September 28, 2019


The Jews Aren't to Blame for Jesus' Death, a Bible Scholar Asserts: If Prof. Israel Knohl is right, history books will require rewriting and Church sermons around the world will have to be rethought (Ofer Aderet, Sep 28, 2019, Ha'aretz)

In a small Jerusalem study bursting with books, an affable professor, cap on his head and white beard covering much of his face, has found the formula to end a centuries-old controversy. If he's right, history books will require rewriting and sermons in churches around the world will have to be rethought. "It will have far-reaching implications for relations between Jews and Christians," Israel Knohl tells me when we meet in his office at the Shalom Hartman Institute, in Jerusalem's German Colony neighborhood.

Bible scholar Knohl, 67, specializes in finding unconventional explanations for fateful issues and has no compunctions about angering his colleagues along the way. Earlier studies by the religiously observant holder of the Yehezkel Kaufmann Chair in Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have sparked furious debate, transcending the confines of academia. This time, the subject is more highly charged than ever: the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. [...]

Jesus' trial and crucifixion, he maintains, constitute a "dramatic and decisive moment" in the history of the Jewish people and of Western culture as a whole. It is the moment at which the two approaches - the anti-messianic and the messianic - meet in an unavoidable collision, whose impact is still felt today.

Jesus was apparently born and raised in Nazareth. His name (Yeshua or Yeshu, in Hebrew) signified the anticipation of yeshua, salvation or redemption. As a young man, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who similarly immersed thousands of people who flocked to him in order to confess their sins, repent and be purified. The New Testament relates that during his baptism, Jesus heard a voice saying, "Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased," and the holy spirit descended on him like a dove.

Subsequently, in a Nazareth synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus recites verses from the Book of Isaiah that begin, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me," and tells the worshippers, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:18-21). According to Knohl, in his deeds, Jesus "continued the messianic biblical tradition" and supported his words with references from the Hebrew Bible about the image of the Messiah.

Afterward, in Jerusalem on Passover, Jesus enters the Temple courtyard, chases away the buyers and sellers and the peddlers of doves (which were used for sacrifices), and overturns the tables of the money changers. This is an affront to ritual, which causes a tumult in the Temple and infuriates the priests.

Why was he not arrested immediately after this act?

Knohl: "Many among the Jewish people hoped he would prove himself to be the Messiah, who would redeem the people and restore its freedom. He enjoyed great public sympathy. The people were fond of him, cheered him on, supported and protected him."

Thus Jesus was able to return to the Temple courtyard on a later occasion and to speak publicly. His principal argument was extreme: The Messiah, whose advent the people awaited, is not a descendant of David, as everyone believed until then. As such, Jesus solved the problem of his own lineage, as one who was not descended from the House of David and was a pretender to the messianic crown. In addition, he presented a new model of the Messiah: Whereas the disciples who followed him clung to the prevailing belief in a triumphant warrior Messiah and expected him to deliver the people from Roman rule, Jesus saw himself as a suffering, nonviolent, poor and weak Messiah.

This position would seem to be at odds with the general approach found in the Hebrew Bible, according to which God is above suffering, which is solely a human attribute. According to that description, it follows that if the Messiah is a quasi-divine figure, it wasn't possible for him to suffer, as Jesus claimed. However, Knohl looked for and found evidence of divine suffering in other sources, and explains that, "The portrait of the divinity suffering with his people appeared in Jewish tradition before the birth of Christianity."

In support of this thesis, the scholar cites Isaiah 63:9: "In all their afflictions he was afflicted." The Hebrew text emends the word lo [spelled lamed aleph, meaning "not"] to lo [lamed vav, meaning "to him"], which is very significant in this context. According to the emended version - whose date is unknown - God is regretful, and shares in Israel's suffering. For the first time, the image of a suffering God enters the Bible, a concept previously foreign to the biblical way of thought.

Posted by at September 28, 2019 10:54 AM