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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    McDo Who says I can't? I am a free agent and if I hold that all these men are all in the same category. Who says the God that we both believe in does not agree with me and disagree with your very narrow interpretation of my God of Peace. Do not be frightened McDo. Do not worry about being saved. Even atheists gets saved according my God. God does not play favorites McDo. McDo it would be far better if you McDon't try to convince other believers about your particular mythology. My myths are just as good as yours and McDon't say yours is better. Just keep McDoing peaceful actions.

    April 6, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  2. MB

    I just wanted to quickly point out to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, in the bible, it does indicate in Paul's miraculous conversion, that Paul does in fact see Jesus. I understand that there are religious conflicts wherein some may debate whether Jesus was resurrected or not. Barring that conflict and based solely on the content found in the New Testament, Paul did see Jesus.

    April 6, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Theism is not healthy for your sanity and other reasonable things

      Paul saw Jesus in a vision, he never met him in the flesh. Even Paul makes that clear.

      Christianity is based on one guy accidentally eating some magic mushrooms on his way to Damascus.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • ttwp

      Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? 1 Cor 9:1

      April 6, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Bob

      Remember that Paul did not actually see Jesus in the flesh, and the Apostle John warns about that in 1Jn 4:2-3. Also, (not to your comments directly), Jesus in no place said he was God. He said he was the Son of God, and that is what angered the Jewish leaders of his day: "Art thou the Christ, the son of the Blessed?" Not being a Jew by birth, I have always been confused why this was a problem to the 1st century Jewish leaders, and to the Jews of our day. Back to Paul, he is in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus when he says that when Jesus died, somehow the Law died also. Compare Romans 7: 4-6 to Jesus' words in Matthew 5:17-19. Pertaining to the Law, Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40 that first having love for God, and second having love for your neighbor hangs (supports, depends, etc.) all the Law and the Prophets.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  3. Shannon

    This is a fascinating and heartwarming story. I'd love to see Jews and Christians share Jesus' love and teachings more equally. As for those of you saying prayer is useless, think of it as meditation.......focusing on the positive, thinking of the things you are grateful for or can improve on. Prayers is a time to think about yourself and how you can be a better person. It's very simple really.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Theism is not healthy for your sanity and other reasonable things

      Then just call it meditation and be done with it, no need to bring imaginary friends into the mix.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • sam stone

      if you want to equate it to meditation, fine. meditation is great. in that sense, it doesn't matter who you pray to, does it?
      it is the ACT of prayer, not the object, that is beneficial

      April 6, 2012 at 9:05 am |


    April 6, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • MB

      It is convenient to dismiss other opinions when they don't best suit you. The point in this article is not to show that religion is what we all need, but to show how people can learn from other people and their view points. This kind of a comment is very closed minded. I would encourage you to not necessarily believe in a religion but learn from the opinion of others and internalize the good that they have.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • sam stone

      MB: I sort of agree. I just finished reading The Year Of Living Biblically. It has made me more tolerant of those with a different viewpoint, to a limit.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  5. stjdsj

    “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’
    “For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
    “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
    “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
    “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:3-9, written testimony of Peter, A.D. 65)

    April 6, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • reason


      April 6, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • sam stone

      So, how long has this second coming been coming? Of course, the bible claims that there will be mockers. The best way to deflect criticism in the eyes of TRUE BELIEVERS is to acknowledge that there will be critics. Doesn't mean that all of it is true.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • ttwp

      Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. John 17:17

      April 6, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • sam stone

      "it being in a book don't necessarily make it so" – sam stone 1:1

      April 6, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • JT

      Psalm 137:9 – Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  6. Idol Girl

    Quote from article: "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."

    I very much agree with this. In my opinion, Jesus was preaching reformed Judaism.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • reason

      Very good education on early Judaism:


      April 6, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Roberto Sierra

      Amen! ...."I like Jesus and I believe in everything Jesus said and did .......and the way the apostles walked their lives.......but I am not going to walk the way they did ." ??????? No they did not celebrate with a white hare and they did not do the chicken eggs or the clown with the red suit ...but ...i will do it because the catholic church declared it ok so i will go with the catholic church."

      April 6, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Apotropoxy

      Absolutely. Jesus was channeling Hillel.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Idol Girl

      I have a non-apocalyptic perspective of Jesus. I view him as a champion of human progress and preacher of compassion and equality.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  7. jemzinthekop

    just sayin
    Yeah it was funny a hundred years ago too, when the first guy said it. God bless

    Almost as funny as the bible 2000 years ago when the talking snake said it.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  8. Religion is controlled insanity

    Two hands working can do more then a thousand clasped in prayer.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  9. Tired of Idiots

    Put your hijab on, thump your bible, grow your sideburns and wear a black suit and hat, beat your head against the wailing wall, travel to Mecca, cross your legs and hold your thumbs and forefingers together, grab snakes and dance around, speak in meaningless tongues, blow yourself up for jihad, sell all your belongings and move to Ghana and then drink the cool-aid to kill yourself, why not drink some chicken blood and put a curse on somebody? Religion. Makes sense... Well, not really...

    April 6, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • sam stone

      i agree with you. that being said, i have no problem with individual faith. but, top down faith is toxic

      April 6, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  10. Reality


    Many Jews don't accept the historical Abraham or the historical Moses. I doubt they will accept the historical Jesus at least the one who rose from the dead.

