I've finally sat down and read the first and last chapters of John P. Meier's 4th volume of his Marginal Jew series, entitled Law and Love, and it promises to be the first "Historical Jesus" book I could actually finish all the way through. What Meier brings to the scholarly sandbox that seems to be really new and fresh is a HJ study of a Jesus who is fully Jewish. And I love, love, love, love, love what he's doing.
Christian scholars often accept critical assumptions just long enough to attack them, or else genuflect to skepticism in order to sidestep it for theological goals. In contrast, Meier plays the game for the game's sake and draws his conclusions for the sake of the gamers. It is not about the arguments to him. It's about the subject matter and the students doing the study. If I was at all content with the state of faith-based historiography, or the state of the church, this is precisely the kind of scholarly "lifestyle evangelism" I'd be supporting today.
But here's the best part. In the process of working so hard at objectivity, Meier happens to reach one very important conclusion that 19 centuries of christian theology had apparently been unable to reach before him. Simply put, Jesus was reaally Jewish. I mean like, Jewish Jewish. He was into the Law every bit as much as the Pharisees. He just disagreed with their interpretations.
(If you ask me, that's because Pharisaic interpretations were essentially Godless. Therefore, we could make the same statement about Paul, twenty years later. Paul loved the Law. He just didn't like those who made it into something it was not supposed to be - Godless social control.)
Meier concludes that the beating heart of Jesus' Jewishness was the Torah in all it's complexity. If his study had been officially faith based, I assume it would have gone one step further and said the heart of the Torah is God Himself. At least, that's my takeaway. Jesus' Love for the Law was centered on Love for His Father.
(Again, if you ask me, the exact same is true of Paul. Paul took the heart of the Law and translated it for the Gentiles. The terms get confused because the poor gentiles were confused. But there was nothing wrong with the Law or with Jewishness.)
And now for a tangent.
My Dad's Dad was captured in the Battle of the Bulge, 1944. Thinking quickly, he took off his rosary and put it around the neck of his foxhole buddy, a Sgt. Golman, to keep him from being shot on sight. So when their captors arrived, they poked their gun barrels at his chest instead and said "Jouda?" (As a young man, Billy Heroman had black, curly hair.) To save his own life, my Paw Paw recited a line from the Latin Mass. Three years later, my father got to be born. (My grandmother raised him Episcopalian.)
I'm not entirely sure why it's taken another 65 years since that time for gentile christians to be told that we're all still minimizing the Jewishness of Jesus. I'm not sure whether anything but the Holocaust could have broken the ice on that subject. Likewise, I don't know all the reasons why Protestants have embraced such a 'Lutheran' Paul for almost 500 years. But I do know the blind spots of my forefathers are mine by inheritance. With all that in mind, I feel extremely grateful for John P. Meier and the vital conclusions of his latest book.
Jesus Christ should absolutely be found on the pages of History and any historical approach to Jesus has to deal with his thorough going Jewishness. Reading about Meier's book (in late June) gave me the courage to walk boldly towards the inevitable conclusion that Jesus in Nazareth was heavily involved in the Synagogue. Now I'm wondering if this is part of the reason why we gentiles have kept the Nazareth years unjustly "silent" for so many centuries.
Without question, a Historical Jesus must be a Jewish Jesus. Thanks to John P. Meier, I also now know what this means: "A Jewish Jesus is a halakic Jesus." I add only that the halakah of Jesus was entirely focused on His Father. The Gospels make that much very plain.
Thank you, Lord.