1 Dec 2011

The Aryan Jesus: Reflections Part 2: Give Me Jesus the Jew

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Church History, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds

Read The Aryan Jesus Part 1 HERE

As I continue to reflect on Susannah Heschel’s important work, The Aryan Jesus, I begin with some …

Quotable Quotes

“Judaism and Jesus are at completely opposite poles to each other” (Wilhelm Boussett)

“Why can a lovely flower not grow on a heap of dung?” (Friedrich Anderson on why the “Old Testament count not possibly have been the heritage of Jesus”)

“There is hardly any fact as certain as the fact that the religion of Jesus could not fasten to any roots within Jewish and Semitic ground. There must have been something in this religion that is related to the free Greek spirit. In a certain sense, Christianity has remained Greek until the present day” (Adolf von Harnack)

The above quotations could be multiplied by hundreds. Though these come from German Protestants the ideology is easily followed throughout the shameful history of Christian antisemitism. What is truly shocking here is that scholars of such caliber as Harnack could hold such a view. Such disparaging views on the Hebrew Scriptures and Jews are not difficult to document even among Restoration Christians.

Christian De-Jew-ing Jesus

De-Jew-ing Jesus has been been a “Christian” pastime for almost as long as there has been Christianity. Among the first were Gentile converts who embraced Docetic Christology by denying the actual enfleshment (Incarnation) in space and time of the Son of God. John inveighs against these misguided disciples in 1-2 John. These were followed by the Gnostics who majored, it seems, in denying the Jewish heritage of Jesus. The infamous “Gospel” of Judas is but just one example. It is ironic that a Jewish scholar feels it necessary to teach Christians about their own faith. A. J. Levine writing about those who have fallen in love with Judas and other Gnostic texts writes “Those who prefer the Gospel of Judas over the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John because they see it as eliminating anti-Jewish views from Christian origins would do well, instead, to see how Jesus fits into his Jewish context, and that includes the notice that Judas does not, in the Gospels, represent ‘the Jews.'” [1]

Though Jews have frequently been scapegoats for nearly every ill under the sun throughout the history of European Christianity, it has only been in recent centuries that some one actually denied Jesus was a “Jew.” The root of the problem, however, is the rich soil of historic antisemitism. In order to de-Jew Jesus however one must first separate him from his Semitic heritage most clearly seen in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism.

The modern assault upon the Jewishness of Jesus may be found in Friedrich Delitzsch’s famous series of lectures “Babel und Bibel” begun in 1902. For Delitzsch the sabbath had its origin in Babylonian ethics, the Lord’s name (YHWH) appeared first in Babylonian texts and biblical monotheism was an expression of a more noble Babylonian ideal. Later Delitzsch, a world renown “Old Testament” scholar, would recommend the first testament being excised from the Christian Bible [2] Writing in The Great Deception (Grosse Tauschung) he opines,

“The so-called “Old Testament” is entirely dispensable for the Christian Church, and thereby also for the Christian family. It would be a great deal better for us to immerse ourselves from time to time in the deep thoughts, which our German intellectual heroes have thought concerning God, eternity, and immortality.”

As an aside many modern Evangelicals, and Restorationists, that have never heard of Delitzsch actually are one with him in practice. How many Restorationists carry around only a New Testament? How many go the the Gathering with only the NT? The NT is what “matters.” Beloved think about the implications of caring around a “pocket” NT (and possibly the ubiquitous Psalms). This is the practical implementation of Delitzsch point of view … I counsel against such anemic Marcionite theological practice.

The religion and ethics of the Old Testament are inherently inferior (the claim is made) thus Jesus could never have been rooted in them. It was obvious to Delitzsch that Jesus was probably of Babylonian (i.e. Aryan) descent because the Assyrians had settled the area of Northern Israel.

Susannah Heschel does not review the scholarship of Delitzsch in The Aryan Jesus but she could have. What she does do in a troubling chapter titled “Inventing the Aryan Jesus” is show how this degraded view of the nature of the Hebrew scriptures, and the Jews of Jesus day, set up the idea that Jesus was basically antisemitic himself! Jesus’ theology, spirituality, nor his ethics could be rooted in the Jewish people. The Semitic race was inferior to the Indo-Aryan races in every way. Jesus did not have inferior blood flowing in his veins. Predating Delitzsch slightly, Ernest Renan declared “I am the first to recognize that the Semitic race compared to the Indo-European race represents in reality an inferior composition of human nature” (Heschel, p. 35). Jesus was truly great because he overcame Judaism! So Jesus became a Buddhist, Aryan, a German … one could say white or American … anything but Semitic. The German Christian catechism probably says it best

“Who is the enemy of the German essence? The enemy of the German essence is the eternal Jew … Was Christ a Jew? It is the greatest lie that the Jews have brought into the world, that Jesus is a Jew … Jesus’s life and teaching is a great challenge against the Jewish spirit … What do we think of the Old Testament?” (Heschel, p. 127).

