Dan Cohn-Sherbok. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. 126 pages. $49.95, cloth.
Dan Cohn-Sherbok is lecturer in theology at the University of Kent in England. This book is a revision of previously published articles. The essays are readable and instructive. They also affirm the Jewishness of the New Testament (which cannot be said of his 1992 book, The Crucified Jew, in which he discusses alleged anti-Semitism in the New Testament).
If the topic of the New Testament’s Jewishness were a banquet, these chapters would be the hors d’oeuvres, and some taste better than others. We begin with Rabbinic Judaism and the Doctrine of Hell” in which we discover that the ancient rabbis did hold such a doctrine (so much for the idea that “Jews don’t believe in hell”).
Then, “Jesus, the Sadducees, and the Resurrection of the Dead” along with “Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath” maintain that Jesus’ arguments do not follow the rabbinic rules, since he was a carpenter unskilled in sophisticated techniques of argument. If Cohn-Sherbok is right it does not mean that Jesus’ teaching was un-Jewish, for his parables were certainly a Jewish mode of teaching. The question is what kind of Jewish teaching Jesus used.
“Jesus’ Blessing of the Cup at the Last Supper” argues that it was not the third cup of the seder but the fourth over which Jesus recited part two of the Hallel, understood in Jewish circles as messianic. There is food for thought here on the relationship of the Last Supper to the seder.
“Jesus’ Cry on the Cross” argues that we can interpret Jesus’ cry as, “My God, my God, why have you praised me?”, a prayer for the coming of the messianic age. It is one of the more speculative essays and unfortunately relies on disregarding the statements given in the Gospels themselves. This is not surprising; one wouldn’t expect Cohn-Sherbok to believe in the inspiration of the New Testament. His interpretation is at least an indication that a Jewish author can give a positive significance to the cry on the cross, rather than interpreting it to mean that Jesus finally gave up all hope in being the Messiah.
In “Jesus’ Burial Garment” we learn that Jesus’ burial followed Jewish custom, and therefore the Shroud of Turin cannot be his burial cloth—an interesting essay for those wondering about the shroud.
“Paul and Rabbinic Exegesis” argues that Paul’s techniques of exegesis were Pharisaic and rabbinic; while “Paul and Peter at Antioch” shows that contrary to some, there is no evidence that the incident in Galatians 2:11-18 was a watershed that shaped the future of Christianity.
The remaining two chapters deal with the gnostic religion of Mandaeanism and do not relate to the title of the book.
Of all these, the material on Paul and rabbinic interpretation is the weakest because it is so sketchy, while the problems with the chapter on Jesus’ cry from the cross were noted above. Most convincing are those on the Last Supper and the burial garment. Cohn-Sherbok generally accepts the reliability of the New Testament as it stands, with the exception of the Gospel statements on Jesus’ cry.
There are numerous proofreading mistakes and an important sentence has dropped out on page 81. As with other titles from this publisher, the book is quite expensive but scholars are offered a 50 percent discount.
Rabbinic Perspectives on the New Testament can be recommended for serious students, as long as they remember that these essays are just small appetizers. Those hungry for the main course will have to go to such books as The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (by David Daube) or Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (by W. D. Davies), which are more substantial as well as more technical and challenging.