UPDATE IV: “Jesus, No Radical”? (Jesus’ Jewishness)

Ancient History,Christianity,Classical Liberalism,Hebrew Testament,Islam,Judaism & Jews,Justice


“Jesus was no political radical or rebel. He was God” is how the ever-provocative Jack Kerwick introduces his latest Belief.Net blog to Facebook Friends.

Maestro, pray tell, why are the two categories of the title—“G-d” vs. “political radical”—mutually exclusive?

One might have theological reasons for designating “G-d” and “political radical” as mutually exclusive, but reason is reason. It has to work a priori, surely?

Jews (at least those who think) think of Jesus as a preacher in the great tradition of the classical Hebrew prophets, whose genius, courage and yes, radicalism is hard to match—they were forever telling the stiff-necked people where to get off in no uncertain terms.

UPDATE I: “Yiddishkeit.” In reply to the thread on Facebook: Jesus was indeed a Jew (or a Hebrew), with everything that being a Hebrew would imply. A lot of people describe Jewish traits negatively. But you can be sure that Jesus was not without a dose of “Yiddishkeit,” as my blond, blue-eyed, Jewish mother would call it.

UPDATE II: Meathead: One should never place Russell Kirk in the company in which you placed him. For one, Kirk was against the wars Buckley embraced as a matter of principle. As I read Kirk, he was a classical liberal of enormous talent.

UPDATE III (June 14): The “because” is unfairly placed in yours sentence below, Jack Kerwick.

As for Ilana’s contention that Jesus was a “radical” because, like the prophets of old, He told “the stiff necked people where to get off in no uncertain terms,” how does that make Jesus, or anyone, a radical?

Here is what I wrote in the post above:

Jews (at least those who think) think of Jesus as a preacher in the great tradition of the classical Hebrew prophets, whose genius, courage and yes, radicalism is hard to match—they were forever telling the stiff-necked people where to get off in no uncertain terms.

In punctuation, the sentence indicates that the last clause is but an example of the “genius, courage and yes, radicalism” of the prophets, and hardly exhaustive.

In meaning, how does the last clause, which you rightly seem to disparage as inexhaustible, qualify the words “genius, courage and yes, radicalism”?

It doesn’t. Yours is a somewhat unfair read of the sentence.

As for conflating, as you do Jack, the views of Jews on Christ with those of Muslims: That, in my view, is a grave error.

15 thoughts on “UPDATE IV: “Jesus, No Radical”? (Jesus’ Jewishness)

  1. james huggins

    Jesus was indeed a radical. That’s why he came. He was a radical to the government. Both Roman and Judean. He was a radical to the established church. He came to save us all from our sins. The government couldn’t save anybody then and certainly can’t save anybody now. The church couldn’t save anybody then and certainly can’t now. Only Jesus could and can and thats why the world hated him then and hates him now. Yes, Jesus was a radical for us all.

  2. Robert Glisson

    This could be fun; if I were masochistic and enjoyed being called an idiot. However, I will go this far; Jesus, he was a prophet in the line of Abraham, Jacob and David in respecting the supernatural. The only thing he preached was getting close to G-D through prayer and trust in the supernatural. Otherwise, forgiveness, respect, and recognizing our own humanity were about it.

  3. Robert (meathead)

    “Oh what a tangled web we weave…”

    Kerwick is trying to philosophically marry Christianity to Conservative ideology as it was re-defined by Russell Kirk, Bill Buckley, and more recently Mark Levin; post FDR and WWII. Like those who came before him (Philo, Augustine, etc) who envisioned a world where the prevailing philosophy and institutions of government are in harmony with the Law of Moses and the Christ (King of Kings) will come to no good.

    Jesus is of the tribe of Judah.

    He is a radical.

    If the Christians are right and He is the Messiah and not merely a preacher or prophet as believed by Judaism and Islam, things are going to get very interesting one day.

  4. My RON PAUL i

    Well, there’s always something good to say about someone who comforts the afflicted while afflicting the comforted. And it’s often good to tell people to stop obsessing about the speck in your neighbor (opponent’s??) eye while ignoring the log in yours. After ticking off enough people and getting crucified, the Greek-Roman-Pagan followers of the dead Jesus promoted him from prophet to G-d.

