Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism) Paperback – 11 Apr 1998
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About the Author
Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Associate Professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College. She is the coeditor of Insider/Outsider: Multiculturalism and American Jews and the editor of On Being a Jewish Feminist: A Reader and Moral Grandeur and Spirited Audacity: Essays on Abraham Joshua Heschel.
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Geiger was raised with a more traditionally Jewish education, but various academic theories lead him to form a more critical assessment of his own religion. His ultimate goal was to reform and reshape Judaism into a modern religion, which he believed had to be done with a slow and internal transition to wean people away from the more traditional views. He came to these conclusions by looking at the evolution of Rabbinic Judaism wherein he saw moderate voices that sought to reform the Judaism of their own time and how they struggled with the Sadduceean institution.
The works of Geiger are described by Heschel as an attempt at creating a Jewish counter history with the goal of reclaiming the Jewish roots of traditionally Judenrein concepts. He spent most of his academic career challenging Christianity, but he began his journey into counter history with a universally accepted and lauded essay investigating what Mohammed took from Judaism in creating Islam. His attempt to bring the same post-colonial analysis to Jesus received largely the opposite reaction from the dominantly protestant academic circles. He further pushed his agenda by trying to reclaim the idea of the Pharisees, an otherwise much maligned group, by pointing to Christianity’s corruption at the hands of Sadduceean influences. This latter part was not as academically sound, but ideologically pushed the suggestion.
The biggest problem for Geiger was his inability to extend any influence on the Christian sector with his Jewish Jesus ideology. Naturally, they did not want to accept that Jesus had any Jewish sources whatsoever. Several works made attempts to distance Christianity from the Jewishness of the Old Testament, calling to mind the concerns of Marcion, via the claim that anything good in the Old Testament was Christian while anything bad was a Jewish corruption. While the Jewish side fully embraced the idea, they had no power in the academic world at the time.
Geiger’s attempts at reclaiming Jesus as a Jewish figure were well intentioned but ultimately doomed. As Heschel mentions “Jews dress him as a Jew, Christians dress him as a Christian, making him a figure on the boundary of the two religions” a religious divide that continued to today out of religious necessity.
The one disappointment with this book is found towards the end in the authors attempts to talk about the influence of Geiger on a later period. Heschel brings in a lot of subjects that seem somewhat out of place. They filter in from her other interests but I'm not sure they fit the style of the book.
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