Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Historical Challenge of Rabbi Jesus

By the Rev. Howard Bess
May 13, 2010

Today’s New Testament scholars have lively arguments among themselves; but they have a near unanimous opinion about one thing: Jesus was a Jewish rabbi.

Read on.


Dean Taylor said...

While it is true that there are better, more appropriate fora where one might explore the various issues confronting the ecumenical movement--i.e., Protestant and Catholic dialogues concerning Christian theology--this space might serve to offer a prolegomena for readers here welcoming (with whatever reserve they find useful and meet) an all-too-brief glimpse into the topic at hand. As such, it is less a "debate"--i.e., you've certainly made no claim to offering an exhaustive study of the matter--than a cursory examination of a (for lack of a better term) relevant concern. And, therefore, a belated "Thank you" for broaching the subject here at this website. And, who's to say where a vital seed sown may end up, let alone what may accrue to it?

God exists, God creates, God insists, God graces (blesses)with or without anyone's "permission"...

The point was made:

"Today’s New Testament scholars have lively arguments among themselves; but they have a near unanimous opinion about one thing: Jesus was a Jewish rabbi."

Yes, of course. However, today's New Testament scholars, though--particularly those working within the purview of the Catholic Church (God help it in its tribulations) have quite a bit more to try and assimilate than the one springpoint you've settled upon, i.e., Jesus' affiliation with the Jewish tradition of Torah study. For example, you argue "If the rabbi Jesus is embraced, the followers of the creedal Christ are immediately confronted with Torah."

First, why the stress upon a "Jewish" identity to the degree that the Christ of the Gospels is completely eclipsed? For example, where is the Christ of the Beatitudes? More specifically, you've explored the importance--the necessity--of the Tanakh in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and rightly so, as it is the sacred foundation--the matrix--of the next stage of revelation-as-teaching, i.e., mankind's formation (to borrow from the French idea of early education) in the West.

But where is the Christ of the New Testament? It is not correct to argue, for example, that "Jesus became notable because he was a rabbi who stirred the imagination of his listeners and challenged them to live in an earthly kingdom in accordance with Torah."

More succinctly: Jesus did not solely (merely?) reiterate ideas, arguments, teachings, etc., from Holy Writ, i.e., the Tanakh. To argue otherwise is to offer a reductionist view, one which speaks to Christianity (here, stressing the eponymous root of that term) as redundancy.

Is this to say that Jesus did away with the laws and the prophets, root and branch, in order to establish an entirely new religion as, e.g., program of Divine guidance for mankind? No. A quote from biblical exegesis, referring to Matthew 5: 21-48:

"Six examples of the conduct demanded of the Christian disciple. Each deals with a commandment of the law, introduced by You have heard that it was said to your ancestors or an equivalent formula, followed by Jesus' teaching in respect to that commandment, But I say to you; thus their designation as 'antitheses.' Three of them accept the Mosaic law but extend or deepen it (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28; 43-44); three reject it as a standard of conduct for the disciples (Matthew 31-32; 33-37; 38-39)" [NAB].

Dean Taylor said...


But, the key idea here may be the point of that "progression," which ought not be delimited via a metric used to gauge our own often misbegotten "progress" in the world. Which is to argue that we advance via our own more often than not clumsy, ill-conceived, impotent gestures, in fits and perverse, contradictory starts. And God's progress? When He acts, it must be decisive, simple (i.e., unalloyed), definitive.

The Christ became notable, not as a rabbi who lived the teachings of his time in a more compelling manner, but as the sacred demiurge who infused, interjected, an utterly new grace from our Creator, that grace, ultimately, being His Divine Self. But--and departing, for the moment, from that--the--radical concern--and, more concretely--the Christ became notable for what He taught, e.g., the Beatitudes.

But, again, more than this--and owing to the willful, self-contradictory, conflicted nature of humanity--an essential rift had developed which need bridging--i.e., healing. The "fix," as it were, came in the form of the man (i.e., one of us) Christ's obedience unto his own ignominious death. His Divinity was the second reality in the healing event.

This is NOT a Jewish "tradition" event. It is THE utterly unique moment in what is otherwise humanity's often lamentable history. Said another way: with the Loving Act of the God/man grace was now in the world. Or, as Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner has it, it is now a world of grace. We actualize said grace by our assent to social praxis. We forego that graced moment--for ourselves and others--by our behavioral contempt for same. The point being, though, that the grace is now immanent. It is THE fait accompli of our impoverished narrative.

"I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees [Bible "experts"], you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

"As a man thinks so goes the man." And, God's "ideas," of course, being immanent, will out. If, nevertheless, we presume--or, rather, when we presume--the God/humanity collaboration (laboring together) falters. It is no longer simple, etc., but riven.

