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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    I have long been conflicted by various beliefs...but to believe there is nothing...seems so preposterous. Why exist at all if this is all there is? There is no reason I can think of or have heard an arguement for. 100 years is nothing...NOTHING...and yet we live it as if we think of it as a "long" life. Atheists ask for evidence...but there is more evidence against them than for them.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Saying god doesn't want you eating pork or that gays are an abomination makes you no better. We are all agnostics and if you claim otherwise, you are a liar. Atheists deserve a lot of respect for dislodging religious dolts from their comforting fantasies.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • !

      Atheists do NOT deserve anything... they should be all sentenced to death and be done with them!

      April 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Translation of jj's post into comprehensible English

      I have long been conflicted by various beliefs" – translation: I admit that religions don't make any sense

      "but to believe there is nothing...seems so preposterous' – translation: But to believe the world is exactly what it looks like, with no hidden guy doing magic that I never actually see, well, that's preposterous

      "Why exist at all if this is all there is? There is no reason I can think of or have heard an arguement for." – translation: I can't think of any good reason to have fun and fall in love and be creative and learn all this interesting stuff and have a family and community that I enjoy and cultivate hobbies and passions . . . I have never heard any good reason for living without an invisible magic man doing things that I never see.

      "100 years is nothing...NOTHING...and yet we live it as if we think of it as a "long" life." – translation: that seemed like an important thing to say at the time, even though it has nothing to do with anything. I just cannot imagine that living creatures could have life-limited bodies that wear out over time,

      "Atheists ask for evidence...but there is more evidence against them than for them." – translation: I really hope you don't ask me for any of that evidence stuff, because all I really have are these vague random concepts that really don't hold up under any scrutiny. And gosh, there is no measurable sign of a god anywhere in the known universe, from the smallest atom to the largest galaxy, but that really isn't massive evidence that no god is at work.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • Allen

      Atheism is the believe of there is no god, therefore Buddhism and Taoism is consider Atheism.
      Buddism and Taoism are some of the world most peaceful religion.
      Buddism and Taoism support science
      Buddism and Taoism help respect elder
      Buddism and Taoism have great peace with non-religion people
      Buddism and Taoism have the best morality in people.
      Buddism and Taoism are use by mostly Asian culture.
      Buddism and Taoism support education and asking "why" instead of taking everything in faith.
      Buddism and Taoism are philosophy religion.
      People can be both Buddism and Taoism, because they don't contradict each other.
      Buddism and Taoism's religion are Atheism

      April 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • allen translated

      Apples and oranges are fruit. Therefore, apples are oranges.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I rest my case.

      April 6, 2012 at 3:09 am |
  2. mhklein

    I respect Christians of good will and their religion, but I prefer not to dwell on Jesus. I have nothing against him, I wish his soul well in Heaven. But he has become part of another theology, and it's not my theology. I have my own pantheon of heroes: Rashi, the Rambam, the Ramban, Hillel, Shammai, Rabbi Yochanan Hazakai, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Judah the Prince, the list goes on and on. I wish the followers of Jesus well, but I march to a different tune.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • jj

      And I respect you, for you seem to be a thoughtful soul. Someone worthy of conversation. thank you.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • !

      I bet most of those Rabbi's you mentioned secretly believed in Jesus.....

      April 5, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  3. Felsen Stark

    The Jews who believe in Yeshua=Jesus are called Messianics. For lack of a better word the Hebrew word for Messiah was translated to a Greek word from which we got the word Christ. Thus Messiah=Christ, see the Book of John, thus Messianic=Christian. The Roman Empire forced the temporary separation and that is now reversing quickly.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  4. Pipe-Dreamer

    What would Life be like if there was no Jesus? No Monotheistic Theocracy to be considered? Just a bunch of hooligans out for the morning air? Where would one be in the Grand Scheme of Life if Monotheism weren't a Theocracy in today's timeline? L if I no,,,,, 🙁

    April 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Gokubi

      I have a feeling people would find some other way to hate jews and call them killers of...."somebody"

      April 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • !

      Yeah "Poor" Jews who are/will be persecuted no matter what. "Chosen people" never do anything bad or harm at all... nopp

      April 5, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  5. well

    Whether you think him God, prophet or Rabbi, the teachings of Jesus are good stuff.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  6. Eric

    It will be a happy day, indeed, when people will take the "visuals" and "things" we have associated with all religions and focus on the truths in each and every scripture: All human beings live on the same little planet called "Earth"....they dress different, and have different skin-tones, different spoken languages, do different things..... but, not one of them WANTS to die if they've experienced happiness and friendship from other people that live here......It's my hope that more people will continue their traditions, and grow to understand how easy it is to be a little more kind to people....

    April 5, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  7. !

    Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things...

    † Atheism is a religion that makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
    † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
    † Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here are posted by closet Atheists)
    † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
    † Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
    † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
    † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
    † Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Hitler (Denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
    † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
    † Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
    † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
    † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
    † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
    † Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
    † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
    † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
    † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
    † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
    † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
    **Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**

    †† Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator ††

    April 5, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Hmmmmmm

      "Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S."

      "2% of American's control almost 55% of U.S. financial wealth"


      April 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Eric

      My dear friend....I only want to point this out....'cause (sadly) what you have just done broke a cardinal rule within religions around the world: You judged atheists. The fact is: they are people....if they choose to not believe in what you (or I) believe in.....they have that right to do so.........When we point out things like that, and call them names......i.e. "evil" "sent by Satan"........we are no better than they are........most of the English speakers call that a "hypocrite".....How did our parents once tell us..."If you can't say something "nice," don't say anything at all." I apologize for drawing attention to your response....but, some naughty children need a little "tough love" sometimes.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • klangster

      wow what pointless and stupid list

      April 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      Most people I deal with are Atheistic Centrists. They tend to swing with the flowing tides of randomized socialisms. I am a closet Christian and I pray there most of the time. God forbid, I should ever want to convert my frinedly atheists! I choose a smooth ocean in being social with many folk. My God who inhabits MY Body is not your God who inhabits your body and the same can be said regarding all people world wide.

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Allen

      Atheism is the believe of there is no god, therefore Buddhism and Taoism is consider Atheism.
      Buddism and Taoism are some of the world most peaceful religion.
      Buddism and Taoism support science
      Buddism and Taoism help respect elder
      Buddism and Taoism have great peace with non-religion people
      Buddism and Taoism have the best morality in people.
      Buddism and Taoism are use by mostly Asian culture.
      Buddism and Taoism support education and asking "why" instead of taking everything in faith.
      Buddism and Taoism are philosophy religion.
      People can be both Buddism and Taoism, because they contradict each other.
      Buddism and Taoism's religion are Atheism

      April 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Chris

      Eric, by pointing out that he was "judging atheists," you hypocritically judged him, which is the real context of Matthew 7:1-5. In fact, Jesus commanded us to judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). Do you think judging someone hypocritically is "nice"?

      April 6, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  8. Apotropoxy

    Jesus was a rabbi who preached traditional Hillel thinking. His followers, in deep grief at the loss of their beloved spiritual leader, got a little carried away as time went on. Result: a new religion.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  9. CA

    Its been a rocky road for both religions in the past.What great respect and joy it is to here that Jesus is bieng aknowledge.......

    April 5, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  10. billy jester

    and the Italians are going to reclaim Chief Jay Strongbow, now that he has passed away, and make him Joey Scarpa once again.....get real, would you?

