David Klinghoffer's Why the Jews Rejected Jesus is a pretty interesting book. This is a somewhat long review, which I'll break up into little pieces.
+ The Jewish Soul and Jesus -- Klinghoffer makes a good point that it's rather hard to say that "the Jews" rejected Jesus because only a very small portion of them got a chance to hear His teachings in the first place, and even the group that heard Him wasn't always presented with some sort of decision to accept or reject Him. So while it's clear that a small group of Jews did reject His claims, it's not as if we can attribute this to the entire Jewish nation at the time.
However ... having said that, Klinghoffer later argues that there is something in the Jewish soul that urges them to reject Jesus (he entertains "the possibility that the Jews reject Jesus in every age from some other cause or purpose of which they may not consciously be aware") ... and that something is the Sinai covenant that makes them Jews in the first place. That is, to become a Christian is to reject the obligation to Torah, which is at the heart of the Jewish soul (according to Klinghoffer). The Jewish soul, Klinghoffer seems to say, was formed at Mt. Sinai along with the kosher laws and all the special requirements Jews have to live by, and asking them to give that up is asking them to deny who they are.
This is a rather dubious proposition in light of biblical history, in which the Jews repeatedly reject the law. It seems far more probable that this equation -- Jew = observer of the Sinai covenant -- was formed in the Babylonian captivity and the return to the land under Ezra. But that gets way beyond the scope of this book.
Klinghoffer goes through a lot of arguments along the traditional Christian-Jewish lines that we expect -- reviewing prophecy and all that, which I'll comment on below -- and he comes to the conclusion that the arguments are secondary. That there's something else about the Jewish soul that is more operative. I believe he's right about that.
Getting on to the details ...
+ If it's not in the Talmud, it didn't happen -- Klinghoffer seems to measure stories in the Gospel, or issues related to life and activities of Jesus, against the relative weight those issues take in the Talmud or in Josephus. For example, Josephus mentions that Herod was concerned about the influence of the crowds gathered by John the Baptist, but doesn't mention such a concern with reference to Jesus. Klinghoffer takes this as evidence that John drew larger crowds, but this is a rather weak straw to hand a theory on. If a future historian looked back on our time and followed this sort of logic he would assume that NOW is way bigger than Concerned Women for America and that nobody ever goes to church because that's the way things are reported.
+ Prophecy -- Klinghoffer's analysis of the Christian use of OT prophecy seems to expect a standard of literalness that neither the OT nor the Talmud could meet. I've read some passages in the Talmud that interpret the OT very freely -- far more freely than Matthew's use of "out of Egypt have I called my son," yet presumably Klinghoffer accepts the one and rejects the other. He admits this double standard and explains it as follows: first-century Jews believed that the oral traditions of the rabbis were part of the revelation given to Moses, not just some imaginative interpretation, and "the centrality of the Christian doctrines at stake here is such that, to be plausible, they really need a firmer support in Hebrew scriptures."
The first point raises some interesting issues for the Christian debate about the role of tradition, and I don't know enough about the oral traditions of the Jews to know if that second point is an adequate answer -- IOW, whether all the "central doctrines" of first century Judaism had the "firmer support in the Hebrew scriptures" that Klinghoffer wants.
+ Prophecy = predict -- Klinghoffer's approach to prophecy often follows that overly literal "predictive" way that is so common. For example, re: "Out of Egypt have I called my son," of course Hosea was writing about the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt, but the point of prophecy is that history rhymes -- the pattern is repeated in a different way. This is similar to the problem many modern interpreters have with the apocalyptic language in the NT. It refers to both the destruction of Jerusalem and to the end of the world. The one is a type of the other. Prophecy isn't about predicting the winner of the world series, it's about finding the patterns in God's dealings with men and interpreting them in light of different stages of redemptive history.
Generally speaking, I don't get a great sense of Klinghoffer's fairness in dealing with the standard apologetic fare. He seems argumentative and opinionated and not particularly concerned with presenting the nuances of the issues. Or perhaps he simply doesn't understand them.
+ Messianic expectation -- Klinghoffer at first seems to refuse to entertain even the possibility that the Jews in Jesus' day were expecting the wrong thing. His argument boils down to this -- if Jesus disagreed with Jewish thinking, he was wrong. (In Klinghoffer's defense, we could say that he is trying to explain why the Jews rejected Jesus and not necessarily to give a final verdict on the issues. From that perspective, all he has to show is that Jesus disagreed with them.)
I say that he seems this way "at first" because when he gets to comparing Jesus and Paul, he modifies this a bit. See below.
