Before I get to today’s interview, I want to let you know that we just uploaded to the podcast the message I delivered at the NCY Ministers Conference. It’s entitled “For God So Loved the World vs. Love Not the World.” Other speakers were Scot McKnight, Jon Acuff, Larry Osborne, et al. You can listen to the message freely via iTunes, RSS feed, or direct streaming. Just click here.
Now on to the topic at hand.
Dr. Michael Brown is one of my favorite people. He’s not only a superb Hebrew scholar, but he’s a friend and a respected brother in Christ. I interviewed Michael recently on his new book, The Real Kosher Jesus. Enjoy!
For readers who aren’t familiar with the book, what is the premise and the overarching idea?
Dr. Michael Brown: The premise of this book is that it is time for the Jewish people to reclaim Jesus as one of their own – in particular as the divine Messiah – and it is time for the Church to recognize who Jesus-Yeshua really is. The book takes the reader on a journey of discovery from the Holocaust back through Church history, then through the writings of Jewish scholars and thinkers who have recognized who Jesus is but only in part, then through the New Testament, culminating with seven “Secrets” chapters that reveal Jesus as the hidden Messiah of Israel.
Tell us the story of what motivated you to write it.
Dr. Michael Brown: Since 2002, I have had numerous public debates with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox Jew hailed as America’s most famous rabbi. In the fall of 2011, he asked me to endorse his newest book, one that he had been working on over a six year period. It was entitled Kosher Jesus, a provocative title for a provocative book. How could an Orthodox rabbi say that Jesus was kosher for Jews?
Shmuley’s thesis was that the New Testament represents a radical rewriting of the real story of Jesus, based on later Pauline influence. (Yes, this is a twist on the old idea that Paul changed everything and “invented” Christianity.) In Shmuley’s view, Jesus was a great Jewish rabbi whose teachings have been partially preserved in the New Testament, and Shmuley believes that Jews should reclaim Jesus.
He also believes that Jesus did not lay his life down as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of the world. Rather, he believes that Jesus was a freedom fighter who died in a failed revolt against Rome – so a failed Messiah rather than a false Messiah – and as such should be admired by the Jewish people.
Shmuley asked me to endorse his book, which presented a problem for me, since I thoroughly disagreed with much of the contents, plus, Shmuley took issue with a number of my own writings in his book. But after reflection, I wrote this blurb, which he used: “While finding myself in profound disagreement with point after point in this book, most particularly Shmuley’s radical reconstruction of the New Testament and his passionate rejection of Jesus as our Messiah, I am thrilled to see an Orthodox rabbi embracing Jesus as a fellow rabbi, not to mention as an important figure in Jewish history. In fact, this book might be described as, ‘America’s most famous rabbi meets the most famous rabbi of all time.’” Shmuley also included a special, gracious and funny acknowledgment of our friendship in the back of his book.
In January, 2012, as Shmuley’s book was about to be released, there was a firestorm of controversy in the Jewish world over the book, and everywhere I turned, Jewish publications were discussing Kosher Jesus. Could Jews really reclaim Jesus? Was such an idea dangerous if not blasphemous?
The evening of January 18th, I was in deep intercession, and I felt the Spirit prompting me that now was a unique moment in Jewish outreach and I needed to get my own statement out, which I took to mean write a full review article. The next morning, when I woke up, I knew I needed to write a full-length book, The Real Kosher Jesus. Miraculously, less than ten weeks later, the published book was on my desk, 272 pages, including 450 endnotes. This was the most supernatural writing and publishing experience of my life.
How did Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s respond to the book? And what has the response of others’ been to it?
Dr. Michael Brown: Rabbi Shmuley actually wrote an endorsement for the book! He playfully said that I was not able to overcome his powerful arguments, but he also said this: “Mike and I have so much history in religious, historical, and social values debate that we have gone beyond being only respectful public adversaries to being friends with deep affection between us, even as we disagree passionately on the issues. G-d bless you, Mike, and I look forward to many more debates.”
The response from others has been beyond expectation. One reader broke down crying when he got to the last page. He was so engrossed in the book that he cried when he realized the experience was about to be over.
One reviewer wrote, “It is a prophetic cry both to the Jewish people and the Christian Church to discover the reality of Jesus as He is and as He revealed Himself to the world. It is not only the finest book on the identity of Jesus I have ever read, it is one of finest books on the gospel I have ever read. It has transformed my view of the revelation of God’s love and redemption in Jesus-Yeshua.”
Readers commonly tell me that they feel as if they can’t put the book down and that every page draws them into the next page, which is exactly how I felt writing the book.
What are a few points in the book about Jesus that would be new to seasoned Christians?
Dr. Michael Brown: First, even seasoned Christians will be stunned to read some of the insightful Jewish statements about Jesus, including the comments of Albert Einstein and Martin Buber.
Second, it will be painful and eye-opening for believers to see the direct line from Church history to the Holocaust, which has led, of course, to a gross misperception of who Jesus in the eyes of religious Jews.Third, I believe Christians will be fascinated by aspects of Jesus’ Jewishness and what it meant to be a first century Jewish leader.
Fourth, I believe that there is much to be learned about Jesus as Prophet, shedding light on the conflicts with the religious leaders in the Gospels.
