vague term "Jewisness" would be appropriate in the context of this discussion?

Steven Craig Miller said...

Loren writes: Perhaps the question should be turned around: why do many in the academy want to insist so shrilly that Jesus was Jewish?

You’ve been lucky! I have yet to attend an academic lecture where anyone was shrill. I’ve heard of it happening, but they seem to be very rare. Indeed, most academics don’t seem to even know how to make a lecture interesting (although there are some exceptions, for example Richard Hays and Stephen Patterson). I’ve often sat through a boring presentation where I wished someone would say something shrill just to wake everyone up from their slumber. I’m envious of your good fortune.

I’ve been told a story (I don’t know if it is true or not) of a nun teaching a class and trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to convince the class of Jesus’ Jewishness. She meet with a lot of opposition, but finally towards the end of class she was making some progress, when one of her students blurted out, “Well, maybe Jesus was Jewish, but certainly not the Blessed Virgin Mary!”

Jesus’ religious upbringing appears to have been rooted in a 1st century “Jewish” religious tradition. One can quibble about the appropriateness of the term “Jewish,” but to suggest that the “academy” appears to have some other motive other than putting the historical Jesus into his proper historical context, strikes me as a tad odd. What academy do you attend? Would you care to elaborate?

Loren Rosson III said...

Steven wrote:

You’ve been lucky! I have yet to attend an academic lecture where anyone was shrill. I’ve heard of it happening, but they seem to be very rare...Would you care to elaborate?

Steven, see my review of Arnal's The Symbolic Jesus, where I discuss the issue. That will hopefully clarify things.

Nick Kiger said...

I think such petty arguments over terminology is what has brought us to this place! Steven is correct in saying the term "Jewish" is used to put Jesus into his historical context. Whether he was anti-Torah or pro-Torah, anti-sabbath or pro sabbath, Jesus was functioning in and was a part of the society that cared about these issues. Is seems to me that his messege would have carried a lot less weight if he were not a part of the tradition he was interacting with. How does one explain for example why Jesus used the dichotomy between Judeans and Samaritans in his parables. Maybe Jesus wasn't "Jewish" in the most technical sense, but I think everyone involved in this conversation understands what it means to call him this.

Steven Craig Miller said...

Loren (in his blog) writes: By these agendas [four were listed] scholars aren't so much making Jesus conform to their own beliefs (Sanders' Jesus is anything but a reflection of Sanders), but they are making him conform to an image which legitimates, however obliquely, their academics, politics, religion, and/or culture -- whether intentionally or not ...

How is a scholar supposed to respond to a charge that their academic writings obliquely legitimates their scholarly efforts? That is like accusing an author of wanting his books to sell, or accusing a pastor that he wants people to attend his church. Yep, guilty as charged!

According to Loren: Arnal nails down these agendas with enviable acumen ...

One of these agendas was described as follows: (1) The agenda to save one's scholarship from the legacy of German Lutherans. Sanders, Fredriksen, Vermes, etc. have paved the way to a new and distinctive Anglo-American scholarship, free of Bultmannian influence, free of eisegetical caricatures.

As a Lutheran, I think it is important to remind ourselves that Jesus, and not even Paul, were confessional Lutherans, educated in Lutheran theology. Am I missing something here, what is wrong with such an agenda? It seems to me to be right on track. Neither Jesus, nor Paul, had read anything written by Luther, let along Bultmann, wouldn’t you agree?

Geoff Hudson said...

Well someone who is far from shrill is E P Sanders who wrote a very unshrill book: Judaism Practice & Belief 63BCE-66CE - all 580 pages of it. So Loren I laugh - its nowt to do with politics.

If Galilee was rebel country, then the Pauline Jesus just had to come from there, never mind the nonsense that he had to travel between Galilee and Judea at the speed of light. And no need for erudition about that. But then in another fabricated piece of propaganda, the saviour of the world Vespasian also apparently came out of Galilee fighting his way heroically to Judea. But from the geographical descriptions of the places where battles were supposed to have taken place in Galilee, it is clear that they were in Judea around the Lake Ashpaltitis, not around Lake Galilee. The same folk who produced Vespasian's war propaganda created the nonsense of Jesus coming out of Galilee.

The real prophet saw that the law was obsolete. His apparent description of the so-called foundation cornerstone (which could not possibly fall on anyone) really referred to an imaginary pyramidal capstone sealing the altar for burnt offerrings. It was symbolic of the Spirit of God which could indeed 'fall' on folk in more ways than one.

Thus I do not look to Galilee for the prophet but to En Gedi of Asphaltitis - the place of 'peaceful' prophets who farmed lands rented from Roman landlords.

Loren Rosson III said...

Steven wrote:

According to Loren: Arnal nails down these agendas with enviable acumen ...

One of these agendas was described as follows: (1) The agenda to save one's scholarship from the legacy of German Lutherans. Sanders, Fredriksen, Vermes, etc. have paved the way to a new and distinctive Anglo-American scholarship, free of Bultmannian influence, free of eisegetical caricatures.


