Book Review: Why The Jews Rejected Jesus

Why The Jews Rejected Jesus:  The Turning Point In Western History, by David Klinghoffer

It would be tempting, upon reading this book and its smug, self-satisfied tone, casual libels about Jesus and Paul, and its general unpleasant arrogance, to dismiss it entirely as a worthless and unprofitable book that demonstrates the contempt that some Jews have for Christianity and Christians, viewing them only a source for opportunistic conversions and as a cultural threat.  While tempting, though, this would be an unwise response, because this is a book that manages to perform a worthwhile task that is different than the task it sets out to do.  While giving too many reasons for the rejection of Christianity by Judaism, and minimizing the level of that rejection and dealing in a very cursory fashion with messianic Judaism as well as Sabbatarian Christianity [1], to the point of creating a false dilemma between Jewish legalism and Hellenistic Chrisitan antinomianism, the book actually does manage to uncover the root of bad blood between Christians and Jews in which neither side has ended up blameless, and the acidness of this book and its willingness to deal forthrightly with the ugly anti-Christian libels of the Talmud is to be appreciated even if the author’s viewpoint is bogus and his understanding of Christianity woefully lacking and totally biased.

The contents of this book are generally chronological in fashion, and give a perspective of the tortured relationship between Judaism and Christianity over the last two thousand years.  The introduction urges readers to thank the Jews, even if the author himself is more than a little bit douchy.  After that the author discusses the context of second temple Judaism, before Christ, seeking to present a bogus case for the legitimacy of the oral Torah that was becoming more and more popular at this point, an oral Torah that was rejected wholeheartedly by Christians of all stripes.  Then the author provides two chapters on the first encounter between the Jews and the Messiah as well as the question of whether the Jews killed Jesus Christ, showing that underneath the casual hauteur of the author lies an understanding of the lack of legitimacy that the oral Torah possesses in the eyes of Christian that marks a large part of what separates Christians and Jews, along with the reminder that ultimately the divide will be bridged, if it is to be bridged, by the deeds of the return of Jesus Christ and the visible and obvious confirmation of those prophecies that the Jews still await fulfillment of.  The author then looks at the curse of the Torah and gives even more libels regarding Paul, as well as chapters that give the discussion between Jews and Minim in the period before Constantine, the great debate of medieval minds, and the never-ending disputation between Judaism and Christianity at present, before a brief conclusion that brings a great deal into focus.

It was only in reading the last chapter of this book that I got any degree of sympathy for the writer of this book at all.  One can see that he clearly has some anger issues and is certainly a very apt student of his religion, even if his understanding of Christianity is limited largely to the Hellenistic versions of Catholicism (which, like Judaism, places a great deal of untoward importance on flawed tradition) or the Hellenistic antinomian Protestant organizations.  One can see him attempting to deny the reality of the resurrection by claiming that the body of Jesus Christ was eaten by some sort of wild animals, which is why it wasn’t found, which is one of the dodgier explanations one could make–clearly the author is grasping at straws here.  Yet in reading the last chapter of this book, where the author expresses the problems that Jews have in the Incarnation and goes back to Sinai, one has a degree of sympathy with the author and others of his kind when he comments on the difficulty that Jews have in dealing with a God that has come close to mankind.  This was, after all, the problem that the Jews had with God’s behavior in Exodus 20, where they were terrified by God coming close to them, so that they wanted intermediaries between God and them, which got them the priesthood and the various ordinances of the law.  The Jews, as a people, never got comfortable with God being close to them, and Christianity is nothing if not a forcible reminder of God’s intimacy with us and the desire of God for a close relationship with mankind.  Reading this book, one gets a sense of the schizoid tendencies of the author in longing to know God intellectually but to be terrified by the thought of close intimacy.  That is something I can be deeply empathetic about, after all, and something that gives me an appreciation for where this author comes from in a way that I would not have had otherwise.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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16 Responses to Book Review: Why The Jews Rejected Jesus

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  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I liked Klinghoffer’s How Would God Vote? He wasn’t particularly critical when it came to the Jewish sources, but the book was interesting in highlighting references to various Jewish teachings.

    • A better book than this one, then?

      • jamesbradfordpate says:

        It may be. I haven’t read the book on Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, so I’m commenting based on your review. There wasn’t a whole lot of animus towards Christianity in How Would God Vote?, but it occasionally engaged Christian ethics, so that may be a difference. There may be some overlap between the two books in terms of how they approach traditional Jewish sources: they treat them uncritically; I infer that, when it comes to Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, from what you say about Klinghoffer’s arguments defending oral Torah. I think you may actually find How Would God Vote? interesting, though, on the basis of posts you have written—-about applying the Torah’s principles to a political system, for example.

      • I think that’s a fair interpretation based on what I have written, given the large body of writing I have on the subject. Despite my adverse feelings about my first read, I would definitely read How Would God Vote and view it critically but hopefully fairly.

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