Jewish scholar Michael S. Kogan on the uniqueness of Jesus’s messianic movement
By Eric Chabot, CJFM Midwest Representative
Michael S. Kogan is a Jewish scholar who does not think Jesus is the Messiah. However, in his book “Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity, he says the following:
“If we view the Nazarene sect—later, Christianity—as one of the Judaisms of the first century (and how else can we view it?), we must conclude that this group of Jews had as much right as any other to develop its own unique conception of the Messiah. And unique it was—as were they all—but only in the sense that it combined in a distinct fashion elements of Jewish messianic speculation that had been circulating for centuries. The earliest messianic references in Hebrew Scriptures had referred to kings and priests who were contemporary historic personages. Jesus was such a personage. Later messianic language became idealized and futurized. Jesus would come again in glory. All the well-known terms, Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, shepherd, king, high priest, suffering servant, son of David, et al., were eventually reinterpreted and applied by the Christian sectarians to their redeemer figure. They were certainly not unique in their application of these terms to a living man or to a figure of the future; they were unique in holding that one man could be both of these. By conceiving of a first and second coming of Jesus, Christian thinkers found a way to apply virtually every previous messianic name and function to one person.
Theirs was certainly the most comprehensive messianism of any of the many Jewish sects that reworked the ancient images into their own speculative patterns. We have seen that the Christians could hardly be called nonorthodox in their messianism, since there was no reigning orthodoxy (and no orthodox Judaism for that matter). Were they radicals? Perhaps, but no more than the Qumran covenanters or the author or community that produced 4 Ezra. What ultimately led to their break with other Jewish sects was probably more their openness to gentile participation than their messianic views. The question so often asked as to whether Jesus was the Jewish Messiah is therefore the wrong question.
He was a Jewish Messiah. As were the Davidic king, the Aaronic priest, and their futurized and idealized images; as was the suffering servant and the exalted Son of Man; as was the Lion of the forest and the Man from the sea. The humble man of Galilee who will return in glory takes his place among these and all the other messianic figures of Israelite tradition. But there is a difference. This Messiah who suffers and dies for the redemption of the world has broken out of his original Israelite context This Messiah who suffers and dies for the redemption of the world has broken out of his original Israelite context. He has, via his interpreters, brought the salvific word of Israel’s God to the gentiles. If for Jews his story was a new expression and combination of familiar themes, for gentiles his message was wholly new—and for many it was convincing. Has Jesus brought redemption to Israel? No, but he has brought the means of redemption to the gentiles—and that in the name of Israel’s God—thus helping Israel to fulfill its calling to be a blessing to all peoples. A Jewish Messiah for the gentiles! Perhaps, as I have suggested, an inversion of Cyrus’s role as a gentile Messiah for the Jews. Israel is redeemed by engaging in redemptive work. Perhaps redemption is not a final state but a process, a life devoted to bringing oneself and others before God.”- Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity, pgs, 67-69.
Note Kogan says, “The question so often asked as to whether Jesus was the Jewish Messiah is therefore the wrong question. He was a Jewish Messiah.” He is correct that within Jewish history, Jesus is viewed as one of many messianic figures. But in my two books here, I discuss why I think Jesus is not just a Messiah, but the Messiah.
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