Rabbinic scholar Jacob Neusner examines what was at stake in Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees.

I have never before met a man who has written, translated, or edited more books than most people have read. Jacob Neusner, however, has nearly 500 to his name, as well as innumerable articles. He is a pre-eminent authority on Judaism in the first centuries of the Christian era when, after the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish community gradually organized itself along the lines it exhibits to this day. He has translated into English virtually all the important works of rabbinic Judaism, including the entire texts of both the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds and many of the commentaries.

I do not know quite what to expect when I visit Neusner’s house to talk about his most recent book. I suppose I thought I would find a dusty residence filled with old Hebrew books and papers—something out of a Chaim Potok novel. Instead, Neusner lives in a two-story, wood-frame house on a quiet street overlooking Tampa Bay. A heavy-set but healthy man of 60 who swims every day, Neusner greets me with a big bouncing dog at his heels. “Germarnu,” he says firmly to the dog, which is Hebrew for “we’re finished.”

He shows me his upstairs office: a remarkably spare room with a computer, a few (mostly empty) bookcases with some Hebrew books, and not much else. He donated most of his library to a university, he explains, and points to some 3½-inch computer disks that contain his translations of early rabbinic texts. “That’s really all I need for the work I’m doing now,” he says simply.

The book he has just completed, now in bookstores, is A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (Doubleday). Neusner wrote it because he believes Christians and Jews rarely argue openly about ...

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