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Jews reclaim Jesus as one of their own
Some Jewish leaders are encouraging Jews to see Jesus as one of their own.
April 5th, 2012
02:36 PM ET

Jews reclaim Jesus as one of their own

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - The relationship between Jews and Jesus has traditionally been a complicated one, to say the least.

As his followers' message swept the ancient world, Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah found themselves in the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, position of being blamed for his death.

Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.

Jews, for their part, tended largely to ignore Jesus.

That's changing now.

In the past year, a spate of Jewish authors, from the popular to the rabbinic to the scholarly, have wrestled with what Jews should think about Jesus.

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And overwhelmingly, they are coming up with positive answers, urging their fellow Jews to learn about Jesus, understand him and claim him as one of their own.

"Jesus is a Jew. He spent his life talking to other Jews," said Amy-Jill Levine, co-editor of the recently released "Jewish Annotated New Testament."

"In reading the New Testament, I am often inspired, I am intrigued. I actually find myself becoming a better Jew because I become better informed about my own history," she said.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a media personality who recently launched a bid for a U.S. House seat, argues in his own new book, "Kosher Jesus," that "Jews have much to learn from Jesus - and from Christianity as a whole - without accepting Jesus' divinity. There are many reasons for accepting Jesus as a man of great wisdom, beautiful ethical teachings, and profound Jewish patriotism."

And Benyamin Cohen, an Orthodox Jew who spent a recent year going to church, admitted that he's jealous that Christians have Jesus.

"He's a tangible icon that everybody can latch on to. Judaism doesn't have a superhero like that," said Cohen, the author of the 2009 book "My Jesus Year."

 

"I'm not advocating for Moses dolls," he said, but he argued that "it's hard to believe in a God you can't see. I'm jealous of Christians in that regard, that they have this physical manifestation of the divine that they can pray to.

"There could be more devout Jews than me who don't need that, but to a young Jew living in the 21st century, I wish we had something more tangible," he said.

The flurry of recent Jewish books on Jesus - including this month's publication of "The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ" by Daniel Boyarin - is part of a trend of Jews taking pride in Jesus, interfaith expert Edward Kessler said.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, Christian New Testament scholars rediscovered the Jewish Jesus. They reminded all New Testament students that Jesus was Jewish," said Kessler, the director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, England, which focuses on relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

A generation later, that scholarship has percolated into Jewish thought, he said, welcoming the trend: "It's not a threat to Jews and it's not a threat to Christians."

For Jews in particular, he said, "It's not so threatening as it was even 30 years ago. There is almost a pride that Jesus was a Jew rather than an embarrassment about it."

Boteach agrees, writing in "Kosher Jesus" that "Jews will gain much from re-embracing him as a hero."

"The truth is important," Boteach writes. "A patriot of our people has been lost. Worse still, he's been painted as the father of a long and murderous tradition of anti-Semitism."

Boteach aims to claim, or reclaim, Jesus as a political rebel against Rome and to exonerate the Jews of his death. But Boteach's book has attracted plenty of criticism, for instance for blaming the Apostle Paul for everything he doesn't like about Christianity, such as hailing Jesus as divine and cutting his ties to Judaism.

"Paul never met Jesus, and Jesus certainly never would have sanctioned Paul's actions and embellishments," Boteach argues about the apostle who wrote much of the New Testament. "Jesus ... would have been appalled at how his followers would later define him."

"Jews will never accept his divinity. Nor should they," Boteach writes, in one of many instances of presuming to know what Jesus really thought and meant. "The belief that any man is God is an abomination to Judaism, a position that Jesus himself would maintain."

He cherry-picks the Gospels to to suit his arguments, writes in casual modern idioms (calling Pontius Pilate a "sadistic mass murderer" and comparing him to Hitler), and gets wrong the most basic details of the Passion story, such as the amount of money Judas took to betray Jesus.

Other experts in the field label Boteach's book "sensationalistic," and call him a "popularizer," but Kessler sees "Kosher Jesus" as part of the trend of Judaizing Jesus. Cohen, the "My Jesus Year" author, offered some support for Boteach even as he expressed doubts about the book.

