Into the fray: Joseph Klausner's approach to Judaism and Christianity in the Greco -Roman world
Joseph Klausner (1874–1958) spent his formative years in Odessa at the epicenter of the nascent Zionist movement. He attended the First Zionist Congress while a doctoral student at the University of Heidelberg, then returned to Eastern Europe to edit the premier Hebrew journal of his day, taking over the reins of Ha-Shiloah from his mentor, the Zionist ideologist Ahad Ha'am. After immigrating to Palestine in 1919, Klausner became a fixture in the highly charged political atmosphere of the Yishuv, espousing the Revisionist views of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. He joined the faculty of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem shortly after its founding in 1924, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1922, he published Jesus of Nazareth, the book on which his international reputation was built and which, despite—or perhaps because of—its idiosyncrasies, had a significant impact on the study of Judaism and Early Christianity and on the relationship between Jews and Christians in the 20th century. Building on the foundation of his extensive research on Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world, Klausner described western civilization from a decidedly Jewish and Zionist perspective. Contrary to the dominant paradigm, Western culture finds its roots in Jewish (not Christian) and Greco-Roman culture. Judaism provides the moral and ethical core and Greece provides the arts and the sciences. Christianity has served as a catalyst in history, but has contributed little of lasting value to human culture that did not originally come from Judaism. Eastern European Jews of Klausner's generation were self-consciously creating a new sense of themselves as both Jewish and modern. They were searching for an understanding of their place in the world that resolved the tension this synthesis of Judaism and cosmopolitanism produced. In Jesus of Nazareth , Klausner presented an interpretation of Jesus and thereby of Christianity and Western culture in which the Jew was neither a marginal relic nor an outsider trying to fit in, but was the most significant player.