Jesus didn't write any books. He didn't' even start a new
religion. He taught in the temple and was call Rabbi twelve times in the
bible. Yet there are many Christians today who refuse to even consider the
fact that Jesus was a living, breathing, practicing Jew.
Was Jesus a Jew? Some people claim that Jesus was a
Christian. Some have claimed that he was an Aryan Christian. But in recent
decades scholars have been returning to ancient historical settings and
discovering the Jewish Jesus. Anthony J. Saldarini’s article “What Price the
Uniqueness of Jesus” cautions against wrenching Jesus out of his Jewish world.
Jesus himself didn’t write the Gospels. They are late-first-century
accounts that we are continually interpreting. In seeking to emphasize the
uniqueness of Jesus, traditions have distanced Jesus from the cultural setting
of his day, whether that be his Jewish roots or the larger Greco-Roman world.
In the 19th century, German theologians emphasized this distance as Saldarini
explains below. Was Jesus a Jew? Was Christianity a Jewish sect? The conflicts
in the early church between Peter, claiming his Jewishness, and Paul, the
missionary to Gentiles, were more complex than some 19th-century theologians
Albrecht Ritschl saw a Jesus who attacked Scribes and Pharisees and, he
claimed, Judaism itself. Jesus taught something so new that it overthrew and
superseded his Jewishness. Christianity itself was to be purified of its Jewish
elements. Ritschl turned this theology to attacks on Jews, giving ammunition to
the 20th-century Holocaust.
Ritschl’s Jesus focused on his personal relationship with God—a
relationship that transcended historical contexts. But Jesus was born in a
Jewish home and lived in the Jewish culture and in the land of Israel. Was Jesus
a Jew? Yes, Theological study is further discovering the Jewish Jesus and what
his Jewishness means to Christian theology and Jewish-Christian relations.
For Christians Jesus’ Jewishness is critically connected to his familiar
role as Christ—more than an ethereal spiritual role but a role rooted in the
history of the people of Israel. Disassociating Jesus from his ethnic roots can
lead to violence toward Jesus’ own people. As Anthony J. Saldarini elaborates
below in “What Price the Uniqueness of Jesus,” discovering the Jewish Jesus
is a task that can give Christians a better understanding of Jesus.