As I close this section of this blog let me say I believe that much of the so called historical Jesus research is inherently antisemitic. The Criteria of Dissimilarity demands, almost a priori, that Jesus was a freak. Neither making sense in his social context and no connection with the church afterwards. N. T. Wright has commented on the troublesome relationship between the Jesus Seminar style scholarship and German portrayals of Jesus. “Have the New Questers, and the advocates of the Cynic Jesus, come to terms with the politically problematic analogy between themselves and those German scholars who, in the 1920s and 1930s, reduced almost to nil the specific Jewishness of Jesus and his message?” [3]

Jesus’ message seems only valid in this line of thought if he is removed from his historical heritage and setting of Judaism, its prophets, its rabbis and its traditions. Jesus can only have a message if he is seen in opposition to the “Old Testament” and Jewish heritage. He certainly could never actually agree with the Jews! But the rejection of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewishness of Jesus leads to horrific results.

Why Does It Matter if Jesus is Jewish?

The God of the Bible has chosen to reveal himself through the history of Israel and in Jesus of Nazareth. The God Jesus reveals is the God that spoke to Abraham, wrestled with Jacob, destroyed Pharaoh, pronounced his Name in the hearing of Moses, heard David’s cries, shed tears over the faithlessness of his bride Israel, and was with the people in exilic dark days. The One Jesus called Abba is that God and no other. The connection between Jesus of Nazareth and the history of Israel is inseparable and to attempt to sever them results in heresy. So why does it really matter that Jesus was born a Jew, that he was raised by Jewish parents, that he lived as a Jew, that he worshipped-prayed-studied the Bible as a Jew, that he died as a Jew … and I submit that he was raised as a Jew.

First it matters because the Incarnation matters. Let’s call it the “scandal of particularity.” In the NT one of those early heresies was that Christ only seemed to be “human.” All of the Gospel accounts torpedo this in their own way but it is the Epistles we call 1-2 John and Hebrews that destroy this notion. Jesus was, and is, a particular human rooted in a particular time and a particular place. To deny his concrete literal human nature is to be an anti-Christ. For the Hebrew Preacher it is not a “divine” Jesus that is the focus at all. Rather only a truly human being could be “our MAN in heaven” … that is a Priest on our behalf. A non-Jewish Jesus is a non-human Jesus.

Second to separate Jesus from his heritage is to introduce both conflict and categories of thought that simply do not exist for him – thus we distort the message we pretend to honor. Jesus at a most fundamental level is part of a long biblical line of prophets. His teaching no more repudiates previous biblical teaching than Moses, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah or Jeremiah did. More familiarity with, not simply the words of those prophets but the patterns of thought in those prophets sheds tremendous light on the words and actions of Jesus. Like all prophets before him he engaged in more than simply preaching but in prophetic “drama” or action. When Jesus opened his mouth and spoke the thoughts he expressed were shaped by the words of Scripture, the Jewish rituals he had participated in, and other writings of his heritage like the Apocrypha. He sounded Jewish to his contemporaries. This is so critically important for when Jesus spoke on such things as kingdom or resurrection or faith … he did not invent words that had no meaning. Without keeping Jesus rooted in his Jewish heritage Gentiles have not infrequently tended to define not only Jesus’ teaching but also Paul’s in pagan terms!!!

Thirdly it matters because the message of salvation that Jesus embodies is the message that was promised to and through Israel. Luke and Paul stress this repeatedly in various ways but note two examples. At the birth of Jesus Luke has Mary and Zechariah speaking in incredibly rich and very traditional Jewish language. Mary sings, regarding the promised birth of Jesus, that God has finally acted to “help his servant Israel … according to the promise to our ancestors” (1.53f) and Zechariah uses virtually identical language (1.69-72). The coming of Jesus is not only God helping/saving Israel but of God showing that he is truly a faithful God. He has not abandoned his servant. Paul speaks in almost the same language in Romans 1. Connecting Jesus to David and the “gospel promised previously through the prophets” Paul refuses to separate the Christ from his Jewish roots. And it is that prophetic witness that infuses the Gospel with meaning. That there are new dimensions to the message is a truism but the new dimensions are shaped and rooted in the same Jewish soil.

