Jacob Neusner wrote this book to give both Christians and Jews a better understanding of their beliefs, and promote inter-faith discussion. He focusses on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel the most Jewish of the gospels, and explores the areas he admires Jesus and those he cannot agree with. This results in a very interesting book to give an insight into a Jewish view of Jesus
For me, there were a number of interesting points in his discussion. The first was his discussion of the Jewish phrase, “Make a fence around the Torah”, and his comparison of this to a number of topics in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For example, he admired and agreed with Jesus’ comments about not taking the first step towards any sin, and so for example not being angry, and so not reaching the point of murder. He comments than many rabbis would agree with this approach.
However, he takes offense at the way Jesus teaches, even on the lessons he agrees with. As Jesus uses the phrase, “I say to you”, which Neusner clearly identifies that only God has the right to say in this context of teaching the Torah. As Matthew commented on the crowds being amazed as Jesus speaking with authority, and contrasting this to the scribes who don’t, Neusner sees the scribes’ attitude as the correct one, as when they speak they would speak of Moses, and it was he who spoke with authority.
Another interesting topic is on the arguments between the Pharisees and Jesus about cleanliness and holiness. He sees Jesus and the Pharisees as talking at cross-purposes. For the Jews, based on the Torah, physical cleanliness is part of what ultimately leads to holiness, and so they rightly put a great emphasis on physical cleanliness, and even extending this beyond the commands of the Torah, in a similar way to “making a fence around the Torah”. This made sense in the context of the physical cleanliness being needed to enter the temple, as well as how much of the Torah is dedicated to rules around cleanliness. On the other hand, Jesus was talking about the cleanliness of a moral life, and Neusner sees this is a different topic, and the real question is not addressed in his discussion with the Pharisees.
Neusner’s biggest problem with Jesus’ teaching, and why he prefers not to follow him, is that in the Torah he finds God talking to the community of Israel, but when he listens to Jesus, he hears him talking to the individual disciple. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus commands his disciples to not resist evil, Neusner sees this as fine in an individual, but clearly not a rule for public justice. He is also very concerned by Jesus’ pronouncement that he has even come to divide families. Neusner is looking for a Messiah who will come and talk to the whole nation and community of Israel. Instead, with Jesus, he finds someone who is only talking to the individual, and seems to be going against, or abolishing, the Torah in certain aspects.