Tag Archives: the Jewish Gospels

The Face of the King

lion-in-the-stormThe sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 37:20-23 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

This is a time yet to come. This is a time when God will restore all of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as a single, united people. The kingdoms will not be divided as they were in days of old. One Israel under One God.

“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28 (NASB)

More over, united Israel will be ruled by One King, King Messiah, Son of David. But look at this. Messiah, the King of Israel and Ruler of the World will be their prince forever.

That would be pretty hard to do if Messiah were merely mortal. Of course, in the Messianic age, many will be resurrected, never to die again, so we could say the same of Messiah. But as a Christian, I must believe that Messiah is more.

God also says that the people of Israel, the Jewish people, will “walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.” I know I recently wrote about all this, but I’m going through my notes on my recent reading of the latter portion of Ezekiel, so I thought this would be a good time to try to pull them together. I hope I can avoid repeating myself too much.

One puzzling thing I found was this:

Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me. He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever.

Ezekiel 43:6-7 (NASB)

I checked a large number of translations of Ezekiel 43:7 and all except one said that the Divine Presence would inhabit Ezekiel’s Temple, the Temple of the Messianic Era, forever (Young’s Literal Translation says “to the age”). You can read the larger context of that chapter to confirm that God is speaking of inhabiting the Temple of Jerusalem in the Messianic age forever. Why is this such a big deal?

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Revelation 21:22 (NASB)

This describes events after the arrival of the New Jerusalem, after the thousand-year reign of Messiah, after all that had to come to pass has come to past. Humanity is restored in the Garden as such, and God dwells with His people as He did in the beginning.

temple_jerusalemSo how can God dwell in Ezekiel’s temple forever if in the New Jerusalem there is no temple. More to the point, God and the Lamb are the temple. I’m not even sure what that means. I posed the question to a friend of mine and he suggested that as human history ends and we all move into eternity, maybe “forever” ends, too. After all, Messiah said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away until heaven and earth passed away (Matthew 5:18). At some point, heaven and earth, as we understand them, must pass away and something eternal must come in their stead.

Still, one of the things I’m trying to accomplish on this “mission” is to discover any dissonance between how the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament depict the Messiah and the age to come. The above definitely seems to qualify.

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord,
For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?
It will be darkness and not light…

Amos 5:18 (NASB)

We all want the Messiah to come to rescue and repair our broken world, but we also forget that it won’t be *poof* Messiah comes and instantly everything is fixed. There is going to be terrible war against Israel’s enemies which probably will include everyone. It won’t be pretty. Good thing the Church will be raptured up to Heaven for those seven years (I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 7:13-14 (NASB)

Wait a minute. Who is coming out of the tribulation?

Verse 14 doesn’t identify these people beyond saying that they are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, but they can’t be the Church, at least from a Christian point of view, since the last we see of the Church on earth is in Chapters 4 and 5. Everything in Chapters 6 through 19 is about the tribulation which the Church misses…

…or do they (we)?

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (emph. mine)

Revelation 13:7-10 (NASB)

What are “saints” doing on earth during the tribulation and undergoing such harsh conditions for the perseverance of their faith? Of course, they could be people who came to faith after the Church was raptured, but would they be called “saints?” Usually people in the Church are called “saints.”

waiting-for-mannaThe doctrine of the Rapture didn’t come along until the 17th century, so it wasn’t as if the concept most Christians are pinning their hopes and dreams on has been around since the beginning. In fact, Googling “rapture doctrine” returns a series of links, many of which lead to web pages (of unverified validity) that criticize this very recent Church doctrine.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of apostasy or “falling away” of the faithful that will occur when many are deceived by the “man of lawlessness.” I can’t directly tie any “falling away” to Christians expecting a rapture to Heaven that never arrives, but I could very well believe that a lot of Christians will indeed fall away once the tribulation starts and they’re still here during the war between Messiah and Israel’s enemies. Why weren’t we given the break and free passage to Heaven we were promised from the pulpit?

