Jesus, For Jews

A new conference on a newly popular subject:

In taking Jesus and placing him in Jewish contexts, the conference was, in a sense, an attempt to take the foreign, the strange, and make it familiar. Ironically enough, though, the opposite was often the case. Mixing seemed to take the familiar and make it strange. In the eyes of some of the day’s speakers, this was a good thing. Fredriksen took pains to emphasize just how different Jesus’ Judaism was from even the Judaism of the fourth century, to say nothing of the Judaism of the 21st. “If we’re doing our job right,” she said, “we’ll hardly recognize the figure we’ve reconstructed.”

Wieseltier, who appeared with the author and onetime priest James Carroll, spoke in a similarly counterintuitive vein. Jewish messianism, he said, is not a radical idea. It’s not a form of utopianism. “It’s a correction, not a transformation,” he said. Messianism “was never as central as we think it was. What is central is living the present.”