Synopses & Reviews
Why did the Jews reject Jesus? Was he really the son of God? Were the Jews culpable in his death? These ancient questions have been debated for almost two thousand years, most recently with the release of Mel Gibsons explosive The Passion of the Christ
. The controversy was never merely academic. The legal status and security of Jewsoften their very livesdepended on the answer.
In WHY THE JEWS REJECTED JESUS, David Klinghoffer reveals that the Jews since ancient times accepted not only the historical existence of Jesus but the role of certain Jews in bringing about his crucifixion and death. But he also argues that they had every reason to be skeptical of claims for his divinity.
For one thing, Palestine under Roman occupation had numerous charismatic would-be messiahs, so Jesus would not have been unique, nor was his following the largest of its kind. For another, the biblical prophecies about the coming of the Messiah were never fulfilled by Jesus, including an ingathering of exiles, the rise of a Davidic king who would defeat Israels enemies, the building of a new Temple, and recognition of God by the gentiles. Above all, the Jews understood their biblically commanded way of life, from which Jesuss followers sought to “free” them, as precious, immutable, and eternal.
Jews have long been blamed for Jesuss death and stigmatized for rejecting him. But Jesus lived and died a relatively obscure figure at the margins of Jewish society. Indeed, it is difficult to argue that “the Jews” of his day rejected Jesus at all, since most Jews had never heard of him. The figure they really rejected, often violently, was Paul, who convinced the Jerusalem church led by Jesuss brother to jettison the observance of Jewish law. Paul thus founded a new religion. If not for him, Christianity would likely have remained a Jewish movement, and the course of history itself would have been changed. Had the Jews accepted Jesus, Klinghoffer speculates, Christianity would not have conquered Europe, and there would be no Western civilization as we know it.
WHY THE JEWS REJECTED JESUS tells the story of this long, acrimonious, and occasionally deadly debate between Christians and Jews. It is thoroughly engaging, lucidly written, and in many ways highly original. Though written from a Jewish point of view, it is also profoundly respectful of Christian sensibilities. Coming at a time when Christians and Jews are in some ways moving closer than ever before, this thoughtful and provocative book represents a genuine effort to heal the ancient rift between these two great faith traditions.
The age-old debate about Jewish culpability in the death of Christ was seemingly put to rest. The recent furor surrounding Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, however, has reopened the wound, and many fear that it will undermine a century of Jewish-Christian dialogue. David Klinghoffer brings a fresh perspective to the claims and counterclaims in this authoritative reexamination of the origin of the controversy and its impact on history.
Far from denying the role Jews played in the crucifixion, Klinghoffer provides ample evidence that Jewish sages accepted full responsibility for it. Exposed to many would-be messiahs, the Jews of Palestine regarded Jesus with a sense of curiosity tempered by understandable skepticism. Opposition to him arose not in response to his rebellious activities but to his individualistic, often unorthodox, interpretations of the law. According to Biblical prophesies, the coming of the Messiah would be marked by a series of specific events, including the gathering of exiles, the return of a Davidic king, and the reconstruction of the Temple. Because none of these events occurred during Jesus’ lifetime, Klinghoffer argues, the judgment against Jesus by Jewish elders was natural and inevitable. In condemning Jesus, they were upholding a basic tenet of their religion: the belief that no man could interpret the Torah on his own authority.
The Jerusalem Church established by Jesus’ followers remained a wholly Jewish movement. In a persuasive, groundbreaking conclusion, Klinghoffer shows that the schism between Judaism and Christianity was a result not of the Jewish rejection of Jesus but of the rejection of Paul. Claiming that Christ transcended the written Torah, Paul’s preachings clearly represented a new religion—one that would spread throughout Europe and change the course of history.
Coming at a time when Christians and Jews are in some ways moving closer than ever before, this thoughtful and provocative book represents a genuine effort to heal the ancient rift between these two great faith traditions.
About the Author
David Klinghoffer, a columnist for the Jewish Forward, is the author of in The Lord Will Gather Me In and The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism. He lives on Mercer Island, Washington, with his wife and children.