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Jesus’ criticisms of the rabbis of his day are echoed in the literature of the prophets centuries before. When Hosea writes, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6), or Isaiah thunders, “I cannot endure sin coupled with solemn ceremonies” (Isaiah 1:13), we are hearing the same themes Jesus so deftly expounded later on.
The idea of the Second Coming seems to have grown out of genuine disappointment. We are told in the Gospels, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” When Jesus died, true believers had to theologically compensate for the disaster. It remains significant, I believe, that the vast majority of people who knew him did not see Jesus as divine. Unless the entire Jewish population of Jerusalem at the time was either wicked or foolish, they–who knew Jesus far better than we, who saw him and spoke to him and knew his family –did not respond to his presumed divinity because he was clearly human.
The history of Christianity is not such as would persuade Jews that Christians are in possession of a superior moral truth. The history is too long and painful to summarize here, but many good books are available that elaborate on what the historian Jules Isaac called “the teaching of contempt.” The thousands, even millions, of innocents who lost their lives, their children, their hope, from a refusal to be other than they were make it difficult to see certain aspects of Christian history in its historical garb in anything but a dark, forbidding light. Christianity has given birth to the freest civilizations the world has known, but there is no evading the horror of much of that history as well.
The chronicle of Christian anti-Semitism is one of the most gruesome, disheartening chapters in the human story. Even the most abominable tragedy, the systematic slaughter of millions in World War II, the Holocaust, cannot be entirely separated from centuries of Christian teachings of the abjectness of the Jew. As the theologian Elieser Berkowitz put it, the Nazis who killed Jews may not have been Christians, but they were all the sons and daughters of Christians.
Although many faiths, including some Roman mystery religions, spoke of a man/god, Judaism sought to keep clear the boundaries between the human and the divine. The blurring was taken to be the sign of betrayal of the tradition. To this day, believing in a man who was God is a bright dividing line and a reason, as discussed below, to say one is a “Jew for Jesus” is self-contradiction.
Jesus did place great emphasis on internal spirituality. This was not because he was more spiritually advanced, but because society was more advanced materially. Moses had to set up a system of civil and criminal law. In the desert there were no courts. Jesus was born in Rome, with the most advanced civil society of the time. He did not need to discuss external procedures, either religious or civil. They were taken care of by Roman law and the developed Jewish law. The only religious discourse left was that of feeling and the emphasis on love (which exists plentifully in Judaism as well) is far easier when you need not pronounce on legal penalties or social arrangements.
In this sense, Islam bears a closer kinship to Judaism; it, too, is a religion of law, necessitated by Muhammad’s melding desert tribes into a religious community, much in the manner of Moses. Hence, as Moses Montefiore said of Jesus, “Public justice is outside his purview.”