What is the myth of Jesus

The Jesus myth

The Bible keeps puzzling us. No question. ZDF recently broadcast a two-part documentary in which theologian Margot Käßmann wanted to solve "Bible riddles". In order to reinforce individual theories and statements of the Holy Scriptures, arguments in the "Terra-X" episode were both scientifically and theologically objectively based on numerous examples from the Bible and various other sources, especially archeology. It is up to you whether you want to follow these arguments. But first of all, any theory that can be plausibly explained and proven is entirely legitimate.

Strangely enough, this rational approach to the television report changed just as Jesus came into play. The argument suddenly became unscientific, ahistorical and theologically imprecise. At this point, however, a belated criticism of said TV documentary should not be given, but rather the fundamental question should be asked, why this is so. For what reason is the myth about the figure of Jesus still cultivated and transported in this form, and what effects does this have on the assessment of Judaism?

crisis It is often said that during the Roman Empire, God became too abstract for people, which plunged faith into a crisis. Christianity then found the decisive solution with Jesus: Through the incarnation, God would have come closer to people and could now give everyone access to faith.

First of all, it should be noted that Judaism was never in a (religious) crisis. On the contrary: Jewish life flourished just 2000 years ago. It was a creative time in which many groups emerged within Judaism and in which rabbinic literature began. The temple was visited more often than ever before, not only by Jews but also by non-Jews, as Flavius ​​Josephus reports. (The Jews loved the temple and to this day mourn at Tisha be Aw for its destruction.)

It is noticeable that errors in content are repeatedly produced and reproduced in relation to this point. Just one example: The visit to the temple of Pompey was supposedly perceived by the Jews as an outrage because he was an unbelieving pagan who was forbidden to do so. That is not right. Non-Jews, of course, had access to the temple.

In the second temple there was the "court of the Gentiles". Gentiles also made offerings to the temple, which was unproblematic from a Jewish point of view. However, Pompey angered the people in Jerusalem because he visited parts of the temple that for ritual reasons were only reserved for priests or the high priest (Flavius ​​Josephus, Jewish antiquities). The situation of today cannot be transferred to antiquity. Judaism was open to non-Jews and Jews interacted with them. Conversions, their presence in the temple and stories in the New Testament testify to this (Luke 7: 1-10).

institution Finally, Jesus himself went to the temple, and his followers continued to pray there, as can be read in the Acts of the Apostles. Matthew 21: 12-13 must be understood directly with the quote from the prophet Jeremiah (7:11), that is, Jesus does not criticize the temple as an institution as such, nor the priests, but rather those visitors to the sanctuary who acted and thought badly that by making offerings they could simply buy themselves free of their sins.

It is certainly true that Judaism is more reserved about conversion today than it was in ancient times, but that has a lot to do with experience in the Christian environment in which Jews lived and live. For centuries, Jews were simply forbidden to accept Christians into their religious community. Drastic penalties were threatened if this regulation was disregarded. This has nothing to do with exclusionary or tribal-conscious thinking, but with the reality of life and experience - which only occurred after antiquity with the strengthening of Christianity.

Also, G’d was by no means remote or distant from the Jews of this time. The Jewish liturgy as well as the temple service testify to a close relationship with God. The Hebrew word for (temple) sacrifice is "Korban". This word consists of the root "kuf, reisch, vav", which means something like coming close. So the sacrifices brought the Jews closer to God, as did the prayers based on the sacrifices of the temple. So God was close to people even before Jesus; It was not he who made this possible in the first place. We Jews generally believe that God is interested in our concerns.

We do not have a belief in a distant God, but a religion that is firmly anchored in the here and now, a religion that derives action directly from the Torah - and thus the word of God. Action that is repeatedly questioned, renewed and debated. Judaism is a religion in which the closeness to the Creator is particularly strong.

