When Jesus presented his moral teachings to his audience, it was not enough for him to encourage his followers to aim for a higher moral standard. It was important for him to claim that his teaching was original, and that the teachers who preceded him failed to understand some basic moral insights. By doing so, Matthew’s Jesus set the stage for the subsequent teaching of John’s Jesus that the Jews are children of the devil. Eventually, the European people came to believe that the Jewish people are so intimately connected with evil that they fail to appreciate some of the most basic principles of morality.
Brown too is not satisfied to present Jesus’ moral teachings. He finds the need to paint a fictitious portrait of Judaism as a legalistic belief system with only the dimmest understanding of morality.
Brown points to Jesus teaching against anger as a “deeper” understanding of the Law. The fact is that Jesus taught the Jewish people nothing that they did not already know. The rabbis taught against anger, making sure to point to the Scriptural source for their teaching (b. Nedarim 22b, based on Ecclesiastes 7:9).
Brown points to Jesus’ teaching against lustful thoughts as another example of an “exclusive” moral insight of Jesus. The Rabbis also taught against lustful thoughts, making sure to attribute the moral insight to Scripture (b. Eruvin 18b, based on Proverbs 11:21, see also Job 31:1).
Jesus’ teaching “let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”, is also cited by Brown as an example of Jesus’ moral superiority over the teachers of Rabbinic Judaism. The problem with Brown’s assertion is that the Talmud records precisely the same teaching, again pointing to a Scriptural source for this concept (b. Bava Metzia 49a, based on Leviticus 19:36, see also Leviticus 19:11, Proverbs 12:22).
The famous teaching of “turning the other cheek”, which Brown interprets as “not seeking retaliation”, is explicitly stated in the Torah – Leviticus 19:18.
The philosophy of “loving your enemies”, is also echoed in Rabbinic literature (b. Bava Metzia 32b, based on Exodus 23:5, see also Leviticus 19:17).
Brown speaks of Jesus’ advice to perform acts of righteousness in secret as another example of Jesus’ “original” insights. Again, this is a well known Rabbinic teaching based on Scripture (b. Succah 49b, based on Micah 6:8).
The teaching “forgive others so that we may be forgiven” is also not a “Jesus original” as Brown seems to assume. The Talmud presents the same teaching (b. Rosh Hashana 17a, based on Micah 7:18).
Jesus’ warning not to store up treasures on earth is found in the Talmud as well (b. Bava Batra 11a, with various Scriptural quotations including Isaiah 3:10).
The warnings against greed and love of money are also found in the Rabbinic writings (Avot 4:21, Kohelet Raba 1), and these concepts are found in the books of Scripture especially in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (e.g. Proverbs 15:27, Ecclesiastes 2:11).
The concept of trusting on our Father’s goodness is a prevalent theme in both the Rabbinic writings and in the Jewish Scriptures (e.g. Jeremiah 17:7, Psalm 55:23).
Jesus’ teaching against being judgmental, and his encouragement for self-examination are also paralleled in the Rabbinic sources (b. Bava Kama 93a, Bava Batra 60b based on Zephaniah 2:1).
(At this point, one might ask: How did Jesus provide an example for self-examination? By teaching that he could do no wrong, his followers could not fathom why he died such an ignominious death. In sharp contrast to Jesus, when two of the Pharisee leaders were being executed by the Romans they provided an incredible example for self-examination. One said to the other: “in an instant you will be together with the righteous, why then do you cry?” The response was: “I am crying because we are dying like those who have murdered and violated the Sabbath.” The former comforted his companion: “perhaps you were eating or sleeping and a woman came to ask you a question concerning the Law and your students turned her away. Does not the verse say “if you oppress them (the widow and the orphan) I will smite you by the sword?” It is these people who Jesus slandered when he taught the world that the Pharisees ignore the commandment of caring for the widow and the orphan (Matthew 23:14).)
Brown concludes that traditional Jews might find these concepts: “profound but vague”. Brown warns that traditional Jews will need “some level of reorientation” to implement these moral teachings (page 217). I find this simply amazing. Brown seems to be under the impression that no traditional Jew ever heard of these concepts. Just to get an idea as to how skewed Brown’s view of reality actually is, please consider the following. A Messianic teacher decided to try to implement Jesus’ moral teachings. He created a website that focuses on the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus and he elaborates and expands on each one. He draws most of his sources from rabbinic literature! (Here is the link to his site – http://rivertonmussar.org/)
Brown seems to be locked into an “either or” world view. Either one follows a religious legal code, or one follows a moral code. The Scriptures teach and the respective histories of the Church and the Synagogue confirm that it is “both or neither”.