What Other Jewish Authors Say About Jesus
Sholem Asch (1880-1957), who wrote in Yiddish, was one of the most famous Jewish writers of his day. He wrote historical novels about New Testament themes; his Nazarene in 1939 propelled him to world prominence. He wrote more than 50 novels, plays and short stories. Asch said:
I couldn’t help writing on Jesus. Since I first met him he has held my mind and heart. I grew up, you know, on the border of Poland and Russia, which was not exactly the finest place in the world for a Jew to sit down and write a life of Jesus Christ. Yet even through those years the hope of doing just that fascinated me. For Jesus Christ is to me the outstanding personality of all time, all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man. Everything he ever said or did has value for us today and that is something you can say of no other man, dead or alive. There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jesus or reject him. You can analyze Mohammed and … Buddha, but don’t try it with him. You either accept or you reject….[i]
Constantin Brunner (1862-1937), a German Jewish philosopher whose system is closely related to that of Spinoza, wrote several influential books. Here is an excerpt from one of them:
It is amazing how many Jews write about Jews and Judaism while ignoring the super-Jew and super-Judaism. I refer to Jesus the Messiah and to Christianity…. What happened here? Is it only the Jew who is incapable of seeing and hearing all that others see and hear? Are the Jews stricken with blindness and deafness as regards Messiah Jesus, so that to them alone he has nothing to say? … Understand, then, what we shall do: We shall bring him back to us. Messiah Jesus is not dead for us – for he has not yet lived: and he will not slay us, he will make us alive again. His profound and holy words, and all that is true and heart-appealing in the New Testament, must from now on be heard in our synagogues and taught to our children, in order that the wrong we had committed may be made good, the curse turned into a blessing, and that he at last may find us who has always been seeking after us.[ii]
Born in Russia, John Cournos (1881-1966) came to America at age ten. He moved to London in 1912 and became a free-lance writer for English periodicals. He was also a novelist and translated Russian literature into English. Here are excerpts from two of his works:
Jesus was a Jew – the best of Jews….
Jesus was not only a Jew. He was the apex and the acme of Jewish teaching, which began with Moses and ran the entire evolving gamut of kings, teachers, prophets, and rabbis – David and Isaiah and Daniel and Hillel – until their pith and essence was crystallized in this greatest of all Jews…. For a Jew, therefore, to forget that Jesus was a Jew, and to deny him, is to forget and to deny all the Jewish teaching that was before Jesus: it is to reject the Jewish heritage, to betray what was best in Israel.[iii]
But being a Jew, I profoundly believe in Christ, who was the culmination of the progressive processes of Jewish teaching, of which the Sermon on the Mount is the acme. It is true that some of you have tried to make Him out to be an American Rotarian, a high-pressure salesman who peddled in God as others have peddled in soap or vacuum cleaners. No, gentlemen, you can’t get out of your dilemma: Christ did sweep the money changers out of the temple, and he did deliver the Sermon on the Mount: and these give the lie to all your professions, all your pretensions.[iv]
Yosef Hayyim Brenner (1881-1921), a key figure in the school of modern Hebrew literature, wrote this:
The New Testament is also our book, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.[v]
Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a leading Jewish writer, philosopher and theologian. In his book Two Types of Faith, he said:
From my youth onwards I have found in Jesus my great brother. That Christianity has regarded and does regard him as God and Savior has always appeared to me a fact of the highest importance which, for his sake and my own, I must endeavor to understand … I am more than ever certain that a great place belongs to him in Israel’s history of faith and that this place cannot be described by any of the usual categories.[vi]
Solomon B. Freehof (1892-1990), a prominent Reform rabbi, author, and world-renowned interpreter of Jewish law, wrote this:
All this vast diversity of opinion has not lessened the vividness of the personality of Jesus. The opposite opinions have not balanced each other into immobility. All the opinions are still staunchly held and ardently defended. The years have not diminished the urgency of the question: ‘What do you think of Jesus?’ … The significant fact is that time has not faded the vividness of his [Jesus’] image. Poetry still sings his praise. He is still the living comrade of countless lives. No Moslem ever sings, ‘Mohammed, lover of my soul,’ nor does any Jew say of Moses, the teacher, ‘I need thee every hour.’[vii]
Paul Goodman (1875-1949), British Zionist and author, wrote:
The charm of his personality has sent its rays all over the world, and infused countless human hearts with the spirit of love and self-sacrifice…. Yet the roots of the life and thought of Jesus lie entirely in Jewish soil.[viii]
Norman Cousins (1912-1990) was editor-in-chief of the Saturday Review for more than 35 years. He received numerous awards, including the United Nations Peace Medal, and authored many articles and books. He wrote the following:
The earliest Christians knew neither awkwardness nor reticence over the fact that Jesus was a Jew. Most, if not all, were Jews themselves. Christianity to them was not a faith apart from Judaism but an assertion of it….
