Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Difficult Words of Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine

We have to admit that some of Jesus' words are hard to understand. Levine, a Jew and expert in all things Jewish, shares her insights on how those listening to Jesus speak would have understood his words. She identifies her book as one for people who want to struggle with Scripture they find disturbing.

I have mixed feelings about the book. On the positive side, Levine shares a wealth of information on the background of concepts and culture and society of Jesus' day. Readers who want insights in those areas will find much valuable information in this book.

Levine is not a Christian, however, so I have reservations about her truly understanding what Jesus meant. I found it interesting to read her comments on Christian theology as a non-Christian. She writes about the “call” of the gospel while noting it is something she has never felt. (140) She does not believe in hell (101) though she does have a good account of how it became accepted into Christian theology. (121-122) She is “not much a believer in demons,” (80) and says the book of Jonah is “manifestly fictional.” (81) She acknowledges that Jesus did see himself in the role of Jewish Messiah (83) but apparently does not accept he is so.

Readers who want to understand more of Jewish thought, especially as it relates to some of what Jesus said, will find this book informative. Evangelical Christians looking for Holy Spirit directed insights into what Jesus said may be disappointed. Miller suggests we cannot fully understand what Scripture means but we can make educated guesses. (xvii) She writes, “...while the Bible may have the first word on a number of questions, it will never have the last word.” (154) Those who want to struggle with Jesus' words in the context of Jewish thought will like this book. You will gain understanding about how a non-Christian wrestles with what Jesus' said.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies and Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Jewish Studies Emerita at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences. She is an internationally renowned scholar and teacher and the author of numerous books. She is also the co-editor of the Jewish Annotated New Testament. She has done more than 500 programs across the globe for churches, clergy groups, and seminaries on the Bible, Christian-Jewish relations, and Religion, Gender, and Sexuality.

Abingdon Press, 176 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

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