Robert Gallaty. The Forgotten Jesus. Grand Rapids MI; Zondervan, 2017. E-book.
The Forgotten Jesus is subtitled How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi. This is not some Dan Brown type “secret life of Jesus” book, but rather an attempt to look at some of the Gospel narratives from a Jewish perspective. This can be valuable to many people interested in understanding the New Testament better.
Gallaty starts out noting some of the differences in Jewish thought as opposed to Western (i.e., rooted in Greek and Roman) philosophy. He does mention, for example, the classic book by Thorleif Boman Hebrew Thought Compared to Greek, but Gallaty tends to be more concrete. Here is something Jesus said or did: How would a first-century Jew understand this? There is little of Boman’s comparison, but Gallaty has a different purpose.
He notes that to the Jew, “all attempts to systematize God fall short.” (27) This is reassuring to this reviewer. Most if not all divisions among Christians come from someone’s attempt to systematize something. If another believer either does not understand or does not experience the system in the same way, that person is separated, whether he or she is dismissed or leaves. To me both sides miss out.
So Gallaty says, “God revealed himself to the Israelites in history, and not in ideas…His being was not learned through propositions but known in actions.” (29) When I came to the Lord, I recall the Holy Spirit telling me two things “preach my presence in history” and “love” (the verb). Thanks to the many remarkable Bible prophecies that had been fulfilled, when I saw that the God of the Bible was the God of history, I was on my way to becoming a Christian.
Gallaty says that in the West:
“We have bought into the fallacy that we grow by the introduction of new information alone. We focus on new teachings and more information, rather than a single teaching to saturate our minds by meditating on it and applying it to our lives. (34)
I am reminded of the Athenians in Acts 17 who listened to Paul because they “spent their time in nothing else but to tell or hear of some new thing.” (Acts 17:15) We are more like those ancient Greeks than we think.
Rabbis, on the other hand, valued going over old teachings and meditating on something till it becomes part of who we are. Some Christians in the West are becoming more aware of this. Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain tells us that for a new thought to really take hold so that we change, we have to think about it for at least twenty-one days.
There are many insights in this book. Gallaty’s observations concerning Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac are especially profound and meaningful.
Some have wondered why God would ask a man like Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Remember that when God asked this of Abraham, God did not expect anything he wasn’t going to do himself. (52)
He also notes that Isaac was a grown man when this happened. He also carried the firewood for his own sacrifice as Jesus carried his own cross.
Gallaty’s observations about the Last Supper also is eye-opening. Gallaty compares this to a Jewish supper between two fathers who have come to an agreement on terms for marrying one’s son to the other’s daughter. Gallaty says that there are enough specifics in the meal to indicate that the disciples would have understood that Jesus “had just negotiated the price for them to belong to him. The price was his body; the covenant was sealed with his blood.” (114)
Gallaty notes that the term “Son of Man” is not just a “code word” for Messiah as in Daniel 7, but “it is an implied reference to Cain and Abel.” The Bible says that “Abel’s blood is crying out for vindication.” (115) So I have learned elsewhere that some rabbis thought the Messiah would actually be Abel because he was killed by his brother and his blood was still looking for justice. Even those who did not take it that literally understood that Messiah would have to become a man because only one who had been a man would be able to understand what it was like to be human and to judge people fairly.
Even the term “pass by” in the New Testament may mean more than simply strolling beyond someone. In the Old Testament God “passes by” Moses and later Elijah on the mountain to reveal something of his nature to each of them.
There is a lot more in this little book. It is clear that the author is in awe of God. I am sure that it is his prayer that readers will be also after reading this book—not, of course, so we can impress others with our new knowledge, but so that the living God can become more real in our lives.