There is every reason for Judaism to lose its reluctance toward Jesus. His own towering spiritual presence is a projection of Judaism, not a repudiation of it. Jesus is not to be taxed for the un-Christian ideas and acts of those who have spoken in his name. Jesus never repudiated Judaism. He was proud to be a Jew, yet he did not confine himself to Judaism. He did not believe in spiritual exclusivity for either Jew or Gentile. He asserted the Jewish heritage and sought to preserve and exalt its values, but he did it within a universal context. No other figure – spiritual, philosophical, political or intellectual – has had a greater impact on human history. To belong to a people that produced Jesus is to share in a distinction of vast dimension and meaning.[ix]
Alan Dershowitz (1938- ) was raised as an Orthodox Jew. He became the youngest full professor of law in the history of Harvard Law School at age 28. He has been the Felix Frankfurter Professor there since 1993. The prolific author wrote:
I studied the New Testament, obviously not as part of my religious background, but for comparative purposes. I also teach it at Harvard Law School. I think of Jesus as the first reform rabbi, a wonderful teacher, who tried to make Judaism less formalistic and more ethical.[x]
Howard Jacobson (1942- ) is a British novelist, broadcaster and university lecturer. He won the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Finkler Question. He wrote:
Jesus was a Jew. Everyone knows that, don’t they? Well, it would seem that they do and they don’t. It is certainly not the view of most Christians, nor is it common knowledge among atheists or even Jews, that Jesus was to the brim a Jew, not incidentally or as a matter of temporal accident a Jew, not, in Jonathan Miller’s joke, Jewish, but a Jew by faith, by temperament and by spiritual ambition; a Jew in his relentless ethicising, in his love of quibbling and legalistics, in his fondness – frankly, to the point of tiresomeness sometimes – for extended metaphors and sermons wrapped in parables, and in the apocalyptic urgency of his teaching. A Jew, in other words, on unambiguously Jewish business.[xi]
[i] Frank S. Mead, “An Interview with Sholem Asch,” The Christian Herald, January 1944, quoted in Ben Siegel, The Controversial Sholem Asch: An Introduction to his Fiction (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976), p. 148.
[ii] Constantin Brunner, Der Judenhass und Die Juden (Berlin: Oesterheld, 1918), p. 34., quoted in Arthur W. Kac, The Messiahship of Jesus: What Jews and Jewish Christians Say (Chicago, Moody Press, 1980)., op. cit.
[viii] Paul Goodman, in The Synagogue and the Church (1908), quoted in Jewish Views of Jesus: An Introduction and Appreciation by Thomas T. Walker (New York: Arno Press, 1973 [reprint of 1931 ed.]), p. 25.
[x] “Author Alan Dershowitz discusses his book The Genesis of Justice,” April 7, 2000, http://www.cnn.com/COMMUNITY/transcripts/2000/4/07/dershowitz.
[xi] Howard Jacobson, “Behold! The Jewish Jesus,” The Guardian, January 9, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/09/christianity-judaism.