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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    Religion: Semi-evolved apes with delusions of grandeur.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      teehee,,,,,,

      Religion = A personal reflection toward theocratic understandings wherein one's soul has found peace with Godliness transactions between the physical and the spiritual realms.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  2. Jews for Jesus

    We pray for your salvation and we pray for Peace in Israel.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Jews for Jesus

      We pray that pickles will magically appear on our pizza too, but the results of that have been a bit discouraging. Now that you mention it, the results of all of our praying has been a bit discouraging.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Don'tYouKnow

      "We pray for your salvation"

      Prayer is a waste of time. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  3. moonster

    Jesus was a Jew – both his mother and adopted father were Jews. Enough said.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Anonymous

      i dont thik that a woman can get pregnant with out having a human human sperm from a man deposited into her womb so im not sure what his biological fathers religion was.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Anonymous

      i hope that you understood what i was alluding to here.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • moonster

      Apparently Anon. you are not a believer. There is much more to this universe and life than you can even fathom. Happy Easter/Passover.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Anonymous

      thanks you too. my only hope this easter/passover is for all man to join together and just get along for a day. is a day too much to ask for, really?

      April 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  4. logan5

    Funny how despite being witnesses to the supposed "miracles" and displays of mind-blowing supernatural prowess by Jesus, the Jewish belief system remained in tact and continues to thrive to this day. Had Jesus truly been the product of a god then ALL belief systems/religions would have immediately died a quick death and only Christianity would have remained. But the opposite is true. This is VERY strong evidence that Christianity is just a myth, nothing more.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Rick7777

      Apparently there is something call free will, it is a gift from God to everyone without asking. Jesus (Salvations) is a gift from God for when accepted

      April 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • teehee

      And the idea of God-given free will is obliterated if you subscribe to the "Divine Plan" idea.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  5. umm

    Can they just rename this the "Mythology Blog"?

    April 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  6. rsrsrsrsrsrs

    Huey says Black Jesus.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  7. lolwut

    Was Hercules Greek?

    April 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Ryan Austin Clarke

      One can make a plausible case that the stories of Hercules and Sampson were based upon the same person.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  8. mikstov33

    Of course Jesus was Jewish. The ancestors of his human parents were from the family of Judah, a son of Joseph.
    The term Jew actually comes from the word Judah, and the ancient country of Israel was also called Judah,at least the southern portion.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  9. getalife

    Don't you think CNN could have a science section. Instead there is all this jezus jazz. Pity.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • J.W

      I think there is a science section. There is a section for about everything.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • J.W

      Or there is a technology section and a health section.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  10. Rick7777

    Jesus is the Christ and is one hundred percent jewish. Jesus is salvation and Jesus claim salvation is of the jews.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • countertrans

      He was born a jew. He was sent to eart by his father to tell the jews to give up thier wrong/misguided ways and accpet him as their Lord. His whole purpose was to revise a system that was clearly not working, revise it and bring people up to speed with the Bible.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Rick7777

      Jesus did not come to revise anything he came to fulfill the scriptures.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • J.W

      Bring them up to speed with the Bible? The Jewish Bible was the only Bible back then. The Christian Bible had not been put together yet.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • logan5

      Ah, the precious pursuit of "salvation." Perhaps the most self centered, selfish and cowardly aspect of Christianity.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Rick7777

      Logan5. Everyone needs God mercies but some people do not recognize that fact. Hell is not a place with brave souls

      April 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  11. countertrans

    The only way to the father is through Jesus....calling him a jew is not going to help any. the fire of hell waits you. You didn't accpet him as your lord and saviour. End of story, i dont care if you call him a Jew or your uncle. He has to be your lord and saviour. period.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • MIGHTY S

      you are incredibly stupid...Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew........

      April 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • heywood

      please put the crack pipe down

      April 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • John the Guy

      Actually, Bob's my uncle. The only thing I would regret about going to HELL fire is that there would be so many obnoxious Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, Popes and assorted shamans and Evangilistic hustlers to have to put up with.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • The mf'n man

      Take your keyboard and smash it. You do worse by trying.

      ps Man made myths blind you to the real world/universe.

