“Jesus and Purity Halakhah” by Thomas Kazen

Thomas Kazen’s Jesus and Purity Halakhah explores the historical Jesus and how he related to the purity halakhah of his day. He thoroughly considers multiple approaches to the issues and utilizes a wide variety of primary sources. Divided into four parts, Jesus and Purity Halakhah begins with a demonstration of the necessity of his study and explanation of his historical approach. His brief, but detailed, summary of the history of the quest for the historical Jesus, especially as it relates to purity, provides a solid framework by which his arguments are shaped. By the end of part I, it is evident that his goal is to present a “conscious reconstruction of how Jesus related to concepts of impurity” (41), not necessarily how Markan or Lukan tradition understood Jesus.

Part II identifies Jesus’ adversaries, a basic introduction to that conflict, and the legal texts which assist in the study. After demonstrating his framework through a Sabbath case study, he repeats his approach through a case study of Mark 7 and Jesus’ hand-washing. Such case studies permit him to present the basic nature of the Second Temple Period: purity was a serious issue and debate within the period. Following, he identifies the major elements of defilement through contact: skin disease, bodily discharges, and the corpse. His discussion of each of these elements strengthen his argument with their thorough nature. Based on these categories, Kazen concludes that Jesus was indifferent to impurity halakhah of his day.

He then proceeds to explore, in Part III, three explanatory models for why Jesus was so indifferent to purity: morality, diversity, and demonic threat. For each model he clearly demonstrates how each contributes to a more holistic picture of Jesus’ character. Finally, in Part IV, he concludes and synthesizes his results into a succinct explanation of Jesus’ seemingly indifferent attitude to purity halakah, even briefly discussing practical applications for the Church.

Above all else, Kazen’s use of multiple sources was admirable. While he does utilize any and every possible source, he clearly explains how each fits into his explanatory model or discussion. In doing so, he is clear as to how certain texts, such as the Qumran scrolls, may or may not be significant. Such a clear approach permits the reader to more easily approach the text and yield new observations about the 2nd Temple Period and Jesus’ purity halakhah. Additionally, his writing style is quite story like. Although he is  not necessarily telling a story, his style often feels like a story due to the nature of it. Kazen even notes that the book builds based on previously explicated information. And he expects the reader to grasp a point explained from 100 pages earlier. Though it may, for some, be difficult, I found it to increase the readability as I knew what sort of writing to expect.

In conclusion, Kazen presents a fantastic and convincing argument for a proper view of Jesus’ historical nature and how he regarded purity halakhah. His work avoids strong bias towards theological endeavors and effectively focuses into the historical issues surrounding Jesus. Any desire for discussion, research, or general information regarding Jesus as he relates to purity halakhah of the first century must consider Jesus and Purity Halakhah to be their first secondary source.

Click here to purchase Jesus and Purity Halakhah by Thomas Kazen


From Death to Life

Of the multiple papers presented at the Society of Biblical Literature Conference, one of the most outstanding to me was by a lady, whose name I cannot recall, that drew out the concept of resurrection within Job. Upon referencing Job 19:26, a passage commonly used within the 1st four centuries as a prophetic text for Jesus’ resurrection, she explored how it was the root of the concept of resurrection which developed rapidly within the 2nd Temple Period. One nuance of Job, which I do wish she’d spent more time explicating, was that the concept of moving from death to life within the book takes place within life. Why does this matter?

In essence, reading the concept of resurrection within one’s life permits for a more practical hope to be held. Rather than simply pushing hope to be the resurrection after one has died, the hope for resurrection from death is permitted to take place in this life, not another. Essentially, it allows people to participate more practically in the Job narrative and join Job in his journey to understanding the nuances of life: how does one move from a living death to a living life?

Of course, while these concepts are utilized within the New Testament beyond this life, that does not nullify an understanding of resurrection within this life. Expansion of how we define resurrection, especially for Christians, beyond a postmortem occurrence may very well open up doors to encourage, build, and change the world in even greater ways. It offers hope to people who live now rather than forcing them to take upon themselves the pessimistic weight of Ecclesiastes as their life.

And, most importantly, an expanded understanding of resurrection, from death to life, permits more successful Jewish-Christian dialogue, which may well lead to a unity of the two traditions to move together towards the healing of the world.