If one would like to see a radical difference between a Jewish Jesus and a pagan Gnostic view of Jesus and the difference it makes I simply ask my blog readers to take the time to read through the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Judas. Most of our non-Jewish readings are not as blatant but they are nevertheless insidious.

Conclusion

My blog has grown but I could add many many more reasons why it matters that the Son of Man is Jewish. It is often said that Jesus is a man belongs to the world. Perhaps we should say rather that Jesus is the Man who is for the world. One of the most interesting books around is by Jaroslav Pelikan called Jesus Through the Centuries, His Place in the History of Culture. I bring this blog to a close by quoting his words on these lines.

“And the central figure does indeed belong to the people of Israel, but he belongs no less to the church and to the whole world — precisely because he belongs to the people of Israel.

For the question is easier to ask than to answer, and it is easier to avoid than it is to ask in the first place. But ask it we must:: Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been an Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion on icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David, in the context of the history of a suffering Israel and a suffering humanity.” [4]

Do not miss the point because of unfamiliar language. That Jesus is Jewish matters if Christianity is going to be … Christian!

+++++

A note about the picture. This picture is a CGI creation for a BBC program on the “historical” Jesus in the early 2000s. It is based upon forensic and anthropological studies of Galilean Jews from the first century AD. This is far more likely what Jesus “sort of” looked like than anything present in Western art.

NOTES

[1] Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (HarperOne, 2006), 7-8.

[2] For an insightful overview and critique of Delitzsch’s legacy from both a Christian and Jewish perspective see, Bill T. Arnold and David Weisberg, “A Centennial Review of Friedrich Delitzsch’s ‘Babel und Bibel’ Lectures,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002):441-457

[3] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress, 1996), 79, note 233.

[4] Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (Yale University Press, 1985), 20.

4 Responses to “The Aryan Jesus: Reflections Part 2: Give Me Jesus the Jew”

  1. John Says:

    Good Bobby. An excerpt from around the middle of this might be a good bulletin article. I may quote you.

  2. Randall Says:

    Thanks for another post Bobby. I had no idea that there had been a substantial effort to make Jesus a Gentile.

    Though it may not have been relevant to this particular post, I find the 11th chapter of Romans to be interesting as support that God has not forgotten the Jews nor did Paul ever reject his race.
    Hesed,
    Randall

  3. Jerry Buckley Says:

    Brought to you in part by the Vanderbilt Divinity School professor Amy-Jill Levine:

    Although major New Testament figures–Jesus and Paul, Peter and James, Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene–were Jews, living in a culture steeped in Jewish history, beliefs, and practices, there has never been an edition of the New Testament that addresses its Jewish background and the culture from which it grew–until now. In The Jewish Annotated New Testament, eminent experts under the general editorship of Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Z. Brettler put these writings back into the context of their original authors and audiences. And they explain how these writings have affected the relations of Jews and Christians over the past two thousand years.

    An international team of scholars introduces and annotates the Gospels, Acts, Letters, and Revelation from Jewish perspectives, in the New Revised Standard Version translation. They show how Jewish practices and writings, particularly the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, influenced the New Testament writers. From this perspective, readers gain new insight into the New Testament’s meaning and significance. In addition, thirty essays on historical and religious topics–Divine Beings, Jesus in Jewish thought, Parables and Midrash, Mysticism, Jewish Family Life, Messianic Movements, Dead Sea Scrolls, questions of the New Testament and anti-Judaism, and others–bring the Jewish context of the New Testament to the fore, enabling all readers to see these writings both in their original contexts and in the history of interpretation. For readers unfamiliar with Christian language and customs, there are explanations of such matters as the Eucharist, the significance of baptism, and “original sin.”

    For non-Jewish readers interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity and for Jewish readers who want a New Testament that neither proselytizes for Christianity nor denigrates Judaism, The Jewish Annotated New Testament is an essential volume that places these writings in a context that will enlighten students, professionals, and general readers.

  4. Eric Ramseur Says:

    Good job. I would say one thing of the Hebrews’ writer’s perspective of Jesus. It was of Jesus, the Jewish man, but as well of Jesus, the Logos. The antecedent of “His and Him” in 4:13 is “O Logos.” There is even an untranslated, or mistranslated, “o logos” there in 4:13. Also, just to reference 1:6, in which it says worship Him, a quotation of Psalm 97:7, where the Him is YHWH.

    I think we draw so fine a line around Jesus in our minds that once we realize the lines are out of place, we shift like a pendulum to the other side of the minutiae. Jesus was God and a Jewish man living in a Greek world, quoting the Septuagint, attempting show the spirit of the letter which is Himself.

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