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Jesus Christ, as a figure of both historical and religious value, had been thoroughly researched by many theologists and historians. They have scrutinized his life and death, teachings and students, and what impact on society and history he left in his wake. Researchers have verified most points of his life and continue to do so even now. However, the views on the nature of the relationship between Jesus and his teachings and those of the Jewish community vary.
Some researchers ascribe to the portrayal of Jesus as a rebel and opposition to the Temple that is provided by Gospels. Others look at sources more critically, noting that the Gospels do not offer any substantial evidence of Jesus being against the Jewish Law, especially given the fact that he grew up in the Jewish community and was shaped by it. In the light of that, it is prudent to acknowledge that while his teachings differed from the already established, Jesus was still a product of his environment and acted as such.
In support of that point is Levine, who writes about Jesus and his Jewish identity in the context of Judaism and its teachings. She takes the descriptions of his habits, type of dress, actions, and words from the Gospels and shows that he was a man who adhered to the Jewish Law and acted accordingly. For example, Levine describes his dress and notes that Jesus wore fringes, a detail which points out that, despite his disagreements with the Temple and Jewish priesthood, he still acknowledged the Torah and its requirements (24).
She also describes his dietary habits, the fact that he abided by Sabbath, and his overall bearings and finds that they are all in accordance with the Jewish Laws and that he followed the Ten Commandments (24-33). In her work it is shown that Jesus is a follower of Jewish traditions and practices, though he is also going against the high priesthood of the Temple, provoking them and the community by his actions and words. Even then, Levine describes those acts as being done in a “very Jewish” way (41). All of that leads us to the idea of Jesus being more akin to the Rabbi than the rebel against the Temple and Judaism.
However, the Jewish Law was only a part of his relations with the community. After all, Jesus in his teachings touched the Law only slightly, providing additions instead of substitution (Sanders 72). The main of his teachings is that of the kingdom coming, its inclusiveness is one of the factors separating him from the Jewish community at large, or, in this case, the inclusion of “sinners” in that kingdom. The fact that Jesus associated with them only acerbated the situation. Sanders notes that in this context “sinners” mean those who were beyond salvation by God and their inclusion was in direct violation of existing doctrine (63).
Levine also mentions that the fact of Jesus was siding with toll collectors, who were among those “sinners”, over Pharisees angered the Jewish community greatly, as it was seen as the collision with Romans (38). Acts and associations like these served to estrange him from the people, although Jesus and his disciples continued to attract more followers to his teachings, beginning the process that will lead to the separation of Christians from Judaism. Still, despite that, they continued to adhere to the Jewish traditions, and only after spreading to Greece and Rome, they have started to deviate from them. It shows us that, even estranged, they continued to be a part of the Jewish community and still considered themselves as Jewish.
It should also be noted that this estrangement mostly applied to the higher classes, such as the priesthood. While it is hard to pin down the social basis of the followers of Jesus, almost certainly, most of them come from the rural areas of Galilee, as there is no mention of Jesus visiting any major city there. As such, it is safe to assume that the majority of his followers came from the lower social classes. His popularity among the masses is further supported by his secret arrest, proving that he became a public figure in the week that he spends in Jerusalem. Jesus by overthrowing the tables of the money changers in the Temple seemingly only furthered his reputation. That shows that even the conflict with the high priesthood of the Temple did not lead to the separation from the community at large.
In the end, careful analysis of both the Scriptures and Gospels shows that Jesus was not in opposition to the established traditions and practices. As such, his teachings do not contradict the Jewish Law but serve as more of a commentary and supplement to them. In that sense, he was a product of his upbringing and was a part of the Jewish community. However, some factors estranged Jesus from it, such as his opposition to the high priesthood of the Temple, association with toll collectors (e.g., foreign powers), and eschatological teachings about the kingdom. Still, even though his relations with the Jewish community were rocky and he was slightly apart from it, Jesus was shaped by its traditions and practices, and only his death led his followers to separate themselves from Judaism.
Levine, Amy-Jill. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. Harper Collins, 2006.
Sanders, Ed P. “The Life of Jesus.” Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: a Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Development, edited by Hershel Shanks, Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992, pp. 41-83.