David Klinghoffer is a columnist for Jewish Forward, and a convert to Orthodox Judaism (The Lord Will Gather Me In). He has written a remarkable treatise that will undoubtedly displease many Jews, but this is not the first time he has played gadfly. Being an outsider looking out, he has a fresh, controversial perspective.
The book is nothing if not scholarly, drawing from many sources. It starts in the pre-Christian world and extends through the Crusades and the Inquisition looking for reasons why Jews, the natural allies of a Messiah, rejected history’s most famous claimant to the title.
Klinghoffer asserts that Jesus of Nazareth, both as inheritor of the role of “savior of the Jews” and as a wise, miracle-working rabbinical soul, was not a cultural rarity for his time. Many great rabbis whose stories are recounted in the Talmud worked similar wonders and were equally respected among their people. “I am not trying to instigate a spitting contest between Jesus and the rabbis – just making the point that a Jew would not have been overawed by tales of Jesus’ wonderful deeds.” Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ advent was “famous for producing…Hasidim (literally, ‘Pious Ones’).” By this reckoning, it is less remarkable that Jesus and his later followers had more success converting the Gentiles than in finding a spiritual berth within their own religion. And all the more remarkable that Saul became Paul.
Klinghoffer supports the legendary, and currently unpopular, accusation that “the Jews killed Jesus,” arguing that to say so is not anti-Semitic, merely factual. Clearly there was advantage to the Jewish hierophants in quelling bothersome rebellions which focused Roman attention on them and resulted in reprisals. What better strategy than to “eliminate the lightning rod – Jesus,” thus playing into the hands of the rulers and avoiding more trouble for themselves and the Jewish people?
Klinghoffer questions whether Jesus was in fact guilty of blaspheming, since to state that one was the son of God or God-related was not, in the tangled theocracy of the era, considered a heresy. Jews expected a messiah and had seen many come and go. Perhaps, the author speculates, the “blasphemy” was associated with the miracles that Jesus had performed. If he had executed these marvels in the name or with the sanction of Y-W-H, he was indeed guilty of a sin. But, no matter. Later historians would revise events and cut the suit to fit the man. Jesus had to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. So he did, and was killed by the Romans, and the rest is Western Civilization.
For, Klinghoffer further declares, “our world would be a poorer, less scientifically advanced one” without the widespread inculcation of the Christian ethic and its concomitant Biblically driven progress. “Had the Jews accepted Jesus…the Jesus movement would have remained a Jewish sect,” and the world would have looked more or less like Northern Africa looks now.
Gadfly indeed! Klinghoffer is to be congratulated for voicing these ideas, in the face of what is bound to be a harsh rejection from many within his faith.