Journalist and author David Klinghoffer offers a bold approach to an age-old disputation between Christians and Jews in the form of an historical narrative. Somewhat in reaction to Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” but equally in response to the negative Jewish reaction to its depiction of Jews rejecting Jesus and conspiring in his death conviction, Klinghoffer seeks to set the record straight. He does so following a relatively traditional line of Jewish argumentation, but adding several new insights and seeking to turn upside down the usual judgments of the outcome. Not surprisingly, the villain in his story is not Jesus or his Jewish contemporaries, friend or foe, but Paul, who (is supposed to have) renounced the role of Torah and thus created a religion that was no longer a Jewish sect, but one prepared to become the religion of the masses in a manner for which Judaism was not designed, according to Klinghoffer. But that development had unforeseen benefits. Had it remained a Jewish sect instead, Klinghoffer argues, the movement would have disappeared like many other Jewish movements: “There would be no Christianity, no Christian Europe, and no Western civilization as we know it.” Hence, he concludes, “the most enthusiastically Christian country on earth and the most tolerant and goodhearted in history,” the United States, “is the fruit of the Jewish rejection of Jesus.” Clever, but in my opinion, by advancing this approach, Klinghoffer unintentionally attributes to Christianity norms and values (such as tolerance and good-heartedness in the sentence cited!) that Judaism champions. Indeed, Christianity expresses these norms precisely because it was first a form of Judaism. It did not separate from Judaism with Paul in the way Klinghoffer supposes to have been the case, but later, and for different reasons. Well-meaning and well-written, this is an important book for anyone interested in the topic of Christian origins and the history of Jewish and Christian relations, including contemporary developments. Bibliography, index.
Mark D. Nanos, Ph.D., University of Kansas, is the author of Mysteryof Romans, winner of the 1996 National Jewish Book Award, Charles H. RevsonAward in Jewish-Christian Relations.