Book review: The Misunderstood Jew

by Amy-Jill Levine


What started out as a light-hearted look at the Jewish Jesus quickly turned somber. This is a serious look at the pain that anti-Semitic interpretations of the Bible have caused and continue to cause. Levine, a Jew, has an excellent grasp of New Testament studies, so this is more than a rant against Christian prejudice. It’s a serious look at the real Jesus, his Jewishness, and Christianity’s emergence within first-century Judaism. A provocative quote from the book: “I find Jesus reflects back to me my own tradition, but in a new key. I also have to admit to a bit of pride in thinking about him–he’s one of ours.”

Over and over, Levine contradicts misunderstandings about Judaism, particularly first-century Judaism, and the stereotypes that have developed as a result of shallow Christian teaching. She does so from both a Jewish and a scholarly perspective. Levine made me think differently about first-century Judaism and how Jesus fit within that context.

Because I’ve never keenly felt the sting of anti-Semitism, or felt myself anti-Semitic in any way, much of the book was an eye opener. I felt myself often teetering on the edge between thinking Levine oversensitive and thinking her insightful. Example: Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave and free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” In this verse, Levine admits, “I hear a desire that my people, the Jews, cease to exist.”

While a scholar myself of first-century Christianity, I confess it’s sometimes hard for me to relate to current day Jewish-Christian tensions. On the other hand, your shrink will tell you that feelings are the ultimate truth; Christians must validate the feelings that their teachings evoke among Jews, and seek to correct the source. Levine’s final chapter provides several helpful suggestions to facilitate interfaith understanding.



  1. Book review: The Meaning of the Bible | The Dubious Disciple - [...] Israel by Knight a year ago. I reviewed Levine’s book, The Misunderstood Jew, last year: see These are two …

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