In a chapter of The Misunderstood Jew on stereotypes of Jews promoted in Christian seminaries and pulpits, Amy-Jill Levine lists seven stereotypes:
First, is the idea that the Torah is a legalistic yoke too hard to bear. This she says can only be the view from the outside. Just as a non-driver might see all the traffic laws as too hard, so the non-Jew might see what is just a matter of everyday life for a Jew as some kind of burden.
Second, is the idea I mentioned yesterday that Jews believed in a warrior Messiah and had a militaristic view of salvation. Since Jews originated belief in shalom, this is a straw man useful for setting up Jesus as the sole representative of peace. But he was not, as reading the rabbis and prophets makes clear.
Third, Jews were patriarchal and misogynistic (hostile to women), whereas Jesus was a kind of feminist. She blows up the idea that Jesus was the only Jewish male who would talk to women. This idea is politically useful for feminist Christians, but just wrong. Also, she refutes the idea that Jesus’ forbidding of divorce was a boon to women.
Fourth, is the idea that Jews were overly concerned about purity laws and put them before compassion. She shows that the parable of the Good Samaritan has been misused to claim that the priest and the Levite would not help the wounded man because they were afraid he was dead and touching a corpse would make them ritually unclean. This is a misunderstanding of Jewish purity laws and goes along with the reality that many Christians get the idea of purity wrong.
Fifth, is the idea that the Temple was exploitative. The often-preached notion is that the Temple system exploited the poor and that Jesus opposed it for this reason. There is no evidence for this. It is kind of inconvenient for this view that the earliest followers of Jesus worshiped at the Temple and honored it.
Sixth, there is the idea that Jews were xenophobic and despised outsiders. The New Testament itself shows that Jews and Gentiles associated with each other and often cared about each other (see Luke 7:4).
Seventh, there is the popular attempt to counter the anti-Jewish interpretation of Johns Gospel with the concept that the Jews condemned there are Judeans, not ethnic Jews as such. In a well-intentioned effort to avoid the appearance of anti-Judaism, there is a trend to translate “Jews”, all through the New Testament, as “Judeans”.
But Levine wonders if people realize that this implies that perhaps Jesus was not a Jew. He was not a Judean. And, in the minds of some Christians, he rejected Judaism as a belief system.
This distorts the reality that Jesus observed Jewish practices and thought and argued within the Jewish circle of discussion. She affirms that Jesus was a Jew. The sign above the cross ironically calling Jesus king of the Jews did not mean king of the Judeans.
On these seven points much of what Levine argues is the Jesus was not unique, at least in his teaching. He was well within the rabbinic orb. There were many voices for peace within Judaism. There were others who upheld the dignity of women.
The uniqueness of Jesus lies in the resurrection, the miracles, and other doctrines that have been questioned since the Enlightenment. As a Jew, Levine does not accept these doctrines herself, but sees them as essential to Christianity. Much of the misunderstanding of Jesus has come from Christians who no longer believe in his supernatural uniqueness but try to salvage his uniqueness as a teacher and example by setting him up over against Judaism.