Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching, by Joseph Klausner (New York: Macmillan Company, 1953, 441 pp.), was first published in modern Hebrew in 1922 with the publication of the English translation following in 1925 (LCCN: BT 301 .K63). The title is currently available in paperback.
Klausner, writing for a non-Christian Jewish Hebrew-reading public, begins with the fact that the Jews rejected the teaching of Jesus, a Jew in every respect, and “rose up against it in his lifetime and … [throughout their history] would not become Christians … and Israel as a nation rejected it utterly” (p. 9). The author then proceeds to tell why in a well-documented evaluation of the life, times, and teaching of Jesus.
To that end, consulting the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, rabbinical and other appropriate sources, he discusses the political, economic, religious and intellectual conditions of the period and relates them to the salient events in Jesus’ life and ministry, all of which place the thoroughly Jewish Jesus tangibly, comfortably, and inextricably in his environment.
The author does not accept certain Christian essentials, to be sure, but his scholarly objectivity in interpreting Jesus’ work and teaching is impeccable. After examining both in great detail, he denies that “there was any conscious deception [on the part of the disciples and Gospel writers]: the nineteen hundred years’ faith of millions is not founded on deception” (p. 359). He proceeds to explains why the Jews rejected any claims of his Messiahship and Lordship of the kingdom of heaven, viewing the dual roles as unrelated, incompatible, and dangerous for the survival of the nation, the upshot of which is that Jesus was rejected because his kingdom is present (p. 406) and “not of this world” (p. 405).
Klausner categorically and ungrudgingly acknowledges the historicity of the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles. Consequently, as a well-informed unbeliever, he provides an unwitting and important witness to the substance of Christianity as expounded in the New Testament, absent, of course, faith, that is, the indwelling, living presence of the Holy Spirit.
The author’s treatment is balanced, matter-of-fact, insightful, often sympathetic and tender, and confirming of the history, social interaction, and teaching of Jesus. Much of the treatment is as positive, uplifting, thrilling, confirming, and quotable as one would hope to find in the work of a Christian scholar in any period. If nothing else, the reader’s appreciation of the man Jesus will be elevated.
Rob Roy McGregor
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