Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus
The minor premise is undisputed: Jesus was Jewish. The major premise is: the "Hebraic mindset" (-language, thought, culture, idioms) is far removed from the Greek. To understand Jesus, therefore, one must appreciate the Hebraic/Jewish background of the Greek gospels. (A growing minority of Scripture scholars consider that our present Greek gospels are translations of Hebrew or Aramaic originals and that they are best understood when read that way.
Though serious scholarship underlies the work, it aims to teach the general public what it means to think of Jesus as an observant Jew versed in and devoted to the Torah. Running just over 130 pages, it leaves the reader hungry for more examples and more detailed analysis. Yet it may come as a watershed to readers who--like me--have thought too little about how the Jewish background of Jesus influenced the way he thought and taught.
Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, no one disputes that Hebrew was still used during the time of Jesus. The book provides a good primer on this point and its importance.
The next main section concerns the implications of misunderstanding Jesus. Such misunderstandings fall into two categories. First, there are the times we think we understand Jesus perfectly but do not. For example, Bivin and Blizzard argue that by "kingdom of heaven" Jesus was not referring to a futuristic place but rather to a present reality. (The reign of God means God reigns in one's life.) Further, Jesus was not a pacifist, despite "turn the other cheek", and he did not advocate indiscriminate charity, despite "give to him who asks of you."
Then there are the things Jesus says that we know we don't understand. Such as "blessed are the poor in spirit." Shouldn't one be rich in spirit? Yes, and Jesus was cautioning against self-righteousness.
My favorite example concerns a puzzling verse from Luke's account of the Passion. Jesus tells the women of Jerusalem, "For if they do these things IN a green tree, what shall be done IN the dry?" Odd as this idiom may sound, I grew up with the sense that it meant, "Listen, ladies, don't weep for me but for yourselves. If this is how they treat me, how do you think they'll treat you?" Something like that is part of what Jesus is saying here, but there's more. The use of "green tree" (rooted in Ezekiel 20:47) is a MESSIANIC claim. Many scholars nowadays argue that Jesus never thought of himself as the Messiah--if he were, they reason, why didn't he just say so? Biven and Blizard argue persuasively that, in a Jewish way, he did exactly that, time and time and time again.
This book is by no means 'the last word on the subject.' But it is an enticing intro to a subject of great consequence for all Christians who seek to understand Jesus.