Archive for the ‘Historical Jesus’ Category

From every quarter of late, and by voices compelled by various agenda, the point is made that the understanding of Second Temple Judaism that has prevailed for centuries has been found wanting, that recent (re)readings of the literature born of that era have issued in a very different and much less censorious picture. To the degree that this reshaping of the Jewish mind and heart of 200 BC to AD 200 is accurate, it necessitates a recalibration of our understanding of the world into which Jesus was born, the culture to which He offered Himself as the Messiah/Son of God, and of the dynamics of the largely negative reaction which that offer produced.


A good friend (Marshall Wicks, who is resident professor at Word of Life Bible Institute in New York) recommended that, in the interest of staying somewhat abreast of that discussion, I read Jacob Neusner’s book, Rabbinic Literature & The New Testament: What We Cannot Know We Do Not Know (Trinity Press International: Valley Forge, PA. 1994). I found it a fascinating and instructive exercise. In the attempt to recover and rightly understand the literature which reflects (from a distance of centuries, it should be said) 2nd Temple Judaism, Neusner has been as involved as anyone in the Jewish world.  With regard to the many rather bold and comprehensive claims to the effect that our vision of the world of pharisaic/rabbinical Judaism has been virtually remade, his has been a contrary voice. In fact, the book is a rather narrow, almost parochial, treatment of the issue; he is reacting to several specific critical assessments of his position.  But Neusner’s defense makes for some very helpful – and often intriguing – discussions relative to the broader issues at stake.


One of the fields of New Testament Study which has, in many of its varied iterations, based its “findings” largely upon a supposed re-reading of rabbinic literature is the “Quest for the Historical Jesus.”  That exercise in high-sounding disbelief has been afoot for almost 200 years, and though it is relatively quiet at the moment, like a bad toothache, it will be back. Neusner focuses on the Quest in a chapter entitled, “Who Needs the Historical Jesus?”  Though there are many more thorough and telling critiques of the Quest mentality and methodology, my impression is that Neusner’s was remarkable because of who he is – certainly one of this generation’s most important voices in the study of rabbinic literature. In short, he insists that the claim made by certain NT scholars – the claim that their reading of rabbinical literature demands a redefinition of our vision of Jesus and His times – simply will not stand.  I have posted a brief essay about this section of Neusner’s book here.  If you have the time and interest to spend some time with the essay, I’d be honored.

Click here to read the entire essay.

Read Full Post »