Why The Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History, by David Klinghoffer, Doubleday, 2005.

Several years ago I was talking to a Jewish man about Jesus’ claims to be Messiah of Israel. After awhile, this man said, Look, we Jews reject Jesus because we are Jews, and being Jewish means that we reject Jesus.” As I read David Klinghoffer’s newest book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, I was reminded of this encounter and I’m left with the same question: How is it that Judaism has become merely an affirmation of a rejection?

Klinghoffer starts with the presupposition that Jews rejected Jesus (which isn’t true; actually all the first followers of Jesus were Jews). Then spends much of his time trying to show how Jesus didn’t fulfill Jewish messianic expectations. According to Klinghoffer, when Paul, the Jewish New Testament writer, accepted Jesus, he radically rejected Torah Judaism and invented a new missionary religion:

We arrive here at the very heart of the difference between Judaism and the religion that Paul originated. The difference is still observable in the faith of Christians, as compared with that of Jews, down to our own time. Followers of Paul read and understand the Hebrew Bible through a certain philosophical lens they bring to it the premise that Jesus is the savior that salvation is from him. They read the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. They prioritize the New over the Old.

Klinghoffer fails to appreciate the fact that Paul wrote before the accounts of the life of Jesus (the gospels) were codified. Also, Paul was not easily convinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be; in fact, he initially rejected Jesus’ claims. Eventually, Paul recognized Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. When God made his covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis, he promised to bless him and his descendants. The ultimate realization of that blessing, in Paul’s understanding, is Jesus. For the early Christians (many of whom were Jewish), and for Christians today (some of whom are Jewish), Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture?not an idea superimposed on our sacred texts.

Klinghoffer’s writing is open and heartfelt, but his reasoning is flawed. He concludes that if first-century Jews had believed Jesus was Messiah, then Christianity would have merely remained a sect within Judaism rather than becoming the world-changing force that gave us Western culture and civilization. In fact, he says that the Christian world should be thankful to Jews for rejecting Jesus. It is illogical to say this whilst trying to prove that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah. For according to Klinghoffer’s reasoning, western civilization, for all of its advancements and achievements, is built on a lie.

Look for more on this controversial book in future editions of ISSUES.