Father figure Jesus is by no means the one who "invents" God as a father figure, as repeatedly claimed. It is true that Jesus calls God "Abba" (Mark 14.36, cf. also Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4: 6), but this is neither a provocation for the other Jews of this time, nor is it new. Such an assumption simply ignores the many biblical and post-biblical uses of "father" for Gd in Judaism (Psalm 68: 5 and 89:26, Isaiah 64: 8, Jeremiah 31: 9, Flavius ​​Josephus Ant. 5,93 and 7,380 , in the Qumran Scrolls, BT Taan.23b and 25b etc.).

Jesus was not a completely surprising new personality who was completely different from all other Jews of his time, but just as much a part of normative Judaism. He obeyed the Jewish commandments. He wore the ritual shop threads (Zizit, cf. Numbers 15, 38-39, Deuteronomy 22:12), which were supposed to remind him of the Torah (Matt. 9:20, Luke 8:44, Matt. 14.36, Mark 6.56), he kept the Shabbat and argued with others about and for the exact observance of the commandments.

Hardly anyone would do that if it does not seem important or who does not keep these commandments himself; perhaps he had a different opinion on certain aspects than that of other Jewish groups, but that was quite common in antiquity. Rather, his central message, the "Supreme Commandment", is based on his Jewish faith. It is love for God (Deuteronomy 6.5) and charity (Leviticus 18:19). We could go on here at will.

quellen The early Christian community was certainly strongly influenced by Jews. The latest state of science now assumes that Christianity separated from normative Judaism only very late. Of the 8,000 verses in the New Testament, more than 250 quote the Tanakh, another 500 allude directly to passages in the Tanakh, and an even larger number refers more or less indirectly to older Jewish sources.

So Jesus and his disciples have neither reinvented nor radically changed anything. This applies not only to God as a father figure, but also to universalism. There are many passages in the Tanakh that are clearly universalistic: from the covenant of God with Noah, which applies to all people, to the exodus from Egypt, which non-Jews also joined, to the basis of ethics and morals.

The Tanach becomes explicitly universalistic especially when it comes to the ideal future, i.e. the messianic time (e.g. Isaiah 2, 1-4, Jeremiah 3:17, Micah 4, 1-3). It is not surprising that early Christianity, as a messianic movement, placed an emphasis on universalism. The phenomenon of wanting to bring the teaching of God closer to non-Jews, however, has not only existed since Jesus.

The Jewish philosopher Philo (20 B.C. – 50 CE), for example, was happy about the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the Septuagint, because "these admirable, incomparable, and highly desirable laws became known to all". He expressed his hope that after reading the Torah, the majority of people would convert to Judaism because they would now know and appreciate G’s commandments.

The latest research also suggests that the later rabbis did not reject the Septuagint under any circumstances. This universalism is generally reflected in rabbinic literature. To come back to messianism, it can be said that here too there is no uniqueness with the figure of Jesus.

clichés It is important for me to emphasize that I do not want to question the belief in Jesus or the theological conclusions from it in any way. But it is just as important to me that this award does not come at the expense of Judaism. Unfortunately, there are still many stereotypes about Judaism - in general and in particular at the time of Jesus. These clichés have their origin in the ambivalent relationship of the church to Judaism; and as far as Judaism in the time of Jesus is concerned, especially in the theories of the theologian and Bible critic Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) and the church historian Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930).

Unfortunately, some standard works, such as the Theological Dictionary on the New Testament edited by Gerhard Kittel (1888–1948), are even more problematic because the editor himself and important authors were proven anti-Semites and members of the NSDAP or the SS. Many articles were written in the late 1930s and reflect the political situation. If Jews are described negatively or differences to Jesus are established that are not historically tenable, it should come as no surprise. Unfortunately, there are still references to this work, even though it contains anti-Jewish prejudices.

If you read contemporary scientists and theologians - such as Abraham Geiger (1810–1874) - it quickly becomes apparent that Wellhausen agrees with Geiger on many points. But when it comes to the personality of Jesus, ideology triumphs over reason. Wellhausen and others projected their own time onto the time of Jesus. Anything that disagreed with their view was made to fit rather than objectively working with facts. I advocate taking Jesus, early Christianity, and Judaism of his time as they were.

The author is the rabbi of the main synagogue in Sofia / Bulgaria.