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.
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