I’m not saying all this to be mean-spirited but as a cautionary tale. What if Amos 5:18 is talking to believers, explaining to us that we shouldn’t be so quick to desire the coming of Messiah because it will be “the great and terrible day of the Lord.”

“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
“And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:13-14 (NASB)

This is obviously a vision of Messiah’s coming, but I’ve always wondered why Daniel phrased it “one like the Son of Man?” Here we have a description of the Son of Man’s Kingdom never being destroyed, we have a vision of him coming on clouds of heaven (as opposed to just being born and being a great but totally human Jewish leader as most of Judaism believes of the Moshiach), and we get the sense that he is more than human.

Renowned Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin wrote a book called The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, which I reviewed on more than one occasion. Boyarin, who is Jewish and not a believer, makes a credible case for why a large number of first century Jews in Israel and the diaspora came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Part of his evidence for why Yeshua would be seen as a legitimate candidate for Messiah comes from Daniel 7.

This classic and mysterious Jewish text by a well-known but possibly not a well understood prophet may be one of the keys to unlocking the identity of Moshiach. I sometimes receive criticism from Jewish people for my continuing faith, but somewhere between traditional Christian evangelism and Jewish anti-missionaries, may be an unbiased truth in the reading of the Bible. We must seek it out in order to escape our “religious blinders” about Messiah, so that we can see him as he truly is, not as how one doctrine or another imagines him to be.

And the children of Zion, rejoice and jubilate with the Lord your God, for He gave you the teacher for justification, and He brought down for you rain, the early rain and the late rain in the first month.

Joel 2:23

the-teacher2I had to go to Chabad.org to find a translation that describes Messiah as a teacher. Most Christian Bible translations render “He gave you the teacher” as something like “He has given you the early rain…” (NASB translation).

The Douay-Rheims Bible says “he hath given you a teacher of justice,” and Young’s Literal Translation says “He hath given you the Teacher for righteousness.”

The Jewish understanding of Messiah is that, among other things, he will come to teach us what we need to know of his ways and how we should serve him. Christianity expects a warrior, a priest, and a King, but we miss how he will teach us the Torah of justice and righteousness, tzedakah if you will (see my review of the FFOZ TV episode Seek First the Kingdom for a more detailed description of the relationship between tzedakah [charity] and justice and righteousness).

So what can we conclude from my brief (and hardly comprehensive) review of Messianic prophesy?

  • Messiah will come as the One and eternal King of Israel, return the exiled Jews to their Land, the Land of Israel, and unite them as a one people in one Kingdom ruled by one King Messiah forever.
  • The “law of the land” (Israel) will be Torah, and the Jewish people will walk in God’s statues and ordinances as in days of old, but with the Torah written on their hearts rather than on scrolls.
  • The Divine Presence will once again inhabit the third and final Temple in Jerusalem forever (though we have difficulty reconciling this with Rev. 21).
  • There will be “saints” going through the tribulation who suffer and who are killed for the sake of their faith, drawing into sharp dispute the accuracy of the modern doctrine of “the Rapture,” which states “the Church” will be literally removed from earth and into Heaven for the entire length of those troubled days.
  • The Messiah is the Son of Man and the Prince, who seems to be more than a man, who will reign eternally, who will come on the clouds of heaven, possibly in direct contradiction of modern Jewish religious thought (for the most part) which states Messiah will be completely human with no supernatural (and certainly no Divine) nature.
  • Of his many roles in the age to come, Messiah will be a teacher of justice and righteousness.

Who is the King in the age to come? Who is Messiah, Son of David, Son of God?

Christians know him as Jesus Christ. Most religious Jews see him as King Messiah. Any similarity between the two is faint at best and at worst, nonexistent.

But if you believe in a Messiah at all as either Christian or Jew, you have a duty to set aside your preconceptions and what you have been taught (and what has been assumed by your religious stream for hundreds of years) and investigate for yourself what the scriptures say. In my case, this is paying close attention to any dissonance that may occur between the Old and New Testaments. Messiah is an objective being, apart from our need to paint his portrait one way or the other. Instead of seeking his portrait, I need to see his face.

