Before it’s too late, I have to take a look at this piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. Reporter Mitchell Landsberg tells us about Orthodox Jewish rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s new book “Kosher Jesus.” We’re reminded that Boteach has written books on “Kosher Sex,” “Dating Secrets of the 10 Commandments” and his relationship with the late pop star Michael Jackson. But that his latest book has led to accusations of heresy:
The book focuses on the Christian savior’s Jewishness, portraying him as a hero who stood up to Roman rule of Palestine and paid with his life. In keeping with Jewish theology, it does not accept his resurrection or his divinity. And it emphasizes Boteach’s belief that the New Testament intentionally deflected blame for the crucifixion from the ruling Romans and redirected it — unfairly, Boteach believes — on the shoulders of the Jews.
Given all that, one might expect Christians to take exception. But Boteach’s Jewish critics were way ahead of the curve.
“Boteach’s latest book is apikorsus and must be treated as such,” Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago said on an Orthodox news site Jan. 10, using a Hebrew word that roughly translates as heresy. Wolf said he had “utter contempt” for the book — or, at least, for the title.
Another rabbi, from Canada, has forbidden the book to be read or discussed. We’re told that they’re both affiliated with Chabad. Boteach says he expected criticism from Christians but not from Jews. Then we get all sorts of messaging about how Jesus can bridge the two faiths.
Christians, [Boteach] said, can benefit from a new understanding of Jesus’ humanity. “Embracing Jesus’ Jewishness begins to elucidate his story, his life, his passionate beliefs,” he writes in the book.
That’s fine, said Darrell Bock, a professor of New Testament studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary and a leading authority on the life of Jesus. But, he said, Boteach is wrong in some of his details and not likely to convince Christians, who will be turned off by the presumption that Jesus was fully human.
“The book is a mixed bag,” Bock said. “There are some points that he’s making about the Jewish roots of Jesus … that are certainly the case. But there are other points he is making about Jesus’ mission and the way the Jewish leadership handled him that are probably not an accurate reflection of what took place.”
I do not know Bock but something tells me this summary misstated what he said. Christians of course believe that Jesus is fully human. Believing that Jesus is both God and man, fully divine and fully human, is one of the most important points of doctrine shared by Christians. Did Bock really say that Christians don’t believe in Jesus’ humanity? If so, he wouldn’t be the right source for a story of this nature. Did Bock say, on the other hand, that Christians believe Jesus isn’t only human? That’s different and should be summarized more accurately.
You can read the ancient ecumenical creeds for a quick primer on what Christians believe about Jesus and the Trinity. This Catholic article on the incarnation of Christ might also be helpful (be sure to check out the portions on the hypostatic union). And if you want to dig deeper, be sure to check out monophysitism, renounced some 1500 years ago as heresy. But fresh and back again in the Los Angeles Times!