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Braving Rabbinic Waters to Reveal Body and Blood
It's true, Pitre lacks Hahn's passion for punning—mourn or rejoice, according to your tastes.
Now, for me, Biblical exegesis has always looked like a terrifying maze. Like the Catholic of stereotype, I generally leave it to wonks and Protestants. But Pitre's book, simply by being so accessible, forced me to consider questions I'd thought unanswerable. If first-century Jews weren't expecting a military Messiah, but someone very much like Jesus, why did intellectuals receive Him so coolly? Ought they not have connected the dots? Did their human qualities—perhaps their attachment to the status quo—prevent their doing so? Did Jesus' claim of divinity kill the deal by itself? Or could Jesus have confounded expectations in some way Pitre hasn't considered?
Hopefully, other scholars will address these questions, perhaps girding themselves with rabbinic literature when they do. What strikes me as most praiseworthy about Pitre's study is the way it nudges that literature further into the Christian consciousness. Me, I only know—thanks mainly to the popular novels of Chaim Potok—that it is voluminous and hard on the brain. In everyday English usage, "Talmudic" means "characterized by or making extremely fine distinctions; overly detailed or subtle; hairsplitting." In other words, it's a Jewish way of being Jesuitical.
That's unfortunate. Rabbinic writings represent the mother lode of Jewish scholarship, so I'm glad Pitre presented them as they deserve to be seen—at their most relevant and at their best. It will also be nice if Pitre's book somehow ends up in the hands of the man who inspired it, the Southern Baptist minister who pummeled him, for three agonizing hours, with Chick Tract theology. Since Pitre was then only a college sophomore, the reverend's behavior was most unsportsmanlike. If he's game for a rematch, put me down for a ticket.
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Max Lindenman is a freelance writer, based in Phoenix. He has been published in National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and Salon. His Open Salon blog is here.