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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 23, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 8Oakland, CA

U.S. rabbi has prominent
place in pope’s new book

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After the Gospel writers and the apostle Paul, the author most quoted in Pope Benedict XVI’s new book is Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a U.S. professor of religion and theology.

In his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” released April 16 in Italian, German and Polish, Pope Benedict joined the literary dialogue that Rabbi Neusner invented for himself in his 1993 book, “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus.”

The pope said that Rabbi Neusner’s “profound respect for the Christian faith and his faithfulness to Judaism led him to seek a dialogue with Jesus.”

Imagining himself amid the crowd gathered on a Galilean hillside when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, Rabbi Neusner “listens, confronts and speaks with Jesus himself,” the pope wrote.

“In the end, he decides not to follow Jesus,” the pope wrote. “He remains faithful to that which he calls the ‘eternal Israel.’”

Pope Benedict said Rabbi Neusner makes painfully clear the differences between Christianity and Judaism, but “in a climate of great love: The rabbi accepts the otherness of the message of Jesus and takes his leave with a detachment that knows no hatred.”

The pope praised Rabbi Neusner for taking the Gospel of Jesus seriously and, in fact, more seriously than many modern Christian scholars do.

Jesus is the Son of God, the unique savior, and not simply a social reformer, a liberal rabbi or the teacher of a new morality, the pope said.

Pope Benedict wrote that in trying to understand who Jesus was and his relationship with his Jewish faith and with the Torah, the law given to Moses, Rabbi Neusner’s book “was of great help.”

Rabbi Neusner, a prolific author and professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., said he did not want to talk about the pope’s book until he had seen it. The English edition is scheduled for a May release.

In the introduction to the revised and expanded 2000 edition of his book, Rabbi Neusner wrote, “If I had been in the land of Israel in the first century, I would not have joined the circle of Jesus’ disciples. ... If I heard what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, for good and substantive reasons I would not have followed him.



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