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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus" (Rabbi Evan Moffic)

TITLE: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus: A New Way of Seeing the Most Influential Rabbi in History
AUTHOR: Rabbi Evan Moffic
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (224 pages).

The seeds for this book were planted at the end of a lecture at a local church. Someone commented to the author about desiring to be a Jew just to understand more of what Jesus experienced. Challenged by that, Rabbi Evan Moffic tries to build a bridge for non-Jews to understand Jesus more through the lens of Jewish unique culture. We learn several interesting things.
  • A Disciple is more than simply a student. He is a "link between the past, present, and future." Without disciples, essentially there is no future.
  • Jesus' miracles are not to wow audiences but is a direct challenge against the stubborn Pharisees and religious leaders. The miraculous signs are traces of God's presence to show us the existence of the supernatural.
  • Love in Jewish culture is an "active pursuit" rather than a passive feeling.
  • In Jewish culture, faith is about persons rather than in things or concepts. That's why "faith" in the Old Testament is more about "faithfulness," how one exercises faith, rather than some idea. 
  • Just like the Torah has multiple entry points to God, we can love God in multiple ways too. 

It has been said that it takes one to know one. If Jesus is Jewish, then it makes sense to learn about the "Jewishness of Jesus" if we really want to know more of Jesus. As one who sees his role as a guide for both Christians and Jews, to promote dialogue between adherents of both faith traditions, Rabbi Evan Moffic helps us to return to the roots of first-century Judaism. This is a corrective against much modern preaching about Jesus, that unfortunately ignores this very cultural atmosphere in 1st century Palestine. Moffic observes that Christians who understands the Jewishness of Jesus often see Jesus not as a "fossil or a museum" but as "living tradition that can challenge, teach, and change their lives." So what's so Jewish about Jesus and why must every Christian need to know? Simple. That we may know Jesus more and understand his teachings better.

Beginning with the humble birth of Christ, we see how the birthplace of Bethlehem is also the same birthplace of King David. There is also the three wise magi in the gospel who visited Jesus. This is compared with the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah who told them about Sarah's impending birth. Moffic looks at the question of whether Joseph, Mary, and Jesus physically fled to Egypt and shows us that the actual location is not as important as the way the narrator parallels this to how Abraham fled to Canaan in obedience to God. Name wise, the Jewish mind would recognize how close the names of Miriam (Moses's wife) and Mary (Joseph's wife) are. Like the redemption of Israel, so too will believers be redeemed in Christ. Some of the interesting questions include:
  • What can we make of the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" statement?
  • Is Paul's teaching about "circumcision of the heart" a justification for doing away with circumcision altogether?
  • Is it right to interpret Joseph's coat of many colours allegorically to multi-ethnicity? 
  • What is the significance of telling the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old in a synagogue who had Joseph and Mary worried about his whereabouts?
  • What does baptism mean to the Jewish mind?
  • What are the similarities between Elijah and John the Baptist?
  • How do Jews view the test of Abraham's faith when asked to sacrifice his only son?
  • Why did the Old Testament refer to Satan as haSatan?
  • What is so significant about Deuteronomy that Jesus often quoted from it?
  • What five different rabbis say about Jesus?
  • ... and many more...
Rabbi Evan Moffic is a spiritual leader of Congregation Solel in suburban Chicago. He is committed to inter-faith dialogue and passionately shares Jewish wisdom with people he meet with. He is a popular speaker with many different faith communities.

Reading this book gives me a renewed interest and respect for Jewish culture, their history, their practices, and the reasons why they do what they do. One of the most interesting is the Sabbath where Moffic shows us how extensive the Sabbath is applied. We do not simply take sabbath on a personal basis. Our practice of the Sabbath includes how we treat others around us. An interesting insight is how the Sabbath has a "forgiveness of debts" element which can be applied to our relationships at large. It is essentially grace. Those of us familiar with the New Testament would be pleasantly surprised to find how the Old Testament informs the reading of the New Testament. There are brief commentaries on the gospel events, the temptation narrative, the calling of the disciples, the Lord's Prayer, the Last Days, and many more. While the title of the book is enticing, this book does not cover as much ground as I would have hoped. I suppose the audience is "every Christian" and thus the topics selected are more generally understood and common themes to the Christian audience.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Abingdon Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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