LS: In your book, you talk about meeting a window washer in Seattle who is sincerely puzzled that Jews don't accept Jesus. Many Christians feel there's this overwhelming stack of evidence--usually connections made between the New Testament and the Hebrew scriptures--"proving" that Jesus is the promised Messiah. What should both Christians and Jews know when a Christian says, "clearly Isaiah shows that Jesus is the one"?
One thing to know is that for every Christian claim about, for example, Isaiah 53 [which describes a "suffering servant" who is persecuted to redeem the sins of his people], there's a Jewish response.

You can make an intelligent case from Isaiah 53 on behalf of Jesus. You can construe the Hebrew prophets as if they pointed forward to Jesus. But you can construe them to mean lots of different things. Shabbatai Zevi, the false messiah of the 17th century--his followers used those very same texts, including Isaiah 53, to prove that Shabbatai Zevi had to undergo suffering as the Messiah. You can use these texts to prove virtually anything.

What do Jews say the Messiah will be like? Read more >>

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  • LS: And your book says first-century Palestine was full of would-be Messiahs--a lot of people going around [like Jesus] with healing powers and other things.
    Right. For Jews to give up the unique relationship with God that we have on the basis of a plausible, but by no means the only plausible, interpretation of scripture, is asking a lot.

    There are one or two verses in the Hebrew Bible that some Christians will point to as showing that the laws were going to be transcended or discarded. But if you look at the context, those verses, to my mind, don't indicate that.

    But even if you thought the Christian interpretation was plausible, it's only a couple of verses. To base a decision to give up Torah on a couple of ambiguous verses in Jeremiah is not, to me, a serious response for a Jew. For a Christian, who defines his spirituality through the lens of the New Testament, it's different. The Christian prioritizes the new over the old.

    LS: What do Jews believe the Messiah will be like, and how does Jesus differ from this?
    The Messiah will change the world. There won't be any question about whether he's come.

    LS: It will be completely obvious?
    Yes. There's no indication that it will be a test if someone accepts him. In my book, I make the analogy of seeing a woman who's clearly pregnant, and then later her stomach is flat. There's no need to ask, "Did you have the baby?"

    The trite response is, "Jesus didn't bring world peace." That's just the beginning. Ezekiel describes the third temple being built in the time of the Messiah--things anyone with eyes can verify.

    Some Christians will say, it's a two-part process.

    LS: Or they'll say it's metaphorical.
    Well, if it's metaphorical, then everything's up for grabs. They'll be inconsistent about what's literal and what's metaphorical; Jews have a tradition that tells us what to understand literally and what figuratively.

    LS: So the Christian interpretation of the rebuilt temple being Jesus' resurrection--that kind of symbolic, metaphorical reading--just doesn't work in terms of Jewish beliefs about the Messiah? You're saying the actual temple will be there. It will be an actual stone building?
    There's no question. In the last chapter of Ezekiel, he describes a temple in great detail, down to exact measurements. The measurements are all wrong if it's supposed to be the First or Second Temple. So either he's describing something that's never going to happen or something that will happen.

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