- Jesus among the Jews: Representation and Though edited by Neta Stahl
Recently, there has been a proliferation of books that investigate the Jewishness of Jesus as well as examing Christian texts from a Jewish perspective, for example Zev Garber, ed., The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation (2011); Herbert W. Basser, The Mind behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1–14 (2009); and Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Z. Brettler, eds., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011). The book under review is part of this renewed academic effort by Jews to engage with Christianity. The book endeavors to explore the effect of representations of Jesus upon Judaism in the past two millennia in fourteen very dissimilar essays. Among the highlights of this collection are chapters that approach Jesus from a philosophical perspective and those that explore Israeli approaches to Jesus. [End Page 134]
Moshe Idel, “Abraham Abulafia: A Kabbalist ‘Son of God’ on Jesus and Christianity,” presents a crystal clear formulation of Abulafia’s thought concerning the integration of Christianity into his work. Idel states that Abulafia believed that he lived close to the time of redemption and was convinced that he would have a pivotal role in it. Abulafia defined himself as a son of God, as a Messiah, in his prophetic book Sefer ha-Hayim. Idel convincingly argues that “son of the king” stands for the human intellect and that “the king” represents the Agent Intellect. Jesus may stand for “death” and the Messiah for “life.” The human body is both dead and alive in medieval thought. If Jesus represents the body and the Messiah the intellect, there would be a mid-term life between body and intellect. A compelling question relating to this would be: Did Abulafia fulfill both the role of the Christ and the antichrist? Idel cautions the reader that in our scholarly engagement with Christianity one has to be aware of “complex situations” and the “complex significance of the medieval texts.” In this reviewer’s opinion these observations also apply to the comparative and critical discussions of the Jewish Jesus as attempted in the book.
Pawel Maciejko, “Jabob Frank and Jesus Christ,” states in his essay that in his writings Nathan of Gaza, the prophet of Sabbatai Tsevi, introduced Christological themes to Sabbatian discourse. In opposition to most rabbinic sources, Nathan of Gaza raises the importance of the coming of the Messiah in regard to redemption. Redemption brought to the world by Sabbatai Tsevi would involve restoring holiness to Jesus, who was deemed to be a false Messiah. After his conversion to Catholicism Jacob Frank utilized copies of the New Testament in which the name of Jesus was replaced by “Jacob.” Furthermore, in a nocturnal vision Frank eclipsed Jesus. Frank coincidentally had twelve disciples. Nevertheless, Frank rejected Jesus, arguing that since Jesus was killed by Jews he could not have been the Messiah (127). Maciejko alerts the reader to a manuscript concerning unsuccessful attempts to bring about “eternal life.” He concludes that Frank displayed a fusion of kabbalistic, Gnostic, and Catholic ideas. Sabbatians displayed deep interest in Christianity and they claimed that the true Messiah, Sabbatai Tsevi, would save the failed Messiah Jesus.
Spinoza had a sincere sympathy for Jesus, as explained in the thoughtprovoking contribution by Yitzhak Y. Melamed, “‘Christus secundum spiritum’: Spinoza, Jesus and the Infinite Intellect.” However, according to Spinoza, Christianity as expressed in the New Testament did not necessarily [End Page 135] possess the Spirit of Christ. Spinoza viewed the crucifixion of Jesus, his resurrection and his expected second coming as merely narratives that contained educational values. Spinoza indentified the assumed Spirit of Christ with the Infinite Intellect and rejected the belief in incarnation as contradictory nonsense.
Glenda Abramson, “The Crucified Brother: Uri Zvi Greenberg and Jesus,” focuses upon the author Uri Zvi Greenberg, who construed Jesus as a metaphor for Europe after World War I. Furthermore, for Greenberg, Jesus and his arrival in Jerusalem served as a comparison to his own arrival, although the poet immediately distanced himself from the Passion. The figure of Jesus represented the poet...