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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    Lets cut to the chase,Boteach , Levine , Cohen; from what you write it is clear you are of the Synagogue of Satan ... you are of the seed of the Serpent , you are of Esau, you are Edomites !!!! You are the ones that want to KILL Jacob, the House of Israel , the children of Israel. You people are just like those Edomites that are now killing people of Palestine !!! You are the ones thats teaching the ministers and priest of Baal to decieve the christians and moslems ,yes even the WHOLE world !!!! Did not the new Covenant say to call no one rabbi, for there is but one Master of all ,even Christ !!!! You people believe in Lucifer for you are children of the Devil !!! SIN is the transgession of the LAW and by the law , he is cursed that leads the blind to wander out of the way....AMEN

    April 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  2. MacDonalds

    Hey Beth and Shlomo, next time don't come begging to us Christians for our blood and finance in order to protect your sandpit called Israehell.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Gokubi

      No Problem, do you want to keep your cell phone though? What about a lot of the medical research among many other many achievements that jews and israel has come up with since 1980's.... guess you have to return all of that since you are so against israel and apparently they give nothing in return right?

      April 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • MacDonalds

      Your petty Israehell is not less than OUR 50th State. You are nothing without US, you ingrate Jews- the Christ killers.

      Its our US's hard earned tax dollars that we give you beggars and all u give us is heartache and get US hatred from all the countries. From now on fight ur own wars, hypocrites!

      April 5, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Beth

      Psst, I'm *American*. I have not ever been to Israel. I think very conservative Christians are the ones who are the biggest supporters of Israel. Do you complain to them, too?

      April 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Gokubi

      I see, you have no reason to be there right? I mean the only democracy in the middle east fighting for freedom on the front lines (because you know, there aren't any US soldiers stationed in israel and all) and we allow the US to spread influence. Boy it must be so frustrating for you to not get anything out of having israel as an ally, innovation and all.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • BurgerKing

      dude, let it go. jews killed Our Saviour and they don't care for any one else. Next, watch, they'll come with "anti-semitism" card, just watch.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Gokubi


      Is it ok to point out when someone is being anti-semitic when they say sh.it like you? Doesn't matter though, I appreciate you letting us move along in peace, we'll continue being the chosen ones, being's gods light unto the world, you can keep hurting people in the name of love. We both know that gods already chosen the jewish people so we don't much mind your kind.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  3. .

    the ho.locaust is Jews punishment from God for not believe in Christ !

    April 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  4. James PDX

    If I wanted to ensure that my son was picked on and beat up as much as possible at school, I would name him Shmuley Boteach.

    I know it's sad that's all I took away from this article, but my Christian friends have caused me to lose any faith I might had in God and Jesus. For instance, my most religious friend is constantly praising Jesus for the doctors having removed the cancer (and 1 entire quad muscle) from his leg, yet he never properly gave God or Jesus credit for giving him the cancer in the 1st place. You can't have it both ways.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  5. Lodgic

    If God has all the power,how come he lets his son die?It means God killed his son?Then there was no sacrifice.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • James PDX

      This whole "dying for our sins" schtick never made any sense to me. When I tell my Christian friends that I can commit any sin I like as long as I accept Jesus as my God and savior because he died for my sins, they tell me it doesn't work that way? That we'll all still be judged. So if we're all still responsible for all of our sins, explain to me again what Jesus died for?

      April 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  6. @


    April 5, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Gokubi

      You're welcome

      April 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  7. Prometheus

    Please, take Jesus and his so-called christian followers with him. And, take them far away to the promised lands, where you can happily hate and kill each other, leaving the beauties of this country to far saner and more useful people.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  8. John

    @"In God We Trust," I'm Christian, but I don't think my religion is superior over Judaism or any other religion, so to condemn people to Hell for not following your own beliefs is sac-religious in and of itself, and extremely close-minded and ignorant. You yourself will be destined to Purgatory if you think your self-righteous opinion overpowers the beliefs of others. Maybe if you stopped and realized what your God actually requires of you in His image you'd realize how naive you are for that statement and standard of thinking. No matter what religion, what denomination or whatever I firmly believe God destined us to live morally, democratically, and intellectually prosperous while embracing the ones who have a difference of opinion.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Messianic Jew and PROUD

      It seems like some Jews start to have brain and stop being arrogants!!


