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  • New Testament Jesus in Modern Jewish Literature:A Symposium
  • Zev Garber

Ecclesiastes’ “time for wisdom,” interpreted as “doing the right thing at the right time,” is the credo behind a silent revolution that is taking place at the sessions of NAPH Annual Meeting. For decades, the association has assembled under the tent of SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) that according to its charter (Article IX) “nurtures intellectual and theological exchange and fosters biblical scholarship.” NAPH adheres to the core values, scholarly acumen, and learning exchange advocated by SBL although it never fully engaged in exegetical theology. Why? NAPH sees its mission in advancing scholarship on, and enhancing the teaching of Hebrew language and literature of all periods, including the biblical and rabbinic eras. Its call for papers embraces biblical text and language in the fullest extent of exegesis, pedagogy, interpretation, translation, and beyond. Nonetheless, the recent spate of research on the Jewishness of Jesus is the motivating factor for NAPH to venture where it has not gone before.1 Also, there is an important educational value: to compensate for the dearth of Israeli education on Christian origins, assist the Christians in appreciating the Jewish heritage in the New Testament, and engage in a challenging and constructive learning exchange. Three successive annual meetings have featured a Jesus/New Testament session. In 2011, it was devoted to the discussion of a recently published volume, The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation.2 In 2012, the theme was “Jews on Jesus: Con-Visions of the Other”; the presented papers examined the ramifications of Jesus in Second Temple Judaism, Jewish Christianity, and in interfaith dialogue, coming, among other things, to the conclusion that for all the myriad views of Jesus, there is a relatively close consensus that he lived and died a faithful Jew. The session published here, “New Testament Jesus in [End Page 357] Modern Jewish Literature,” which explored the transformations of the biblical Jesus in the modern Jewish texts, was a part of the 2013 meeting.

Presenters reflect a diverse spectrum of interests in their discussion of Jesus as portrayed in the twentieth-century Hebrew and Yiddish narrative. Aryeh Wineman interweaves the themes of sacrifice, suffering, and rebirth suggested by the Akedah and crucifixion accounts and mirrored in the writings of A. A. Kabak, Amoz Oz, Hayim Hazaz, and Aharon Appelfeld that span several decades and represent very different thrusts and emphases. Neta Stahl comments that Jewish historians and intellectuals from the eighteenth century and on portrayed the Jesus of the New Testament as a rabbi who understood the real depth of true Judaism and taught it to his followers. This view of Jesus is rejected, however, by some of the Modern Hebrew writers who couch him in the terms of their own self-definition and struggle, depicting a straightforward opponent of institutionalized religiosity mixed with hypocrisy and an advocate of ethical and humanistic mores for an enlightened Hebrew democracy. Sholem Asch’s Yiddish novel Der man fun natseres (The man from Nazareth) is the subject of Melissa Weininger’s paper. In her view, Asch is empathetic of Jesus’ ministry but questions (and embellishes) historical accuracy and religious dogma. The novel embraces Asch’s own inconsistent, difficult, multi-faceted identity of a modern Jew who wished to be a full participant in the life and culture of the Western world. In his response, Zev Garber discusses scriptural terminology, rabbinic ideology, and contemporary usage (Akedah, crucifixion, the Holocaust, divine attributes). For the sake of continuity between contemporary Jewish literary views on Jesus and academic clarity on the Jewish Jesus, he offers a take on Jesus in the context of history and tradition. The approaches that he presents include seeking ways of understanding Jesus in the religious and cultural milieu of the Second Temple Judaism, encountering the Jewish Jesus in a dialogue between Jews and Christians, and challenging the depictions of Jews and Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

In sum, a chazaka between Jesus and NAPH has been established. Let the learning begin! [End Page 358]

Zev Garber
Los Angeles Valley College


1. Noteworthy publications include Z. Garber, ed., The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation (West Lafayette: Purdue University...


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