Jesus the Traditionalist Jew

However, the Jewish background of the ideas of the Jesus movement is only one piece of the new picture I’m sketching here. Much of the most compelling evidence for the Jewishness of the early Jesus communities comes from the Gospels themselves. The Gospels, of course, are almost always understood as a marker for a very great break from Judaism. Over and over, we find within the interpretations of them (whether pious or scholarly) statements of what a radical break is constituted by Jesus’ teaching with respect to the “Judaism” of his day.

Even among those who recognize that Jesus himself may very well have been a pious Jew – a special teacher, to be sure, but not one instituting a consequential break with Judaism – the Gospels, and especially Mark, are taken as the sign of the rupture of Christianity, of its near-total overturn, of the forms of traditional (Jewish) piety.

-Daniel Boyarin
Chapter 3: “Jesus Kept Kosher”
The Jewish Gospels

I’ve been slowly, very slowly reading Daniel Boyarin’s excellent book The Jewish Gospels and have written regarding my responses to his text in two previous blog posts: The Unmixing Bowl and The Son of Man – The Son of God. Daniel Boyarin is a noteworthy Talmudic scholar and Professor of Talmudic Culture in the Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, so I’d have to say that, at least from my point of view, he knows his stuff. The book I’m reading contains an examination of the “stuff” about the ancient perceptions of Jesus and how it may not have been unusual at all for many Jews in the late Second Temple period to see Jesus as Rabbi, Messiah, Prophet, and indeed, Divine Son of God.

In the third chapter of his book, Boyarin examines the “Jewishness of Jesus”.

For anyone involved in the Messianic or Hebrew Roots movements, the fact that Jesus was (and is) Jewish and that he led a completely normative Jewish lifestyle as recorded in the Gospels is no surprise, but it may have been to Boyarin when he first encountered the “good news” of the Master. I still think that Boyarin isn’t personally convinced that Jesus is Messiah King or Son of God, but he does seem to be strongly suggesting that it is no mystery why Jews in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago (and even more recently in many parts of the world?) would believe that he was.

The portion of Boyarin I quoted above aptly defines how most modern Jews and Christians see the role of the Gospels: as defining a sharp break from Jews and Judaism in the teachings of Jesus and the establishment of the very “unJewish” Christian religion. But as we already know, this was hardly the case.

Counter to most views of the matter, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus kept kosher, which is to say that he saw himself not as abrogating the Torah but as defining it. There was controversy with some other Jewish leaders as to how best to observe the Law, but none, I will argue, about whether to observe it. According to Mark (and Matthew even more so), far from abandoning the laws and practices of the Torah, Jesus was a staunch defender of the Torah against what he perceived to be threats to it from the Pharisees.

Boyarin characterises the Pharisees as “a kind of reform movement…that was centered on Jerusalem and Judaea (and who) sought to convert other Jews to their way of thinking about God and the Torah.” It’s interesting (since I’ve never heard this interpretation before) that Boyarin characterizes the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees as one of interpretation of halakah. According to Boyarin, the Pharisees may have represented the establishment of religious practices that were formed during the Babylonian exile “while the Jews who remained in the land continued their ancient practices.” Jesus, Boyarin asserts, supported the more ancient Jewish practices and was actually a Torah conservative and traditionalist compared to the “radical innovations in the Law stemming from the Pharisees and Scribes of Jerusalem.”

We usually see Jesus (at least those of us to perceive him as a wholly Jewish man and teacher living a life consistent with the covenant of Sinai) as interpreting the “true” Torah in opposition to the “leaven of the Pharisees” who made up all kinds of stuff and were totally hypocritical. Boyarin suggests that the struggle between the two “Judaisms” may have been one of traditional halakah (Jesus) vs. reform interpretation (Pharisees and Scribes).

Far from being a marginal Jew, Jesus was a leader of one type of Judaism that was being marginalized by another group, the Pharisees, and he was fighting against them as dangerous innovators. This view of Christianity as but a variation within Judaism, and even a highly conservative and traditionalist one, goes to the heart of our description of the relations in the second, third, and fourth centuries between so-called Jewish Christianity and its early rival, the so-called Gentile Christianity that was eventually (after some centuries) to win the day.