      April 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Beth

      I am glad you posted. I agree. 🙂

      April 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      We want Jews to be saved. Jesus said 'Nobody enters kingdom of heaven except thru me'.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Mike

      In God we Trust- you need to be saved first and foremost!

      April 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Being "saved". What a hoot!

      April 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • John

      Well according to the Bible(which itself should not be taken for literal translation; everything's a moral issue one way or another and should be seen as such) Jesus is in fact the literal incarnation of God in human form, which means that God Himself was Jewish and did in fact agree with the religion, which means your logic is construed by the word you have been taught. Your ability to accept what fellow sinners have forced you to swallow overcompensates for your ability to discern what being a man of God truly means, making you extremely hypocritical in the name of your religion. If you can't accept your fellow brothers for what they are, then you yourself have no right to judge who deserves eternal enlightenment.

      @ everyone else- thank you for agreeing!

      April 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  9. zal

    "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."
    Yes, because being burnt at the stake tends to be slightly uncomfortable...

    April 5, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  10. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things . Need proof? See post above

      April 5, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  11. Jesus 4ever

    Jews are no longer God's Chosen people since they denied Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Whatever happens to them is their punishment from God for not believe in Jesus.... holocaust is an example!

    April 5, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • reason

      The majority of the world thinks you are going hell because you do not believe in their personal religious views.

      It's all the same bullshit.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Christianity & Judaism have heaven and hell, and both believe in Jesus.
      2.2 billion Christians + 1.6 billion Muslims = 3.8 out of 7 billion believe in Christ, which is the majority.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Islam* I mean, not Judaism. Sry!

      April 5, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Sean

      The God of the Bible is not the god the muslims worship.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • tokencode

      In God we trust, so you're saying that God would allow ever so slightly less than half the people on eath to burn in hell because h they don't except jesus? Organized religion is the root of all evil.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • AGuest9

      "In God We Trust" claims that jews believe in hell. His ignorance is showing, yet again. Just sayin'

      April 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 5, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  13. tr5tc680

    ahhhhhh Beth:

    You are a true Jew who hates Crhistians and Moslems. Jew think they are the Chosen Ones. well, look what the chosen ones have led US into.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Beth

      I actually do not hate Christians and Muslims. Almost all my friends are Christian and I have a bunch of Muslim friends who I love as well. I dislike when someone tells me I'm going to hell simply because I'm Jewish. Pointing out that this is offensive doesn't mean I 'hate' anyone. If you think those posts I was responding to are not offensive you might want to read up on the jewish point of view and learn a bit more. A side note but my type of Judaism doesn't believe in the idea of the chosen people and the chosen people doesn't mean what you think, anyway. You might read up on it. It doesn't mean Jews think they are better than everyone else as you seem to think it means. I think this country's political system is almost exclusively controlled by white, Christian males and that they are the ones doing the 'leading' of America.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  14. Answer

    Jesus freaks are so hilarious.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Sylvia

      Yepp... and you prob prefer the devil right?

      April 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  15. Sylvia

    I'm Jewish and converted to Christianity 5 years ago.... I feel bad for Jews who are brainwashed and who did not accept Jesus as Messiah yet. One day, all Jews will but will take time. Happy Easter & Passover!

    April 5, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • tokencode

      I feel sorry for brainwashed religous people in general.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  16. AlienShark

    Jesus didn't eat pigs meat. Jesus told his followers not to eat pigs meat. Jesus upheld and confirmed the laws of Moses. Jesus said only worship one God and take no god beside him. Jesus said to observe the sabbath. (saturday) Years later Paul, who never met Jesus said it is ok to eat pigs meat and it is ok to pray to Jesus and his mother besides God. Paul said Jesus died was buried and resurrected for your sins...those words didn't come from Jesus. Constantine took the position of Paul, and made Jesus a god next to the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The followers of the real Jesus were called Unitarians. They were killed off by Constantine, and when there were none left, he made Christianity the religion of rome, but not the historical Jesus, but Paul's Jesus. Then he changed the day of worship to Sunday, which was the day he worshiped his gods, not the God Jesus prayed to. Remember when you are eating your Easter ham, that the historical Jesus would not even sit at the same table with you in this life and in the next life he will tell you he doesn't even know you and he has no power to intercede for you to escape from the hell fire.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • rsutter

      You seem cranky.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  17. reason

    See what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians have to say about where god came from:


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

      atheism is the philosophy of clowns. LOL, yeah right, everything just popped up out of nowhere and then one day there was some slime and then your mommas momma crawled out of it. LOLOL

      April 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • reason

      @AlienShark, you would benefit from educating yourself. You could start by watching the video above.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Nah

      reason: "@AlienShark, you would benefit from educating yourself. You could start by watching the video above."

