I want to wrap up my review of Chris Keith’s Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict. In my usual manner, it will take more than one post to accomplish this wrap-up. But first, let’s revisit what we have covered so far in parts one and two of my review.
Keith’s book considers the importance of Jesus as a synagogue teacher. By my count, there are at least 16 different Gospel references to Jesus teaching in synagogue, though some of these references are different tellings of the same synagogue teaching, and others are single accounts of multiple teachings, so we shouldn’t fixate on the number 16. Regardless of the number, it’s clear both that Jesus spent considerable time teaching in synagogue, and that this is a way he was remembered by the early Church.
In my last post, I began my review of Chris Keith’s Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict. In this book, Keith examines Jesus’ role as synagogue teacher, arguing that this teaching put Jesus in “the position of a scribal-literate authority,” even though (per Keith) Jesus lacked scribal reading and writing skills.
I spent most of my last post detailing Keith’s argument about Jesus’ lack of scribal literacy. I concluded there that Jesus was “more-or-less” illiterate, which from a certain perspective begs the point: how much more, and how much less? Well … as Jesus was not a member of the elite Jewish society that could afford the cost of formal private education, nor a member of a profession that required literacy, it’s entirely possible that Jesus could not read a word. But as I admitted in my post, it’s also possible that Jesus might have been able to read a little, or maybe even more than a little. Maybe he knew the Hebrew alphabet well enough to sound out a few words (a challenging thing to do, what with the Hebrew of his day being written without vowels or punctuation, and perhaps without spaces between words). Maybe Jesus read a bit better than that. It’s possible. We can’t say for certain. Keith’s argument is simply, whatever Jesus’ reading ability, it could not have been up to the standard expected of a scribe.
A joyous Passover and Easter season to all my readers!
I will return on Wednesday or thereabouts, after the holidays are over. Until then, be well, and the best to you and yours.
I get asked a lot, why am I so interested in Jewish-Christian dialogue and the early history of Christianity? I think that a few of my Jewish friends hope that this is just a stage I’m going through, and once I’ve explored these topics to my satisfaction, I’ll return to a more kosher focus on my own Judaism. I understand this hope. Frankly, I once shared it.
But so far, roughly 12 years into this project, my amateur and casual study of early Christianity continues its fascination for me. For one thing, there’s the mystery of who Jesus was – as we’ve discussed, scholars and wannabe scholars have drawn a wide variety of different Jesus portraits. But also, the examination of Jesus’ story provides a view into first century Judaism that is available to me in no other way.
Those things that fascinate me about early Christianity are on display in Chris Keith’s terrific new book Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict. In this book, Keith looks at an important part of Jesus’ life: the role Jesus played as teacher, and in particular the teaching Jesus did in synagogue. Granted, if the topic of Jesus’ life comes up on the game show “Family Feud”, I don’t think that “survey” would say “Synagogue Teacher.” But the Gospels tell us: Jesus taught in synagogues. You can see it here, and here, and here, and here.
I have just concluded a multi-post series about our February trip to Israel. I don’t even want to count the number of posts. It started as a “Greetings from the Holy Land” postcard kind of thing, and it just snowballed.
You might wonder why I took nearly two months of my blog time to describe a vacation. What do a couple of weeks of tourism have to do with the Jewish-Christian intersection, with interfaith dialogue? The simplest answer is this: Israel matters. Israel matters to a Christian understanding of Jews and Judaism. Israel is territory, both actual and figurative, that Jews and Christians share with each other and with Islam. We share an interest in Israel, and a responsibility for its well-being. Moreover, the founding and continued survival of the State of Israel has shaped our dialogue. Israel has made the dialogue possible.
This is a lot to chew upon. So I’ll start slowly.