Fifth, the presentation of Jesus as a revolutionary leader who changed by the world by being a slain Lamb is something we tend not to fully explore.
Sixth, I expect that serious readers will gain new insights into Paul as the Jewish genius who brought the gospel to the nations.
Seventh, the entire third section of the book, devoted to revealing the mysteries of hidden Messiah, should be eye-opening, especially in light of the Jewish sources we provide. I seriously doubt that the vast majority of Christian readers are familiar with traditional Jewish teaching about the atoning power of the death of the righteous and how this relates to the gospel, or with aspects of the Lord as the invisible God who can be seen, again in light of Jewish sources.
Who, specifically, would benefit from the book?
Dr. Michael Brown: On the one hand, this book is ideal for a Jewish seeker who is open to find out more about Jesus. Even hostile Jewish readers will benefit immensely from the book if they will just give it a chance. And if they have read Rabbi Shmuley’s Kosher Jesus, they will most likely be open to read The Real Kosher Jesus.
At the same time, I know that the vast majority of readers of the book will be followers of Jesus. For Gentile believers, the book will give them insights into aspects of the identity of Jesus that are often overlooked, as well as open up fascinating aspects of Jewish tradition, most of which will be completely new to them.
Jewish believers in Jesus will find the book to be a great help to their faith and understanding, giving them insights into how Yeshua was a first-century rabbi and yet so much more than that, giving them a great perspective of the role of Paul, and then helping them to see the Messiahship of Jesus in light of rabbinic thought.
I found the chapter entitled “A Threat to the Establishment” to be seminal. In it, you talk about true prophetic side of Jesus’ ministry. What I’ve found in my own experience is that many people who say they are prophets are not while true prophets rarely if ever describe themselves as such. What has your experience been with this?
Dr. Michael Brown: Thanks for the kind words about the “Threat to the Establishment” chapter, one that I really enjoyed writing.
Many scholars, both Jewish and Gentile, have a hard time believing that Jesus really had such conflicts with the religious authorities of His day, claiming that the authors of the New Testament projected the growing conflict between “Church” and “Synagogue” back into the Gospels. I sought to demonstrate in this chapter that Jesus stands squarely in the line of Old Testament prophets who also came into conflict with the religious authorities of their day, sometimes at the cost of their lives.
To illustrate the point, I made up a ten-question test with quotes from the words of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Jesus, all rebuking their people in very strong terms. The reader then has to guess which of these five men was responsible for the particular quote, the point being that Jesus rebuked His generation just as the earlier prophets had rebuked their generation. I gave the test to one Christian radio host and he got most of the answers wrong!
As for prophets today, I have definitely known people with a genuine prophetic gift who have identified themselves as prophets, and they have done it out of what they sense is obedience to their calling, just as Paul identified himself as an apostle and teacher, for example. And they have been godly people with a real anointing from above.
But the most prophetic people I have known have not identified themselves as prophets, being more consumed with the burden of the Lord than with the nature of their calling, standing as voices crying out in the wilderness rather than as those who wanted to be recognized. And when they did receive popularity and acclaim, it didn’t change them or their message at all. They still continued to raise their voices without compromise, regardless of cost or consequence.
Tell us a bit more about what you do and how can people learn more if they are interested?
Dr. Michael Brown: The Lord saved me in 1971 as a 16 year-old heroin-shooting, LSD-using, Jewish rock drummer, and I began preaching the gospel in 1973. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of ministering throughout America and on more than 120 overseas trips, and my heart beats to see the nations ablaze with the glory of God.
Early in 1972, as a brand new believer, I was immediately brought by my dad to talk to the rabbis, and that dialogue with these learned men began to challenge me to learn Hebrew and study more deeply. Ultimately, I earned a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and became a specialist in answering Jewish objections to Jesus, writing a five-volume series by that title and engaging in countless debates with leading rabbis and counter-missionaries. I have also taught at seven different seminaries and written a number of scholarly books and articles dealing with Old Testament and Semitics as well as conducted debates on other controversial subjects.
But my passion is not just for solid study of Scriptures and apologetics. I burn night and day to see awakening in the Church of America coupled with a sweeping Jesus Revolution that will literally shake the nation. That has been an object of my preaching and praying for decades, and I have written more than 10 books on subjects related to revival, repentance, reformation, and revolution.
In the last 10 years, the Lord has also burdened me to get on the front lines of one of the greatest controversies facing the Church today, the issue of homosexuality, and God spoke to me to “Reach out and resist,” meaning reaching out to the people with compassion while resisting the activist agenda with courage. So, that is also reflected in my writing and ministry.
I had the privilege of serving as a leader in the Brownsville Revival from 1996-2000, out of which our school of ministry was birthed (FIRE School of Ministry, now located in Concord, NC). We continue to carry the values of the revival in our hearts, including a strong burden for world missions, and we also provide oversight to about 190 grads and their families serving as missionaries around the world.
And every Monday-Friday, it is my great joy to host the nationally syndicated radio talk show, The Line of Fire, airing from 2-4 PM, EST in different parts of the country. The show is the hub of my ministry work, serving as a voice of moral, cultural, and spiritual revolution.