By Daniel Nessim
“Totally unacceptable!” That was the basic response of a respected friend in Seattle, upon considering the claims of scholars that everything Yeshua (Jesus) taught can be paralleled in ancient Jewish literature.
I can understand my friend’s sentiment. After all, we who believe He is the Messiah want to honor Yeshua in every way conceivable. It seems abhorrent to lower Him in any way to the level of a common, itinerant, Galilean teacher. He was so much more than that.
It is undeniable that parallels between Yeshua’s teachings and those of the rabbis of His day can be found. In reality, we should consider that such parallels are unavoidable. Whenever people are speaking Truth – that which is right and correct – their message will be the same. The universe is governed by one set of principles, and that set of principles is the same for all of us.
In fact, it would be a surprise if parallels did not exist. Both Yeshua and His contemporaries were teaching from the same books. They taught from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings – the same books upon which virtually all Jewish religious thought is based even today. Certainly, they both quoted the same Scriptures.
In addition, the era in which Yeshua lived was one of the most crucial times in formation of what would later come to be known as Judaism. Many of Yeshua’s contemporaries are key figures in the Mishnah and Talmud. Not only did they teach from the same Scriptures, but they also taught the same people, in the same culture, in the same locations, in the same language(s), around the same time. Is it surprising that they might express the same truths in the same way?
Truth is universal, but Yeshua was unique. He taught with authority, which amazed His followers. Something about the way in which He taught was distinctly different from that of anyone else they had ever heard. Maybe it was a bit like hearing an author read his own poetry aloud – it is quite different from having a friend read it to you! Yeshua had a moral authority.
Some of the parallels between his teachings and that of the rabbis of his day are quite subtle, yet revolutionary. For example, Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor” (Shabbat 31a). Yeshua said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). The difference is subtle yet profound.