I realize that Boyarin’s opinion is a minority view among both Jews and Christians, but it is compelling to consider that the “original” Jesus Christ was not only a Jew who never broke the Laws of Moses or taught others to break them, but was a teacher who was strongly advocating for a return to a very conservative and traditionalist interpretation of Torah relative to the normative Judaism of those times.


Imagine what that might mean to 21st century Christianity and Judaism. Imagine what that might mean to the movement we call “Messianic Judaism,” which is struggling tremendously to establish its own Jewish identity and connection to the other Judaisms of our modern era. Jesus the Jewish traditionalist. Jesus the teacher of conservative halakah.

Like I said. Wow.

Apparently, Boyarin isn’t the only Talmud scholar who holds this opinion of the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.

Yair Furstenberg, a young Talmud scholar at the Hebrew University, has recently provided a convincing explanation of the basic controversy between Jesus and those Pharisees. Furstenberg writes that Jesus’ statement (see Mark 7:14-23) needs to be read literally that the body is made impure not through ingesting impure foods but only through various substances that come out of the body…

…This is a debate between Jews about the correct way to keep Torah, not an attack on the Torah. Furstenberg has brilliantly argued that in its original sense, Jesus’ attack on the Pharisees here is literal; they have changed the rules of the Torah…

Really. Consider this. The argument that most Christians interpret about whether or not Jesus made all foods clean had nothing to do with abrogating the kosher laws. It was an argument between different factions of Jews on what made a person impure, which was not eating food but coming into contact with certain objects and substances such as a dead body or certain bodily fluids (you’ll have to read the whole chapter to get the details since Boyarin’s analysis is lengthy). He even presents a different view of Pharisees as “hypocrites” which doesn’t quite fit with what most Christians believe:

We should remember, however, that “in general, in ancient Jewish and Christian contexts a ‘hypocrite’ is a person whose interpretation of the Law differs from one’s own,” as Joel Marcus has so sharply put it.

That statement recasts the Pharisees in the role, not as liars and frauds, but as Jews who had a (sometimes) radically different perspective on halakah from the more conservative interpretation of Jesus.

Of course, the vast, vast majority of people in the church and probably in the Christian colleges and seminaries won’t agree with this. Boyarin suggests a corrective solution, but I don’t know how many believers, scholarly or otherwise, would be willing to try it out:

When put into its historic context, the chapter is perfectly clear. Mark was a Jew and his Jesus kept kosher. At least in its attitude toward the embodied practices of the Torah, Mark’s Gospel does not in any way constitute even a baby step in the direction of the invention of Christianity as a new religion or as a departure from Judaism at all.

Mark is best read as a Jewish text, even in its most radical Christological moments. Nothing that Mark’s Jesus proposes or argues for or enacts would have been inappropriate for a thoroughly Jewish Messiah, the Son of Man, and what would later be called Christianity is a brilliantly successful – the most brilliantly successful – Jewish apocalyptic and messianic movement.

Those of you who have read more than a few of my blog posts know I’m no Biblical scholar. I don’t have the “chops” to adequately evaluate Boyarin’s perspectives relative to other learned texts and teachers and to determine how much evidence there is to support his assertions. However, in general, what he presents to his readers is quite consistent with what is believed by modern “Messianic Jews” and those Gentiles who are called to follow that path of faith.

Jesus was and is a Jew. This “Jewishness” is written all over the Gospels. Jesus never attempted to depart from normative Jewish practice in even the slightest manner and as we see, he may very well have been advocating for a return to the more conservative and traditional understanding and practice of ancient halakah.

Imagine what this will mean for Christians and Jews everywhere when the Son of Man returns in glory. Imagine what it will mean, and what it should mean, to all of us right now.

Worshiping the God of Israel and giving great and very high honor to the Jewish Messiah King within a completely normative Jewish context is not dead. In fact, when he comes back to us and establishes his throne, it’ll all just be getting started.

