Baker Academic

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jesus and Me: One Jew’s Encounter with the Christian “Other” (Part I) – guest post by Larry Behrendt

One of the best things about starting a blog is all of the wealth that it generates.  To be able to walk into Donut Hut and shout out Garsone, bring me your finest bear claw! is more than this boy from the apple orchards ever dreamed!  The second best thing is making friends that I would have never met otherwise. In the last few months I’ve benefited greatly from the wit and wisdom of Larry Behrendt. (Larry writes a really great blog at  Which is why I’m ashamed to say that it never occurred to me to ask him to guest post for the Jesus Blog. The idea was Chris'.  Every now and again, Chris has a really good idea (normally involving lunch).  Anyway, Larry graciously agreed.  His post will be twofold, published today and tomorrow.  I trust you will enjoy his writing as much as I have.  Take it away Larry!


Chris and Anthony asked me if I’d like to write a guest post about how I got interested in blogging about Christianity and interfaith topics. It’s interesting, because you might think I’d be frequently asked about this, and I’m not. Perhaps this is my wife’s fault. My wife likes to introduce me to total strangers as a nice Jewish boy from New York who writes about Jesus – and when she gets to that last word, she channels her inner Billy Graham, and pronounces the name “Geeeee-zuz”, which causes some people (and most Jews) to unconsciously take a step backwards. 
I had another public encounter recently, where some poor man overheard my typical dinner conversation with my wife, assumed I must be a Christian author, and followed us out of the restaurant to ask if I was Christian. When I told him I am Jewish, he replied “yes, but are you Christian?” I told the man that I am a Jewish Jew. The strange thing about this encounter is that we were both satisfied with my answers. There are people who identify themselves as Jewish Christians – Jewish being the adjective and Christian being the noun, and these are the Jews you might expect to find discussing Jesus in a restaurant. So long as religious identity is in two parts, adjective-noun, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask me twice if I’m Christian. It’s also logical for me to identify as Jewish both times.  
But from most perspectives, it’s odd to speak of a “Jewish Jew.” We don’t normally talk this way. We don’t normally speak of wooden wood, or wet water (or Christian Christians, or Martin Marty). But my speaking of Jesus in a restaurant created a doubt about me. It was something like if we saw a man trip over an imperceptible crack in the sidewalk, and as we helped the man up, the man told us that he makes his living as a tightrope walker. Our natural tendency is to ask the fallen tightrope walker if he’s sure he walks tightropes. If I’m spotted in a restaurant talking about Jesus, I’m like the fallen tightrope walker. “Am I really sure I’m Jewish?” “Sure, I’m sure,” I say. “I’m a Jewish Jew.”  
This is a funny thing.  A Jew can drive on Saturday in a German car, with Tibetan prayer beads hanging from the rear view mirror and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” blaring on the car radio, to pick up bacon cheeseburgers on his way to his yoga class, without placing his Jewishness in any doubt. But if I speak of Jesus in a restaurant, I have to be a “Jewish Jew” in order to be any kind of Jew at all. 
I get it. There aren’t a lot of Jewish Jews who think that Christianity and its emergence from Judaism are about the most interesting thing a person could study and write about. Most Jews know little about Christianity, and like most Jews, I grew up knowing next to nothing about Christianity. In tomorrow’s post, I will explain what caused me to initially take the New Testament off the shelf.

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