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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    I believe that the Jewish people do not have a "tangible" object for their prayers because the commandments as expressed in Exodus and Deuteronomy explicitly forbids such things.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  2. AMP

    Churches and their Missionaries are looting in the name of Jesus. For example Prince Joseph a South Korean Pastor, Joel Osten are few of them. People being brainwashed and misleaded by these kind of people. People should boycott them and use their hard earn money for the good cause of society rather than filling pockets of these pseudo selfmade pastors.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  3. nofear

    claim Judas and the money changers at the temple too!

    April 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  4. Jews for Jesus

    Jesus celebrated jewish festivals such as Passover, Pentecost etc.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Anonymous

      wasnt the last supper at a passover sedar?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • StrictlyRight

      Jesus Claimed to be the Passover sacrifice. Pentecost is a Christian Holiday celebrating the Gift of the holy spirit.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  5. nofear

    but the same jews disown the core of Jesus's teaching: no blood sucking!

    April 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  6. rhall

    What a croc...Judaism reclaiming Jesus as their own. Typical of the Judaics...first, they proudly kill Him, then, now, "reclaim" Him in order to control the clueless goyim further...nothing changes, the "Eternal Jew."

    April 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • The Gospels

      Neither the Jews nor the Romans had that power to crucify Jesus.
      Read the Gospels.

      Jesus came to fulfill a divine plan and to bring salvation to all mankind including you.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  7. StrictlyRight

    Its true when they say that Jesus is Jewish. It is also true that one of the major blemishes on Christianity is the Blood of Israel's People through direct action (crusades) or Direct Inaction (silent pulpits in Germany and Europe during WW2). But for Jews to Accept Jesus as a good teacher will never work because they can not separate his message from his divinity. No good teacher would ever claim to be Divine in the Jewish religion and to say Paul made him up to be divine is only concievable if you skip the first four Gospels. Jesus Claimed to be Divine. Jesus claimed to be the Passover Lamb. So Jews must accept him as the suffering servant foretold in the old testament or wait until Jacobs trouble is completed. that is why judaism Can't accept Jesus. Divinity claims are why they turned him over to Pilot in the first place. I beg you to study more of Jesus if you are a Jew it, can only do you good.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • ChuckB

      Jesus didn't claim to be divine. Unitarian Christians as well as Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider that Jesus is divine. Even though they tried their best in the old, bad days, Trinitarian Christians didn't manage to kill all non-Trinitarian Christians. http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/ http://www.americanunitarian.org/AUCChristian.htm

      April 5, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • StrictlyRight

      Jhn 4:25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
      Jhn 4:26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am [he].

      One example of many. If Jesus never claimed Divinity Why did the Jews hand him over to Pilot for Execution? Name one reason.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • StrictlyRight

      Mat 16:15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
      Mat 16:16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, [fn] the Son of the living God."
      Mat 16:17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

      Second More clear example of him claiming divine

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

    Prayer is delusional.

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

      You continue with sarcasm Ill Pray for you and we will see who gets farther.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  9. Glides

    Well, most Jews I know (including myself) Don't really have an outright refusal of Jesus being the son of God, just more of an apathy to the concept of a Messiah at all.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Anonymous

      technically arent we all sons of god?because in the torah it says that when the jews crossed the red sea and the pharohs men died that the angels of hevean started to sing but god said " why are you cheering you should all be mourning at the deaths of my children." i think this is what is said.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Rhonda

      He died for the Jews also. He died for all mankind.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  10. svann

    I think the letters of Paul do come off quite a bit different from the first 5 books of the new testament – matthew, mark, luke, john, and acts.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • ChuckB

      Scholars generally accept that Paul's letters are the earliest of the writings in the New Testament.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  11. MP

    To believe in Jesus` teachings, but not that he was the son of God is a strange concept. Jesus is either the son of God or the worlds biggest liar.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • svann

      There seems to be an effort recently to take God out of the bible.