The Son of Man – The Son of God

I was watching in the night visions and behold! with the clouds of heaven one like a man came; he came up to the One of Ancient Days, and they brought him before Him. He was given dominion, honor and kingship, so that all peoples, nations and languages would serve him; his dominion would be an everlasting dominion that would never pass, and his kingship would never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

And immediately after the distress of those days,
the sun will turn dark,
and the moon will not shine its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the armies of heaven will be shaken.
Then the sign of the son of man will appear in heaven,
and all families of the earth will mourn,
and they will see the son of man coming
with the clouds of heaven in power and great glory.

Matthew 24:29-30 (DHE Gospels)

The theology of the Gospels, far from being a radical innovation within Israelite religious tradition, is a highly conservative return to the very most ancient moments within that tradition, moments that had been largely suppressed in the meantime – but not entirely. The identification of the rider on the clouds, with the one like a son of man in Daniel provides that name and image of the Son of Man in the Gospels as well. It follows that the ideas about God that we identify as Christian are not innovations but may be deeply connected with some of the most ancient Israelite ideas about God. These ideas at the very least, go back to an entirely plausible (and attested) reading of Daniel 7 and thus to the second century B.C. at the latest. They may even be a whole lot older than that.

-Daniel Boyarin
From Chapter 1: From Son of God to Son of Man
in his book The Jewish Gospels

I previously mentioned when discussing Boyarin’s book, that “I would love to see Boyarin’s research from exclusively Jewish sources that supports his understanding of these different factions of Jews, some of whom held beliefs that so mirrored a Christian’s vision…” In Chapter 1, he provides a compelling connection between the visions of Daniel as the basis how some first century Jews could indeed anticipate God as the “One of Ancient Days” who gave one like the son of man” power and dominion over all the peoples and nations of the earth. I’ve always been concerned about the apparent “disconnect” between the Old Testament and Jewish vision of the Messiah and the New Testament and Christian Jesus. Now I have hope that such a disconnect does not, in fact, exist.

Without providing too many direct quotes from the chapter, Boyarin says it would have been necessary to link the “son of man” vision to the Messiah, since it was not necessarily presupposed that one would be the other. He also effectively describes how “Son of Man” could directly refer to the divine-like being standing before the throne of the Ancient One, while “Son of God” referred to this being’s humanity. Indeed, we’ve already seen in Daniel 7:13-14 how the phrase “son of man” directly applies to the divine-like being in human form who stood before the throne of the Ancient One and was given eternal authority over the earth.

But who is the “Son of God?”

The kings of the earth take their stand and the princes conspire secretly, against Hashem and against His anointed… “I Myself have anointed My King, over Zion, My holy mountain!” I am obliged to proclaim that Hashem said to me, “You are My son, I have begotten you this day.” –Psalm 2:2,6-7 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The “anointed one” is understood as the Messiah, the Christ. Boyarin explains this passage thus:

The anointed, earthly king of Israel is adopted by God as his son; the son of God is thus the reigning, living king of Israel. “This day I have begotten you” means this day you have been enthroned. Militating against any literal sense in which the king was taken as son of God and divine is the “this day” which, it seems, may only mean on this the day of your accession to the throne.

This is the traditional, modern Jewish understanding of the Messiah, a completely human being who will rise up from the ranks of his people to become King of Israel and by divine appointment (if not by divine nature), King over all the nations of the earth.


But if you put these pieces together, if you join the “Son of God” with the “Son of Man,” you come up with an entirely new being relative to how Jews today understand Messiah; you create an image that is not unlike how Christians see the Christ, the Messiah…Jesus.

You also, according to Boyarin’s argument, come up with an explanation as to how late second Temple Jewish men like Peter, Philip, and Matthew could believe that Jesus was not only the Messiah but indeed, a divine being who is “exalted at the right hand of God.” (Acts 2:33 ESV) In fact, reading the first chapter of Boyarin’s book is so riveting, I found myself asking why the Jewish author of this book isn’t convinced of what he’s actually saying here.