      Ignorant humans FTL

      April 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  12. Andrew

    Jesus was a Jew, and the message of the gospel was given first to the Jews as God's chosen people. They were the first blessed with the life and message of Christ. We gentiles, got the message later. And my colleague below is right, Jesus had to die. He was the perfect and eternal sacrifice for sin. When Peter tried to deny that Christ had to die, Jesus said, "Get the behind me, Satan." However, the rabbi neglects that Jesus accepted worship as God in The Bible. The Old Law (Mosaic) was given so that we could see it wasn't enough and didn't work.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • HellBent

      Jesus didn't have to die. An omnipotent god doesn't 'have to do anything, or otherwise his living by rules someone else made, thus not omnipotent. The idea of an omnipotent god making a sacrifice is laughably ridiculous.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • countertrans

      Amen Brother.....

      April 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      Andrew,,,

      Does not scripture teach all that the Kingdom of God is INSIDE us all? Does not scripture teach us all that our bodies are but buildings for God's kinds to inhabit? Does not bscripture teach us all that we labour equally with God and God is our body's husbandry?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Rick7777

      All sin has a price and all have sinned. God still loves sinners so he sent his son to pay the price. Bible-John 3:16

      April 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Commenter

      Rick7777
      "All sin has a price and all have sinned."

      A "perfect" "God" who is appeased by blood sacrifice - escalating to human blood sacrifice?! Get outta here...

      April 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  13. countertrans

    Sounds like Jews land grab to me. Now they are claiming jesus as one of their own sheesh.....Please read your Bible. If there is one thing God does well is punish a whole nation based on the sins of a few, there are plenty of examples in the Bible. Yes there were a few jews who were directly responsible for killing jesus, but they rest STOOD AND WATCHED. I always suspected that all that is going on in Isreal is a punishment from God for killing jesus.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Anonymous

      we never said he wasnt one of us. we just said that he wasnt the son of god. BIIIIIIIIIIG difference

      April 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      And anonymous you were wrong. God bless

      April 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Anonymous

      nd how are you right. tell me how does christianity have the right to say they are right when the system has consistently hated other group (for instance spanish inquisition), killed for the crusades, gave people an excuse to hurt others. and every one of these things goes against what he taught, which is peace. so tell me how you, ill assume a christian, have the right to say that you are in the right.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • heywood

      Yes Countertrans, the dead Jew hanging in your church that you pray to is Jewish. YOur stupidity cannot change that fact

      April 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Anonymous

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. you cant even respond to that Prayer Will Change Everything. is that how fragile your belief is in your own argument? this is why you are wrong. because you just stick your fat nose in the air and humph at those who bring opposing views into light. so maybe you should think about if you really are a christian or are you just a part of the crowd? do you follow what he says and to love thy brother and sister of the earth or do you still have hate in your heart? I charge you with the act of self contemplation on whether you know him or are you empty in your beliefs like many other.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Anonymous

      wrong reply ignore that last statment.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Anonymous

      where are you Prayer will Change Everything. Are you too scared to acknowledge that you are a false believer and that you are wrong in your ways, or are you too scared to stand up for your beliefs like any self respecting person should. I charge you to answer me.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Prayer Changes Thing: its amazing that you do not have enough faith in your lord and saviour to stand up for your convictions.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Davamp

      I'm not sure Prayer's belief is 'that fragile' because he hasn't rechecked the comments in the last 15 minutes. That said, noted Christian bishop/author J.C. Ryle said that perhaps the most damaging thing to happen to Christianity was/is allowing into its membership anyone who makes the smallest profession of faith and talks largely of his experience. Without a doubt that's true. Educating and ministering to its own people is high up on the church's to do list. There are many people who grew up Christians who really have no idea what it means or how to behave. If all people claiming to be a Christian actually endeavored to act like Christ, like they are called to, I doubt anyone would think ill of us.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  14. Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

    Do yourself a favor and next time a Jehovah's Witness comes to your door, ask them why it is that the number of the Memorial partakers keeps increasing every year.

    You see, according to the holy Watchtower (which they adhere to more than the Bible), only those who are selected as annointed are supposed to partake of the wine/bread during their annual Memorial meeting. Most JW's are not deemed among this annointed group. God personally selects who is annointed. This selection was supposed to stop decades ago. Yet, the number of partakers keeps going up every year, indicating new annointed. The JW's will come up with some "new light" excuse but we can call that what it is, the Watchtower covering it's butt because it's failed so many predictions of when Armageddon was supposed to come. They've even gone as far as to say that it's like that a lot of the people who partake at their Memorial service might be mentally insane! I think that applies to their whole religion frankly.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Anonymous

      whats this have to do with christianity

      April 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  15. arale norimaki

    Most of the stories in the Bible were taken from older Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek mythologies.

