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    Why I wrote about “New Testament People”

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in The Jerusalem Report on 11 March 2019.

    new-testament-people-a-rabbis-notesNEW TESTAMENT PEOPLE:

    Raymond Apple
    236 pages; NIS 85.20

    My book, New Testament People: A Rabbi’s Notes, published by AuthorHouse in association with the Australian Council of Christians and Jews, is available from online booksellers and Australian interfaith organisations. It examines almost 100 New Testament figures from a Jewish viewpoint. The most fascinating of them all is, of course, Jesus.

    Why did I write this book?

    I have spent my life studying and teaching Judaism. I have been a Jewish spokesman on many platforms – the pulpit, the classroom, the written and printed word, the audio-visual media, as well as at universities, schools and seminaries – constantly urging the “undimmed eye and unabated natural force” (Deuteronomy 34:7) of the teachings of Moses and the rabbis. I have generally been received with respect, even when I rather shocked my audience.

    Interfaith involvement has brought me many friendships, but I have also learned, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik says (“Confrontation” in Tradition 6:2, 1964) that it is impossible for a Jew really to get inside the mind of a Christian, and vice versa.

    Nonetheless, I was moved by Paul van Buren’s view that our era has a radical significance in the long, often difficult story of Jewish-Christian encounter.

    Writing on the “theology of displacement,” Van Buren has said, “The church looked at the Jews from its own position and saw only a stubborn refusal to accept what the church preached as the truth. It seems never to have crossed Christian minds that what the church called Jewish stubbornness was, from Israel’s perspective, fidelity to Torah and Torah’s Author” (A Christian Theology of the People of Israel, NY: Seabury Press, 1983, p. 276).

    Modern scholarship shows that many aspects of Christian history need reassessment. Many Christians now see the harm done by an unhistorical approach to the Jewish milieu of Jesus.

    There are really two New Testaments – the Gospels, which depict Jesus the Jew, who was more or less a Pharisee and did not intend to forsake Judaism; and the post-Gospel material, which depicts the new faith that was built around and upon his figure and preaching.

    In the first New Testament, Jesus took part in internal debates, sometimes questioning the traditional view, becoming controversial when he spoke in the first person and claimed special status.

    No one is certain how much of his teaching was preserved verbatim, how much was reworked by redactors. Nor can anyone explain why the quiet man of peace is sometimes aggressive and speaks with the robustness of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nobody can solve all the problems but we can delineate some of them.

    If we ask if Jesus would have endorsed the New Testament in its Gospel form, no one can be sure of the answer. He would certainly not endorse the anti-Jewish animus of some Gospel writers or the horror unleashed in his name upon his fellow Jews. Nor would he seek to escape the fate of the millions of Jews, who were crucified in the Nazi Holocaust.

    Whether Martin Buber was right to call Jesus “my great brother,” Jesus himself would have said with the biblical Joseph, “I go seeking my brethren” (Genesis 37:16).

    Jewishness is where he came from. His milieu was Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Isaiah, though he believed they had come alive again in him. He saw the upheavals of his time as the pangs of the Messiah and thought of himself in messianic terms.

    He diverged from tradition in his exegesis of Scripture but he probably had no intention of creating a new religion.

    In the second New Testament, the post-Jesus generation reconstructed his life, teaching and status, so that Jesus the Jew became Jesus the Christ, and Christianity became a gentile faith, incorporating other influences and interpreting Jesus in ways that radically departed from Judaism.

    The parting of the ways involved a set of paradoxes: universalism and particularism, faith and works, sin and atonement, death and rebirth, today and tomorrow, earthly man and ineffable God. Sometimes the new faith leaned this way, sometimes that. Though Jesus was a Jew, it is important to recognise the way he was reshaped.

    Both sides are sure they are right, but can they coexist? Both have to face up to a resurgent Islam, which is not yet sure that it can share and match the independent ethos of the other monotheistic faiths.

    The encounter must be within a climate of civilised discussion, robust without rancor, argumentative but not aggressive. That is the mood in which I wrote this book, and it is in this mood that I hope it will be read.

    I am not looking for winners or losers. I am not seeking to dismiss or defeat, but to respect and understand. I am not out to denigrate or destroy the other person but to know them. The world is big enough for us all. If others choose different paths, I am content to be a Jew.

    The softcover and ebook editions of New Testament People: A Rabbi’s Notes are available from Amazon, AuthorHouse, The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping), and elsewhere online. Selections from the book can be previewed on Google Books.

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