Here’s a clue:

Taking the two-throne vision out of context of Daniel 7 as a whole, we find several crucial elements…

What Boyarin seems to be saying is that, while he does not necessarily believe Jesus is the Messiah or the mysterious “son of man” figure we see in Daniel’s vision (and I’m reading between the lines here), he can fully understand why some Jews in the time of Jesus would totally embrace this belief. He is saying that the conception of the Messiah as divine or divine-like was a completely acceptable understanding to some Jews (but not others, since claims of Christ’s divinity resulted in other Jews trying to stone him).

If all the Jews – or even a substantial number – expected that the Messiah would be divine as well as human, then the belief in Jesus as God is not the point of departure on which some new religion came into being but simply another variant (and not a deviant one) of Judaism. As controversial a statement as this may seem, it must be first be understood in the context of a broader debate about the origins of the divinity of Jesus. The theological idea that Jesus actually was God, however refined by later niceties of trinitarian theology, is referred to as “high Christology,” in opposition to “low Christologies” according to which Jesus was essentially an inspired human being, a prophet or teacher, and not God.

My basic understanding of what Boyarin is saying in this chapter is that while the viewpoint of the nature and identity of Jesus as high Christology is perfectly reasonable within an ancient Jewish context as connected to Daniel 7, it was only one Jewish perspective that existed at the time about Jesus and may well have been, as far as Boyarin is concerned, quite wrong.

However, Boyarin doesn’t go out of his way to express his personal beliefs in this chapter and his beliefs are not the point. The point is whether or not it is reasonable to believe that many, many first century Jews (as many as “tens of thousands” according to Bible Scholar David Bivin) could have seen Jesus as both Messiah King and divine being within the normative Judaism of their day.

I would argue that this divine figure to whom authority has been delegated is a Redeemer king, as the Daniel passage clearly states. Thus he stands ripe for identification with the Davidic Messiah, as he is in the Gospel and also in non-Christian contemporary Jewish literature such as Enoch and Fourth Ezra. The usage of “Son of Man” in the Gospels joins up with the evidence of such usage from these other ancient Jewish texts to lead us to consider this term used in this way (and, more important, the concept of a second divinity implied by it) as the common coin – which I emphasize does not mean universal or uncontested – of Judaism already before Jesus.

Although it is extremely likely that Boyarin isn’t convinced of the Messianic or divine identity of Jesus, the fact that it was an accepted way for first century normative Judaism to view the Christ brings up the obvious question. What if the “Messianic Jews” of the first century were right? What if Jesus was and is the Messiah King and Daniel’s “Son of Man?”

It would mean that not only are the core Christian beliefs about Jesus correct but that they are wholly and completely Jewish in nature and origin, not fabrications of later Gentile Christianity in early church history.

It also could mean, startlingly enough, that there’s a totally and completely Jewish way to understand Jesus that exists apart from the “whitewashed,” “Gentilized,” version we are used to seeing in church, on television, in the movies, in paintings, and in many popular New Testament translations.

One of the reasons I deliberately quoted from the Stone Edition Tanakh and Vine of David’s Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels is to try to peek behind the curtain, so to speak, at this Jewish perception of the Jewish Messiah King.

I know I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s important for both Christians and Jews to have a better understanding of Jesus and his once and future role as Savior and King and to try to grasp the realization that not only is Jesus completely Jewish, both as he once lived among men and as he will return in glory, but that accepting him as such, is not an “unJewish” thing to do.

According to Boyarin, such an acceptance of Jesus as Messiah King was in fact, a completely Jewish thing to do in the first century.

The unique quality of Mashiach is that he will be humble. Though he will be the ultimate in greatness, for he will teach Torah to the Patriarchs and to Moshe Rabeinu (alav hashalom), still he will be the ultimate in humility and self-nullification, for he will also teach simple folk.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Menachem Av 1, Rosh Chodesh, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher RebbeTranslated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

What if it’s equally acceptable for a Jew to accept Jesus as Messiah in the 21st century?

The Unmixing Bowl

Many MKs opened their mailboxes on Monday morning and were appalled to find a New Testament inside, sent to them by a messianic organization.

