Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rabbi Jesus

A bit of controversy about R' Shlomo Riskin making a video with some evangelical Christians where he sounds conciliatory... A bunch of bloggers seem up in arms over the fact that R' Riskin calls Jesus a "rabbi".

The rabbi's video was brought to my attention on Twitter by good old Rafi: "Rabbi Jesus? Has Rabbi Riskin lost his mind?" he asked.

"Yes," I had to reply. At that time, and in that place, a Rabbi was something specific, something Jesus assuredly was not. Being a Rabbi in those days was something like being a Jedi Master. You had to be formally ordained by the Council of Sages, and the title gave you the authority to judge certain types of cases. The idea that Jesus had earned this certification and become a Rabbi in that original sense is suggested by the New Testament. In three books, he is called by that title, but the New Testament is fallible history, written decades after the events it describes, by men who had no first hand knowledge of those events, and a clear interest in embellishing the details, and aggrandizing their subject. To the best of my knowledge, there's no other evidence that Jesus was a qualified Rabbi.

Frankly, of all the things to get upset about, this seems like the oddest... But also, seems wrong.

The title Rabbi as an official recipient of Smicha did not come about until after the destruction of the Second Temple. This is agreed upon by pretty much all Biblical scholars, so clearly Jesus did not need Smicha to be called a Rabbi because even the people who had Smicha were not called "rabbi" (witness Hillel and Shammai for example). The question comes about whether "rabbi" was sort of a generic term at the time of Jesus which meant "teacher". This seems very likely.

Mississippi Fred, perhaps you can post on this topic and set us all straight..


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