"I understand what Shmuley is trying to get at there," he said, but added: "I don't think anyone has the right to say 'This is the definition of Jesus,' especially a rabbi. He's not ours to claim."

Levine, who teaches New Testament and Jewish studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, also framed Jewish efforts to study Jesus in terms of mutual respect.

"Speaking personally as a Jew, if I want my neighbors to respect Judaism, which means knowing something about Jewish history, scripture and tradition, I owe my Christian neighbors the same courtesy. It's a matter of respect," she said.

She urged Jews to "become familiar with the material and make up their own mind as to how they understand Jesus."

Ironically, she added, Jews can understand their own history more thoroughly through studying the life of Jesus.

"The best source on the period for Jewish history other than (the first-century historian) Josephus is the New Testament," she said.

"It's one of those ironies of history that the only Pharisee writing in the Second Temple period from whom we have records is Paul of Tarsus," she said. " 'The Jewish Annotated New Testament' is designed in part to help Jews recover their own history."

But she also wants Christians to use it to understand Judaism more deeply, she said. While many Christian leaders acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew, she said, not many know much about what that means.

"Many Christian ministers and educators have no training in what early Judaism was like," she said. "Not to take seriously first-century Judaism seems to dismiss part of the message of the New Testament."

Cohen, the "My Jesus Year" author, found that Christians were very interested in Judaism during the 52 weeks he spent going from church to church.

"Many Christians look on Judaism as version 1.0 of their own religion. Because of that historical relationship, they're interested in a lot of the theology of Judaism," he said.

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For his part, Cohen learned much that surprised him. "I was shocked when I went to church and heard them give sermons about the Old Testament," he said. "I had no idea Christians read the Old Testament."

"One week, I went to church and the pastor gave exactly the same sermon my rabbi did the night before about Moses and the burning bush, and the pastor did it much better," he continued.

Cohen came away from his Jesus year with a clear understanding of what he believes.

"People ask me all the time if I believe in Jesus. Do I believe he exists? Sure. Do I believe he's your God? Sure, I have no problem with that," he said he tells Christians who ask.

"I understand Christians' love for Jesus and I respect that," he said. "If anything, I learned a lot from them and did become a more engaged Jew, a better Jew, and I appreciate my Judaism more because I hung out with Jesus."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Jesus • Judaism

soundoff (2,641 Responses)
  1. Imam Saliba

    Jesus is the way, the truth, the love.

    I'm Muslim and I love Jesus Christ! He is a HERO, and nobody comes close to him.
    I will watch Passion of the Christ tomorrow on Good Friday.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • tr5tc680

      you mean moses is not a HERO?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  2. MCR

    "As his followers' message swept the ancient world, Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah found themselves in the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, position of being blamed for his death." Is probably the most sugar-coated description of what Christians did following the birth of their religion I have ever seen. Though I do imagine Jews would have found it uncomfortable

    April 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  3. MalcolmXcrement

    Jesus was a Jew. Until, as Archie Bunker put it, God sent down word to him " enough of that"...

    April 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • tr5tc680

      but than jews killed jesus

      April 5, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  4. NYC

    Why are any da.mn atheists on this article... you are neither Jewish nor Christian, so LEAVE and SHUT THE H.ELL UP!

    April 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      NYC
      You are neither intelligent nor sane, but no one is asking to shut up and leave. Say what you wish, it is a public forum.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • pat carr

      Yeah religio-bully you'd like that wouldn't you. Why don't you shut up and leave? you sick disgusting culists

      April 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  5. Jewish believer in Christ

    I'm proud Messianic Jewish (Jews for Jesus) and our community is growing rapidly.
    Until all Jews start accepting Jeshua as our Messiah, he will not come back to Earth.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      He never left and he isn't coming back. Sorry to break it to you.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      It's Groundhog Day! Again.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  7. Ungodly Discipline

    I have decided to convert from atheism to Solipsism. The ceremony is going to be a blast, I will be having all my friends and family over and un-validating their existence. Then it will just be a free-for-all. I will also be getting a tattoo of my own face on my a.s.s.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • just sayin

      You will have to clearly mark the spot so the tattoo artist can tell it from the rest of you.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      OMG that is SO funny JS!

