"[My] book is telling the Jews to reclaim Jesus, the authentic Jesus, the historical Jesus, the Jewish Jesus" and to be inspired by his "beautiful" teachings, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said this week in Jerusalem.
Shmuley Boteach, who bills himself as "America's rabbi" and who seems to be campaigning for the soon to be vacant post of Chief Rabbi of England, is not my favorite person. My opposition to Shmuley goes back to the late 1980s, when I met him days before he was to leave for Oxford to open a Chabad House there.
Shmuley was so obnoxious, so egomaniacal and so, well, crazy, that I tried to get the shaliach I was working with to call the Rebbe's secretariat and get Boteach's shlichut rescinded. My opinion of Shmuley was shared, it turned out, by others. But no call was made to the Rebbe because doing it would have meant questioning the Rebbe's judgement (nad his infallibility) in appointing Shmuley in the first place – something no Chabad employee (besides me, apparently) would do.
Shmuley is rank opportunist, a slurping egomaniac who lives to hear his own voice and see his own picture and who will offer opinions on subjects he knows next to nothing about as if he were the world's biggest scholar of them.
Enter Jesus, the latest subject of Boteach's 'scholarship.'
Boteach is about to publish a new book called "Kosher Jesus." To be sure, there is no shortage of hucksters and delusional messianic types writing books about the man-god, but most of those less than honest writers don't command the media audience our slurping egomaniac does. That means Botech has the potential to do more good or, more likely, more harm, than they do.
Ha'aretz interviewed Boteach about his latest 'scholarship' which, Ha'aretz says, is based primarily on another non-expert, the late British author Hyam Maccoby. Maccoby's works are based on outdated science and were rejected by scholars almost out of hand when they were originally published because Maccoby has a tendency to make the facts fit his theories rather than letting the facts shape his theories. And this bodes poorly for Boteach's book.
That said, Ha'aretz reports that Rabbi Jeremy Rosen likes Boteach's book, so perhaps Boteach has managed to avoid doing any serious damage.
On the other hand, Alan Dershowitz endorses the book (but not necessarily its content) and the unber-crazy, uber-irresponsible hard right radio show host Glenn Beck endorses it. Make of this what you will.
Here's some of what King Shmuley the Self-Anointed told Ha'aretz:
"This book is telling the Jews to reclaim Jesus, the authentic Jesus, the historical Jesus, the Jewish Jesus" and to be inspired by his "beautiful" teachings, the U.S.-born author and TV show host told Anglo File this week in Jerusalem. "It's asking Christians to make an effort to enrich their Christianity through an understanding of the Jewishness of Jesus."
"Suddenly we have evangelical Christians emerging as the foremost supporters of the state of Israel," he said. "We have this political alliance. What is a lacking is a theological bridge."
"Christians don't know the Jewish Jesus," Boteach continued. "They know the Christ-divinity but not the Jewish man Jesus. There's a need to discover the humanity of Jesus."
"Kosher Jesus" amalgamates research (mostly by Hyam Maccoby ) which suggests that the gospels give the wrong impression of Jesus. "There was a lot of embellishment and editing," Boteach said. "We have to remember Paul [the apostle] never met Jesus. He cannot offer us a first-hand account of Jesus' life."
Christian scripture "doesn't add up" when it portray Jesus as a self-hating Jew, or when it lists sins that allegedly led Jews to condemn him, Boteach said. Jesus never declared himself God or meant to abolish Jewish law, he asserts.
And the fact that Jesus thought of himself as the messiah shouldn't bother Jews, he insists: "I could declare myself the messiah right now. There's nothing blasphemous about this," Boteach said. "I even encourage people to have a certain messianic tendency in their lives, a desire to redeem the world."
Boteach said he regrets that Jews allowed Jesus "to be ripped away from them without even a fight."
"We just accepted a Christian interpretation of his life and narrative," he said. "One of the most influential people of all time is seen as a Christian who loved the Romans and said about the Jews that they are all the children of the devil."
But "Christian ideas of Jesus as divine messiah emerged as a savvy adaptation following the destruction of the Second Temple," Boteach explained. Once Jews understand that, he writes that they "can take inspiration from Jesus' often beautiful ethical teachings and appreciate Jesus as a devoted Jewish son who became martyred while trying to lift the Roman yoke of oppression from his beloved people."