Jesus Didn't Have Blue Eyes, Reclaiming our Jewish Messiahreviewed by Alan Butterworth, Missionary The Apple of His Eye Mission Society
Derek Leman: Jesus Didn't Have Blue Eyes, Reclaiming our Jewish Messiah, Mount Olive Press (mtolivepresse.com), 2004
Derek Leman has taken on a huge task: to begin to make the case for a Jewish Jesus. I can hear many within the Church groan at this thought!
Although Derek is not Jewish, his honesty is refreshing as he looks at Jesus in a way that is helpful to Jewish people and Gentiles. For example, Derek writes about his early encounter with the Bible: "if the Hebrew Bible (the Jewish book) was about the Jewish people, the New Testament (the Christian book) must be about the Christian people."
His second chapter focuses on the images of Jesus, so often Gentile-like, in art through the ages. Why did so many artists ignore his Jewish heritage? Derek explains, "The earliest leaders of the church, the apostles, were all Jewish. The next generation of leaders… were all Gentile. And for these Gentile leaders, trying to promote a message to the pagan world of Rome, the Jewishness of Jesus was an embarrassment."
People wanted to see Jesus like themselves, or like Greek gods. As Derek explains, they wanted Jesus to be: "anything but Jewish!"
And yet the truth is: "The king of heaven was born a Jewish peasant." Derek shows us passage after passage from the New Testament, a Jewish book, to prove that Jesus was not at all embarrassed by His Jewishness.
Then Derek challenges us: "What if Scripture began with Matthew? A man came and claimed to be the Messiah, only we don't know what a Messiah is. He then dies a torturous death in the fashion of the Romans at the time and taught that his death would set us free." Derek concludes: "the cross of Jesus, the very heart of His mission, makes no sense at all apart from its Jewish context."
Derek forces his Gentile readers to wrestle with many other tough questions. Why did God's promises come to me, a Gentile, through a history of Jewish people? Is Israel just representative of the Church? Was Jesus an outsider who came to put an end to the Judaism of the Hebrew Scriptures? Or was He an insider, the Jewish Messiah? These are critical questions to those of us who desire to be taught through God's Word, rather than to interpret God's Word in a manner that makes 'sense' to us. They are also important questions for those of us who seek to share the Gospel with all people, including Jewish people.
Derek helps us understand the background of some of Jesus' teachings. In response to the Essenes, Jesus taught believers should not be separate from the world. In response to the Sadducees, Jesus taught that faith was much more than following worship traditions. And in response to the Pharisees, Jesus taught that true faith did not include trying to keep man-made rules.
Derek contrasts the healings of Jesus with those of other Hasidim, or Holy Men. While others used spells and various roots to cast out Demons, Jesus simply healed. While others prayed to God for healings, and some were healed, Jesus acted on his own authority, and all were healed.
You will find a number of little nuggets throughout this book. One such nugget is a discussion of The Resurrection of Jesus by Pinchas Lapide. Lapide, an orthodox Rabbi, believes that Jesus rose from the dead, even though he does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Lapide explains that Judaism alone taught there would be a bodily resurrection, especially after an atoning sacrifice. Derek expands on this discussion to answer those who would say that resurrection was not exclusively a Jewish concept. Derek also expands on Lapide's discussion about the many reasons why the New Testament accounts of the resurrection are believable.
This compact book is bulging with fascinating insights, most of which have footnotes for those who would like to do more research. Each chapter is followed by challenging discussion questions. And, at the end of the book, there is a very helpful Annotated Bibliography.
It won't take long to read this book. But I am sure that you will learn something and you will be challenged by this book.