    Only for the newcomers.

    o origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    “New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. “

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel – not one shard of pottery."


    April 6, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Religion is controlled insanity

      Reality = jesus never existed and was penciled in by Roman historians once they figured out Christianity was a great way to herd the sheep.

      The sheep herding method is so amazing it still works today.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  11. hesalive

    To my Jewish friends: you don't claim Him, He claims you.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Theism is not healthy for your sanity and other reasonable things

      That is incredibly creepy.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  12. Ron from Jersey

    Boteach is a lot like Thomas Jefferson: Both think the apostle Paul doesn't count and both believe in the miraculous (God) but deny miracles (Jesus's divinity). So typical of mear humans is to pick and choose what only makes sense to their narrow eartly minds

    April 6, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Religious indoctrination is child abuse.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • just sayin

      Denying a child eternal life is the worst form of child abuse. God bless
      Keep posting "atheism is not healthy for children and other living things" it is an answer to prayer. God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Prayer changes things

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things .

      April 6, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • sam stone

      Telling a child that he or she was born sinful is a toxic indoctrination

      April 6, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • k

      You're a moron. It's well established that ethics (and ethical behavior) flow from theology. That's not to say that there has been (by any means) a good implementation of theology/ethics by religious groups. But weighed against the benefits that religion has brought in terms of charity and kindness (and compared to the devastation wrought by god-less societies ... think 3rd reich, u.s.s.r., mao, etc.) ... religion stacks up pretty well. In fact, you would do your kids a favor by promoting a God-centered life.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • sam stone

      k: 3rd reich, stalin, mao were NOT godless societies. they were societies where the leader was god.

      jc: denying a child eternal life is jesus would do to a child that doesn't want to play with him.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  14. S.R.

    "I actually find myself becoming a better Jew because I become better informed about my own history," Which part the 1% based on some historical facts or the 90% fairy tells that religions are based on? Wake up people religion is a lie. The creator is real.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  15. jemzinthekop

    I once prayed to god for a bike, but quickly found out he didn't work that way...so I stole a bike and prayed for his forgiveness

    April 6, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Adel

      Good one!

      April 6, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • McDo

      Next time you write your birthdate or the date try to think for example 2012 years after the birth of Christ.
      Also I should welcome you to earth.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • just sayin

      Yeah it was funny a hundred years ago too, when the first guy said it. God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • IceT

      And it's still funny (and accurate) everytime it gets posted!!

      April 6, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Roberto Sierra


      April 6, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusion.al

    April 6, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • just sayin

      Keep posting "atheism is not healthy for children and other living things". Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things is a Truth that needs to be told. Post prayer changes things as well ! God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Prayer changes things

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things .

      April 6, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • sam stone

      Ah, the capitalization of truth. That's how you know it's the OFFICIAL truth

      April 6, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  17. stjdsj

    “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.
    “To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of FORTY DAYS and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1-3, written testimony by Luke, A.D. 62)

    April 6, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Theism is not healthy for your sanity and other reasonable things

      "They took the stake of olive-wood, sharp at the point, and thrust it into his eye, while I, throwing my weight upon it from above, whirled it round, as when a man bores a ship's timber with a drill, while those below keep it spinning with the thong, which they lay hold of by either end, and the drill runs around unceasingly. Even so we took the fiery-pointed stake and whirled it around in his eye, and the blood flowed around the heated thing."

      Ulysses eyewitness account of blinding a cyclops from The Odyssey.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  18. reason

    The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from stone age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.

    Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you live your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Josh

      So you are okay with a God who loves but who does not punish I would not be okay with any god who did not hold people to a standard. That would be a god who is truly not worth worshiping.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • reason

      What standard? How is believing in Jesus a moral standard?

      April 6, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Jimi

      So what is your "reason" for being here? Do not lean on your own understanding. Know B4U go.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Jimi

      First of all God does not send people to eternal suffering. People send themselves by rejecting eternal salvation that Jesus provided by dying on the cross for all sinners. It's a choice and that choice is up to you and everyone else.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • sam stone

      Josh: And that standard is exemplified by the supposed ethics of an Iron Age Middle East agrarian society? How does that at all apply to modern man?

      April 6, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • sam stone

      jimi: but, the omnicient god knew all this before anything was created, no? he knew who was going to heaven and who was going to hell? what was the point of this, other than being a sick fvck who likes to see people suffer?

      April 6, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 6, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • crazypete

      Anything one does changes things. I wave my hand in the air and things have changed. So what?

      April 6, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer is delusional and it changes things. It turns otherwise rational adults into believing they can talk to an imaginary friend. People need to know this.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      like rain dances change the weather

      April 6, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  20. Canadian Jack

    Yeshua ben Yosef, Ghandi, Marin Luther KIng. Why do people hate pacifists so much? If any of these men were alive today, they would be murdered all over again. None of these men tried to convert people to their religion. Religion is divisive. Al these men held to one truth-without peace there can be no hope. Capitalists and communist would hate them too. These men were not materialists. They lived on a higher plane than the rest of us. Their lives were tied up with history.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • McDo

      Yeah but you can't compare these men with Jesus Christ. Jesus is our lord and saviour. Nobody comes closer to him ever. Period. Next?

      April 6, 2012 at 8:50 am |
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About this blog

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.