Bockmuehl: Jesus’ Jewishness and the Historical Quest

Many thanks for a friendly reader who emailed me after my post, “Musings on Some Academic Portrayals of Jesus,” to point me to a handful of scholars I should consider. In particular, I wanted to see some of the best historical study (like that of John Meier and N.T. Wright, among others) combined with the pro-Judaism philosophy of E.P. Sanders. This friendly reader turned me on to Markus Bockmuehl — hence the post for today.

Also, before I move on, thanks to others who emailed encouraging thoughts. I do appreciate all who read and interact, privately or publicly, favorably or unfavorably . . .
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I spent half a day at the library reading and skimming parts of several of Markus Bockmuehl’s books. In particular, I spent some time in Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study and This Jesus: Martyr, Lord, Messiah. Excellent books. If you are not a theologian and want a good read on Jesus, I recommend This Jesus. Bockmuehl argues that faith and historical understanding can and do go together. The Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate should not be separated from the Jesus who was raised and exalted to the right hand of God.

In particular, though, I wanted to share with you today some refreshing words from Bockmuehl about Jesus, his Judaism, and the sad fact that even the writers of the modern Historical Quest for Jesus who seem most conservative are all too willing to present Jesus as abolishing part or all of Judaism.

Not that all of these scholars will ever see this blog post in the vast array of learned works they read day in and day out, but I offer these words of Bockmuehl as a bit of a challenge to Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, and John Meier. I have learned so much from these writers, but I find an important perspective flawed or missing in their approaches. Here are some excerpts from Bockmuehl’s Seeing the Word:

With occasional exceptions, the Christian churches have been on the whole remarkably welcoming of this more Jewish understanding of Jesus, no doubt in part by a significant increase in Christian-Jewish dialogue in the postwar period. . . . These developments and others have contributed to what is today a clear, though admittedly not unopposed, consensus: at the historical level Jesus of Nazareth is most appropriately understood in the cultural and religious setting of first-century Judaism in the land of Israel. . . .

New Testament scholars, even if they talk the talk of a Jewish Jesus, do not always walk the walk — either hijacking narrowly particular phenomena for ideological ends or more commonly continuing in blithe neglect of actual particularities in order to highlight their conveniently relativizing diversity. Challenges arise not only from historical skeptics and protagonists of the Jesus Seminar, but also from the proverbial force of old scholarly habits. It remains the case that not more than a few New Testament scholars lack a firsthand familiarity with the relevant Jewish sources and their setting . . .

[Note from Derek: I did not include the above paragraph in any way as a reflection on McKnight, Wright, Witherington, or Meier, who do have firsthand knowledge of Jewish sources.]

Whether for conventional or confessional reasons, many continue to favor the notion of Jesus’ opposition not perhaps to Judaism tout court, but certainly to the teaching of any and all Jewish individuals or groups actually known to us. This applies especially in the case of law, where many assume that at least in a handful of programmatic words and actions Jesus deliberately “broke” or “annulled” the Torah and thereby did place himself consciously over against Judaism . . . What is clear is that conservatives are often just as keen on this theme of Jesus’ superiority or separation from contemporary religious Judaism as ostensibly more liberal interpreters. Making Jesus more of a Jew may seem to have the effect of making him less of a Christian — or at any rate less of a Western Enlightenment Protestant.

[Note again from Derek: Okay, that paragraph was included as a challenge to McKnight, Wright, Witherington, and Meier — all of whom fit into what Bockmuehl describes.]

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Ben Witherington, Bible, Christian, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Theology, Yeshua. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bockmuehl: Jesus’ Jewishness and the Historical Quest

  1. judahgabriel says:

    “Making Jesus more of a Jew may seem to have the effect of making him less of a Christian — or at any rate less of a Western Enlightenment Protestant.”

    I’ve got a big grin going across my face as I read that. Wonderfully put by Bockmuehl. I personally have found this true among not just academics but among common conservative Christians.

    The more you put Jesus in a proper Jewish perspective, grounded in Judaism and the Torah, the more one realizes how far Protestant Christianity has deviated from this origin.

  2. net2merc says:

    Derek and judagabriel,

    AMEN AND AMEN! I have experienced this imbalance in most of my Christian circles, so I’m developing my Messianic Jewish circles. Be encouraged b/c there is a real stirring in the Christian body toward balancing our known ‘Jesus’ with His (our) Jewish roots. This movement is a challenge to Christians…and they don’t like it. Oh well. We prefer our comfort zone.

    My feeling is that overall church worship has become boring so it’s time to go deeper as the Spirit calls us forth into Himself. I’m hearing arguments from those with Christian backgrounds that “well, all gods are the same and there are many ways to God.” Ignorance is not bliss, it’s dangerous.

    I go ‘mad’ when I hear that our Creator God, the only true and Living God and Father is the same as Allah. Please!

    Thank you for this discussion! It enriches my life and gives me hope. To start restoration of our understanding is to restore Biblical historic Christianity…which I think is what’s happening with the furtherance of these discussions in making the right historical connections for the Body of Christ.

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