Jesus, the observant Jew, and the Old Testament



We forfeit a good way of knowing Jesus when we say we have no interest in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament. He certainly had one. He grew up as a Jewish boy, to all appearances the son of Mary and Joseph, two good, observant Jews. They saw to his initiation into the chosen people when, as a newborn, Simeon and Anna, meant to represent all Israel celebrating the child, made a fuss over him. Twelve years later the family returned to Jerusalem, where Jesus was found listening to and questioning the elders discussing the Law of Moses. He had to have been familiar with the Scriptures to do this.

Most first-generation Christians were Jews, so it was vital to them that they present Jesus as fulfilling the Law, found in the Bible’s first five books. What could authenticate him better as the Christ than his correspondence to the Hebrew texts? Don’t we say during the creed that he died and rose according to the Scriptures? We mean the old ones. If in spreading the Gospel they were looking to convince other Jews, we know they appealed to the nation’s family album, the Law, the prophets and the writings. This means that Jesus grew up reading and rereading God’s inspired word. This had to shape his growing understanding of what was to be his mission.

So it comes as no surprise when we read in Second Kings (4,42 to 5,14) how one of his favorite role models, Elisha the prophet, multiplied loaves and healed a leper. “A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing the man of God 20 barley loaves made from the first fruits, and fresh grain in the ear. ‘Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha said. But his servant objected, ‘How can I set this before a hundred men?’ ‘Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha insisted. ‘For thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.”’ And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said.”

This is followed immediately by the account of his miraculous healing of Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy.

Elisha was the successor of the great prophet Elijah, who withstood the wicked king Ahab to the face, charging him with the murder of Naboth in order to seize his vineyard. John’s Gospel has Jesus as the judge and Pilate as the defendant in the docket, leaving us to wonder who was on trial. We have to remember that most of the New Testament authors were all Jews trying to appeal to fellow Jews, using the common language of the Hebrew Scriptures.

A second century writer, Marcion, developed the theory that the Old Testament was irrelevant for Christians. He said that the God of Moses was a harsh and judgmental God who was replaced by the God of Jesus, forgiving and kind. He has the distinction of having one of the earliest heresies in church history named after him. Early church members saw the harm of disconnecting the New Israel from the Old. Marcionism implies that God changes God’s mind. It says that Israel lost its birthright, and we need not worry ourselves with those Hebrew writings. Swiss theologian Hans Kung calls the anti-Semitism that springs from Marcion and before the longest-standing sin of Christianity, the poisoned soil of the Holocaust. Religious zealots surely as deluded as jihadists think it honorable to persecute Jews, as though the few Jewish authorities like Caiaphas, Annas and some of the Sanhedrin represent all Jews for what in fact all of us sinners are to blame. Everyone who ever sinned helped drive in the nails. Too many Catholics seem never to have heard of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that officially and finally removed misplaced guilt from the Jews in 1965, before the embers of Auschwitz had cooled.

Don’t “Christian” anti-Semites see the absurdity of attacking the race of Jesus and his mother, thinking that their contempt for God’s chosen people pleases them somehow? It must be obvious that much of history’s anti-Jewish persecution has been based on the economic oppression of a beleaguered minority whose property then became targeted. The way vile un-Christian hatred has been met by Jews banding together over the centuries out of necessity in order to survive is a testament to their strength as well as an indictment to bigots masquerading as followers of Jesus the Jew. His nationality must embarrass the haters.