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

      He is the Son of God, but he is not God. Thge only way to God, is through Him; the path goes through Him and does not end in Him. The Trinity is a non-scriptual doctrine originating in neoplatonism.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Rhonda

      The word Trinity is not in the Bible. There is only ONE GOD. God is a Spirit. He manifested Himself as Jesus, the Son of God.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  12. achepotlex

    go ahead, you can have him back...sorry we borrowed him...he is a little dirty...

    April 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  13. MP

    Oy Vay Zmir, Meshuganas

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

      i agree fully they are all meshugana and have farkakte thinking

      April 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  14. ChuckB

    The first Christians were Jews, e.g., all the apostles were Jews. Read Acts. Also Jesus is not the only god of Christianity. Trinitarian Christianity considers that God is three persons in one essence; Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Unitarian Christians have God the Father and His Son, our Lord, Jesus, who is not God’s equal (this interpretation causes no difficulty in accepting that the only way to God is through the Son); the Holy Ghost is God's spirit, not a separate person. Jews wishing to incorporate Jesus would find Unitarian Christianity more accommodating as it is unequivocally monotheistic, while Trinitarianism is moot in that respect; Unitarian Christianity rejects the non-scriptural notion of God's nature, i.e., the Trinity.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • StrictlyRight

      Your explanation of the trinity being only three is not the entirety of the trinity's doctrine. Most/Many people who believe in the trinity believe in three in One. One God both separate and together.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Rhonda

      The work Trinity is not in the Bible.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  15. Brian

    Silly Christians arguing over a dead guy. you should use your time more effectively. instead of living for a non guaranteed afterlife why don't youjust enjoy the life you have now.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • svann

      Im having fun, are you? The unanswerable questions can be the most interesting.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Anonymous

      im having a ton of fun pushing peoples buttons and seeing what makes them tick

      April 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Commenter

      Greed. And Ego.

      They are not satisfied with this life alone, but want MORE... and not only more of the same, but better - ETERNAL BLISS with a perfect being who just loves them to bits and ardently wants to spend eternity with them.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Adam Vere

      to that outlook I say this. If in those with faith are wrong, we are in the same boat as non believers. If we are right, where are non believers. Faith is a funny thing. Its believing with your heart and not being blinded by worldly things. That being everything that will in some way eventually not exist.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  16. HE DIDNT SAY ANYTHING NEW, HE DIDNT DIE FOR ANYTHING BUT HIMSELF, AND HE'S DUST!!!

    truth!

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

      You sound so angry.

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

      He did say something new, he died for all people, and He's alive!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • The Truth

      Our Lord Jesus lived – TRUTH!
      Our Lord Jesus died for our sins – TRUTH!
      Our Lord Jesus rose from the grave and walked the Earth – TRUTH!
      Our Zombie Lord Jesus feasted upon brains, but could not find any amongst his followers, so he died again -TRUTH!

      April 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  17. Graced

    I'm a Christian. Christ was killed by both Jews and Romans. That was the plan from the start; why Christians would 'blame" Jews for the death of Christ is beyond me. Without his death, there is no Christianity. It boggles the mind that some people don't get that.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Tony Bananas Lucania

      You are correct: God framed the Romans and the Jews when he had his own son whacked, so that he could blackmail all of humanity into obedience for the debt created by the sacrifice of his son/himself/his son/himself/his son/himself (sounds like Faye Dunnaway in Chinatown, doesn't it?) that he made happen.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • ChuckB

      Yes, and Judas was instrumental in allowing the prophecies of scripture to play out. He was necessary for Jesus to atone for our sins. Without Judas there would have been no Passion.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Neon Knight

      It boggles our minds that you buy into this mythology.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Punisher2000

      Jesus, being the son of God knew all that was going to happen beforehand. He set it all up. The Romans succeeded in the biggest cover up of them all. Blame it on the Jews, so we don`t get blamed.All this was decided by Constantine in Nicae. Even Judas was set up. He was the only one who knew what was to happen, but just couldn`t take it and killed himself.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Rhonda

      I agree. There should be no blame. It had to be, and was meant to be from the beginning. Without His death we would not have redemption, we would still be in sin and would have no hope for eternity. Thank you Jesus!