      April 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  8. † In God We Trust †

    Jesus was born and raised as Jewish. He is the Christian and Jewish Messiah. Period.

    God Bless!

    April 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      No he's not.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Beth

      You might ask y ourself why the Jews for the most part did not think Jesus was the Messiah and why we still do not. It is because he didn't fulfill even one of the things are bible says he would. YOUR bible is different from the jewish one and written to sound as if Jesus is the goal and to sound as though he was obviously the messiah. You might read up on this.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  9. WlliamZReeves

    Only Jews go to heaven anyway. Why bother with Christianity?

    April 5, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Only dogs go to heaven.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Are you God to judge that? No.

      You could only go to heaven thru believe in Jesus Christ.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      @In God We Trust
      Are you God to judge that? No.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  10. John Lapham

    As a Hebrew-Catholic with a Jewish mother and Irish Catholic father my religious path has been painful at times. To compensate I have been both Baptized and Bar Mitzvah'd as was Yeshua bar Joseph. I proclaim Yeshua the Messiah but at the same time remind Christians that the Catholic Church teaches that G-d's covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked. Ani Yehudi and Catholic. John "Yosef"

    April 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Double indoctrination = Double stupid.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • tr5tc680

      you are one confused dude or cruelest Judeo/christian

      April 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Dale A.

      Exactly, the covenant with the Jews is still in place. Just look at what the book of Revelation teaches & it is easy to understand that a remant of Israel will remain & play a huge part in the second coming of Jesus.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  11. Nah

    reason: "Nah, who is advocating the elimination of religious freedom?"

    Never said anyone was. Which is why I asked "collegeadmissions" to clarify what he was saying.

    "Taking away others' freedoms based on religious views is morally wrong."

    You're almost right. Taking away anyone's freedoms is morally wrong.

    Hence the two questions we must ask are:

    1) Is X a freedom?

    2) Can it be taken away?

    You can't point to the fact that someone who is religious wants to take X away, or that their opposition to X is founded on religious principles. The only question is about the state's actual power.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      A swing and a miss.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Nah

      ungodly: "A swing and a miss."

      Ooh, a conclusory statement. What a rebuttal.

      Care to enlighten us by showing how and why the comment was wrong?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Nah
      Placement.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  12. longtooth

    I don't like the way He's looking at that lamb.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  13. Slovensko

    You missed the point of Jesus.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      What is the point of Jesus?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Cyn507

      And you miss the point of judaism.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      What is the point of judaism?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Slovensko

      Jesus didnt come so that people could become better Jews, He came to die for our sins and live out the Mosaic law perfectly where we couldnt. He pwned Pharisees all the time, the supposed best Jews of the day for not living up to the law.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      @Slovensko
      Jesus is God correct? So what is the point of Jesus again?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  14. Ungodly Discipline

    Everybody knows the only true religion is Mormonism. This excerpt from the bible proves it:

    "I am Wind In His Hair! I am Wind In His Hair! Do you see that I am not afraid of you!? Do you see!?"

    Wind in His Hair, being a worshipper of false idols, confronts Satan after being slain by the Pawnee.

    Thinking quickly, the chief of the tribe decides to, "smoke a while".

    It was at this point that Joseph Smith arrived with a "White Man's" hat and some magic golden plates! He was immediately wounded by an arrow of course and the Medicine Man was summoned to the teepee.

    Many moons passed while Joseph Smith recovered from his injuries, during which time he spaketh the Mormon Gospel to Chief Ten Bears and a great friendship was forged between them. At length, it was time for Joseph Smith to head westward. As he waved goodbye to his new Lakota Indian friends, a voice could be heard on the wind….

    "Joseph Smith! ....Joseph Smith! ... I am Wind In His Hair! ... Do you see that I am your friend!? ... Can you see that you will always be my friend!? Can you turn down the heat? It is like furnace down here!”