    The Egyptians of every period in which they are known to us believed that Osiris was of divine origin, that he suffered death and mutilation at the hands of the powers of evil, that after a great struggle with these powers he rose again, that he became henceforth the king of the underworld and judge of the dead, and that because he had conquered death the righteous also might conquer death...In Osiris the Christian Egyptians found the prototype of Christ, and in the pictures and statues of Isis suckling her son Horus

    April 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • nope

      nope

      April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Anonymous

      nor is believeing in christ healthy for children and other living things

      April 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      Keeping a child from eternal life in Christ is the worst form of child abuse.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Anonymous

      how is that the worst form of child abuse? I can think of others that im pretty sure there are other things that will screw them up more than them being jewish or somthing.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • nope

      nope.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are so full of crap and lies. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!"" . .

      April 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Anonymous

      you go jesus you tell them that prayer doenst do squat $@%^.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • tevii

      Hey "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things".... just the other day i "prayed" you would stop leaving the same post on every article. Thank you for proving prayer doesnt work

      April 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Peter

      "just the other day i "prayed" you would stop leaving the same post on every article. Thank you for proving prayer doesnt work'

      You're not the only one, many have posted that and this poster just keeps proving that prayer doesn't work.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  17. Jason

    Haysoos, I like him very much, but he no help me with curveball.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • DZA

      I don't care who you are...that's funny right there!

      April 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  18. WOW

    We ALL are responsible for the crucifixion of Christ as He died for ALL of us and ALL of our sins, and we all fall short of the glory of God Jews and Gentiles alike. The only ones that can "claim" Christ as their own are his children, which are those who accept his death and resurrection as payment for their sins.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • C'mon

      Pay for your own damn sins!

      I suppose conjure up someone to serve jail time for you too, eh?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Anonymous

      i agree with you on everything...except the part about him dying for everyones dins and him being the son of god. so pretty much i only agree with you that he died. end of story

      April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • hmmm

      what about people who have never heard of him? do they automatically go to hell? are there lawyers in purgatory that will take their case? you seem to know so much

      April 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • WOW

      @ C'MON Jesus did indeed die for you and me and that's truth I know. Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.
      I guess we both will find out the complete truth when you and I die oneday.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Anonymous

      WOW. all you are doing is quoting your own bible which in any proper argument would not hold. and any ways isint the new testament all a bunch of lies anyways, cause im sure its a bunch of crap

      April 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Anonymous

      hello WOW are you going to respond or not? im amazed you have no conviction for you own beliefs. im sure jesus thinks you are a false believer now. hahaha

      April 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Rundvelt

      > We ALL are responsible for the crucifixion of Christ as He died for ALL of us and ALL of our sins, and we all fall short of the glory of God Jews and Gentiles alike.

      Actually God is responsible. His divine plan, he created sin, he judges us unworthy, he requires a blood sacrifice to atone for what he deems as unacceptable yet created in us.

      God did it. It's idiotic to argue the all knowing God, the creator of everything isn't the creator of something.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • WOW

      @Anonymous honestly what you are saying is funny to me (no joke I really am laughing). Why argue with you what's the point in that? Believe what you will my friend cause in the end we ALL die. I personally rather be safe than sorry.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  19. Jason S

    I don't care what Atheists do or believe in. It's a free country and it's none of my business what they do. I'm just tired of them telling us what to do.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • ICYSILVER

      Amen.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • sam

      I'll bite: when has an atheist told you to do something?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • arale norimaki

      Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

      You should read your Bible, sirs. You'll find all types of weird things in there. Like, did you know Jesus was a Jew?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Biffy Croissant

      I too would be quite interested in hearing what atheists have told you what to do.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  20. Steve

    JESUS is a Jew!!!!

    April 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Jason S

      Yes he was

      April 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Anonymous

      i like how even though hes jewish catholisism has constantly persecuted and killed his own people. which im pretty sure that killing was totally against his teachings and that he would be frowning at christians who did that. so pretty much the catholic church is the most hypocritic figure there ever was because they say they follow jesus but the dont follow him at the same time.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.