      April 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • ChuckB

      It's a free gift.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  18. John Herling

    There was never anyone who was known in his own lifetime as "Jesus Christ". If the so-called Jesus ever really existed, then his name would have been Yehoshuah ben Yosef. If Jews have to refer to him at all, that's what they should called him. It seems self-evident that his own people, who knew him during his lifetime (if there was one) would have known exactly what he was and wasn't, and passed down that knowledge to their descendants. What do you think Jewish parents tell their children about Christianity? That it's a pack of lies, fabricated by Paul of Tarsus, the founder of Christianity, and that it all would have been rejected contemptuously by that pious Jew, Yehoshuah ben Yosef.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Punisher2000

      I don`t think Jews tell anything about Christianity being lies to their children.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Rhonda

      The original Christianity was founded by Jesus Himself when He visited His disciples after His resurrection. The Disciples were empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room. That was the beginning of the real church. If you read Jesus' words you will know that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that "No man cometh unto the Father but by me".

      April 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Rhonda

      Excuse me IS, not was..... :)

      April 5, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  19. Lori

    Of course he was!!! He "IS" a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, etc. Jesus is Love!! We are all praying to the same God and his son, just in different ways. I know most won't agree with this, but I understand it's hard to have an opened mind when it comes to religion. That's why Spirituality is more important!!! Be Spiritual anyway you can find it.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • teehee

      In other words, believe whatever story fits you and live you life by it. Honestly not a bad situation, unless your story tells you to hate/kill/discriminate/oppress those who are different than you.

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

      You'd like to believe that but mangods went out the door with Greek mythology. No other religion prays to a mangod other than Christianity. Take a course in theology and educate yourself further.

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

      Praying to the same God? Really? So on 9/11 the reason the terrorists steered the planes into the towers was because of their profound love for Jesus?
      You really need to do some reading up on other religions and speak to people of other faiths, whether in person or on forums then come up with a new theory Lori.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • halaniceguy

      God has no son. The man you call Jesus is a blasphemer and is not the Messiah.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Lance

      Jesus was a Jew. He was NOT a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, etc. His followers are called Christian. All of the other religions' 'gods' are not the same as God/Jesus. (John 14:6)

      April 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • J.W

      Well the Muslim and Christian God are the same.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • BLUEJEANSGIRL

      Amen Lori! I agree with you 100%

      April 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Lori

      Like I said, most people can't grasp this concept. They get too technical. I don't need to take theology to understand God. Like I also said above, Jesus/God is Love. All religions, including Muslim, teach to love one another. The terrorists who blew up America were not following the real Muslim way. They were extremists, and believing otherwise is part of our problem. Every religion has extremists. Learn more about the Muslim religion and it does not teach to kill. Al Qaeda teaches to kill. Our problem is that we all judge each other when we need to learn Acceptance a little more.

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

      The god of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same, but Islam rejects Jesus as Divine and the Son of God.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Lance

      God/Jesus is love. They are also patient, faithful, and merciful (Deut. 4:31) towards us, but God's patience runs out at some point. (Isaiah 13: 1-22). Understand, God is very loving, more than we deserve, but He is also a just, holy, righteous God. (Isaiah 30: 18; Psalm 33:5; Isaiah 51:4-5; Isaiah 61:8) More verses: http://www.jollynotes.com/inspirational-verses/justice-verses/

      April 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  20. Peri

    Could you have published this any other time except the day before Passover???? D'Ya think????

    April 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Jarrod

      I was thinking the same thing. Funny how antisemitic tones are found even in the most seemly harmless of news articles. CNN = money > relevance > accuracy, usually in that order.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:42 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.