The Bible Society in Israel, a messianic Judaism institution for research, publication and dissemination of holy books, sent a “Book of Testaments,” which combines the Tanach and New Testament in one, leather-bound volume, published with references in Hebrew for the first time.

While the sect incorporates elements of religious Jewish practice, it holds that Jesus is the Messiah.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) sent a letter of complaint to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, writing that “it cannot be that missionary materials can be distributed in the Knesset.”

“Texts that were used to persecute and harass [Jews] cannot be distributed through the front door of the State of Israel,” Hotovely fumed.

Christian Allies Caucus chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) said the mailing is “not missionary work, but an act of foolishness.”

Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev did not receive a package, but said the society had crossed the line between free speech and proselytizing.

-Lahav Harkov
“Missionaries in the Knesset?”
The Jerusalem Post

Sending a bunch of “Christian Bibles” to all the Jewish members of the Knesset was, depending on the reaction you expected, predictably a bad idea. At best (as you read in the quote from the article), it would be seen as “foolishness.” At worst, it would be taken as Christians proselytizing Jews, which is deeply offensive. Think of how many Jews were tortured and even murdered by the church in the past thousand years in attempts to force Jews to convert to Christianity. So, do you think sticking a Christian Bible under the noses of a group of Jews is a good idea?

Anything that even hints of Christian “missionary work” among the Jews is going to trigger a hostile response. Even my attempt at discussing this issue on Facebook drew several passionate responses. After all, Judaism and Christianity are completely incompatible religions and lifestyles.

Or are they?

I’ve started reading Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels, which has drawn its own “passionate responses” in the Amazon reviews section for the book. The fact that Boyarin is a Jewish educator and the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley hasn’t helped calm the obvious emotional commentary this topic inspires from both Christians and Jews. After all, what Jew, let alone a noted and respected Talmudic scholar, would approach the Christian New Testament with anything but disdain?

I’m barely past the Introduction of the book, but while it is a short work at 224 pages, so far, it is extremely dense with content.

If there is one thing that Christians know about their religion, it is that it is not Judaism. If there is one thing that Jews know about their religion, it is that it is not Christianity. If there is one thing that both groups know about this double not, it is that Christians believe in the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ (the Greek word for Messiah) and that Jews don’t, that Jews keep kosher and Christian don’t.

If only things were this simple.

…The question was not “Is a divine Messiah coming?” but only “Is this carpenter from Nazareth the One we are expecting?” Not surprisingly, some Jews said yes and some said no. Today, we call the first group Christians and the second group Jews, but it was not like that then, not at all.

-Daniel Boyarin
from the Introduction of his book
The Jewish Gospels

Boyarin is suggesting the unthinkable to both Jewish and Christian readers. He’s suggesting that at one point, what we now call Christianity was a form of Judaism, and it was accepted among the different forms or sects of Judaism that existed in the late Second Temple period in Roman occupied “Palestine.” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach tried to reintegrate Christianity into its original Jewish framework in his recent book Kosher Jesus, but it wasn’t well received, either by Jewish audiences (and particularly the Chabad) or by Christians. In my opinion, not having even started Chapter 1 in Boyarin’s book yet, I think he does a much better job than Rabbi Boteach. Although Boyarin is hardly accepting of Jesus as the Messiah, he seems to be able to communicate that a non-trivial number of first century Jews could see that the son of a carpenter from Nazareth might possibly be the Moshiach. Many groups of Jews were divided on this issue in those days, but that’s not particularly unusual according to Boyarin.

Some believed that in order to be a kosher Jew you had to believe in a single divine figure and any other belief was simply idol worship. Others believed that God had a divine deputy or emissary or even a son, exalted above all the angels, who functioned as an intermediary between God and the world in creation, revelation, and redemption. Many Jews believed that redemption was going to be effected by a human being, an actual hidden scion of the house of David–an Anastasia–who at a certain point would take up the scepter and the sword, defeat Israel’s enemies, and return her to her former glory. Others believed that the redemption was going to be effected by that same second divine figure mentioned above and not a human being at all. And still others believed that these two were one and the same, that the Messiah of David would be the divine Redeemer. As I said, a complicated affair.

