With the exception of Josephus, there is nothing in the ancient Jewish literature that could be regarded as an independent Jewish source of information on Jesus. One could put forward several suggestions to account for this apparent lack of interest within the Talmud and Jewish sources. Perhaps the silence had been accidental, in that historical circumstances might never have offered an opportunity for reports about Jesus to be included within the writings. Or perhaps the editors had not deemed Jesus important enough to discuss, or were simply ignorant of his existence. There was also, of course, the practical danger of provoking violent Christian responses.
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With the exception of Josephus, there is nothing in the ancient Jewish literature that could be regarded as an independent Jewish source of information on Jesus. One could put forward several suggestions to account for this apparent lack of interest within the Talmud and Jewish sources. Perhaps the silence had been accidental, in that historical circumstances might never have offered an opportunity for reports about Jesus to be included within the writings.
Or perhaps the editors had not deemed Jesus important enough to discuss, or were simply ignorant of his existence. There was also, of course, the practical danger of provoking violent Christian responses. Similarly, Jews in the mediaeval period had little to say about Jesus because of their own concern about encouraging controversy and their fear of reprisals.
What little was written was typically highly defensive and apologetic in tone, for writings regarding Jesus were usually composed under persistent anti-Jewish oppression. This explains the popularity in the mediaeval period of the Toledot Yeshu History of Jesus , for example, a notorious polemic composed sometime in late antiquity on the basis of earlier traditions, which presented Jesus as an illegitimate-born, apostate Jew who practiced sorcery and sought to lead Israel astray.
There were also religious disputations in which Jewish leaders were compelled to participate. These disputations were the main context of the Jewish treatment of Jesus during the Middle Ages but, as far as the evidence goes, they did not occur in any large number until the thirteenth century. At this time there was an outbreak in public debates ,which forced Jewish thinkers to give heed to a subject that, to them, was not of primary interest.
Well-known examples include the disputations at Paris and Barcelona The disputations were, at best, unproductive, since such conditions that is, discussions in which the opponents were also the judges were by no means conducive to an unbiased reading or estimation of Jesus. It was only sensible for Jews to avoid such confrontations whenever possible.
In any case, there was little incentive to become interested in these matters, since the Jew found fulfillment in the Torah. Until relatively modern times, then, Jesus and his teachings were subjects generally avoided by Jewish thinkers.
The eighteenth and nineteenth-century Emancipation and the new freedom it brought for Jewish writers and thinkers changed all this and encouraged a less hostile treatment of Jesus. The arrival of the Wissenschaft des Judentums Science of Judaism or the Historical Study of Judaism could be considered the single most important factor in making possible a new Jewish attitude towards Jesus.
Its modern historical-critical methodology and the greater confidence it inspired meant that Jewish thinkers became increasingly objective, because less polemical, in their approach to Christianity and its origins. And, soon after, an emerging Reform Judaism emphasized the ethical tradition within Jewish teaching, as exemplified by the Prophets, at the expense of religious dogma, and sought to re-define Judaism in essentially ethical terms.
Viewed as a Jewish ethical teacher, Jesus and his teachings started to look more interesting and relevant. The majority of modern Jewish writers and scholars drawn to the study of Jesus have been Reform or Liberal, and there are several reasons for this. The tendency among nineteenth-century reform-minded Jews to move away from the idea of Judaism as a nation, and to view it rather as a religious fellowship, was very much related to the new emphasis on ethics as central to their religious message.
In this context, especially for those who were critical of Orthodox Jewish ritual, Jesus represented the struggle of free spirituality against the external ritualism of an earlier time, thus mirroring the then contemporary debate between the Orthodox and the Reform. Yet Jewish reclamations of Jesus were driven by more than simply the concern to recover the champion of an earlier Jewish ethical tradition. They were also a reminder that the Christian morality championed by Western civilization could arguably be regarded as imitative and derivative of Jewish religious thought.
The German Reform rabbi and Wissenschaft scholar, Abraham Geiger, to take one example, spent considerable time and effort to this end. For Geiger the traditional Christian view of the Church as the fulfillment of a failed Judaism was a myth he was determined to overthrow.
Instead, he suggested that Christianity should be regarded as a tangential off-shoot from Judaism, and that the current search for the faith of Jesus by Protestant scholars would only confirm that this ideal faith was essentially Jewish in nature. This way of confronting Christian claims regarding Jesus and Judaism by describing Jesus as essentially Jewish, rather than essentially alien and heretical, was new. It can at least be partially explained by the reaction to Christian critique and the underlying psychological need to justify Judaism in the eyes of the Western Christian world.
It was not only Reform-minded Jews who saw a practical utility in reclaiming Jesus as a Jew. The following case study is a compilation of excerpts from a book written by Joseph Klausner, a traditionally observant Zionist living in Palestine in the s.
Klausner regarded Jesus as a Jew and a highly significant figure in the national history of the Jews. In particular, Jesus functioned as a kind of object lesson, illustrating the opposing worldviews of Judaism and Christianity.
Klausner, Joseph. London: Allen and Unwin, trans. Jerusalem: Shtibel. Jesus derived his entire knowledge and point of view from the Scriptures and from a few, at most, of the Palestinian apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings and from the Palestinian Haggada [sic] and Midrash in the primitive form in which they were then current among the Jews. Christianity, it must always be remembered, is the result of a combination of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy; it cannot be understood without a knowledge of Jewish-Greek Alexandrine literature and of contemporary Graeco-Roman culture.
Jesus of Nazareth, however, was a product of Palestine alone, a product of Judaism unaffected by any foreign admixture. There were many Gentiles in Galilee, but Jesus was in no way influenced by them.
