Why Radford-Reuther’s Jesus Reconstruction Needs a Reality Check

After reading Rosemary Radford-Reuther’s book “Women and Redemption”, I feel the need to raise some critical thoughts concerning her Jesus reconstructions, based on the following question:

Who is the Jesus Radford Reuther reconstructs? Who does she reconstruct him for?

 He is a Lukan Jesus. Radford Reuther bases almost all of her assertions about Jesus on the Gospel of Luke. The canon about Jesus is diverse, and all its nooks and crannies should be taken into consideration, especially from an academic standpoint, where the scholar is not supposed to value some passages over others (which theologians are permitted to do). Her Jesus came only for the poor and the marginalized, and his message of deliverance to them is not an apocalyptic one (here she disregards Mark 13 with synoptic parallels), rather it is one of little to no eschatology/apocalyptic expectation, a purely Lukan theology (as interpreted by nineteenth century German theologians…I would venture to say that Lukan theology is eschatological by nature, just like the other Gospels). She also focuses on Luke’s inclusion and focus on women – for example, in Matthew the nativity revolves around Joseph, but Radford Reuther chooses to place all the emphasis on Mary, thus creating a biased image of the Jesus narrative.

He is an anti-Jewish Jesus. Radford Reuther’s Jesus does away with all the Jewish purity laws (here it should be noted that she fails to make the very important distinction between moral and ritual purity, rather she clumps them both together). This too leans towards the Lukan, and is an outright negation of the Matthean Jesus, who seems very concerned with both purity and the Law as a whole (see Matt 5:17-24). The same can be said of the Johannine Jesus, who in his conversation with the Samaritan woman states that the Jews worship God on the correct mountain, thus affirming the legitimacy of the Temple function, which in many ways depends on the purity laws. The Markan Jesus too observes some sort of purity when he says that only that which comes out can cause impurity (a direct reference to the purity laws in Leviticus). Radford Reuther’s (mis)understanding of the Jewish purity laws as a means of oppression is both borderline anti-Jewish and leads her down a road of great exegetical peril. In addition, Radford Reuther creates a dichotomous relationship between Jesus and Jewish patriarchal culture. Amy-Jill Levine successfully argues against this misconception in her article in the Jewish Annotated NRSV (definitely worth checking out!).

He is a modern, Western Jesus. Radford Reuther’s assertion that Jesus may have been illegitimate is highly anachronistic, and does not take into consideration the laws about sexual immorality at the time, nor the understanding about God’s relationship to his “Anointed”. In addition, her assertion that he had little to no eschatology/apocalyptic expectations and that he created an “egalitarian community of equals” is not historically plausible. Contextually, that would make Jesus too different from his surroundings to make sense from a historical, academic standpoint. So perhaps what Radford Reuther is doing here is actually some highly anachronistic theological musing. But if this was theology, she has created a Jesus who does not fit into any Christian doctrinal frame, making it a problematic theology since it doesn’t take any other perspectives into consideration and makes no reference to Christian faith or traditions.

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