But he may also have been trained as a Pharisee, part of the verygroup portrayed in the Christian gospels as a byword for religioushypocrisy. And some of Jesus' teachings were not as revolutionary asthey appeared: contemporary rabbis taught the "golden rule" and otherideals found in the gospels.
Such ideas came as a surprise to about 50 Catholic religiouseducators who gathered for a recent workshop here, where they explored the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.
The "Christians and Jews Together" project aims to help Catholiceducators pass on to their students a more nuanced appreciation ofChristianity's Jewish roots. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bostonand the local Anti-Defamation League are sponsoring the program.
"The blatant misunderstandings have been addressed for some yearsnow," said Celia Sirois, an instructor in scripture for the archdiocese.
She noted that since the Second Vatican Council renounced anti-Semitismin the 1965 document "Nostra Aetate," Catholics have purged theirlessons of any hint the Jews are collectively guilty of murdering Christor that God has rejected Judaism.
No one at the workshop, for example, found it challenging to imagineJesus as a Jew, a notion that past generations de-emphasized or denied.
But, Sirois added, Catholics often lack detailed information aboutthe Judaism of Jesus' day and of their own. For example, whileChristians traditionally viewed the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament, as an overture to thecoming of Jesus, "the Jewish Scriptures have a permanent value quiteapart from the Christian interpretation of them," Sirois said.
And the Pharisees, depicted so negatively in the gospels, includedmany genuine religious reformers.
"It is our responsibility to teach the next generation how to saywho they are as Christians," Sirois told her fellow Catholic religiouseducators at the workshop. "They can't do that without knowing the rootsof Christianity in Judaism."
Sirois and Naomi Towvim, a consultant with the regional Bureau ofJewish Education, have been teaching Catholic religious educators in theBoston area for the past five years. They have become so well-versed ineach others' faiths, Sirois said, that "we have had people ask us,`Which one of you is Jewish and which one is Catholic?'"
Gail Barbato, a catechism teacher from the town of Framingham, saidCatholic children in this ethnically mixed region need to know moreabout the faith of their Jewish friends.
"They go to school together, they play sports together, there's noreason why they shouldn't learn about each others' religions," she said.
The workshops include short lessons and small-group discussions ledby Catholic and Jewish facilitators. Most teachers attend only onesession--hardly a full education, but something to alert them to thesubtleties of teaching about Judaism. In one discussion, for example,Catholics were surprised to hear that many Jews believe their scripturesdo not foretell a messiah--Jesus or anybody else--but rather afigurative, better "messianic age" to come.
She noted, for example, that Jesus' near contemporary, Rabbi Hillel,summarized the law of Moses in words familiar to any Christian: "What ishateful to yourself, do to no other."
"Jesus is not unique in saying, `Love one another,' but there is acertain authority in the way he says, `As I love you,"' Sirois said. Thechallenge is to honor both "his humanity and his special status as theson of God."
Participants received a booklet explicating some of the thorniestpassages in Scripture, using modern scholarship techniques that analyzethe late-first century context in which the gospels were written.
For example, the Gospel of Matthew recounts Jesus' parable of avineyard owner whose tenants rebel and kill his son, provoking theowner's retaliation. This passage, long cited by anti-Semites to proveGod rejected the Jews because they rejected Christ, is too potent toteach to younger children, the booklet says. Teachers should tell olderstudents that Matthew was interpreting Jesus' parables in light of aconflict between the Jewish establishment and the early church, the bookletsays.
Since the church itself was still largely Jewish, the scriptureswere not condemning Jews collectively.
So far, the workshops have been oriented toward Catholic rather thanJewish religious educators. The reason, Sirois said, is partlypragmatic.
"Catholics have a hierarchical structure in place, so it's easier toget something going," Sirois said.
The less-centralized Jewish educational institutions will have to beapproached individually. But the two groups' motivations also vary, Towvim noted. While Christianity is incomprehensible without understanding its Jewish roots, Judaism developed independently of Christianity. And synagogue schoolshave only a few hours per week to teach an ambitious curriculum ofJewish religion and culture.
"It's a vague interest because they live in a Christian world, butgiven that they have so much on their plate, they don't perceive it as anecessary piece of teaching about Judaism," said Towvim.
Jewish volunteers in the program say they welcome the challenge ofstudying Christianity. "I have a lot of respect for Christians to openup their preconceived prejudices," said Janet Buchwald, a Jewishreligious educator from the town of Sudbury and a facilitator at theworkshops. "I'm looking forward to sitting at the other end of thetable."