“When we say say a blessing before and after we read the Torah in the synagogue, we say ... נתֵן הַתּוֹרה—who gives the Torah—meaning here and now. By our presence we receive the Torah, here and now. This book [i.e. Neusner's] is meant to help you receive and accept, make use of, the Torah in the concrete and everyday world you know: It is not about the past and in no way concerns a book which came down to us from a particular place or time in history. It is about God's revelation which God gives day by day, and which, as I said, we receive day by day. If Mishnah is not that, if Mishnah merely is a work out of “Jewish history,” then Mishnah is not worth your time and attention. For what makes all the effort required to master this difficult book worthwhile is not that it is a monument to a dead past, but that it is an urgent challenge to the living present, to you and me” (Jacob Neusner, Learn Mishnah, Preface).
I find his belief in the ongoing, living dimension of torah as revelation interesting. I wonder how this relates to Barth's understanding of "the three times of the Word"?
This focus on the text as guide for the present, as a kind of pragmatic manual perhaps, carries a different nuance to the Christian approach to the text. Bob MacDonald summarizes it nicely:
Torah is not text but engagement with the one to who the text points. The medium is neither the messenger nor the source of the message.Though see my qualification of this here.
Update: I've just noticed that Kevin Edgecomb of Biblicalia has been posting an incredibly detailed review of Neusner's theology of the oral torah. If I ever find the time to study Judaism in detail, I think I will simply get hold of all of Neusner's works and read them through. There's a lot to be said for choosing one scholar as an orientation point for grappling with a complex subject.
P.S. Neusner was Childs' roomate for a while in Yale, I believe, and had an impact on Childs' understanding of Judaism.