Islamic And Jewish Views Of Prophet Jesus – OpEd


The Qur’an of Prophet Muhammad includes within itself statements about Prophet Jesus that differ from the Christian New Testament. 

Since the Torah of Prophet Moses and the Psalms of Prophet David preceded the New Testament by many centuries, they contain no statements at all about Jesus, although many Jewish prophets in the Hebrew Bible do have prophecies about one or more future Messiahs, who are human beings anointed by God to bring about the Messianic Age of worldwide peace and justice. 

Jews do not believe the New Testament claims that Jesus was a Messiah, not because he couldn’t have been; but because he did not in fact usher in the Messianic Age of worldwide peace and justice. We wish he had succeeded. 

Christians do admit that the world is still not in the Messianic Age, but they believe that someday Jesus will return again to accomplish that holy feat. Jews say when they see it they will believe it. However, even then Jews will not believe that Jesus is or ever was a Divine son of God because every Messiah, no matter how great, is never more than just a human being.

Judaism and Islam both teach that there is only One God, and, therefore, that God’s basic Message for Humanity, conveyed by God’s Messengers, is and has always been basically the same, although many of the details of perspective and practice are different for each Monotheistic religion. 

Thus, what Prophets Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad delivered to their followers was essentially the same Message in terms of the nature of God’s Oneness and opposition to worshipping  3d idols or 2d images.   

It doesn’t make sense that God sends Messengers like Abraham. Moses, and David to tell people to believe in only one God, and then suddenly sends to Jesus a radically different message (the Trinity) which contradicts the monotheistic teachings of God’s previous Messengers. 

Those early sects of Christianity that believed Jesus was a human Prophet and nothing more were following the original teachings of Jesus, because their concept of Monotheism was the same as that taught by all the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, called by Christians the Old Testament. 

Indeed, Jesus clearly thought of himself not as the “Son of God”, but as the “Son of Man”. In the four Gospels, “the Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. 

The term “the Son of Man” appears 81 times in the Greek text of the four Gospels: thirty times in Matthew, twenty-five times in Luke, 14 times in Mark (the shortest of the Gospels), and 12 times in John (the latest and least historical of the Gospels). Yet in Paul’s epistles, it is never used for Jesus. 

In fact, the term “Son of Man” appears in the whole New Testament only 4 times (5%) outside of the Gospels. Indeed, in early extra-biblical Christian writings during the generations following Paul’s letters, the term “Son of Man” that Jesus preferred for himself is never used at all.

I am a Reform Rabbi who has studied Christianity and Islam for over 62 years. I am in full agreement with the Qur’an’s teachings about God. But when I read the four Gospels and Paul’s letters, I find many things that I cannot believe because they conflict with the Torah of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets of Israel. 

Yet even within the Gospels there are examples that show that Jesus actually preached the same moral and religious message of Monotheism that the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible preached. 

A passage in the Gospel of Mark which really emphasizes the core message of Prophet Jesus occurs when a man came to Jesus and asked “Which is the first (most basic) commandment of all?” Jesus answered, “The first [most basic] of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'”(Mark 12:28). 

So the greatest commandment, the most important belief, according to Jesus is that God is one. If Jesus was the Divine “Son of God”, he would have said ‘I am part of the triune God, worship me’, but he didn’t. Instead, he merely repeated a verse from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4) which Jews repeat twice every day during their daily prayers, confirming that God is One.

In the Gospel of Luke: “a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, “Rabbi, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. (Deuteronomy 6:5) And your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)

Note, Jesus did not say that you need to believe in the ‘Son of God’ in order to inherit eternal life (heaven or the world to come). Instead, Jesus simply affirmed the two verses in the Torah that say people need to love God intensely and to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. 

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus does not even mention that the requirement to love God be directed to the one and only God. But he was speaking to Jews, and Jesus knew they were fully committed to monotheism. 

The Gospel of Matthew also reports the same question about the most important basic commandment in the Torah: “Rabbi, which commandment in the Torah is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'” (Deuteronomy 6:5) This is the greatest and first commandment. 

And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18) On these two commandments hang the whole Torah and the prophets.'” (Matthew 22:36-4)

Again note that Jesus says nothing about loving a Divine “Son of God” or anyone else attached to his ‘Father in heaven’, because the Jews that Jesus spoke to about his ‘Father in heaven’ understood that this term was a metaphor, not to be taken literally, the way the polytheistic pagans meant it. 

When, after his death, the words of Jesus were spread out to the world of the Greeks and Romans, most of them did, however, take these words literally, and started believing that Jesus himself was a Divine human being like the Greek (Hercules) and Roman (Aesculapius) human heroes who were treated like gods.

Note also that the Gospel of John, written considerably after Jesus’ death, chooses to completely avoid reporting this teaching of Jesus about the most basic and important commandments in the Torah of Moses. This is why the use of the term “Son of Man” that Jesus himself preferred, disappeared from Christian usage in the generations after Jesus was gone. 

More than ninety verses in the Qur’an, in fifteen different chapters, discuss Jesus. In 16 of the 25 places in the Quran where Isa is used, he is called Isa “the son of Mary” (Isa Ibn Maryam). Since the people in his village, who knew the family best, did not agree on who was known to be his father, Jesus was called by his mother’s name.

The Gospel of Mark relates that the people who knew the family of Jesus in Nazareth called Jesus the ‘son of Mary’: “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mark 6:3) But a somewhat different view can be seen in the same event related in the Gospel of Matthew, which states: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judah?” (13:55-6) 

Christians maintain that Joseph, the husband of Mary, was a foster or adoptive father; and not the real father of Jesus. The only thing everyone agrees about is that Mary was his mother; and this is how he should be referred to. As we have seen, according to the Gospels themselves, Jesus almost always referred to himself not as the ‘Son of God’, but as ‘The Son of Man’.

