Judaism and Jesus

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Zev Garber , Kenneth Hanson
  • Newcastle upon Tyme, England: 
    Cambridge Scholars Publishing
    , January
     2020.
     184 pages.
     $72.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781527541290.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Scholars, religious leaders, and other readers interested in Judaism and Christianity should welcome this attempt by Zev Garber and Kenneth Hanson to explore the relationship between the two faiths. Judaism and Jesus differs from other publications on the same themes by its unusually sensitive and nuanced approach to a potentially explosive subject. It carries a mild and reconciliatory undertone, promoting a tolerant and inclusive line. For most Christian and Jewish writers, it has been more convenient to look at the two traditions as fully separated and even hostile to each other. Garber and Hanson are well aware of the troubled history that has often characterized the relations between the two communities of faiths; at the same time, they pay attention to unifying elements.

This balance is the book’s major contribution. In contrast to narratives of the parting of ways and separate existence, the book points to the often blurry divisions between Christianity and Judaism, to gray areas, borderline groups, and those elements of faith and worship that both Christians and Jews share. Ultimately the authors do not believe in drawing firm lines in the sand or determining in indisputable terms who belongs in one camp and who in the other. This attitude is prevalent all through the manuscript but is particularly evident in chapter 3, “One in Christ”; chapter 4, “Jewish Jesus: Partisan’s Imagination”; chapter 5, “Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sages”; and chapter 6, “The Shema, the Historical Jesus and Messianic Judaism.” In chapters 8 and 9, the authors bring the topic to conclusion, pointing to the “Perpetual Dilemma” and to the reality and need of “Sitting at the Common Table.”

Composed of essays that the authors have published in recent years, Judaism and Jesus is a timely book. It discusses questions and dilemmas that stand at the heart of Jewish and Christian scholarship “since German scholars have begun the quest for the historical Jesus” (vii). In chapter 7, “Threading the Needle: The Nazarene, the Hasidim, and Ancient Zealotry,” the authors make use of scholarship on the origins of Christianity and the similarities between Jesus, and his disciples, and other Second Temple Jewish groups. They point to parallels between the Hasidim, the Essenes, the Zealots, and the early Christians.

This history and the questions of the borders between Judaism and Christianity have become particularly relevant in the last generation with the growth of Messianic Judaism and other groups of Jewish believers in Jesus. The authors point out that many Jews and Christians have had a problem with Messianic Jews and have excluded them from conversations and mutual associations. They advocate that “sitting at the table of scholarship, sans Mechitza [dividing line], holds a promise of being, far from threatening, an aspirational experience” (154). The authors should be commended for their inclusive and generous attitude. The book carries, besides a scholarly outlook, a vision of interfaith concord and cooperation. The book’s last paragraph declares that “the time is ripe for collaborative effort and the free interchange of ideas, from the academic world to the general public” (156). This is inspiring.

With each chapter standing on its own and carrying its own bibliography, the book makes for easy and pleasant reading. This is not self-understood, considering the richness and complexity of the topic, as well as the extensive number and variety of sources the authors have utilized in in their work. This is a book worth reading and is highly recommended.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Yaakov Ariel is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Date of Review: 
March 18, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Zev Garber is emeritus professor and chair of Jewish studies and philosophy at Los Angeles Valley College.

Kenneth Hanson is an associate professor and coordinator of the University of Central Florida Judaic Studies Program.

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