    April 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Karon

      Everyone know it? ok? Well, true religion, that is the true religion... enlighten the Baptist, Methodist, Pentocostals, Johovah Witnesses, and the literally thousands of other religions on the planet that Mormons are the True Religion and after you have done that ... read Rev. 22:18-19 and stop adding words(Book of Mormon) to the Perfect Word of God or do you think we should put the Word of God(Holy Bible) away and listen to the Book of Mormon(tall tale told by Josesph Smith) cause you can't have it both ways.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      @Karon
      Apparently you have never watched or read "Dances with Wolves" LOL

      April 5, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  15. Gordon Friedman

    All we really need to do is get people to realize Libertarian ideology is the best! Anyways, all I'm really able to surmise is that nearly all people dislike it when someone else tries to push their ideology on others. The United States is very good about keeping itself secular and open to all religions, however, when these horrible stereotypes perpetuate themselves it ruins the system for everyone. Stop stereotyping.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Hesus

      Yes, US is not pushing its ideology on others????????. You must be the stupidest Jew.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  16. Rob

    Some of y'all are like doctors in crazy. Jesus was Jewish. That's a fact – he was born to a Jewish father, and every son at that time took their father's religion. Sorry to throw out those historical facts. For those that don't believe he was Jewish, you also probably think he looks like the likeness in the Christian churches – light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. I mean, those kinds of folks are running all over the Middle East.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Rob, you forgot to mention the part about how his mother was a w.h.o.r.e

      April 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  17. reason

    Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlnnWbkMlbg&w=640&h=390]

    April 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • momoya

      Great video! Wish I had seen that a few decades back.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  18. Hesus

    Jews hate Christians, Moslems, Hindis, Buddhists. Everyone! Look at their Israel. All they want is Greater Israel so they keep killing. Actually they want others to kill for them. Maybe Hitler was right.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • David A.

      You need help. Are you drinking too much?? Get off your blame trip! Blame yoself!

      April 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  19. Jesus

    Jesus is the only way to heaven and the bible is the perfect word of god. Salvation is by faith alone. Gods grace saves us we don't choose god he chooses us.! Type in (grace to you)to listen to free sermons by John MacArthur.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Cyn507

      Maybe in your religon that's how it works, but thats everyone's belief. And you have no right to push your ideology on anyone. Keep assuming yours is the right choice if you want to, but keep it to yourself. Last i heard, the self righteous dont get saved so get over yourself.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Nah

      cyn: "Keep assuming yours is the right choice if you want to, but keep it to yourself."

      This statement is incredibly ironic.

      Aren't you, by necessity, forcing your beliefs onto him? Namely, that he should keep it to himself so you don't have to hear about it?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • Snow

      so, equality according to you is that when the religious yells (what is perceived by an atheist as) nonsense, the atheist is wrong to yell "I don't care what you do or believe, but keep it to yourself"?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Lol

      The religious has the right to say anything in the name of god.. but when an atheist says that he doesn't want to hear about it, it is persecution and attack on freedom? lol really, do you hear yourself? what kind of messed up logic is that?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • John M.

      While the original text written in the original ancient languages were the inspired word of God, unfortunately nobody can translate that text precisely correctly, so what we have all ended up with is the uninspired words of translators. So today, there really is no such thing as the Holy Bible written in English. Just cop are all those different versions and try to figure out which words from which versions are correct. Nobody knows.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Nah

      snow: "so, equality according to you is that when the religious yells (what is perceived by an atheist as) nonsense, the atheist is wrong to yell "I don't care what you do or believe, but keep it to yourself"?"

      It's no use, of course, arguing with someone who willfully misconstrues their opponent's positions.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  20. Liz the First

    Jesus' message and teachings aren't for Christians or Jews or whoever, they're for everyone. he didn't try to start a religion, he tried to teach us that God is in all of us and we are all sons of God. the people who claim to worship him get his teachings the least.he certailny wouldn't have approved of the crusades or the spanish inquisition, or any number of atrocities committed in his name.
    and not only should the Jews reclaim him, the liberals should, too!the term 'christian conservative' is an oxymoron. everything the conservatives believe, Jesus preached against. he wouldn't hate anyone, wouldn't deny anyone their basic human rights, wouldn't let kids live in poverty so the rich could not pay taxes. He told us to pay our taxes.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Jesus

      God is not in all of us nor will he ever be in all of us. God is only in the ones he chose before the beginning of the world. Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword. Dividing believers from unbelievers the wheat from the chaff.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
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