I would love to see Boyarin’s research from exclusively Jewish sources that supports his understanding of these different factions of Jews, some of whom held beliefs that so mirrored a Christian’s vision of Jesus as divine and as God’s son. You don’t typically hear that sort of viewpoint from Jewish scholars and sages, particularly in modern times.

In other parts of the book’s introduction, Boyarin indicates that he sees the final crystallization of Christ occurring in the church in the late 4th century, specifically at the Council of Nicaea, where the last few nails were driven into the coffin of “Jewish Christianity.” Prior to this, Boyarin believes there were groups of Jews who continued to honor Jesus as the Messiah and the sent one of the God of Jacob; that faith in Jesus was not inconsistent with being a halakhic Jew. In fact, quoting a letter of St. Jerome (347-420 CE) written to St. Augustine of Hippo, Boyarin thinks there where a few small “Christian Jewish” sects that survived into the early 5th century.

In our own day there exists a sect among the Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe. But while they desire to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither one nor the other.

Boyarin points out that sadly, Jerome was unable to reconcile Christianity and Judaism, even at this early stage in the history of the church, and yet these “minim” (sectarians) and “Notzrim” (Nazarenes) were Jewish people who lived halachically Jewish lives, keeping kosher, observing the Shabbat, and performing the other mitzvot according to the Torah of Moses…and lifting up this carpenter from Nazareth as the Messiah, who came once and will come again.

Anyone familiar with Christianity’s history and how it is intertwined (rather tragically) with the history of post-Second Temple Judaism, knows something of how the schism between Gentile Christians and diaspora Jews was formed, widened, and eventually ruptured across the pages of the Bible and the Talmud in a bloody, awful mess.

My wife and daughter (sometimes with the “help” of my three-year old grandson Landon) are avid bakers. They have their specialized tools and devices to assist them in their craft, much as an expert carpenter has his coveted power tools. A great deal is made of the mixing bowl and the various mechanisms and peripheral elements that stir delicious substances together, this way and that, in order to produce the correct result that is fit for baking (but first, fit for sampling, at least if it’s cookie dough, by the small “helper” in the kitchen…and occasionally by grandpa).

History has provided for us the converse; an “unmixing bowl” of something that was once an acceptable and perhaps even integral ingredient in the “dough” of ancient Judaism. The portions of that “dough” which eventually became Christianity are now as popular among the descendants of Jacob as a bowl of flour on the kitchen table of a Jewish home during Passover week.

And so, when a “Christian Bible” was sent to each of the Jewish MKs in Jerusalem a few days ago, all the wheels fell off the cart, so to speak, and the stories and letters telling the tales of the man who many Jews once believed was the Messiah is now treated as an object of scorn and insult.

And ultimately trashed.

But there are a few, very few Jews who are re-examining the mixing bowl to see if there is anything left over at the bottom or clinging to the rim, that may serve as a reminder of the “Maggid of Natzaret;” the one who may have been much more than a small town carpenter turned itinerant teacher, or a failed revolutionary who came to a bad end. What if the story of Jesus Christ is really a Jewish story? Could such a thing be possible? Can a modern Jewish Talmudic scholar breach the separating wall between Christianity and Judaism and find this man, or more than a man, waiting in the shadows?

That’s what I’m going to find out as I continue to read Boyarin’s book.

For in discovering the Jewish story of the Jewish Jesus, we may all find out who we really are as people created in His image. And by finding our own face in the mirror, we can find his face, and we can take ownership of the reality of the Lord, Savior, and Messiah, who was sent not just for Israel, but for the entire world.

You need to take ownership of those things important in life—the charity you give, the kind deeds you do, the Torah you learn and teach.

You can’t just say, “This is G‑d’s business, He has to take care of it.” It has to hurt when it doesn’t work out; you have to dance with joy when it does.

That is why G‑d created the “I”—so that we would do these things as owners, not just as workers.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“My Thing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson