Jesus “in the Trenches”

Pedagogical Challenges Posed by Teaching the Nazarene in the Context of Judaic Studies

Article from Teaching the Historical Jesus (Routledge, 2015).

By Ken Hanson
Interdisciplinary Program in Judaic Studies
University of Central Florida
October 2015


Five decades ago, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik produced a consequential essay particularly relevant to teaching about Jesus on a university level. Titled “Confrontation,” it expresses his deep skepticism about Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue, namely, that ultimate religious beliefs cannot be communicated or shared and that dialogue often involves the need for religious or theological change, blurring the differences and leading to a loss of identity.[1] Some contend that Christianity can only be defined by its hostility toward Judaism, being a supersessionist faith at its core. Reconciliation is arguably impossible without the loss of identity of one faith or the other. Moreover, the historical Jesus is deemed to be unrecoverable, essentially a construction of Christology. According to this view, the study of Christianity is important for the simple reason that it aids in understanding the unbridgeable divide between the two faiths, each being focused on a claim of divine election.[2]

By contrast, it is argued that dialogue should be distinguished from education, which can indeed become a vehicle for reconciliation.[3] A case can in fact be made that the recovery of the Jewish Jesus is not only possible, at least to some extent, but an entirely appropriate academic pursuit in an institution of higher learning. But should such a pursuit be entertained in a Judaic Studies program at a secular state university? By the same token, we ask whether, within the context of a Judaic Studies curriculum at such a university, it is necessary to devote any serious time to considering the presumed founder of a major non-Jewish faith, the concerns of which are largely, if not entirely, irrelevant to an education in Judaica? Should Jesus be given more attention than, say, the prophet Muhammad, the Buddha, or Lao Tzu, for that matter, given that Jews have certainly resided in many different lands dominated by disparate religions throughout their history?

A case will have to be made that Jesus of Nazareth, or at least the “myth” of Jesus, is particularly important in understanding the Jewish people, and of singular importance in appreciating the course and development of Jewish life, thought, and culture across history. It will, moreover, be argued that failing to approach the Jesus of history and/or myth amounts to a serious deficit in what has classically been termed Wissenschaft des Judentums—the “science of Judaism.”


Indeed, contemporary approaches to the study of Judaism necessarily involve the integration of multiple disciplines, some of which represent a radical departure from “traditional” modes of study, as practiced for centuries in yeshivas and batei midrash. Far from weakening an appreciation for Jewish life, faith, and culture, the appropriate synthesis of “comparative religion” in Judaic Studies programs should be seen as an essential element in understanding Judaism within the larger fabric of world religions.

In my own experience, I find it appropriate to reference the historical Jesus in a number of semester-long courses that I regularly teach to undergraduates, both in the classroom and in an online environment. These include

  • “The Jewish People in Antiquity” (covering a period extending from the patriarchal age, in ancient Mesopotamia, to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem)
  • “The Jewish People in Dispersion” (a survey from the Muslim conquest through the rise of modern Israel)
  • “The Dead Sea Scrolls” (a survey of the manuscript finds of the Judean Desert)
  • “Kabbalah” (an overview of the mystical impulse in Judaism, from ancient times to the present)
  • “History of the Holocaust” (a survey of the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people, beginning with the legacy of Christian antisemitism in western lands)[4]

In teaching these classes, it is my observation and adage (oft shared with my students) that an idea or concept is not fully grasped until we come to an understanding of what it is pitted against. (“Beware the sound of one hand clapping.”) So it is with competing philosophies and competing religious systems. Appreciation comes when the larger conflict is perceived, in the pedagogical equivalent of John Stuart Mill’s “marketplace of ideas.” This does not of course imply endorsing one religious philosophy over another, but it does involve highlighting the attributes and relative deficits of each, vis-à-vis the societies in which they evolved, while recognizing the lively interplay between faiths over the course of history.

It is important as an instructor to be reminded, at the outset of each semester, that many of today’s students are almost entirely lacking any knowledge of the scientific approach to religious studies. This may well result from the larger debate about whether teaching the “liberal values” of religion in fact amounts to teaching religion rather than teaching about religion, the end result being the near exclusion of serious reference to religion from the classroom. Consequently, most students have been exposed to religion only in the confines of their respective places of worship (synagogues, churches, mosques) and are at the very least uncomfortable with “Jesus talk” in the classroom or the online environment.

Doubtless, this serious lack of teaching about religion in contemporary secular education all the more complicates the issue of how to approach “sacred” texts in a diverse/interfaith university environment. We might certainly argue that novel approaches to teaching religion are called for. When it comes to teaching about Jesus in a Judaic Studies curriculum, novel approaches are demanded. An appropriate starting point is the recognition of the need (at least in a number of my courses) to cover an assortment of themes that cut across the fabric of Second Temple Judaism and Jewish culture. In framing the issues revolving around the historical Jesus, we must address Jewish students attempting to understand the contour of pre-rabbinic Judaism, and Christian students seeking background for the development of early Christianity. Jesus, oddly enough, becomes a “matrix” for examining a whole gamut of religious, political, and social phenomena relevant to the entire period.

It is of course important to recognize that the best we can provide when it comes to teaching this material is an overview. Yet, an overview is exactly what is needed in a classroom setting, especially on an undergraduate level. Moreover, the online environment provides new opportunities to go into depth with this material, for those who so desire, without devoting what some might consider an inordinate amount of class time to the study of the Jewish Jesus. The online course I have developed (“The Jewish People in Antiquity”) will be the focus of the current study, as it incorporates multiple links, to articles, books, and video presentations (documentaries) that allow interested students to delve much more deeply into the issues raised than might otherwise be possible in a “traditional” classroom. I have also been able to “publish” a portion of this study as a framework for integrating the multiple facets of Second Temple history and culture, affording students a more thorough look at the contour of the debate than would be afforded in a live class environment.


There is of course significant contemporary critique coupled with occasional vitriol directed at the overall state of education in today’s America. The “prime directive,” attested by many a pedagogue, is, put simply, to teach to the test. Students are increasingly admonished to seek “the right answers,” and their faculty “coaches” are incessantly challenged to supply them. Rather than acquiring the skills of shrewd analysis in the “marketplace of ideas,” education is reduced to a pale Pavlovian exercise of recitation and regurgitation. Whatever happened to the charmingly antiquated Hegelian notion of thesis colliding with its antithesis, to produce a new, lively, and insightful synthesis? Truth be told, when it comes to Jesus, there are clearly no “right” answers. While today’s flock of young academic charges are understandably frustrated by this, the dilemma of teaching Jesus may in the final analysis be seen as a serious opportunity to confront students with the “art” as well as the “science” of scholarship.

Not a few Jewish students understandably recoil at the very suggestion of entering a serious academic discussion of Jesus. Jewish sensitivities must certainly be taken into account, given that most Jews in modern American culture have at some point been the object of sincere proselytization efforts on the part of evangelical Christians, who often fail to anticipate the visceral reaction that many Jews will have to their message. I nonetheless argue that teaching Jesus affords both Jews and Christians the opportunity to broaden and enrich their faith perspectives, while gaining fresh insight on the history and culture of the land of Israel in late antiquity.

As a matter of personal pedagogy, I find the methods advanced in the “dialogical model” proposed by James F. Moore particularly relevant to my own instruction.[5] These involve the cultivation of “openness” on several levels: listening to the viewpoints of others, accepting “truth” in such viewpoints, learning about one’s own traditions, and risking change in one’s personal perspectives (the admonishments of Rabbi Soloveitchik notwithstanding). Such openness is particularly germane to teaching Jesus in an interfaith environment, given that Christian students are often defensive of the person of Jesus, while Jewish students are just as defensive about the need to discuss the founder of a non-Jewish faith responsible for centuries of anti-Jewish rhetoric and behavior. Add to this the most significant challenge I have faced in the many years I have been addressing the historical Jesus in a Judaic Studies curriculum, namely, how to steer students away from making “religious arguments,” either in a traditional classroom setting, or, more recently, in an online environment.

The latter (while a fairly recent innovation when it comes to my own methods of instruction) provides new opportunities for interaction with students on any number of levels. I have long noted a certain reticence among many students to be as candid and forthright as I would hope when it comes to expressing their ideas about topics as deeply personal as their religious perspectives. Many clearly prefer to keep their opinions to themselves rather than to engage in dialogue and “openness.” Such students have also been called “silent conservatives,” who keep to themselves their religious convictions, either out of shyness or fear of being ridiculed.[6] To its credit, the online environment, which requires of class members weekly discussion posts, possesses the clear advantage of encouraging and fostering, in a less “threatening” mode of communication, an openness that is often elusive when students are “face-to-face” with each other and their instructor. While online courses have been criticized for fostering a disembodied anonymity, I have found this characteristic to be of considerable benefit vis-à-vis eliciting student commentary and interaction regarding otherwise sensitive areas of religious faith.

This increased openness, however, is attended by an increasing number of pedagogical dilemmas. How, on a practical level, is this instructor to respond to such blunt online comments as “Jesus was the Messiah”? How can one point out that the very existence of Jesus is debated, without being perceived as attempting to undermine sincere Christian faith? The challenge for the instructor at this point is to remind the student politely of what the study of religion involves, academically, and the kinds of issues debated by scholars, in published articles and at scholarly conferences. While we encourage lively debate, what we cannot do, I remind the students, is to argue whose religion is “right,” as we have no way of establishing the “truth” of any particular religion or religious tradition. Such things are matters of personal conviction. Nor is “apologetics” the domain of interfaith scholarship, since we cannot “privilege” one faith tradition over another. Such pursuits are best left to the domain of theological seminaries, rabbinical yeshivas, and the like.

As class instructor, my comments are posted openly on a discussion board, for all the students to read. Nonetheless, the essence of academic discourse is not easily grasped for undergraduates unaccustomed to perusing scholarly articles on the subject of religion. A case in point involves one of my students, who raised the following question on a discussion board:

Was it possible that Jesus was the Messiah, but that the people were looking for a warrior, not a shepherd?

Obviously, this student lacks a knowledge of fundamental Christian traditions about Jesus, specifically that he was said to have been a “carpenter” (actually a “joiner,” which likely refers to a stone mason) by trade. Beyond this, however, the question betrays the stereotypical depiction of Jesus as the “prince of peace,” who was rejected by “the Jews” for failing to accomplish a military deliverance from Roman rule. The implications of this stereotyping have been devastating, historically, feeding into the charge that the Jewish people en-masse are “Christ killers.” Another student in the same class commented online as follows:

Jesus of Nazareth came to be a peacemaker at the wrong time in history. He came at the point in time when the Jewish people were looking for a savior to free them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. The Jews hoped that Jesus would be this warrior who would lead them into battle. But the Romans did not see him the same way. In the historical account, the Romans aren’t the ones who try to crucify Jesus; it’s his fellow Jews. In every account about Jesus he is spoken of as a peaceful man, a teacher of the Law, not one who would lead a rebellion. Assuming these accounts are accurate, could the frustration of not having a military savior . . . have driven the Jewish people to have [Jesus] wrongfully put to death?

There is no simple way to alleviate the confusion about Jesus when faced with attitudes that are not only grossly oversimplified and historically inaccurate, but deeply offensive to our Jewish students. The tack I have taken is twofold: to address these misunderstandings individually, and to use them as a segue to approaching the larger cultural, textual, and historical milieu of the Second Jewish Commonwealth.

How much do we know about the Judaism of the Second Temple period, and what was Jesus’ relationship to the religion of his own people? What do we know about the politics of the age, the anti-Roman agitation that was rampant across Eretz Israel, and the “Zealot” movement? Only when we have a good understanding of such cultural, religious, and political currents can we dare to approach the illustrious Nazarene.


What indeed were the various socio-religious currents active in the land of Israel in the latter part of the Second Temple period, and where might Jesus fall with respect to them?[7] A handy instructional rubric for categorizing these trends may be found in the writings of Flavius Josephus, who famously described four major “philosophies” prevalent among the Jews of that era. They include the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. To be sure, the writings of Josephus are a major component of the “Jewish People in Antiquity” course, and since one of the most important early references to Jesus of Nazareth is contained in this material, we have in these writings a natural point of departure for our debate. A suggested question for discussion, especially in the online environment, is: “To which of Josephus’ ‘four philosophies’ was the historical Jesus closest?”

With regard to the Pharisees, it is by no means inappropriate to interpose the discourses of Jesus into the larger debate (also covered in our course) between schools of Hillel and the more “conservative” Shammai, in several instances placing him closer to the latter. This comes as a surprise to many of my Jewish students, who think of Jesus as—at best—a not very observant Jew. It also comes as an understandable shock to Christians of evangelical persuasion, who are inclined to view the Pharisees, not only as Jesus’ natural antagonists, but as conspiratorial murderers, whose hypocrisy knew no bounds. To discover that Jesus’ famous “Golden Rule” is essentially a paraphrase of the words of Hillel the Elder is surprising enough, but to find that the larger context of the great “Hillelism” (“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”) is a debate over proselytism opens the door to a much greater cognitive dissonance. This is because Shammai was said to have pushed away proselytes. Similarly, Jesus is said to have instructed his disciples (“shlikhim”) not to go into the way of the Gentiles (Matt 10:5). In what ways might this alter the traditional view of Jesus as the founder of a non-Jewish faith?

As our Jewish students continue to ponder the relevancy of so much “Jesus talk,” not a few Christian students find themselves troubled by Jesus’ possible affinity with Pharisee thought and teaching. In class material covering Jewish culture during the Second Temple period, we had emphasized the fact that the Pharisees were known to have cultivated the concept of an “Oral Law,” communicated to Moses on Mt. Sinai and just as binding upon the Israelites as the written Torah. It is common for any number of my Christian students to imagine Jesus in strong opposition to this aspect of Pharisee “doctrine,” referencing Jesus’ supposed denunciation of the “tradition of the elders” (παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων) and the “commandments of men” (Matt 15:3, 9).

But if that were the case, I argue, we might find an even greater affinity between Jesus and another class in ancient Judean society, known for having rejected the whole of the “Oral Torah,” and with it concept of the resurrection of the dead (also heralded by the Pharisees). Indeed, if we assert that Jesus had some problem with Oral Law, we have just made him one of the second of Josephus’ “four philosophies,” the Sadducees. There is certainly little tolerance for framing Jesus as an ally of the Sadducees, and at this point the Pharisee comparison becomes even more tantalizing. Students are inclined to point out that Jesus is repeatedly said to have condemned the Pharisees, lambasting them as “hypocrites.” But what, I ask, are the implications of such a charge vis-à-vis Christian attitudes toward Jews down through the centuries, given that rabbinic Judaism falls in a direct line of descent from ancient Pharisaism? To what extent is the antisemitism of the last two millennia rooted in this charge, placed in the mouth of Jesus, and applied with broad strokes to the whole Jewish people?

At this point, another segment of ancient Jewish society, akin to the Pharisees but going beyond them in cultivating a unique intimacy with the Divine, comes into focus. Scholars have long noticed an affinity between the teachings attributed to the Nazarene and those of a group of Jewish pietists, known as the Hasidim. By now my classes are familiar with the early Hasidim, who were said to have joined the Maccabees in their struggle for liberation from their Seleucid oppressors. The Jesus comparison now affords the opportunity to elucidate the supposed distinction between this militant expression of ancient Judaism and a later, reorganized Hasidic movement, that had eschewed violence in favor of an appeal to divine, supernatural assistance. We think of pre-rabbinic, itinerant sages such as Hanina ben Dosa (the first-century miracle worker who could command rain to cease and to fall) and Honi Ha-Ma’agel (who commanded rain to fall in a drought).[8] The Hasidim were known for possessing a certain familiarity with God, whom, like Jesus, they personally addressed as “Father.” They were also regarded, like Jesus, as “sons of God.” The identification of Jesus with the Pious, however, begs another question, inasmuch as the Hasidim referenced during the Maccabean Revolt were known to have been militant insurrectionists. This is hardly the way the later heroes of the pietistic movement (Honi Ha-Ma’agel et al.) were depicted.

We may question whether the stories regarding the later Hasidim might have been overwritten by the Tannaitic and Amoraic Sages (Ḥazal) so as to deemphasize their militancy and frame them as “pacifistic” pietists. It is well argued, for example, that the Talmudic account of the “miracle” of Hanukkah—the story of the oil in the menorah that burned for eight days—amounted to an attempt to downplay the military triumph of the Maccabees and, in a sense, “de-Hasmonize” history. While some have tried to distinguish the early Hasidim from the later pietistic phenomenon, we might equally argue that militancy is the correct lens through which to view both the early Hasidim and their later cousins, along with the Galilean sage known as Jesus.

The discussion regarding piety versus militancy in Second Temple Judaism comes together in what is perhaps the most important source material of the period, the manuscript finds of the Judean Desert, known collectively as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Long considered the literary product of the ancient Jewish sect known as the Essenes, their authorship is nonetheless challenged for a number of reasons, not the least of which has to do with the larger issue of militancy. Modern scholarship has uncovered a good deal of congruency between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the militant behavior of the defenders of Masada, not the pacifistic, Pythagorean paragons of virtue the Essenes are thought to have been. Josephus nonetheless notes that when, during the course of the Great Revolt, the Essenes were taken captive by the Romans, they were racked, twisted, burned, and broken, but nonetheless “smiled in their very pains, and laughed those to scorn who inflicted the torments upon them” (J.W. 2.150). Why, we wonder, would it have been necessary to torture these sectarians if they were pacifists and posed no threat? Hippolytus, moreover, describes the Essenes as “Zealots.” Might it have been, that classical writers of Jewish history (Josephus, Philo, and Pliny included) chose to “tone down” the militancy of the Essenes, just as Ḥazal would do with the Maccabees, and, others quite possibly, with Jesus?[9]

Our discussion of the violent character of the scrolls now segues into the final chapter in the history of the Second Temple period, the Great Revolt against Rome. Historians through the centuries have noted the fanatical character of the revolt, but the inspiration behind the mania takes on a completely new dimension when seen against the backdrop of the Dead Sea materials. Why did the Jewish rebels continue to pursue not only a lost cause, but a militant course they must have known would lead to the ultimate destruction of their people and their land? Might the messages of the scrolls, of supernatural deliverance from heaven, have so permeated the larger Jewish psyche of the day, that the Zealot party was able to co-opt the great bulk of the population into its suicidal course of action?

This discussion leads us in turn to Josephus’ classic description of the so-called fourth philosophy, whose ideology is integral to our study of the outbreak of the Great Revolt. Having already noted the correlation between the teachings attributed to Jesus and those of the Pharisees, we find Josephus’ testimony that the Zealots were in complete agreement with the same. The “fourth sect,” however, has gone beyond the Pharisees in fervor for “liberty,” fused with their conviction that Israel’s God is their sole sovereign. On this level, it is indeed difficult to distinguish between the Zealots’ militancy and the sentiments we have already seen expressed in the Dead Sea corpus. There is little wonder that one of the Scrolls, the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShabb), was found on the summit of Masada.

When it comes to Josephus’ description of the Zealots as placing no “value” on “dying any kinds of death” (Ant. 18.23) there is Jesus’ kindred admonition, that “whoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it, and whoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33 NKJV; see also Matt 16:25). Whereas this and similar verses have long been taken to reference religious persecution (prophetically prefiguring the persecution of early Christians), it can safely be said that the principal endangerment of life in the land of Israel in the first century stemmed from the Roman crackdown on the activity of the Zealots and their compatriots.

On a literary level, Josephus became an apologist for the Romans, to whom he had defected, and from whose graces he owed his life and livelihood. Likewise, the Gospel writers had every reason to exonerate the Romans for what some have called the “court-martial” of Jesus, given that the new faith seemed destined to spread across the Roman Empire.


Our discussion of Jesus has at this point opened another pedagogical door, to consider the role of “slanted journalism” among our ancient source material. We must recognize that everything Josephus writes must be read with a discerning eye, considering his obvious political agenda. By the same token every historian of the Second Jewish Commonwealth knows that we would be all but lost without Josephus’ invaluable testimony. The same tension exists when it comes to critical scholarship of the Gospels. While “suspect” in regard to their own religious/ political agenda (including their characterization of Jesus himself), the snapshot they provide of life, pious faith, and the messianic impulse during the seminal period leading up to the Great Revolt is of immeasurable value.

The pedagogical “minefield” takes on yet another level of complexity as it becomes necessary to evaluate the Christian textual sources to determine the historicity and message of the Jewish Jesus. How much can we learn about Jews from non-Jewish sources? To what extent are the Christian Gospels the product of textual redaction? What can we learn about the tools of literary criticism, common to a wide range of Jewish texts as well, from such analysis?

The great majority of undergraduate students, both Jewish and Christian, cannot be expected to be aware of the intricacies of the “synoptic problem,” or the extent to which the critical examination of source material directly affects our appreciation of the history behind them. It is important to make students mindful that the New Testament is similar to the Hebrew Scriptures and the rabbinic literature in the sense that it was not written as “history,” nor was it ever intended to be read as such, at least according to modern expectations of the same. This is something we deal with whenever considering biblical texts, as potential “historical” sources for studying ancient Israel.

The New Testament Gospels, however, present a unique set of challenges, inasmuch as they present three separate, yet linked, narratives of Jesus (Mark, Luke, and Matthew), along with a fourth, theologically oriented “biography” (John) that belongs to a completely different “genre.” The scholarly consensus (admittedly problematical for some students of sincere religious conviction) is that all have been heavily redacted to suit the theological and social mindset of the authors/communities that produced them. The determination of which Gospel relied on which, along with oral traditions and extraneous material (e.g., the so-called Q text) is critical in uncovering a truer picture of the Jesus of history, and of ancient Judean politics.

The work of synoptic researchers is critical, not only in finding correlations between Jesus’ teachings and those of the Jewish sects described by Josephus, but in mitigating some of the troublesome/anti-Jewish flavor that occasionally comes across in them. The blanket condemnation of the Pharisees is a case in point, which the growth of redaction criticism has indeed addressed. When it comes to the “passion” narrative, students need to be aware of the assertion by modern scholarship that the so-called trial of Jesus before the Jewish Sanhedrin was no trial at all, that the Gospels embellish the account to depict Jewish culpability for Jesus’ execution, and that the only responsible party was the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Notably, however, the charge of “blasphemy,” present in both Mark and Matthew, is absent in the Lukan account. It might also be argued that Luke is, in this important recounting of the “trial” of Jesus, more evenhanded and less inflammatory that the other two Synoptic Gospels, which could have significant implications in understanding the genesis of the charge of “deicide”: the murder of God. Not only does it not record a “Jewish conspiracy” to put Jesus to death, but it instead reflects genuine grief and solidarity with Jesus on the part of the Judeans. The surprise here is obvious, on the part of both my Jewish and Christian young charges.

Then there is the so-called blood curse, uttered by a mass of Jerusalemites who had hastily assembled themselves before Pontius Pilate: “Then all the people answered and said, Let His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt 27:25 NKJV). The Lukan account, by contrast, conveys a very different narrative:

And a great multitude of people were following Him, and of women who also were bewailing and lamenting Him. But turning to them, Jesus said, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts which did not suckle.

(Luke 23:27–29 NKJV)[10]

We should compare these verses with traditional Jewish lamentation recorded after the destruction of the Temple:

Blessed is he who was not born Or he, who having been born, has died. But as for us who live, woe unto us, Because we see the afflictions of Zion . . .And, ye women, pray not that ye may bear . . .Or why, again, should mankind have sons?

(2 Bar. 10:6–16)

It is noteworthy that in Luke, the words “for your children” form part of a tonally Jewish lamentation, whereas in Matthew the words “on our children” are imbedded in a different and much more sinister context. The remarks of Jesus to the women making lamentation are conspicuously absent in Mark as well as Matthew, along with mention of the sympathetic “multitude.” This accords well with the later tendency to blame “the Jews” for their “blindness.” It is a theme that would be echoed by countless ecclesiastical authorities, and arguably responsible for twenty centuries of antisemitic bombast.

The importance of discussing such issues in the Gospels themselves cannot be overstated for a classroom (or online environment), given that our course on early Jewish history and culture is regularly followed in the succeeding semester by a course that traces the Jewish Diaspora across a long legacy of persecution, largely spurred by Christian theology and the specific charge that “the Jews” killed Christ. The implications are broad, even affecting Jewish-Christian relations today.

By entering “into the trenches” with Jesus and Jesus research, we engage in more than an academic exercise; we help shape the future contour of inter-religious understanding for our young charges. Notwithstanding the understandable skepticism about Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue, we would be hard pressed as pedagogues to find a more noble endeavor.


[1] J. B. Soloveitchik, “Confrontation,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought 6, no. 2 (1964): 5–29; cf. Michael Gillis, “Other Religions in Jewish Education,” in International Handbook of Jewish Education, Part 2, eds. Helena Miller et al. (London: Springer Dordrecht Heidelberg, 2011), 568.

[2] Yeshayahu Liebowitz and Eliezer Goldman, Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); cf. Gillis, “Other Religions,” 568. As Flusser observed, “Scholarship and ecumenicism were never identical; nevertheless . . . sound scholarship removes obstacles and paves the way for truth and for mutual understanding.” David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1988), XII.

[3] Gillis, “Other Religions,” 568.

[4] Judaic Studies Fall 2014 Class Offerings. Posted by Judaic Studies at the University of Central Florida, spring semester 2014., accessed February 7, 2014.

[5] For more background regarding the challenges faced by Jewish students in Jewish Studies classes as they attempt to grasp new and “foreign” viewpoints, see James F. Moore, “Dialogue: An Infusion Method for Teaching Judaism,” in Academic Approaches to Teaching Jewish Studies, ed. Zev Garber (Lanham, MD: University Press, 2000), 233–46.

[6] Bruce Zuckerman, “Choosing Among the Strands: Teaching Hebrew Bible Survey to Undergraduates at a Secular University,” in Garber, Academic Approaches, 77.

[7] As David Flusser pointed out, Christianity did not evolve from the religion of the Old Testament, but from the Jewish religiosity that flourished during the intertestamental period. See Flusser, “A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 469–89.

[8] Flusser, “A New Sensitivity,” 477–8.

[9] For another view of “Jesus’ Opinion about the Essenes,” see Flusser, 150–68.

[10] Flusser, “The Crucified One and the Jews,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 577, 582, 583, 585.

Comments (1)

Hippolytus, a late writer, appears somewhat confused; he repeats much of Josephus, but then says a subset of Essenes are zealots. To claim that Philo, Josephus, and Pliny mislead about Essene peacefulness might require better evidence. The War Scroll worldview could be compared with Daniel and John's Apocalypse: eventually the evil will be defeated, but in a divinely predestined way. The Wicked Priest was a warrior; the Teacher of Righteousness was not.

Translations of Josephus typically mention one possible Essene warrior, but this person, John, may not have been an Essene. Abraham Schalit (in Namenwörterbuch zu Flavius Josephus, supplement to the Concordance edited by K.H. Rengstorf, Leiden, 1968, p.34, 46, 66) noted that Essa appears in Josephus as a variant reading for Gerasa, which, Schalit suggests, may indicate that John was not an Essene group member, but merely someone from Gerasa. "Vielleicht ist Essaios in B 2.567 als Ethnikon zu verstehen und mit Gerasenos identisch (vgl. Essa A 13.393 = 1 Gerasa). Dann waere 4 Johannes kein Essener gewesen!" (46)

Furthermore, on the mention of Essenes martyred (War 2. 152-153), I suggest comparing Philo's account, surely written before the (so-called) First Revolt, Every God Man is Free 89-91. There, two sorts of kings have opposed Essenes. Some, ferocious like wild beasts; others, with soft-worded hypocrisy. Philo famously mentioned Essenes, but not Sadducees or Pharisees, at least not explicitly. In "Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene" (available online by googling the title) pages 34-36, I suggest the possibility that the former may include (according to Philo's source, maybe Posidonius or Strabo) Sadducee-influenced rulers (such as the Lion of Wrath, Jannaeus) and the latter, those influenced by Pharisees/seekers of smooth things.

#1 - Stephen Goranson - 11/09/2015 - 11:49

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