    Jesus was a rebel and radical just as Ron Paul is an extremist and a nutcase. Jesus may have spoken truth and wisdom but he didn’t win too many votes – he lost the Jerusalem primary to Barabbas 32,309 to 11 and even his “campaign manager” swore three times that he wasn’t a follower.

    Nowadays, any deviation from the mainstream gets you denounced as an American hater, supporter of terrorism, enemy of the poor, bigot, hater of women, etc. depending on the direction of the deviation. But to quote a half-Jewish Episcopalian, “I would remind you that EXTREMISM in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that MODERATION in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

    We need more rebellion and less submission!

  5. George Pal

    There is great satisfaction to be had in arguing a point without resolution. To participate in one of those fests in which rebbes reveled in the finer points of this or that must have been great fun – heat in the quest of light.

    This, coming from a bantamweight thinker, is my take. Jesus, as with the great line of prophets, was not a rebel but a revolutionary (revolvere ‘roll back’). His cause, just as the prophets’, was not the new but a return to the old (traditions, forms, G-d), from which the people had deviated. In Jesus’ capacity as Christ, the anointed one, he was a rebel, bringing in the new, the new being the fulfillment of the old, the promise kept. For believing Christians, the two categories ‘revolutionary’ and ‘rebel’ are no more mutually exclusive than man and God incarnate.

  6. Carl

    Jesus comes off as a left wing radical with all his attacks on the rich. Yet he also confirmed the Law of Moses, which is rather conservative in places. What gives? Why the attacks on the Pharisees? It appears that they were more diligent in keeping the Sabbath, avoiding idolatry, etc. than their ancestors. What were they doing wrong? Several possibilities come to mind:

    * Were they adhering to the welfare provisions of the Law? Were they generous in making zero interest loans? In observing the Sabbath years? The Jubilee years?

    * Had the Pharisees of the day adopted a belief similar to Karma? Did they consider the poor to blame for their plight?

    * Was Jesus getting on their case for observing the oral traditions over the written Law?

    Members of the libertarian Right need to think hard on the first two points. The prohibitions on theft and coveting were in the context of Georgist land redistribution, gleaner rights and zero interest loans.

  7. Jack Kerwick

    Where to begin? Politics was far off from emancipating itself from religion during Jesus’s time, for sure, but as I make clear in my piece, when the activist scholars of our day–as well as the laity–ascribe to Jesus the term “radical,” they use this term in the explicitly political sense in which we generally understand it. Jesus was not some first century crusader for “social justice” (consult once more the article under discussion). Nor was he a champion of neoconservative, GOP, “capitalist” politics. He wasn’t thinking at all in terms of any politics–at least not any that we would recognize.

    As for Ilana’s contention that Jesus was a “radical” because, like the prophets of old, He told “the stiff necked people where to get off in no uncertain terms,” how does that make Jesus, or anyone, a radical? The people with whom He fought, the scribes and Pharisees, had more power than He–but power is not authority (however much we sloppily and inaccurately conflate the two). The only people with both the authority and power to enforce that authority were the Romans, and against them, Jesus uttered not a word. In fact, when He had the chance to do so, when Pontius Pilate questioned Him, He never so much as defended Himself. This doesn’t even register as “passive resistance.”

    I appreciate the respect Jews and Muslims show Jesus by identifying Him in the terms that Ilana specifies, but the Jesus that is depicted in the Gospels and characterized throughout the remainder of the New Testament resolutely defies the ascription of “prophet:” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me”–and a whole bunch of other equally deity-affirming self-references.

    What C.S. Lewis is correct. If we accept the NT on its face, then we have two options only: either Jesus was God or He was a madman.

  8. My RON PAUL i

    Hillary and Obama and the “Free Syrian Army” (Re: Sunni Wahabbis) take on the Christians once again:

    “first they came for the Serbians, then they came for the Iraqism then they came for the Egyptian Copts… …. “ See


    and some older articles



    and an “atrocity” that the US blamed on Assad was perpetrated by
    our Sunni allies


  9. Meathead

    As Requested:

    Russell Kirk was anti-war; I will not mention the other two names that, with Russell Kirk, re-defined Conservatism. He supported Eugene McCarthy in the 1976 Presidential Campaign, and was somewhat unkind to Libertarians (referred to them as “chirping sectaries”). He, like the other two persons I will not mention, was a great fan of Edmond Burke.