+ Jesus' Trial -- His "the Talmud is right at all costs" emphasis seems almost absurd when we get to the question of Jesus' "blasphemy" at His trial. The simplest explanation of this blasphemy is that Jesus claimed to be divine, but -- again based on his interpretation of the Talmud and his understanding of what Jews in the day meant by key terms -- Klinghoffer rejects this, and in order to reject it he goes on a rather wild chase through "a fairly vicious" (his words) Medieval tract with a crazy story about Jesus sneaking into the temple to learn how to do magic by misusing God's name. Klinghoffer doesn't affirm the historical details of the story, but uses it as evidence that Jesus' "blasphemy" had to do with the misuse of God's name to do magic -- which has absolutely nothing to do with anything Jesus said at his trial. IOW, he'd rather follow a theory based on a crazy Medieval story from a "vicious" manuscript than admit that when Jesus said he was "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed," that the chief priest rightly understood him to be making a claim to divinity.
+ Jesus v. Paul -- Klinghoffer offers a very interesting perspective on the relative offense (to Jewish sensibilities) of Jesus vs. Paul. He admits that there were conflicting ideas among the rabbis about the Messiah, so it's not as if there was some clear-cut, canonical job description that Jesus didn't match. Along those lines, he notes that many first- and second-century Jews believed in Jesus but continued to be Jewish. The idea of a dying a resurrecting Messiah, he says, is a possible interpretation of the Scriptural and Talmudic information, so it makes sense that some Jews believed.
The real offense was Paul.
First, Paul seems to set off Klinghoffer's B.S. detector, and I have to admit that I have sympathy with him on this point. I've worked with some serious B.S.ers, and it was quite disturbing to notice that Paul sometimes reminded me of them. I think Klinghoffer is a little too ready to believe the accusations of skeptical historians on some points, but I see where he's coming from.
Second, Paul's attitude towards the law is obviously an offense to those who hang their cultural and religious identity on the law. More on this later.
+ Starting with conclusions -- Klinghoffer is right that Paul starts with the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah and works his theology from there. This is because of his experience on the Damascus road. From Paul's pre-conversion understanding of the law, Jesus was everything the law said he shouldn't be. He could be somewhat loose with those distinctive commandments that set the Jews apart from the nations, and he died under the law's curse -- crucified. ("Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.") Pre-conversion Paul saw Jesus as the antithesis of his Jewishness, which (as Klinghoffer mentions) is tied directly to the Sinai covenant.
So what is Paul supposed to do when he meets the risen Christ on the Damascus road? If Christ is risen, then He must be the Messiah, and if He is the Messiah, then the Sinai covenant has to go out the window.
+ Was Paul a Judaizer? -- Before his conversion, Paul was jealous for the law. That meant that he believed that to be Jewish was to keep the law in a way that kept Israel separate from the nations. After his conversion, Paul seems to have been followed around by people who believed that righteousness came from observing those practices. This has been a big problem for people who study first-century Judaism because that is not what the rabbis taught. At least most of them. There is some evidence that a small group of Jews saw Phineas as their model, who was declared righteous by his zeal for Jewish distinctiveness. ISTM that Paul was arguing against those Jews, and that's why people are sometimes confused when they try to compare his analysis of Judaism with what they know of first-century Judaism from other sources.
So why were these Judaizers so obsessed with Paul, and why was he so obsessed with them?
+ Don't invite Klinghoffer to teach Sunday School -- In a few cases he is ignorant of Christianity, e.g., in his understanding the Trinity. He says "If both Father and Son are God, then presumably they share the same will." (p. 175) Nope.
+ God created the Jews to observe the Torah -- That is the fundamental premise of Klinghoffer's work. All the other issues -- e.g., messianic expectation -- are secondary. Klinghoffer presents the Jews as a people with a special destiny, who are defined by a set of laws that distinguish them from the rest of the world, which fundamentally contradicts the message of a universal religion. If Christianity requires Jews to reject the requirements of the law, then Jews will necessarily reject Christianity. "No authentic Messiah would inspire a religion that ended up calling upon the Jews to reject the manifest meaning of Sinai. It is really that simple." (p. 215)
+ Nations with a purpose -- Klinghoffer's view is that Jews and Christians have a purpose in history, and that this purpose was served, not impeded, by the Jewish rejection of Jesus. If we can evaluate his work apart from the snide analysis of Jewish-Christian polemic and apologetic, that is the real issue, and that is what makes Klinghoffer's work interesting.
This view of the respective roles of Jews and Christians in redemptive history is something worth pondering, and after reading Klinghoffer's work it's far easier to get an appreciation for those Christian theologians who want to take a more nuanced view of the part that Jews and the Sinai covenant play in the Grand Scheme of Things. In fact, while his snide and negative view of Christianity makes it hard to recommend his book in general, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus may be a good study for those who struggle to understand the Vatican's recent attempts to clarify (or soften, depending on how you read it) its understanding of the covenant