An Intermillennial Interfaith Exchange
Category: Doctrine and Theology
In this fascinating book, the most influential Jewish scholar of our day imagines himself in dialogue and sometimes debate with Jesus. For Jesus' side of the conversation, Neusner mainly uses Jesus' own words as reported by the most Jewish of the Gospels, Matthew. At the end of the conversation, Neusner goes his way and allows Jesus to go his. The first century teacher had said much of value but in the end was just too radical -- too different from the Jewish Scriptures in his emphases and directions.
Such a book must be of great interest to Christians. Most of us probably have the naive feeling that if someone will but seriously consider Jesus, they will be compelled to believe him. But this does not happen in the Gospels, even with people that Jesus looked at and loved, nor will it necessarily happen in every case today; and it is rare for someone who does not turn and follow Jesus to take the time to write about their reasons.
Inevitably there are places in the book at which Christians will feel some frustration, as Jesus is, to our way of thinking, misunderstood. So too, there are important omissions: Jesus was not primarily, we would assert, a teacher — he came not so much to teach as to die and rise again.
Then too I think it is a fundamental mistake to take Jesus' words to other people and simply assume they would be his words to you — to assume that you can guess what Jesus would say to you. If Jesus was anything, he was full of surprises, and able to ingeniously corner his dialogue partners with the totally unexpected: images, questions, parables that disarm people and then cut right through their armor. Ultimately, Neusner's Jesus is interested in relating his programme about the Kingdom of God and so on. The real Jesus would have been interested (is interested) in Neusner.
Conrad Gempf, November 1997
Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.
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