Once again: "Christianity" re-imagined via Weberian rationalization--i.e., without the assent to obedience in caritas--is now no longer a call--a command, in fact--to social equity, forgiveness, kindness, etc., but rather, now a chimera, i.e., a grotesquerie. As Hume would say, commit it--again--to the flames.

here, the center will hold, as in a crucible. Our failure to love in caritas will be stripped away though, as it must, both via personal purgation and within the collective. Empire's purgation is also immanent, as well as being at hand, as capitalism, it is argued, contains the seeds of its own destruction (q.v., Marx).

As to the argument that social change--e.g., as equity for all--occurs not via Divine intercession but, rather, through our own diligent efforts, the either/or proposition may be displaced by a both/and thesis, whereby God augments our efforts. And this graced act of God's occurs without our understanding ("knowledge") or permission,

There is less here to consider--to analyze--as much as to do. In the twenty centuries of its reality, the ONLY Christian "center," or core which abides is the least tried--Christianity as caritas (i.e., charity) praxis. Everything lost in the flames was only immaterial--in many senses of the term.

Barbara Thomson said...

You can't lump all the varied Christian denominations into one. Some churches, like the UCC to which I belong have a great emphasis on good works, charity and the brotherhood of all humanity, not unlike a Torah perspective. The Baptist minister who wrote the article reflects the more self-centered outlook of his denomination and evangelicals in general. They're waiting for the rapture, and have a very specific view of what Biblical passages they will follow and which they will conveniently ignore.

Eliyahu said...

Mr Bess,
I read your article of the above title. I have a "Bible" college education and even attended seminary for a short time. I investigated the history of the 1st century and converted to Judaism seeing that that is what Ribi Yehoshua ben Yoseph taught. I would like to inform you of a website, The man that is the author it also has a degree in theology and was a Baptist minister. He converted to Judaism in the 80's and has been living in Raanana, Israel since shortly thereafter. He has translated the extant manuscripts of the available writings of Matityahu and what is the rest of the purported writings about Ribi Yehoshua ben Yoseph, HaMashiach. I was struck by your candid and logical assessment of Ribi Yehoshua as a rabbi and Jewish teacher who embraced the Torah. I think though if you will be honest you will see that you cannot have a Torah observant Jewish teacher being the Jzeus which is the antithesis of keeping Torah. I hope you will go to the website and investigate the research that has been done.
In the blessings of Torah,
Eliyahu Konn

Anonymous said...

"Today’s New Testament scholars have lively arguments among themselves; but they have a near unanimous opinion about one thing: Jesus was a Jewish rabbi."

Anyone who believes in the fairy stories in the Bible & the Jewish Old Testament is an idiot.

The Creation the Virgin Birth etc etc all come from previous religions

Israeli archaeologists ( I. Finkelstein, N. Silberman, Z. Hawass, Z. Herzog, W. Denver, et al ) agree that there was no Exodus, no Joshua invasion, and that the proto-Israelites were native Canaanites living in the highlands of Palestine/Canaan.

There was no Moses, Abraham or covenant or Promised Land, just propaganda created 700 years after the "Moses era" to create a legacy for the benefit of a group based in Jerusalem circa 500 BC.

Also, the same archaeologists now agree that the great United Kingdom of David and Solomon circa 980-930BC is a fairy tale.

Archeology now shows that the backwater state of Judah in this era had a population of ~5,000 people spread over ~25 villages including Jerusalem and that Jerusalem in that era had no walls, no monumental buildings and was mostly illiterate.

Also, that David and Solomon were mere chieftains, with maybe 50 warriors to their names. This is now established FACT ( "The Bible Unearthed" by Finkelstein ).

If this can rule out a Zionist/Jewish Biblical claim & the UK Balfour Declaration is fraudulent ,a claim then rests on who "ran" the Palestine "area" after Solomon and David..

History shows that most of the area was run by other nations like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexander's Greeks, the Romans and finally the Byzantine Greeks until the Arab conquest.

Nethanhu's & the Zionist claim that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jews for 3,000 years is completely false.

Israel therefore is a State built on fraud & sympathy.

Dean Taylor said...

"You can't lump all the varied Christian denominations into one..."

This is for the lump in your head, dear:

"If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing." I Cor. 13:4

or this:

"(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

"When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

"But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." Matt 6:1-4

from your thoroughly unenlightened, "lumpy" point of view:

"The Baptist minister who wrote the article reflects the more self-centered outlook of his denomination and evangelicals in general. They're waiting for the rapture, and have a very specific view of what Biblical passages they will follow and which they will conveniently ignore."

This is not about doing "good deeds," darling.

Keep going to church....dope.