Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus
Harvey Falk
(Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), 175 pp.

Jesus the Pharisee by Harvey Falk sets a high water mark for ecumenism, having been written by an orthodox rabbi and published by a Catholic publishing house.

The book is said to mark “the first attempt by a rabbinic writer to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth consistently upheld the views of the rabbis of the School of Hillel, and that all his criticism was directed at the School of Shammai and their followers.” Falk’s treatment of the subject represents substantial research, his biographical listing of Jewish sages and scholars is helpful and his approach is generally thoughtful. However, his theological bias causes him to overlook some glaring weaknesses.

Falk does not grapple with those areas in which Jesus and the School of Hillel did most definitely part company (see Louis Goldberg’s “Pharisees: Bad Guys or…”).

Falk’s goal to improve Jewish-Christian relations is a lofty one. Yet in his excitement to offer new interpretations of Jesus’ harsh criticisms of certain Jewish people, his judgment is flawed. His criteria for improved Jewish-Christian relations sheds light on the underpinnings of his book! Falk’s perception of Jesus is that of being other than the Messiah. He also sees the mission of Jesus and Paul as that of bringing a religion to gentiles onlyïwhich conflicts with Jesus’ command to his twelve disciples to not “go in the way of the Gentiles,” but instead to bring the gospel “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5ff).

In view of the above, it is difficult to understand how Falk can say that “there seems no question that the Hasid from Nazareth would have objected strenuously to Christian missionary activity among Jews” (p. 158).

In order to arrive at his conclusions, the rabbi must build a case of selective inclusion and exclusion of New Testament passages. Thus, he can conclude that Jesus the Jew was a good man, a teacher of the School of Hillel and never the one who said of himself, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)