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Frederic Seager
Jesus, the Man and the Myth
History being the science of causality, the author, a historian, asks a historian's question: what caused the rift between Jesus and his compatriots? When he entered Jerusalem one bright Sunday in April, the crowds lining his route cried out, "Hosanna to the son of David!" His skills as a faith healer and his presumed Davidic ancestry through Joseph gave hope to the Jewish masses in Judea that here, at last, was the KIng-Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule. Five days later, he was dead, having lost most of his popular following. His fellow-Jews reasoned that anyone who recommends paying taxes to Rome cannot possibly be their king. The tax question was raised by the Pharisees, who, being close to the people, longed for a liberator. But they had to be sure that they had the right man. A true king would free Judea from Roman domination, but a false pretender would invite only more repression. So the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees was mainly political, not moral. The moral issue came into full focus with the advent of Christianity. Jews could not accept the postulate of a second covenant in which God abrogated the Torah which He had vouchsafed to them. Nor could they follow Jesus's admonitions to love one's enemies and hate one's parents. This book goes to the heart of the Jewish-Christian contention and offers a way out: intermarriage, which can enable Gentiles to understand and appreciate Judaism.
Seager tells the story of Jesus from a Jewish perspective, highlighting how the story, as told in Christian scriptures,”naturally puts the Jews and Judaism in a bad light.” Rather than reclaim the historic prophet as a Jew, historian Seager seeks to highlight Jesus’ “abusive language” (“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”), ignorance of the Torah, and even his unhygienic practices, as set down in the Gospels. More pressingly, Seager demonstrates how Jesus’ moral code of absolutism and asceticism is and was at odds with a Jewish morality of moderation which is much more applicable to everyday life. Jesus’ story, in Seager’s eyes, is one of a claimant to the throne of David who was shown to be a fraud by the Jewish leaders of his day and then killed by the Romans.

Seager also analyzes the further narratives about Jesus in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s writings, which laid the groundwork for centuries worth of claims that Jews were behind the killing of Jesus. In the book’s latter half, Seager’s focus shifts to broader contrasts between Judaism and Christianity, including an extensive discussion of intermarriage between Christians and Jews, a choice that may disappoint readers anticipating a critical biography. The text closes with a helpful bibliographical essay on Jewish perspectives on the New Testament.

“The authors of the Christian Scriptures use Judaism as a foil to demonstrate the superiority of the new religion,” Seager writes, and he in turn argues the superiority of Judaism, a faith that ‘“gives meaning to life on earth instead of promising salvation in the hereafter” while “Christianity has never quite managed to accept human sexuality as anything but a necessary evil.” While at times polemical, this text will prove helpful for anyone seeking a strong Jewish perspective on Jesus that views him as a deeply flawed person whose followers founded a deeply flawed religion.

Takeaway: A critical Jewish perspective on Jesus and Christian scripture.

Great for fans of: Paula Fredriksen and Adele Reinhartz’s Jesus, Judaism, and Christian Anti-Judaism, Irving M. Zeitlin’s Jesus and the Judaism of His Time.

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