As a Lutheran, I think it is important to remind ourselves that Jesus, and not even Paul, were confessional Lutherans, educated in Lutheran theology. Am I missing something here, what is wrong with such an agenda? It seems to me to be right on track. Neither Jesus, nor Paul, had read anything written by Luther, let along Bultmann, wouldn’t you agree?


There's nothing wrong with the agenda in and of itself, and I'm as New Perspective as they come. The problem results when Jesus/Paul's "Jewishness" becomes invoked out of misplaced fear of being associated with Lutheran/existential reconstructions, or any of the others mentioned. In other words, we can acknowledge that Lutheran reconstructions (not to mention dated anti-Semitic ones) are bogus without having to lean on the crutch of a "Jewish Jesus" or "Jewish Paul".

Steven Craig Miller said...

Loren writes: The problem results when Jesus/Paul's "Jewishness" becomes invoked out of misplaced fear of being associated with Lutheran/existential reconstructions ...

Can you give me an example of this? I've read almost all (if not all) of the (so-called) 3rd questers listed in your blog, and own their works. Perhaps you can give me an example?

Personally, I don't believe that Jesus' "Jewishness" is the stumbling block you seem to think it is. In my opinion, the greater problem is the fact that there was no middle class during the 1st century. Jesus' 1st century "peasant" theology at times appears to be inconsistent with 21st century "middle class" Christianity. This, in my opinion, is a real stumbling block.

Rebecca said...

As a Jewish scholar whose field is Judaism in late antiquity, I find the claim that Judaism only emerged in the third century C.E. ridiculous. What are you talking about? Who were the people in Jerusalem in the 5th century who were sacrificing in the Temple? Or in the 3rd century, or in the first century C.E.?

I think that you are making an entirely unwarranted division between the Jewish practice of people living in Galilee, whom you would like to call "Israelites," who are apocalyptic and revelatory, versus those in Judah who are temple and Torah oriented. In my opinion, this is simply a new version of the old canard of anti-semitic New Testament scholarship (see Bultmann for only one example) which does its best to remove Jesus (the good guy) from those (bad) Jews who adhere to the law.

And Deane, as for your point, "The danger of such an ad hominem today is that it is also used by people to avoid logical argument about the removal of academics who speak out against the modern state of Israel, such as Israel Finkelstein." First of all, you're thinking of Norman Finkelstein, not Israel Finkelstein (the Israeli archaeologist). And secondly, what does this have to do with New Testament scholarship? It seems to me that it is you who are bringing in the ad hominem here.

It is not ad hominem for April to remind us all of the history of New Testament scholarship, which earlier in the 20th century did its best to divorce Jesus from Judaism and in doing so was part of the broad intellectual support for anti-semitism - and I'm not talking about Nazism here. Do we wish to return to the bad old days?

Loren Rosson III said...

Steven wrote:

Loren writes: The problem results when Jesus/Paul's "Jewishness" becomes invoked out of misplaced fear of being associated with Lutheran/existential reconstructions ...

Can you give me an example of this?


Well Steve, try Rebecca's comment right below yours:

In my opinion, this is simply a new version of the old canard of anti-semitic New Testament scholarship (see Bultmann for only one example) which does its best to remove Jesus (the good guy) from those (bad) Jews who adhere to the law.

When people associate the arguments of Elliott, Esler et all with antiquated (and anti-Semitic) Lutheran scholarship, it shows just how much we've come to lean on the crutch of a supposed "Jewishness" for fear that we're automatically siding with dated paradigms that the "Jewish Jesus" and "Jewish Paul" oppose. But as I said already, you don't need a non-existent Jewishness to avoid these pitfalls.

And to be clear: I do not assume that Jesus' way of being a Galilean Israelite was inherently better than (say) a Pharisee's way of being a Judean Israelite. Good guy/bad guy contrasts have no more place in an historical discussion than do foils and false starts.

Steven Craig Miller said...

Re: "see Bultmann"

Hmm ... I was hoping for a citation and page number, I'm not looking forward to re-reading everything Bultmann has written.

Furthermore, I thought the problem was among the (so-called) 3rd questers. Surely Bultmann is not considered a 3rd quester, yes?

Loren Rosson III said...

Hmm ... I was hoping for a citation and page number, I'm not looking forward to re-reading everything Bultmann has written.

Well, that part is from Rebecca's comment. I cited her as an example of what you were requesting.

Furthermore, I thought the problem was among the (so-called) 3rd questers. Surely Bultmann is not considered a 3rd quester, yes?

The third questers rightly put the Bultmannians/Lutherans to rest. But some of them tend to push Jesus' "Jewishness" as a hot button item and/or associate questioning the term automatically with Bultmannianism (like Rebecca).

Steven Craig Miller said...

