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Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 30, 2016

In this installment of the Weekly Readers’ Mailbag, I’ll address two questions, one about the Jewishness of Jesus the other about my personal (bad) experience with editors.  If you have a question, either send it via a comment here or zap me an email.



What is it in the NT portrayal of Jesus that tends to obscure the centrality of his Jewishness?



The person who asked this question mentioned the fact that it is only in fairly recent times, since the second half of the twentieth century, that scholars have emphasized that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish.  Prior to that, Jesus’ Jewishness was commonly downplayed.  So the question is, what about the New Testament led scholars away from recognizing how thoroughly Jewish he was?

I have three things to say in response to this very good question.  First, my sense is that in no small measure, the earlier scholars who did not see Jesus’ Jewishness were living and doing research in an environment that was itself anti-Jewish.  Christianity, as we long know, has had an awful history of anti-Jewishness, and sometimes of even worse flat-out anti-Semitism.   Anyone who devalues or even denigrates the Jewish religion, while believing in Jesus, is less likely to see Jesus as someone who thoroughly embraced it.   For people like this, Jesus came to do away with Judaism, not to follow it.  The most despicable form of this approach could be found, to no one’s surprise, in Nazi Germany, where there were New Testament scholars who actually insisted that Jesus was not Jewish.  He was Aryan.  Of course.

Second point: scholars who downplayed Jesus’ positive attitude toward Judaism could take comfort in…

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Q & A about Jesus Before the Gospels: Part 2
Buying David Lambert’s Book at Discount



  1. Avatar
    Hon Wai  January 30, 2016

    Surely in the 1st half of 20th century, even a fundamentalist reading of the gospels would show beyond doubt that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish in his ethnicity, culture, practices and attitude to Jewish scriptures? Why is careful scholarship needed to establish that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish? Prima facie, why would one doubt from reading the gospels?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2016

      What seems obvious to one generation makes no sense to another. It can be shown repeatedly — and not just with respect to the Bible.

  2. Avatar
    toejam  January 30, 2016

    Wow. That’s disgusting. Call it an example of a modern textual variant by way of disgruntled scribe – the Orthodox Corruption of Script Ehrman! Was the book you were reviewing Jason BeDuhn’s book “Truth in Translation” by any chance? I haven’t read it myself, but I understand that in it he partly argues that the NWT isn’t as bad a translation as is often assumed.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2016

      Haven’t read it, I’m afraid to say. But he’s a fine scholar.

  3. Avatar
    dragonfly  January 31, 2016

    Wow, that would make you wary about submitting anything to a non-scholarly journal again.

  4. Robert
    Robert  January 31, 2016

    I was asked to review a book for a European journal, which I did. I corrected the author on an important point in the history of scholarship, and the journal editor showed my review to the author of the book, and he asked me to remove that part of my review. I did not. Apparently, he had also asked the journal to remove that part of my review. The publisher of the journal was also the publisher of the book being reviewed. To their credit, they didn’t remove the critique. But the journal editor did change something in my review (can’t remember what), but, not being native English speakers, they messed up the grammar a little bit. Oh well.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  January 31, 2016

    As per the first question, it was popular in 19th century Germany to excuse Jesus’ emergence from the ancient Jews so that (to paraphrase Nietzsche’s proto-Nazi brother-in-law, Berhard Forester, whom Nietzsche thoroughly despised) the glory of Jesus would standout all the more brilliantly against the backdrop of an inferior peoples. So…that should give one an idea of the impeding mentality.

  6. Avatar
    SecularRon  February 4, 2016

    There is considerable debate as to whether the HB is against homosexuality. As someone who is learned in Hebrew would you be so kind as to give your opinion? For what its worth, my opinion is that the early Jews had no choice but to be against it. It was a matter of survival. A tribe of people living on an inhospitable land surrounded by great nations needed descendants if it was going to survive.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2016

      I don’t think any ancient sources are opposed ot what we call homosexuality, since people in the ancient world had no sense at all of sexual orientation. But biblical sources (Leviticus, etc.) *are* opposed to the idea of same sex sexual relations. Just as they’re opposed to doing any work on Saturday or to mixing two kinds of material in a piece of clothing….

  7. Avatar
    fabiogaucho  February 4, 2016

    You should have written to the journal editor quoting Revelation 22:18!

  8. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  February 10, 2016

    You say you first published your textbook on the New Testament about 20 years ago. I see that it is in its 5th edition (or more?). You’ve studied a lot, published a lot, no doubt learned a lot the last 20 years. What major updates or corrections have you made to the textbook over time?

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