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Jesus

Editor: In Jerusalem recently I was blessed to visit again our friends David and Hannah Flusser. Dr. Flusser presented me with an autographed copy of his recent book, “Jesus”, and gave permission for Bible Light to print excerpts. The book is in collaboration with R. Steven Notley, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Jerusalem University College. The following Introduction is excerpted from his Foreword.

Rarely does one encounter a scholar with such a passion to understand Jesus an his message. Nor are there many who have such a mastery of the classical sources and the ability to use them in such a way that the person and message of Jesus find fresh and simple clarity…from his biographical study is a portrait of Jesus which gains additional depth because it is viewed within the context of Jewish thought and life of the first century.

Much has been written in recent years about the reclamation of Jesus by Jewish scholarship. It is difficult, however, to explain to those who do not know Flusser what it is about him that makes his work so distinctive. One feature which sets him apart is that while he understands Jesus to belong fully to the diverse and competing streams of Jewish thinking of the first century, Flusser feels no need to deny Jesus his high self-awareness. In his understanding, the historical Jesus was both identified with his people and the cornerstone of the faith of the early Christian community . . . . He is an original thinker who is willing to give fresh consideration to the evidence – even if it means challenging long-held opinions, sometimes even his own. . . He reminds his students that his is not the study of “the Jewish Jesus” but the Jesus of history. That Jesus was Jewish is a matter of historical record. . . Flusser does not work as a detached historian. He works as a man of faith who sees his scholarship as having relevance to the complex challenges of the present age. This facet of Flusser’s character was illustrated by an incident which was related to me by Brad Young, who studied with Flusser for a number of years in Jerusalem.

Flusser had a student who went to study at the University of Zurich. When a professor there discovered that he was Flusser’s student, he failed him without warrant. The failing mark ruined the student’s academic career. A few years later, a student of that same professor was studying in Flusser’s class. He turned in a paper, the content of which was mediocre. Flusser instructed Brad, who was his teaching assistant at the time, to give the student an “A”. When Brad inquired why, he related the story of his own student and then repeated his instruction, “Give the student an ‘A’. This I have learned from Jesus.”

What has stuck me about Flusser is not simply his insights into Jesus’ teaching, but his assumption that the study of the words of Jesus should make a difference in how we conduct our lives. Of course, most Christians will find nothing remarkable in that notion, but many students will testify how exceptional it is to find a scholar whose research has relevance for life. I hope that my own contribution to this book has made it more accessible to the readers and strengthened Professor Flusser’s desire that this biography “serve as a mouthpiece for Jesus’ message today.”

The Western Wall at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Neither Jews nor Christians are allowed to pray on top of the Mount where the Moslem mosques are. (May 2000)

Excerpts from Flusser’s Preface

When writing the German edition of Jesus, I stood more or less at the threshold of my research into the origins of Christianity. Since that time I have learned a great deal and have written extensively on the New Testament, especially on Jesus. Thus, the present biography is far from being identical with the original book. I believe that my new, English edition of Jesus is not merely longer, but also significantly better than its German forerunner.

An English translation by Ronald Walls from the German was published by Herder and Herder in 1969. Not being widely read, this translation was never reprinted. The German book, however, was reprinted repeatedly and translated into dozens of other languages. The uneventfulness of the English translation in comparison to the success of the original German edition and its translation into other languages led me to conclude that a new, improved English version of my book about Jesus was badly needed [and] include fresh insights drawn from both rabbinic literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls.. .

The German edition of my book was very well received in Europe, and encountered only slight opposition from some excessively conservative Christian circles. Their American counterparts should understand that, because of my Jewish background, I cannot be more Christian than the majority of believers in Jesus. My interpretation of the Gospels, however, is more conservative than that of many New Testament scholars today. . .

I know that some readers will open this book in order to inquire what the prevailing Jewish opinion is about Jesus. I have not written this book to describe Jesus from the “Jewish standpoint.” The truth of the matter is that I am motivated by scholarly interest to learn as much as I can about Jesus, but at the same time being a practicing Jew and not a Christian, I am independent of any church. I readily admit, however, that I personally identify myself with Jesus’ Jewish Weltanschauung, both moral and political, and I believe that the content of his teachings and the approach he embraced have always had the potential to change our world and prevent the greatest part of evil and suffering. . .

As a student at the University of Prague, I became acquainted with Josef Perl, a pastor and member of the Unity of Bohemian Brethren, and I spent many evenings conversing with him at the local YMCA in Prague. The strong emphasis which this pastor and his fellow brethren placed on the teaching of Jesus and on the early, believing community in Jerusalem stirred in me a healthy, positive interest in Jesus, and influenced the very understanding of my own Jewish faith as well. Interacting with these Bohemian Brethren played a decisive role in the cultivation of my scholarly interests; their influence was one of the foremost reasons that I decided to occupy myself with the person and message of Jesus. . .

I have since had the honor to become acquainted with members of one such movement having spiritual links to the Bohemian Brethren – the Mennonites in Canada and the United States. When the German book on Jesus was first published, a leading Mennonite asked me if the book were Christian or Jewish. I replied, “If the Christians would be Mennonites, then my work would be a Christian book.” What I have set out to do here is to illuminate and interpret, at least in part, Jesus’ person and opinions within the framework of his time and people. My ambition is simply to serve as a mouthpiece for Jesus’ message today. -

John Stembridge and Irene Levy with Mayor Ron Nachman of the city of Ariel in Samariah, Israel. (May 2000)