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Jesus: First Century Rabbi – Rabbi David Zaslow with Joseph A. Lieberman

Rabbi David Zaslow with Joseph A. Lieberman

Jesus: First-century Rabbi

ISBN: 978 1 61261 644 5

Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, 2014, 254 pp, £11.99

This is a fascinating book. It tries to explain Jesus from a Jewish perspective to Christians, and also from a Christian perspective to Jews. Other authors who tried the same were not so successful.

In an eagerness to tell readers that the two faiths have much in common, the Foreword, Preface and Introduction are, however, all saying much the same. Once the ‘real’ text starts, it becomes interesting. Zaslow is an American rabbi with a wide experience of interfaith work and clearly shows a great deal of understanding of the two faiths, though obviously he is more at ease with Judaism than Christianity. He gets somewhat lost in the finer details of the Trinity and other doctrines and admits that he finds St Paul puzzling.

Zaslow tackles some very important topics that are often misunderstood and therefore misinterpreted in Christian circles. He starts by setting the political scene at the time of Jesus as one of huge turmoil and as the background against which the ‘Younger Testament’ as he prefers to call the New Testament, is written. The transition that was taking place in Judaism from Temple-based worship to one based on prayer was in full swing and hence many different opinions and practices were available, traces of which can be found in the gospels and epistles. He describes the sacrificial system of the Temple, the meaning and practice of atonement and the understanding of sin and redemption, and goes into some details of the Akedah, the ‘Binding of Isaac’, which are largely unknown to Christians. These are main concepts for both faiths, but over the centuries their Christian understanding has differed increasingly from Judaism. To see them described as they would have been understood in Jesus’ time throws much light on them as possible sources for appreciating both faiths better. The book also stresses the absolute commitment to the Covenant of the Jewish people, which defines their understanding of themselves, and how Jesus would also have understood his commitment to it to the end.

Smaller sections of the book deal with Logos and comparative theology; with theological misunderstandings, especially grace, redemption and suffering; and with the ‘troubled past and hopeful future’, which describes anti-Semitism in some detail. These smaller sections are less satisfactory as Zaslow is trying to justify some positions taken by both Jews and Christians in defiance of each other. Perhaps because of this, or despite it, the book is a very good example of the long way that interfaith work has yet to go.

Verena Tschudin TSSF