What are Judeo-Christian values? How can Jews and Christians learn from each other to strengthen one another’s faith? What are the obstacles that stand in the way? Rhonda Robinson explores these questions and more in her ongoing series on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus. Check out her previous installments in the series:
July 21: Jesus a Pharisee?
After over two thousand years of Christianity, the historical character of Jesus remains shrouded in mystery. Scholars, clergy, and lay-people have used many methods in an effort to unlock the secrets of Christianity’s founder.
– Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Kosher Jesus
Perhaps the most famous mystery surrounding Jesus, as the risen Christ, is the shroud of Turin. Whether you accept its authenticity or believe it is a forgery, the controversy itself bears witness to the impact that Jesus of Nazareth still has on the world to this day.
As all good authors do, Boteach has loaded the bases to drive home his theory. But first, let’s underscore the few simple points we can agree upon. Jesus lived. Jesus was a devout Jew. He lived as a carpenter and a rabbi (a teacher). Jesus was crucified.
The answers to questions such as “Why did he die?” and “Who killed him?” should be what separate Judaism and Christianity in faith — not hatred. This, I believe, is the heart of what Boteach is trying to convey.
The bulk of the author’s work points to the Christian text (New Testament) revealing Jesus as a devoted Jew. Comparing his knowledge of Jewish laws and tradition with the life and words of Christ, leads the author to conclude that Jesus should be embraced as a beloved Jewish son. Followers of Christ should have no problem with this.
However, Boteach paints a picture of a bipolar Jesus by contrasting the scripture where Jesus called Jews “a pack of vipers” with his instructing the disciples not to go among the gentiles but rather go to the “lost sheep of Israel.”
“The two Jesuses– the anti- Semitic firebrand condemning Jews to hell, and the soft shepherd of Israel with no interest in proselytizing gentiles– are utterly irreconcilable. One is authentic, the other manufactured.”
I have a different theory.
Many years ago, our family became friends with another family who lived nearby. From the top down, grandparents, parents and children — we all intermingled friendships. Those relationships have lasted through births, childrearing, marriages and deaths. It continues even now, through another generation.
In those early years, when I met the patriarch of that family, he was an elder in our church. But more than that, he was well known and highly respected in our community. I only knew him up to that point through his good works and esteemed reputation.
Imagine my surprise when an argument broke out between he and his wife in the kitchen in my presence. A couple of their adult children soon joined in. Voices were raised along with my eyebrows. An impassioned debate complete with tempers and tears ensued, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they still had company.
So I jumped in.
Over the decades of friendship, and countless conversations later, I can tell you, without reservation, what may have looked to an outsider as a family fight — was in fact, not in the least.
It was an honest, intense discussion between people that trusted one another enough to be unashamedly passionate about the topic at hand. This was not a house divided. Nor one filled with hate for one another. I watched over the years, as those impassioned conversations built a strong house filled with loving people of faith. Faith that was not shaken by words, and clearly demonstrated by works, one generation after another.
Boteach claims that the gospels must be altered. The motive, he asserts, is to separate Jesus from his rightful heritage, and justify persecution of the Jewish people to this day. His theory and case is easily made through the prism of centuries of atrocities. His conclusion is understandable.
Had I had only a transcript to read of some of the discussions that went on behind closed doors of those dear friends, I would indeed have drawn a different conclusion. But, having known them intimately — their heart, character and the fruit of their labor, I know the truth.
We can, however, look at character and passion in seeking truth in the bible as well. The entire bible is filled with what G.K. Chesterton calls “fierce opposites.” The world around us bears witness to it. The seed that dies to give birth to a tree, the sun that is so deadly it is unapproachable, and yet all life would perish without it.
From his conception to his death, in Christianity, the life of Christ is a continuous illustration of “fierce opposites.”
“I do not seek to undermine Christians’ belief that Jesus was divine. If he was a great rabbi that fought to free the Jewish people from Roman rule, he is still the same Jesus Christians have treasured for millennia.”