The Real Kosher Jesus: Revealing the Mysteries of the Hidden Messiah
by Michael L. Brown
Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2012, 249 pages
reviewed by Matt Sieger
Available for purchase at the Jews for Jesus Store.
Kosher Jesus, Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's latest book, has caused an uproar in the Jewish community. Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago said, "Boteach's latest book is apikorsus [heresy] and must be treated as such." Immanuel Schochet, a prominent Orthodox rabbi in Toronto, wrote that it was "forbidden for anyone to buy or read this book, or give its author a platform in any way, shape or form to discuss this topic."1
Other Jewish scholars have weighed in—including two who are also Christian! Dr. Richard A. Robinson, senior researcher at Jews for Jesus, is writing a chapter-by-chapter blog about Kosher Jesus (his blog appears on the Jews for Jesus website). And Michael L. Brown, a Jewish believer in Jesus with a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University, has written The Real Kosher Jesus: Revealing the Mysteries of the Hidden Messiah. Brown has been active in dialogue, debate, and interaction with rabbis for more than 35 years. The rabbi he has most frequently debated is Boteach, who has also become a close friend.
Brown wrote an endorsement for Kosher Jesus, although expressing his differences with Boteach's theology. Boteach returned the favor by writing an endorsement of Brown's new book, although stating that "we disagree passionately on the issues."
In his new book, Brown writes, "by reclaiming Yeshua [Jesus] as a fellow Jew and rabbi, Shmuley has taken a very major and truly wonderful step in the right direction."2 Brown quickly adds, however, that Boteach "has taken some very serious missteps, ultimately creating a fictional Jesus who cannot save or transform or bring redemption to the world, revising much of the New Testament in the process" (p. xvii).
Brown notes that Boteach's effort to "reclaim Jesus" is nothing new. Various Jewish scholars and authors have sought to do so over the last 200 years. They recognize Jesus as a rabbi, as one who reached out to the disenfranchised, as one who brought a revolutionary approach to the Torah, as a worker of miracles, and even as a prophet. But, contends Brown, they do not go far enough. They do not acknowledge that he is the Prophet like Moses who God predicted would come: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you [like Moses] from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him" (Deuteronomy 18:18). And they don't acknowledge that this Prophet is also the Messiah.
Brown writes, "For Shmuley, Jesus was a hero, a man of boundless courage, a rabbi who hated oppression and injustice ... who decided that he would inaugurate the Messianic era by force" (p. 58). But, adds Brown, "the Jesus of Shmuley's book exists only in Shmuley's mind" (p. 58). To create that Jesus, Brown argues that Boteach dismisses the New Testament account of who Jesus is.
For example, notes Brown, in claiming that the apostle Paul introduced the idea that Jesus was the Son of God, Boteach needs to expunge all the verses in the Gospels that speak of Jesus as the Son of God. For example, John 3:16 would now have to read:
For God so loved the word that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (p. 103)
Brown also states that Boteach has to deal with the fact that Jesus is called "Christ" (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word "Messiah") more than five hundred times in the New Testament. Boteach claims that Jesus can be the Messiah for Gentiles but not for the Jews. Brown counters, "If he is not the Messiah of Israel, we should throw out the New Testament and not bother either Jews or Gentiles with its message" (p. 186).
Brown ends on a note of reconciliation, commending Boteach for closing Kosher Jesus with the hope that Jews and Christians "will come together to achieve Godly goals and virtuous ends through the personality of Jesus himself, even as we both understand him in completely different ways."3 Brown responds:
[Boteach] is on the right path, although he still has a way to go, since it is the real Jesus-Yeshua—the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world—who is the key to uniting Jews and Gentiles in one spiritual family... . As Yeshua said to a Torah teacher in his day who had answered one of his questions well, I now say to Shmuley, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34).4
1 Mitchell Landsberg, "Rabbi's 'Kosher Jesus' Book is Denounced as Heresy," Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2012, http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/05/local/la-me-kosher-jesus-20120206
2 Michael L. Brown, The Real Kosher Jesus: Revealing the Mysteries of the Hidden Messiah (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2012), p. xvii.
3 Shmuley Boteach, Kosher Jesus (Springfield, NJ: Gefen Books, 2012), p. 218.
4 Brown, op. cit., pp. 207-208.