    [Thanks. But not sure why you are not mentioning anyone by name. How is anyone to get what you’re saying? Talker Levin has defined nothing much except neoconservatism and his Ego.]

  10. Myron Pauli

    The NT Jesus does not follow from the OT “Messiah” – there are numerous websites on the subject and numerous books. Here is just one:


    Among other things, the Messiah was to be another King David who would re-establish a Jewish Kingship – not a Kingdom “not of this world”.

    As for passive resistance – Jesus was anti-political and recognized no authority in Rome whatsoever – you can pay them taxes but there was no reason to plead with them.

    Biblical scholars of various type trace an evolution between the Jewish followers of Jesus in mid 30’s A.D. to the Gospel Jesus 40 years later – hence the promotion from rabbi/prophet to G-d.

  11. David Thorpe

    I disagree that Yahshua( that is the name I choose to call the Messiah) was a radical at all. It was he that was in perfect harmony with the will of his Father. It was he that kept the Torah perfectly; the scriptures tell us he never sinned; thus he was excepted as the perfect sacrifice for the nation of Israel, then to the rest of the nations that would repent. It is mankind that has fallen to become radical in the eyes of our Creator. Liberal, Conservatives & Libertarians all espouse their ideals that they wish to win over more converts, each one more or less having some good point to curry favor in winning over more believers for their cause. It is all of these political groups that have caught the fancy of most people, and the people were no different 2000 years ago. When a lowly Jewish carpenter comes and threatens the status qou with words that cannot be gainsayed, we should all look in the mirror, and if we are offended by them say, “I am a radical”.

  12. Jack Kerwick

    Apparently I need to turn my argument into (at least) a two part series. I won’t continue to reiterate what I have already written. For those who want to continue this discussion, please consult my original article and look carefully at the context in which I employ the term “radical”–and, for that matter, the term “rebel.” Jesus, as I concede, can be understood as a rebel if it is also understood that it is sin, evil, against which He railed. But this is not the understanding of those who are most prone to describe Him as such. Anachronisms abound in contemporary discourse over the character of Jesus. But this suits just fine the purposes of those who bandy them about.

    Ilana, if I misread you, then simply tell me please: how, or why, in your judgment, was Jesus a radical? Jesus argued mostly with His fellow Jews, or, more specifically, His fellow Rabbis. This was more of an internecine conflict between two groups of people that, in large respects, were pretty much on the same page. I don’t see any radicalism there.

    Also, Ilana, I am not sure that I understand how the article to which you linked has any connection to what I said regarding my appreciation for the respectful treatment that such non-Christians as Jews and Muslims accord Jesus. Their views are clearly not identical (no conflation here), but they are similar in assigning Jesus a place in the prophetic tradition. That was my point.

    It was also my point that in looking at Him as ONLY a prophet, Jews and Muslims have an inadequate understanding of who He is–an understanding that cannot be sustained by a reading of the NT.

  13. Jack Kerwick

    Let me just add: lest I be misunderstood, in denying that He was a political radical or soley (merely) a prophet, I am by no meand denying that He was thoroughly Jewish. Ilana is correct to note in the title to this blog Jesus’s Jewishness.

  14. Meathead

    “Meathead: One should never place Russell Kirk in the company in which you placed him. For one, Kirk was against the wars Buckley embraced as a matter of principle.”

    I was attempting to not place Mr. Kirk in the company of Buckley and Levin and to acknowledge that he (Kirk) was anti-war; while making my contention that the three of these gentlemen re-defined Conservatism. I (think) that I now understand that what you were saying is that you disagree with my contention. On that, then, we disagree.

    I tried an e-mail, but the response was that I should post on the blog. [See Post Update.]

    My second post was a failure on my part to understand your response. It was unnecessary and a waste of our time. [See Post Update.]

  15. James

    Radical implies an extreme point of view which, therefore, implies a center from which this view may be labeled extreme. The contextual center would be the norms of Roman-occupied Israel and, transitively to those who would use the moniker in our current age, to present-day sociopolitical norms.

    The problem is, in a universe where God exists, humanity is certainly not the center. With societal norms properly centered on God and His laws, we find ourselves to be radical whenever we turn from His commands. The underlying selfish perspective inherent in calling Jesus a radical could be no more damning.

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