The gospel writers, and some other people in the New Testament, including one possessed by evil spirits (Mark 5:2-7), did call Jesus the ‘Son of God’, but Jesus himself strongly preferred the term ‘Son of Man’, although he often did refer metaphorically to God as his ‘Father’.

The Qur’an states: “Allah is only One God. Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son. All that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth is His. Allah is sufficient as a Defender.” (Quran 4:171)

Both Jews and Muslims agree that the One God is sufficient to provide suitable religious guidance to each and every tribe or nation on earth without help from anyone else, including a ‘son’.

The Qur’an also states: “It is not suitable for Allah, Glory be to Him, that He should take unto Himself a son. When He decrees a thing, He only says to it: Be! and it is.” (Quran 19:35) When Allah created Adam, Adam did not become the ‘Son of God’. 

God says: “Lo! the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then he said to him: Be! and he is.” (3:59) No one thinks Adam is the Son of God’.

It is true that Jesus often did refer metaphorically to God as his ‘Father’. He did this in accord with the metaphorical style of the Torah. He never expected that any Jew who heard him speak about God as his father would take his words literally. 

As the Qur’an states: It is not (possible) for any human being to whom Allah had given Scripture, wisdom and prophethood, that he should afterwards have said to mankind: Be slaves of me instead of Allah; but (he said): Be ye faithful servants of the Lord by virtue of your constant teaching of Scripture and your constant study of it. (Quran 3:79) 

The “historical Jesus” was a Jewish prophet and preacher who lived, worked, preached, gained a sizable following and then died at the hands of the Romans. The subsequent deification of Jesus into God took place after his death. It was a product of his disciples and could not be traced back to the historical figure.

Unfortunately, after Jesus was gone many of his followers began to believe and teach that the close connection Jesus felt to his ‘Father in Heaven’ meant that he was not just the ‘Son of Man” as he so often stated, but also literally the ‘Son of God’. 

This new interpretation by some of Jesus’ apostles of the metaphors ‘Father’ and ‘Son of God’, was a major mistake, one that Jesus did not foresee. 

The Torah refers to the whole People of Israel metaphorically as God’s first born son. (Exodus 4:22) and also refers to all those who are duty bound to act, even when mourning, as God commands us; as sons/children of God: “You (Plural) are Children of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 14:1) 

Does this mean that Jews, either as individuals or as a whole people, are Divine? Of course not! No Rabbi, from the most Orthodox to the most Reform, has ever taken these verses in the Torah literally. God forbid! The term son/child of God should never be taken literally. It is a metaphor. It must be interpreted just as we interpret all the other verses in the Bible.

To say that every verse of Sacred Scripture must be interpreted is not being disrespectful. To the contrary, in fact. It means that we have to give some thought and study to each verse in a Divine text. We cannot read Torah the way we read an ordinary book or magazine. 

Jews dialogue with Torah. The Torah challenges, inspires and questions us, and we examine and embrace it. The Jewish mystics asserted that each verse in the Torah is capable of being interpreted in seventy different ways. This interaction between the text of sacred scripture and the community of believers over many generations is what keeps both the text and the believers alive. 

Muslims are blessed with the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, as related by Al-Hadith, and Jews are blessed by the Oral Torah and Midrash of the Rabbis. While the Rabbis did not preserve the teachings of Jesus, there are several hadith reports that do so, and I find myself in total agreement with them.

For example, it was revealed by the tongue of Jesus: “A land is cursed if its rulers are young boys.” (Muhammad ibn Sa’d) But this is not written anywhere in the Gospels. Perhaps Jesus was here simply repeating Ecclesiastes 10:16 “Woe to you, O land, when your king is a young boy.” Or maybe it is a sacred oral teaching not written down as part of any Sacred Scripture, what Muslims call a hadith qudsi and Jews call an Oral Torah teaching. 

Hadith and Oral Torah are important expansions of the written revelation. For example: God revealed to Jesus: “O Jesus, admonish yourself. Once admonished, (then) admonish other people. Otherwise, be modest in my sight.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal) Judaism is in full agreement with this teaching.

According to Muslim tradition, Jesus met a man and asked him, “What are you doing?” “I am devoting myself to God,” the man answered. Jesus asked, “Who takes care of you?” “My brother,” replied the man. Jesus said, “Your brother is more devoted to God than you are.” (Abdallah ibn Qutayba) I agree with this entirely.

These teachings of Jesus fit much better with the words of Moses and David than these words attributed to Jesus by the Gospel of John (14:6): “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Although some Protestant Christians have become Unitarian Christians, the vast majority of Protestant and all Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are confirmed Trinitarians. Perhaps this will change over the next few centuries.

Meanwhile we should all be guided by the Qur’an’s admonition: “To every one of you We have ordained a law and a way; had God so willed, He would have made you all a single community, but He did not so will, in order that He might try you by what He has given you. Compete then, with one another in doing good works; to God you shall all return; then He will make clear to you about what you have been disputing.” (Qur’an 5:48)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

One thought on “Islamic And Jewish Views Of Prophet Jesus – OpEd

  • December 5, 2022 at 3:21 pm

    As a progressive Christian i am much more interested in the religion of Jesus than the constructs of the religion about Jesus.
    Sometimes I wonder where this will take me as much of Christianity feels like a faith that isn’t mine


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