A RABBI TALKS WITH JESUS by Jacob Neusner

A RABBI TALKS WITH JESUS

An Intermillennial, Interfaith Exchange
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Immensely daring work by Neusner, rabbi and author of more than 400 books on Judaism (The Death and Birth of Judaism, 1987, etc.), as he projects himself back to first-century Israel to argue with Jesus. Obviously, such a project is fraught with peril--but Neusner's success is indicated by the long, supportive blurb from Vatican powerhouse Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The author's intention is to pinpoint differences between the Torah of Moses (which is ``perfect and beyond improvement'') and Jesus' teachings as presented in the Gospel of Matthew, in order to deepen the faith of both Christians and Jews. He listens closely to Jesus' sermons, addresses him as ``master,'' and opposes him with deference. Neusner lauds some of Jesus' sayings for reaching to the heart of Jewish law. But other pronouncements seem to him to violate God's will for Israel. He sees Jesus as subverting Jewish dietary law, the Sabbath, the respect due one's mother and father. The argument sharpens with Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees, with whom Neusner feels affinity. In effect, the author contends, Jesus is preaching to a select band of disciples, offering counsel for spiritual perfection while awaiting the kingdom of God, whereas Torah addresses itself to the entire Jewish people, presenting a way of holiness for the here-and-now. On its own terms, Neusner's presentation is sound. The problem--which he acknowledges--is the difficulty of reading Jesus' words apart from the understanding placed on them by Christians--i.e., that these are the teachings of God incarnate. The real issue, says Neusner, is Jesus himself, rather than his message. In an appendix, Neusner expresses his indebtedness to Christians who have been his friends and helped his career. This book, as he hopes, repays the debt--not least by showing that Jewish-Christian dialogue can move beyond bitterness into mature, substantive debate.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-385-42466-3
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992




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