    April 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  11. David H

    How can anyone doubt that he was Jewish? He went into his father's business, his mother thought he was God, and he thought his mother was a virgin. Proof positive. All in all, it's a lovely fairy tale, with a horrible aftermath of murder and pillage for 2000 years, without a shred of evidence to support any historical story. There are some good points to the story, but all in all, no reasonable person should take the story seriously. Enjoy your beliefs and your traditions, live the good parts, but please, I'm really not overly interested in partaking in your silliness.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • well

      Can you substantiate your faith that Christianity led to "a horrible aftermath of murder and pillage for 2000 years". Were Christians significantly more violent than contemporary cultures, say the Turks, Persians or Mongols? Please elaborate.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Danny

      Read the bible, get educated and learn instead of coming here and show us your ignorant zero-knowledge anti-Christian bigotry

      April 5, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  12. maggiemay

    @ Ungodly Discipline.....You should change your name to Doubting Thomas, it would suit you better.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  13. well

    I feel sorry for the Jews posting here that define their religion largely by rejection of one teaching. For the first century of two of Christianity, all the Christian authors and most Christian converts were observant Jews.

    To say they weren't Jews is preposterous. I would bet that most of them were more observant than 90% of the Jews today. They would have considered themselves Jews whose Messiah had come.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  15. There. Are. No. Gods!

    We are all born atheists! It is only through childhood that you are exposed to your "supposed" messiah. If you lived in Iraq, you would believe in Allah and that America is the Devil. If you lived in India you would believe in Krishna perhaps, in other countries based upon what is the accepted belief, that is what you would know about. It is all a lie! There was no jesus as explained in the bible. Perhaps a man or more named jesus existed, but none of them that are spoken about in the bible ever existed. No person was ever born of a woman who was a virgin. Science can prove that fact. Wake up! There. Are. No. Gods! Stop fighting for the sake of war! Stop killing one another for the belief in your myth! Wake up! There. Are. No. Gods! You know it is true!

    April 5, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Jewish mom

      Stop spreading your false hatred here... take it with you to North Korea!

      April 5, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • DCC

      "Stop fighting for the sake of war!" I believe that is a mistype, but you are exactly right haha. For every war you can name, I will tell you why it was fought – and not once is it for religion. Even the Crusaders were fought for economic and political reasons. The Trojan War was fought over resources in the Black Sea. Hitler eradicated the Jews of Europe because he feared their economic impact on Germany. I do not have a problem with atheism, but when will you all grow up and see that "religion" is not the cause of war. Marx said it himself...religion is the opiate, it is the mask behind which the real reasons for war are hidden.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • well

      Yes yes yes, and you know with absolute certainty that DNA formed through an unknown process which has never been repeated by experimentation. Further, again through an unknown process never repeated experimentally a semi-permeable membrane formed around this DNA.

      I'm not saying it didn't happen, but as a skeptic I'd like to see at least one successful experiment showing that it could happen.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Shanika

      Prove us there's no God and I'll happily convert to your religion of Atheism.
      You cannot tell us how Earth was created

      April 5, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Danny

      "Stop killing others of your belief myth"

      Then why did Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot kill religious people because of his anti-religion belief?!

      April 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • just sayin

      We are all born from the breath of God. Life comes from the throne of God imparted at conception and assigned by God since before creation. Life gives us the choice to freely accept God in love and so return to be with Him for eternity. Woe to that person that would turn a child from God. God bless

      April 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Felsen Stark

      Even the atheist I know would say you lack wisdom.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  16. SekemetKali

    Disclaim Jesus as ISIS.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • well

      Learn your comparative theology. Osiris the murdered and resurrected judge of the dead is the Egyptian parallel.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  17. Jews.....

    You should read The Complete Jewish Bible, it makes it very clear that God had Israel first in mind when he brought salvation, therefore He send His Son Yeshua HaMashiach. And it is always God's will for the Gentile nations to share in His salvation (see Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:6). God told Abraham that through him all the nations of the Earth would be blessed (see Genesis 12:1-3).

    April 5, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  18. Dan

    It's about time!! A very wise move. Why did it take so long. After all, Jesus was Jewish.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  19. Dan

    It's about time!! A very wish move.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  20. Sweet-Fragrance

    I was born into Jewish family but I married a Christian, I and so much at peace now. I feel more grounded. Thanks to my husband. he brought me into Eternal love in Christ.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • billy jester

      and no more clipped little hebrew dinkus to laff at

      April 5, 2012 at 10:19 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.