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A Rabbi Talks with Jesus by Jacob Neusner
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A Rabbi Talks with Jesus

by Jacob Neusner

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A great work written to Jews and Christians alike stands alongside Cost of Discipleship in terms of its ability to convey the radical nature of Christ’s message (and person). As this book is written by a faithful and wise Jew who has clearly pondered the words of Christ much more carefully than many Christian pastors, Christians are cautioned when deciding whether or not to read this title. Neusner introduces us to Jesus in his Second Temple Jewish context and will not allow readers to walk away thinking that Jesus is a mere moral philosopher. Christians might find this inviting, but Neusner reveals the radical nature of Jesus, not only as a teacher but as a rabbi who claims to be THE AUTHORITY upon which everything rests and, I suspect, will leave most Christians feeling like the rich young ruler.

If read carefully, this book will challenge even the most mature Christian. The author is well-read and intelligent and blunt in his disapproval of Jesus’ claims. Whereas there is a whole market for books by Christian authors that seek to challenge the modern believer, this book stands out because it is not safe. There is no pastor at the end reminding the readers how much Jesus loves them. The Jesus portrayed in this book is not the domesticated safe Jesus that has been appropriated into Western thought for thousands of years. There is no sense that the Jesus you knew and loved before you were exposed to Neusner’s writing will hug it out with you at the end, because that is not Neusner’s goal—and as Neusner convincingly argues, nor is that Jesus’ goal in the Sermon of the Mount. To any reasonable observer of that sermon, what Jesus does isn’t logical or pious but instead it’s uniquely audacious. In the end, reflective readers will find nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that they like, for in it Jesus attacks our core beliefs—even family ties. All that is left is for us to cling to the bloody cross of Jesus—a step, although necessary, Neusner will not lead his readers to. Instead, Neusner wants his readers to embrace the Word of God, the institution of family, religion, and faithful exegetical tradition—all things I cherish deeply. ( )
  ebnelson | Jul 5, 2012 |
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Placing himself within the context of the Gospel of Matthew, Neusner imagines himself in a dialogue with Jesus of Nazareth and pays him the supreme Judaic gesture of respect: making a connection with him through an honest debate about the nature of God's One Truth. Neusner explains why the Sermon on the Mount would not have convinced him to follow Jesus and why, by the criterion of the Torah of Moses, he would have continued to follow the teachings of Moses. He explores the reasons Christians believe in Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven, while Jews continue to believe in the Torah of Moses and a kingdom of priests and holy people on earth. This revised and expanded edition, with a foreword by Donald Akenson, creates a thoughtful and accessible context for discussion of the most fundamental question of why Christians and Jews believe what they believe.

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