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The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus Paperback – November 20, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It is a simple truth that Jews and Christians should be close friends, since they share common roots and a basic ethical system. But the gulf between the groups seems vast. Levine, professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt, presents a strong and convincing case for understanding Jesus as "a Jew speaking to Jews," and for viewing Christianity as a Jewish movement that ultimately swept the world in its influence and authority. But with this expansion came an insidious anti-Jewish sentiment, fed by some New Testament texts (wrongly understood, the author urges) and the emerging political power of the Christian church. Levine does a masterful job of describing the subtleties of anti-Semitism, across the years and across the religious spectrum, from the conservative evangelical mission to convert the Jews to the liberation theologians who picture Jews as adherents to an older, less merciful religion. In the end, Levine offers a prescription for healing and mutual understanding; a chapter titled "Quo Vadis?" outlines steps that can be taken by Jews and Christians alike to bridge the divide that has caused so much suffering over the centuries. Written for the general public, this is an outstanding addition to the literature of interfaith dialogue. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Levine, a professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt, joins the ranks of Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and others in the search for the historical Jesus. In the first several chapters, Levine treads familiar ground, discussing Jesus within the context of Judaism and examining how Christianity evolved from a Jewish sect to a gentile church. This information can be found in other, more clearly written sources, but what Levine does very well is discuss Jewish-Christian relations throughout the millennia, even as she provides a context for discussion. Though Levine clearly shows how Judaism has become a scapegoat of Christianity and offers many examples of Judaism's tenets taken out of context by church writers, she is not writing to stir up trouble. What she wants readers to understand is that lifting Jesus from Judaism is not helpful to either group and that there are plenty of ways to focus on similarities. As Levine concludes, "As different as they are, church and synagogue have . . . the same destination whether called . . . the kingdom of heaven or the messianic age." Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (November 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061137782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061137785
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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211 of 222 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
That Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish professor of New Testament studies was a surprise to me. Why would a Jew teach the stories told of the Christian Savior? But when I thought about it, why not? Didn't I take courses in Old Testament from a Christian professor?

Which helps to make Levine's point. Our biases unconsciously affect our categories. And, as Levine argues in "The Misunderstood Jew," our categories often make Jews the bad guy in order to make Jesus look good.

I have been a Christian religious education teacher for a number of years and I recently received a Masters degree in theology. But I found Levine's thesis at once fresh and engaging, if not completely convincing. Her basic idea is that Christians, usually in an effort to make Jesus more palatable to secular, pro-feminist and pro-multicultural worshippers, often do so by making his Jewish culture more rigidly pietistic, misogynistic and insular. Take the divorce issue. It is not uncommon for progressive Christian preachers to state that Jesus's prohibition against divorce was actually a pro-feminist attempt to counteract the misogyny of Jewish custom. These customs (we are told) allowed men to put women aside for trifling faults, such as bad cooking. But Levine shows that the portrayal of Jewish customs is based on a single utterance by rabbi engaged in testing the hypothetical limits of just causes for divorce. Hardly was this statement the mainstream view of Jewish scholars or rabbis. But by claiming it was, Christians can water down Christ's absolute prohibition into a pro-female statement. Levine's familiarity with the New Testament is evident.
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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Paul O'Shea on August 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If this review reads as though it has been written by a smitten fan, it is; because this reviewer is delighted at last to find, read and enjoy with undisguised pleasure, a book written by a Jew, who places Jesus firmly within his Jewish environments. And to do it succinctly, with wit and a deep appreciation for both Judaism and Christianity.

Amy-Jill Levine is a "woman of valour" in the world of Christian New Testament scholarship, and her book is a mitzvah for Jews and Christians. She is a modern Orthodox Jew, observant and informed as much about her own faith tradition as she is about the beginnings of the Christian movement. Levine brings to the table a wealth of knowledge about the late Second Temple period, the Jewish mileau surrounding the life of Yeshua/Jesus, and the complex beginnings of the Christian movement. Her razor sharp erudition is applied to the person of Jesus the observant and faithful Torah Jew using mishnaic and later rabbinic texts to give the reader a very comprehensive picture of the world/s in which Jesus lived and moved. Reading the Gospels from a Jewish perspective and with a critical eye to "weeding" out inaccurate (usually Christian) interpolations gives this foundation period in Christian history a wonderfully refreshing and academically satisfying perspective. I found her exegesis of John 4 a typical example of Levine's scholarship; theology - both Jewish and Christian, biblical and post-biblical, early Christian and Rabbinic literary analysis and criticism, historical contexts and implications for dialogue and teaching.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Donald Sensing on June 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
Prof. Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish woman who attends an orthodox synagogue in Nashville and who occupies an endowed chair of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. If you make a habit of watching the various Jesus TV shows that appear around Christmastime and Easter, you've probably seen her on camera. A-J, as her students call her (I was her student for my M.Div., and still consider myself such) is an engaging lecturer with an appealing sense of humor and a simply awesome command of the various themes, facts and passages of the New Testament. And she treats the New Testament a lot better than many Christian professors, clergy and laity treat the Old Testament.

Which brings me to her latest book, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. It is precisely, I think, because of A-J's deep appreciation of Jesus as a specifically Jewish man, and the plainly Jewish character of the New Testament, that leads her to describe and rebut Christians' historic and ongoing habit of thinking of Jesus as some kind of "counter-Jew" who sought to radically change his own religious traditions and teachings or even overturn them. Even worse has been the use of the New Testament by Christians to justify anti-Judaism, which is a very short step from anti-Jew; neither position is simply tenable with the identity and life of Jesus.

This book is not another bewailing of how Christian Germany came to commit the Holocaust. In fact, the Shoah gets only a very brief mention in her book. A-J isn't writing to point the finger at Christians for our sins. She simply wishes to introduce the reader to the Jewish ordinariness of Jesus himself and of his place and time.
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