Book Title: Kosher Jesus
Author: Shmuley Boteach
Date Published: February 1, 2012
Publisher: Gefen Publishing House; First Edition (US) First Printing edition
Genre: 1. Theology
2. Jewish Life
3. Biographies
ISBN: 978-9652295781
Reviewer: Rich Robinson
Review Date: July 20, 2012

The Rest of Kosher Jesus in One Easy Blog
The Gospel According to Shmuley

Having read the rest of Kosher Jesus in a sitting or two, I want to say a few things (see previous blogs on the right).

How to sum up Kosher Jesus? Well, the acknowledgements at the end are funny (yet also annoying — way too many jokes about himself). As a whole, Boteach isn’t bad on Jewish history and on Jewish values, either.

But as a critique of the New Testament, it’s awful.

Boteach, it seems, would like to reclaim Jesus as a Jew, which for him means a first-century Rambo (or Judah Maccabee, if you like) who stood up against Rome and suffered for doing his part to bring in world peace.

To get to this picture of Jesus, Boteach has to deconstruct the New Testament, discovering with his Clue-ometer™ (my term, not his) a thick overlay of anti-Semitism and paganism over the original Jesus. (Think the Sistine Chapel ceiling before and after restoration. Now multiply that 100 times.)

To find the “real” Jesus amidst the overlay, Boteach’s Clue-ometer™ kicks in to find what is buried in the New Testament, if only we will look hard enough. It’s way more rhetoric than evidence, not that different from those who detect extra-terrestrials in Ezekiel chapter 1. (What else could create all those special FX the prophet sees? It has to be a spaceship!) Too much of Boteach’s argumentation is by insinuation: here’s a difficulty in the text – the only explanation is someone tried to cover up the truth! For extra fun, kids, try that with the problems in the Hebrew Bible and claim the original story is a lot different than what we read today.

And there are some howlers:

pages 68-70

Boteach claims the apocryphal Gospel of Peter was written by the apostle Peter. (Nope.) And, since Jesus predicted Peter would be a liar (really?), it’s not surprising that he would make up anti-Semitic things in the Gospel of Peter.

page 113

Boteach’s interpretation of Galatians 3:13 is bizarre. That verse reads, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Paul is here citing Deuteronomy). Boteach claims the “tree” (which he calls a “pole”) refers to the Torah, and that Paul is teaching that a person is cursed by hanging from the Torah (depending on it) for salvation. Creative but very, very odd — Paul is referring to the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.

page 127

Boteach claims that Christians celebrate Sunday as the day of the crucifixion. It’s the celebration of the resurrection.

Elsewhere —

  • the incarnation was not meant to appeal to pagan Gentiles. They found the idea of an incarnation abhorrent.
  • Christians do not think Jesus is a “part” of the Trinity (pages 152-153)
  • Christianity doesn’t minimize works (think of Bonhoeffer who stood against “cheap grace”).
  • Why rant against Christians who talk about the afterlife and then write that in regard to “righteous Gentiles,” Judaism is “a religion that assures the inclusion into heaven of those who don’t observe its tenants [sic] by virtue of their good deeds”? (page 193).

In the words of Sly and the Family Stone: And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby….

Many Jewish scholars would take issue with Boteach on any number of points. In fact, his views are just plain outdated (he relies on 20th century Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby for many of his talking points). A lot of the book seems like a rehash of older works like Trude Weiss-Rosmarin’s Judaism and Christianity: The Differences, which dates back to 1943 and was less concerned to find common ground than to keep Judaism and Christianity far apart from one another.

Two idiosyncratic chapters end the book. One claims that Christian doctrine is incompatible with American values (this, it seems, is a bad thing). The other chastises Christians for focusing on the issue of gay marriage when there are many other things to be concerned with.

Unlike the impact of a book of a previous generation, The Passover Plot (which posited that Jesus never really died on the cross in the first place), Boteach’s Kosher Jesus has been something of a flash in the pan. And no wonder; the feel is “been there, done that.”

With one hand, Boteach points out how impossible he believes Christian doctrine to be, and on the other hand wants to commend Christians for their faith, a faith he radically fails to understand.

In the end, he hopes that a “Judah Maccabee Jesus” will inspire Jews and Christians to join in fighting the injustices of the world.

Good luck with all that.