      And perhaps you could benefit by taking reading comprehension courses.

      "Alien" said, quite explicitly, that atheists are deluded into thinking something came from nothing of its own accord. Hence, he was talking about the existence of a god, not religion.

      Religion and a god are not coextensive.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • momoya

      If you're going to disagree with evolution you might want to find out what it actually is.. Atheism doesn't claim a big magic sky daddy uttered a few magical incantations to make everything, it's true.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  18. Beth

    I am Jewish. I got to temple regularly. I read Jewish publications. I haven't heard a single Jew talking about this topic. Not one. There is no movement such as this among actual Jews as far as I know. Jews already know a ton more about Christianity than Christians tend to know about Judaism or any non-Christian religion. Also, the supposedly Jewish man quoted in the article who said he was surprised Christians read the 'old testament' doesn't sound jewish. I call BS on that one because we Jews do not call our bible the 'old testament.' We call it the bible or the Tanakh. The Old Testament is in fact different than our bible in a lot of important ways. There are translation differences and the order of things is different and some things in one are not in the other. This adds up to the two books being different as a whole with two different focuses and messages. This article smells of an attempt to convert Jews. I don't have to read about Jesus and then make up my mind about him. That's a very Christian idea. I'm Jewish. I have had Christians try to convert me much of my life and I am not going to convert. I don't try to convert Christians. I wish they would do the same.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Keep thinking the way you do now... because sooner or later (life is short) you will know what is truth or not.
      BTW Judaism prohibit any Jews from trying to convert anybody to Judaism, while Christianity welcomes everybody who accept Christ as Lord and Saviour. Jesus is the Jewish and Christian Messiah, and I know you know this too 🙂

      April 5, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Louis

      Beth you will burn in hell anyway....

      April 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Beth

      Your posts are so very off-putting. Even if I were at all open to your religion before reading them (which I was not and am not) I would feel repelled by your smugness, our happiness with the ideas that Jews go to 'hell' (don't believe in that, either) and your ignorance and arrogance. you are a type of Christian people feel offended by and put off by. You are not going to win any converts. I have good Christian friends who are simply beautiful people who never judge and don't push their religion in other's faces and are wonderful people. You would do better if you lived in a 'christ-like' way. You are acting in a very 'un-christlike' way–playing god, saying who goes to heaven, being judgmental. Isn't your religion about LOVE? I'm not hearing it from your posts.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • LookAndSEE

      "May the bones of the hands and the bones of the fingers decay and decompose, of him who turns the pages of the book of Daniel, to find out the time of Daniel 9:24-27, and may his memory rot from off the face of the earth forever (Talmudic Law, p. 978, Section 2, Line 28)."

      April 5, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Beth

      Since it doesn't exist I'm not afraid. I'm sorry for all the Christians who are scared by fantasies of 'hell' as children. I'm sorry you are so scared. I'm do good in the world because it is the right thing to do, because I care about others and love others, not out of fear of 'hell'. Doing good because of fear is a sad thing.

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

      I am also a practicing Jew, and I thought the same thing when reading the quote of the
      "Jewish" man referring to the Hebrew Bible as 'the Old Testament". My congregation is certainly not talking about Jesus, or urging Jews to study his life.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • MacDonalds

      But you jews are so desperate to get our help for your hellhole Israel.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  19. † In God We Trust †


    April 5, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • DesertTripper


      April 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  20. Shlomo

    I am Jewish, and believe me most Jews secretly believe in Christ but we do not admit it :/

    April 5, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Beth

      Most Jews can't believe in 'Christ'. No Jews can believe in 'christ' because if one believes Jesus was the messiah then one is automatically no longer Jewish by definition. I don't know if any such person even lived and I frankly could care less. I see that the religion has some good in it (along with some bad). I appreciate the good part and try to stay away from the bad.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Yosef

      Say what???? Speak for yourself, Shlomo. And to Mr. Cohen, I can do without a tangible G-d.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Beth and Yosef..... I will tell you that you will not go to heaven until you accept Jesus Christ as Messiah.
      He came to Earth 2000 years ago. Stop being ignorant!

      April 5, 2012 at 8:48 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.