In his days, Galilee was the stronghold of the most enthusiastic Jewish patriotism… Without any exception he is wholly explainable by the scriptural and Pharisaic Judaism of his time. For ye tithe mint and rue and every herb and pass over judgment and the love of God: but these ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone. This verse… proves in the strongest possible fashion that never did Jesus think of annulling the Law or even the ceremonial laws which it contained and setting up a new law of his own.
Jesus, on the Sabbath, heals diseases which are not dangerous. Matthew [xiii. Yet nothing is more dangerous to national Judaism than this exaggerated Judaism; it is the ruin of national culture, the national state, and national life. Where there is no call for the enactment of laws, for justice, for national statecraft, where belief in God and the practice of an extreme and one-sided ethic is in itself enough — there we have the negation of national life and of the national state.
The reason is plain. From the day when he was baptized by John, Jesus looked upon himself as the Messiah, and as the Messiah he was closer to God than was nay other human being. Tzaddiq] , Judaism was unable to accept [i. Yet, with Geiger and with Graetz, we can aver, without laying ourselves open to the charge of subjectivity and without any desire to argue in defence of Judaism, that throughout the Gospels there is not one item of ethical teaching which cannot be paralleled either in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, or in the Talmudic and Midrashic literature of the period near to the time of Jesus.
So extraordinary is the similarity that it might almost seem as though the Gospels were composed simply and solely out of matter contained in the Talmud and Midrash… But there is a new thing in the Gospels… Jesus gathered together and, so to speak, condensed and concentrated ethical teachings in such a fashion as to make them more prominent than in the Talmudic Haggada and the Midrashim, where they are interspaced among more commonplace discussion and worthless matter… A man like Jesus, for whom the ethical ideal was everything, was something hitherto unheard of in the Judaism of the day.
These two extremes, extreme kindliness of heart and the most violent passion, show in him a character akin to that of the Prophet — save only that he had not the wide political perspective of the Prophets, nor their gift of divine consolation to the nation. However that may be, these two contradictory attitudes are the sign of the great man. Only such a man, mighty in forgiveness and equally mighty in reproof, could exert so ineffaceable an influence on all who came in contact with him… The complete visionary and mystic exerts an influence only upon other visionaries like himself, and his influence soon passes… Only where mystic faith is yolked with practical prudence does there follow a strong, enduring result.
And of such a nature was the influence exerted by Jesus of Nazareth upon his followers, and, through them, upon succeeding generations. The contradictory traits in his character, its positive and negative aspects, his harshness and his gentleness, his clear vision combined with his cloudy visionariness — all these united to make him a force and an influence, for which history has never yet afforded a parallel. His teaching and his history have been severed from Israel… [F]rom the national Hebrew standpoint it is more difficult to appraise the value of Jesus.
What is Jesus to the Jewish nation at the present day? To the Jewish nation he can be neither God nor the Son of God, in the sense conveyed by belief in the Trinity. Either conception is to the Jew not only impious and blasphemous, but incomprehensible. Neither can they regard him as a lawgiver or the founder of a new religion: he did not even desire to be such.
But Jesus is, for the Jewish nation, a great teacher of morality and an artist in parable. He is the moralist for whom, in the religious life, morality counts as — everything. But in his ethical code there is a sublimity, distinctiveness and originality in form unparalleled in any other Hebrew ethical code; neither is there any parallel to the remarkable art of his parables.
The shrewdness and sharpness of his proverbs and his forceful epigrams serve, in an exceptional degree, to make ethical ideas a popular possession. If ever the day should come and this ethical code by stripped of its wrappings of miracles and mysticism, the Book of the Ethics of Jesus will be one of the choicest treasures in the literature of Israel for all time.
What was Klausner trying to achieve with his book Jesus of Nazareth, from which these excerpts have been taken? Joseph Klausner — was a Jewish historian and prominent Zionist. Religiously observant, but fiercely independent, Klausner would probably have identified with the Conservative Judaism movement if it had existed in Eretz Yisrael at that time.
His historical writings on Jesus and Christian beginnings were amongst the first such comprehensive treatments in Hebrew. When it came to categorizing Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth was portrayed by Klausner as a kind of mystic visionary and very much a product of the land of Palestine Almost certainly, he regarded himself as the messiah The contentious problem of how Jesus related to the Jewish Law, or halakhah, was likewise a complicated issue for Klausner.
Jesus disregarded ritual separatism, thus eating with sinners, and lightly esteemed Sabbath observance, healing diseases which were not dangerous and allowing his disciples to pluck corn, which would later allow Paul to break away from Judaism Unfortunately, very often his teachings were impractical for civil justice, culture, and family life Ultimately, his unique influence was due to his character Yet Jews have always rejected Jesus, Klausner argued, because his Jewish outlook was subsumed by his concern for the individual, which led to a loss of reality and an over-emphasis on self-abnegation, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and in this Jesus betrayed Jewish nationalism Christianity, to Klausner, was a combination of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy He sees Paul as responsible for making a Jewish Jesus the origin of Christianity, and there are hints throughout of his hostility to Christianity This anti-Christian attitude is reflected in the fact that the work revealed a glaring lack of familiarity with the changing Christian New Testament research.
In this sense, it is true to say, as Agus does, that, for many Jewish scholars, Jesus was made to stand for whatever it was that the particular scholar repudiated and excoriated Agus , 7. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account.
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Jesus of Nazareth
He was the chief redactor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica. He was a candidate for president in the first Israeli presidential election in , losing to Chaim Weizmann. Klausner was the great uncle of Israeli author Amos Oz. Joseph Klausner was born in Olkeniki , Vilna Governorate in