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An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Part 1: How Muslims and Jews view Jesus.

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The Qur'an of Prophet Muhammad, as the last of the world's major Sacred Scriptures, includes within itself statements about Prophet Jesus that differ from the Christian New Testament.

Since the Torah of Prophet Moses and the Psalms of Prophet David preceded the New Testament by many centuries, they contain no statements at all about Jesus, although many Jewish prophets in the Hebrew Bible do have prophecies about a future Messianic redeemer.

Jews do not believe the New Testament claims that Jesus was a Messiah, not because he couldn't have been; but because he did not in fact usher in the Messianic Age of world wide peace and justice. We wish he had succeeded.

Christians do admit that the world is still not in the Messianic Age, but they believe that someday Jesus will return again to accomplish that holy feat.

Jews say when they see it they will believe it. However, even then Jews will not believe that Jesus is or ever was a Divine son of God.

Judaism and Islam both teach that there is only One God, and therefore God's basic Message for Humanity, conveyed by God's Messengers, is and has always been basically the same, although many of the details of perspective and practice are different for each Monotheistic religion.

Thus, what Prophet Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad delivered to their followers was essentially the same Message in terms of the nature of God's Oneness and opposition to worshipping idols.

It doesn’t make sense that God sends Messengers like Abraham. Moses, and David to tell people to believe in only one God, and then suddenly sends to Jesus a radically different message (the Trinity) which contradicts the monotheistic teachings God's previous Messengers.

Those early sects of Christianity, that believed Jesus was a human Prophet and nothing more, were following the original teachings of Jesus, because their concept of Monotheism was the same as that taught by all the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, called by Christians-the Old Testament.

Indeed, Jesus clearly thought of himself not as the “Son of God”, but as the “Son of Man.” In the four Gospels, “the Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite self-designation.

The term "the Son of Man" appears 81 times in the Greek text of the four Gospels: thirty times in Matthew, twenty five times in Luke, 14 times in Mark (the shortest of the Gospels), and 12 times in John (the latest and least historical of the Gospels). 1

Yet in Paul's epistles, it is never used for Jesus. 1 In fact, the term “Son of Man” appears in the whole New Testament only 4 times (5%) outside of the Gospels.

Indeed, in early extra-biblical Christian writings during the generations following Paul's letters; the term “Son of Man” that Jesus preferred for himself, is never used at all.

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I am a Reform Rabbi who has studied Christianity and Islam for over 50 years. I am in full agreement with the Qur'an's teachings about God. But when I read the four Gospels and Paul's letters, I find many things that I cannot believe because they conflict with the Torah of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets of Israel.

Yet even within the Gospels there are examples that show that Jesus actually preached the same moral and religious message of Monotheism that the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible preached.

A passage in the Gospel of Mark which really emphasizes the core message of Prophet Jesus occurs when a man came to Jesus and asked:

"Which is the first (most basic) commandment of all?"

Jesus answered:

"The first (most basic) of all the commandments is Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Mark 12:28).

So the greatest commandment, the most important belief according to Jesus is that God is one. If Jesus was the Divine “Son of God” he would have said something like:

"I am part of the triune God, worship me."

But he didn’t. He merely repeated a verse from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4) which Jews repeat every day during their prayers, confirming that God is One.

In another Gospel (Luke) a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying,

“Rabbi, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said to him,

“What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?”

He answered:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. (Deuteronomy 6:5) And your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)

Note, Jesus did not say that you need to believe in the 'Son of God', in order to inherit eternal life (heaven or the world to come). Jesus just affirmed two verses in the Torah that say people need to love God intensely; and love their neighbors as much as they love themselves.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus does not even mention that the requirement to love God be directed to the one and only God. But he was speaking to Jews, and Jesus knew they were committed to monotheism.

The Gospel of Matthew also reports the same question about the most important basic commandment in the Torah:

“Rabbi, which commandment in the Torah is the greatest?”

Jesus said to him,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18) On these two commandments hang the whole Torah and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Again note that Jesus says nothing about loving a Divine “Son of God” or anyone else attached to his father in heaven, because the Jews who Jesus spoke to about his 'father in heaven' understood that this term was a metaphor, not to be taken literally, the way the pagans meant it.

When, after his death, the words of Jesus were spread out to the world of the Greeks and Romans, most of them did take these words literally, and started believing that Jesus himself was a Divine human being like the Greek (Hercules) and Roman (Aesculapius); human heroes who became Gods.

Note also that the Gospel of John chooses to completely avoid reporting this teaching of Jesus about the most basic and important commandments in the Torah of Moses.

This is why the use of the term “Son of Man” that Jesus himself preferred, disappeared from Christian usage in the generations after Jesus was gone.

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More than ninety verses in the Qur'an, in fifteen different chapters, discuss Jesus. In Arabic, Jesus is known as Eesa. In sixteen of the 25 places in the Qur'an where Eesa is used, he is called Eesa “the son of Mary” (Eesa Ibn Maryam).

Since the people in his village, who knew the family best, did not agree on who was known to be his father, Jesus was called by his mother's name. The Gospel of Mark relates that the people who knew the family of Jesus in Nazareth, called Jesus the ‘son of Mary', “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary..." (Mark 6:3)

But a different view can be seen in the same event related in the Gospel of Matthew which states:

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judah?" (Mark 13:55-56)

Christians maintain that Joseph, the husband of Mary, was a foster or adoptive father; and not the real father of Jesus. The only thing everyone agrees about is that Mary was his mother.

As we have seen, according to the Gospels themselves, Jesus almost always referred to himself not as the 'Son of God'; but as 'The Son of Man'.

The gospel writers, and some other people in the New Testament, including one possessed by evil spirits (Mark 5:2-7), did call Jesus the 'Son of God'; but Jesus himself strongly preferred the term 'Son of Man', although he often did refer metaphorically to God as his father.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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Notes and references used:

  1. Most Christian theologians believe that St. Paul was executed during the late 60's CE, while the last Gospel in the biblical canon, John, was written perhaps two to three decades later. 2 For those who do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, this raises the possiblity that traditions and beliefs in the Christian community changed between the the time of the writings of Paul and the writing of the Gospels.
  2. Gerd Theissen, and Annette Merz, "The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide." Fortress Press. (1998) P. 36.

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Originally posted: 2015-JAN-13
Last updated 2015-JAN-13
Rabbi Allen S. Maller
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