Friday, 8 October 2010

Jesus the Jew

Christianity: A History is a 2009 British documentary series where each program is hosted by different presenters, each following a stand-alone theme. The only name that leapt out at me on scanning the talent was Cherie Blair, wife of the former Prime Minister, and that probably didn't serve as much of a recommendation. However, after viewing the first episode, Jesus the Jew, I'm glad I took the punt.

First, this isn't another of those horrible voice-over docos produced for the History or Discovery channels. In the opening episode Howard Jacobson, a British Jew, presents a passionate perspective on both the founding years of Christianity, Jesus and Paul, and then a warts and all picture of the church's anti-Judaic, anti-Semitic record in Britain, then widening out to include an interview with a Vatican official. Traditional Christians would be hard pressed not to squirm in their seats from time to time.

But squirm they - we - should. If the ability to see ourselves as others see us is a gift, then Jacobson has presented Christians with a pearl of great price. Yes, the programme has flaws. Within the time available it would be hard not to indulge in a few bald generalisations that a pedant might scoff at, but these are small potatoes compared to the thrust of the film.

Jesus the Jew will not impress the mythicists: Jacobson begins by assuming the essential historicity of the Gospel accounts in a broad sense. I can see Neil Godfrey taking a sharp intake of breath in the first minutes of the screening. Because this is a Jewish perspective, many of those interviewed are also Jewish rather than the usual lineup of talking heads from the world of Christian scholarship. Two exceptions; Jerome Murphy-O'Connor and the redoubtable James Tabor.

There are a gaggle of supposedly knowledgeable folk - unthinking advocates of supercessionism - who I'd gladly, if it were in my power, chain to their seats and make watch Jesus the Jew to the very end. It might not budge their dogma nor their unexamined prejudices, but it would certainly mean they couldn't continue to sidestep the issues.

Comments on episode two, Rome, to follow.

(I can't find the series listed on Amazon, but for anyone interested here's a link to the Aussie ABC online store.)


  1. While not sure that the Jesus of the Gospels ever existed in time or space, Jesus as a Jew can certainly punch most fundamentalists in the nose.

    The Jesus of Paul is cosmic and hallucinatory. Paul is the founder of our present mess called Christianity.

    Jesus may have thought himself the Messiah but then realized he failed in the role. I'm not sure he even equated the "Son of Man" with himself until the idea evolved. Like most lives lived, the followers make more of it than the owner of the life had in mind.

    I find Hyam Jacoby's, "Paul the Mythmaker" to be very revealing on this topic of Jesus the Jew and Paul the vision seeker.


  2. Sounds interesting, I hope it comes to the US (and especially to Netflix!)

    The Jewish view of Jesus as a Jew, is the perfect companion to the Jewish view on the Old Testament.

    I've read enough commentaries to actually feel embarrassed when I hear some of the things that Christians spout off about with regards to what a certain passages in the OT mean.

  3. After my freshman year at Ambassador I attended a different religious college because no state school would accept my Ambassador credits, and at least this place let me enroll on probation. (After two semesters the college said OK and incorporated most of the Ambassador credits into my transcript. I then transferred to a state school. The dean was pissed that I had used his college merely as a transitional institution.)

    Anyway, my sophomore religious studies teacher (a Presbyterian) was going through the gospels with us during the first weeks of class, and one of my fellow students kept getting more and more agitated. Finally one day she raised her hand and exclaimed, "Professor B--, you keep talking like Jesus was a Jew!"

    He looked astonished. He asked, "Well, what did you think he was?"

    She said, "Well, if he was anything, he was a Christian."

  4. --Christ Myth Theory--9 October 2010 at 18:20

    "Jacobson begins by assuming the essential historicity of the Gospel accounts"

    Like all of us did/do, it's part of the baggage of our weatern culture. Xtians have done such a good job that even the Jews and muslims believe in the peripatetic prophet!

  5. This is one of the primary schools of thought processing the events of the first century. Having also read Dr. James Tabor's "The Jesus Dynasty", I can appreciate where this type of analysis is coming from.

    For myself, I've come to the conclusion that there were Jewish Christians, and there were Gentile Christians. James reports in his epistle that there were thousands of Christians who were "zealous for the law." Paul makes mention of Jewish Christians, and Judaizers. It would seem that Ebionite Christians would fit into the latter category, and if these were the ones described by James as being "zealous for the law", they would also fit the description which Paul gives of those sent to him by James.

    In Paul's churches, he cautions his gentile Christians to be both loving and careful as to how they treat those who believe they still must keep the law. He would seem to be implying that the lawkeepers were weak in their faith towards Jesus Christ, and he also indicates that the Jews have largely been blinded by their own law to the New Covenant.

    What I've noticed amongst our former brethren from Armstrongism is that believers seem to fall into two almost warring camps, each believing that there is only one correct way, and that the other side ends up being "Christians falsely so-called". HWA attempted to skirt this issue of the two camps by invoking British Israelism, thus making all of us English speaking white people into Israelites under the law of Moses. Our "gentile" brethren were encouraged to become spiritual Israelites, and under the law of Moses. Gentile Christians from the Pauline mode simply did not exist in HWA's world view. That entire line of New Covenant thinking was attributed to Simon Magus (who was actually an early gnostic!), and was said to have been proliferated by the Catholic Church of God (which in modern parlance would have been called the Universal Church of God, a name that would fit right in amongst the names chosen by the various splinters).

    I don't believe there is anything inherently wrong with the keeping of the sabbath, holydays, or clean and unclean meats. Keeping those things will not keep one out of the kingdom with the possible exception of keeping them believing that that is what qualifies one for salvation. It's the added do's and don'ts that HWA applied, British Israel racism, the Spirit thwarting authoritarian structure of governance, and other assorted elements which made WCG a toxic faith.


  6. "Xtians have done such a good job that even the Jews and muslims believe in the peripatetic prophet!"

    How about, "No!"

    Jews believe early Joshua-ites were mistaken in their belief that their Nazarene/Essene rabbi was the Messiah. Jewish believers, if I don't miss my guess, regard early Christians in much the same light as they take these people, although they have far less patience/tolerance for the false messianism of Christianity, because two thousand years on, the mistake is still being made. By Gentiles, at that! (For which we can "thank" Paul/Saul/Simon Tarsus. But that's a rant for another day.)

    Muslims believe the Christ-figure was a prophet, albeit an entirely human, if exalted, one, but they flavour that with a purely docetic perspective. The laughing Christ on the cross being one example of Islam's docetic view of the christological figure.

    (What a pity the main Wiki article has been vandalized and reduced to a fundagelical-stumping witch-hunt cry; it used to have quite a large section on docetic beliefs of the Christ-figure in other major world religions; including Islam.)