This work takes up two related questions with regard to Jesus: his intention and his relationship to his contemporaries in Judaism. These questions immediately lead to two others: the reason for his death (did his intention involve an opposition to Judaism which led to death?) and the motivating force behind the rise of Christianity (did the split between the Christian movement and Judaism originate in opposition during Jesus’ lifetime?). Sanders’ earlier book Paul and Palestinian Judaism argued that Paul’s polemical writings were against the ecclesiology, not the soteriology, of Second Temple Judaism. This work follows in the same vein and argues that, while Jesus inaugurated an eschatological Jewish movement, he was not fundamentally at odds with first-century pharisaical Judaism.
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“I have proposed that the best explanation of Jesus’ demonstrative action in the temple and his saying against the temple (whether a prediction or a threat) is to be found in his eschatological expectation. The kingdom was at hand, and one of the things which that meant was that the old temple would be replaced by a new.” (Page 77)
“Such comments as these are doubtless intended to distinguish the temple ordained by God—which Jesus did not attack—from the Jewish ‘abuse’ of the divine institution—which Jesus did attack. The way in which the distinction is made, however, implies that it is just the trade itself—the changing of money, the purchase of sacrifices, and probably also the charge for their inspection—which is the focus of the action. The assumption seems to be that Jesus made, and wanted his contemporaries to accept, a distinction between this sort of ‘practice’ and the ‘real purpose’ of the temple.” (Page 63)
“The most important point to recognize here is that the requirement to present an unblemished dove as a sacrifice for certain impurities or transgressions was a requirement given by God to Israel through Moses.31 The business arrangements around the temple were necessary if the commandments were to be obeyed. An attack on what is necessary is not an attack on ‘present practice’.” (Page 65)
“Thus we conclude that Jesus publicly predicted or threatened the destruction of the temple, that the statement was shaped by his expectation of the arrival of the eschaton, that he probably also expected a new temple to be given by God from heaven, and that he made a demonstration which prophetically symbolized the coming event.” (Page 75)
I would be surprised if Jesus and Judaism does not turn out to be the most significant book of the decade in its field.
—John Koenig, minister, Lutheran Church in America
What Sanders offers is good history—clearly stated hypotheses, expressed presuppositions, critically considered evidence, prudent and plausible conclusions . . . Jesus and Judaism is a milestone study.
—Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture Emeritus, Boston University
The greatest value of Jesus and Judaism is that it embodies a generation’s desire to avoid exaggerations from right or left, to stop portraying Jesus as a predecessor of Martin Heidegger or Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, and to try to understand what he meant to say and accomplish.
—John P. Meier, professor of New Testament, University of Notre Dame
E.P. Sanders is emeritus arts and sciences professor of religion at Duke University. His Jesus and Judaism was winner of the 1990 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion. His volume Paul and Palestinian Judaism received the 1978 National Religious Book Award, Scholarly Book Category, from the Religious Book Review. He is also the author of Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People.