Loren writes: The third questers rightly put the Bultmannians/Lutherans to rest. But some of them tend to push Jesus' "Jewishness" as a hot button item and/or associate questioning the term automatically with Bultmannianism ...

Okay, can you give an example? I'll understand if you cannot, but an example might help me understand your point better.

RomanCollar said...

I find it strange that criticism of anything Jewish always leads to personal attacks. There's nothing wrong with arguing against the belief that Jesus was NOT Jewish, in the sense we know today, using reasoned explanations. However, the general theme I see in this post is, "How DARE you argue that a Jewish claim is wrong!!!" Is it a sin to go against the Jews? I was never made aware.

I think there is more weight to the notion that Jesus was not Jewish. Christ specifically said in the gospels to go out to the lost tribes of Israel. If Israel is truly made up of Jews, then where are the Jewish-Christian Churches? Why is it that the vast majority of all world Jewry has rejected Christ? Common sense people...

healthy*choices said...

What was this about: (and perhaps sell more books and confuse the public who are finally beginning to hear that Jesus was Jewish and not a Christian!)
UUUHHMMM. Christ bought Christ-ianity to the people, he wasn't a Christian He is the Christ-ian. please!

katherine said...

It is just like the high priests, rabbis that Jesus dealt with that skirt around all issues and never come to the knowledge of the truth. It is not whether Jesus was Jewish or Christian whether he is the Israelite or not. Is he is the Messiah? Is he is the "Chosen One"?There are modern day Pharisees and Saducees today who promote RELIGION
and are no different than the Gnostics who have knowledge but do not know the practical underlying truth of which Jesus spoke about why do you think he used simple analogies of fish, coins, and etc. because he was not appealing to the "minds" of that day or of even today because he was getting to the heart of the matter which was missed in all this rhetoric of theologians. Yes, I have a theology degree, and had much of the New and Old Testament memorized but putting it into practice the Torah, the Bible escapes most who know it so well. Look at it as a child accept it as a child like manner then you will see the whole truth. K.Stoneman

Iron said...

Jesus was not a jew? Really? Then how was it that he could forgive the sins of Jews? Only temple priests could forgive sin (in the name of God of course). Anyone can say they forgive your traffic ticket, but the only one you will actually believe has the power to do this is someone with legal power and authority, like a judge. Likewise no one would have ever believed Yeshua’s forgiveness of sin had he not had the authority to do so. It is carefully stated that Jesus was of the Davidic bloodline of the Levite priesthood. The reason for this detail is to verify that Yeshua is not only jewish, but a temple priest as well. In fact he may have been groomed to be a replacement for the personal god jews call "YHVH". Margaret Barker has more information on this subject in her books about Temple Theology. Ms. Barker has done much research and published a number of books on this very subject. When one understands the Temple's sacrificial system, there can be no doubt of his jewish linage. Of course, the jews would like nothing more than to be rid of Jesus. For two thousand years they have been quite chagrinned to find nailing him to a cross wasn't enough to destroy his influence. www.margaretbarker.com

Chi87 said...

Chiquitha wrote:
Oh my blessed stars... You all sound so lost; just back track history-the true history-before the story was rewritten. The truth will never make total seance to anyone outside of the 12 tribes because you were not chosen to know the truth. Okay, the pale skins before you may have listened to an excommunicated Moore tribal-men to even find out about the Judaean Hebrew Israelites, the REAL JEWS; and they may have stolen the tangible truth and rewritten it according to their own likeness, but that don't change the first written truth. Ya'll are the devils children and you will be punished just as the TRUE KINGS AND QUEENS OF PIGMENT were punished for their greed you too will be punished for killing the savior, making a lie of the truth, and much more. What the Most High has in store no MAN can give it nor take it away, so even thou our brothers and sisters before us information was stolen and done away with, our heavenly farther has written the truth on the tablets of our heart and soul. So deep down we will always know the truth, and the closer we become of the end of this test the more we will remember and the more we will learn because we are apart of the omnipotent creator. So don't over analyze what you read, even if it is the king james version of the Bible. You can still get enough of the truth from that book too, just not the real name to call on but I sure that you know at lest one maybe two of his names. Although I know why, I still must ask, Why do pale skins hate people of pigment because we are closer to the SUN/Son, when everything you have learned one that you hate created it and taught you or one of your own? How can one hate what Love is and replace it with your hate and sickness, why not just forget the way you were brought up learn to honestly and truly love all people and repent to the Most High through his son and not the SO CALLED high priest. Why you ya'll hate the one's you now call black, why do you hate the red man, and the fillipens, etc...? Even within your hate you are still loved be our Farther and us because without your hate we would not be better than we once were all the way around, nor would we continue to become more in the likeness of our farther. Therefore, I must thank you for my nation for braking us down to make us stronger. PEACE, GRACE, LOVE, LAUGHTER, JOY, UNDERSTANDING OF WISDOM AND HAPPYNESS BE ONTO YOU AND YOURS.