Who Was Jesus?
A Jewish-Christian Dialogue
Paul Copan and Craig Evans, editors
Westminster John Knox, 205 pages, $24.95
How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way
Oxford University Press, 260 pages, $25
From the first century (A.D.) to the present, Christian-Jewish relations have been a tender, often explosive, subject. This is never more pronounced than when the historical Jesus is the issue. Case in point: In the most incendiary chapter of Who Was Jesus?: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue, Queens University professor Herb Basser writes that "a central goal of the Gospel writers was to instill contempt, an odium against Judaism."
Basser dismisses the idea that any Jew might become a Christian and "remain a Jew in good religious standing." The two, he says, "are mutually exclusive." In fact, "a Jew who converts to Christianity out of conviction has lost any right in being part of the Jewish community." If the whole of Who Was Jesus? were in a similar vein, the only possible response would be to throw up one's hands.
Yet even Basser is not as dismissive as he might be. Though he doubts the historical reliability of the Gospels, he uses his expertise in the Talmud to argue that, rather than being a heretic, Jesus was a messianic rabbi who kept the law, albeit creatively. The title of Basser's chapter is telling: "The Gospel Would Have Been Greek to Jesus." The goal is to separate the Jesus of history (an admirable, pious, law-affirming Jew) from the Christ of faith (who was created by the early and later church from whole cloth).
Another interesting dustup in Who Was Jesus? occurs between Trinity Western University's Craig Evans and the world's foremost rabbinical scholar, Jacob Neusner. Neusner maintains ...1
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