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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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. thom234

    Hawaiidude...an anti-semitic racist.

    April 6, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      uh arabs are semite. Descended from Shem, Noahs son. That is a knee jerk response. Today's joos have hijacked the word semite as well as the word holocaust. They think it belongs soley to them. Never mind the holocaust they are causing in palestine... But if I were to choose I would rather wear that label than the joo "antichrist."

      April 6, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      and joos are not a race they are a people group, ethnicity but not a race. We have a white race, asian race and african race. Just like hispanics are not a race. If anyone can become a jew by fath then it is not a race. Just a bunch of racist white europeans originally from Karzastan.

      April 6, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  2. Muneef

    ‘Jesus predicted coming of Prophet Mohammed’ in Bible found in Turkey
    Sunday, 26 February 2012


    Jesus predicted advent of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)
    Turkish minister says Vatican has asked to see the book


    April 6, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      HG Wells predicted nuclear power and genetics. Arthur C Clarke predicted satellites. All hail to these glorious gods of reason and science.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  3. Jawz

    Jesus was a Jew, he never wanted a separate religion or a separate anything. He wanted to bring people together and drop all names because it creates divisiveness.

    April 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  4. hawaiiduude


    April 6, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Flinders the Butler


      April 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  5. Plug1

    Isa, Peace and Blessings be upon him, is a Prophet of Allah.

    April 6, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Jawz

      Sorry but you missed spelled it, its Jehovah

      April 6, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  6. Pninah

    Not sure which Jews you are speaking of, but this Jew and MANY Jews have not "reclaimed" him, if he existed at all.

    April 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      according to the joo talmud they despise him as the devil.

      April 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • just sayin

      hawaii's not a real state

      April 6, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  7. martog

    If you can handle a dose of reality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

    April 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Jawz


      April 6, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  8. Nii

    I'm now a lay minister n about entering Seminary. Just 2 yrs ago I was a Sunday only Xtian. Now de Bible is clearer 2 me. I just think"I love God with all my life, love my neighbor as myself n my neighbor loves me as himself cos God loves me as Himself with all His Life" then enjoy.

    April 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  9. annon

    God wrote Genesis for a child since at that time humans were like two year olds with regard to knowledge. They were just starting to master written language so God wrote that book in a way they could understand – so when he gives the Creation story he is putting it in terms a child can understand. If he gave that story today it would be 100,000 pages long...

    Revelations is a book that shouldn't have been put in the Bible. Ever wonder why that is the last book? Maybe God was ticked off that it got into the Bible so he just stopped providing us more knowledge. All that book has done is create divisions in the Churches and make it more about doomsday than love, forgiveness and grace – which is what being a Christian is supposed to be about.

    If what I just wrote upsets you then take a step back and think long and hard about it. Do your own research and think for yourself – not just what you have been told by others – and remember God made you in his own image so that implies you should think for yourself and not be afraid to question those who you allow to lead you.

    April 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • just sayin

      What kind of pen did he use?

      April 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • just sayin

      Interesting God wrote the bible. It was my understanding that man wrote it. In fact all gods are illiterate and speech challenged and have always required men to write and speak for them. Of course all gods created by men require such.

      April 6, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • just sayin

      All scripture is God breathed. God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • just sayin

      Unless he had a cold, then maybe it was God coughed.

      April 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  10. JEN


    April 6, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Capslock is not healthy for children and other living things


      April 6, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • thom234

      Ya OK "Jen." You really write like a Jen. You are another Muslim blogger using a plain sounding American name to get some credibility.

      April 6, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    For the better

    April 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Probably twice on Sunday

      That's what I heard

      April 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Pray without ceasing

      April 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  12. JEN


    April 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  13. Muneef

    Some Q/Verses about Jesus;

    And We did certainly give Moses the Torah and followed up after him with messengers. And We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Pure Spirit. But is it [not] that every time a messenger came to you, [O Children of Israel], with what your souls did not desire, you were arrogant? And a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed.2:87

    And they said, "Our hearts are wrapped." But, [in fact], Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so little is it that they believe.2:88
    And when Jesus brought clear proofs, he said, "I have come to you with wisdom and to make clear to you some of that over which you differ, so fear Allah and obey me. 43:63

    Indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. This is a straight path."43:64

    But the denominations from among them differed [and separated], so woe to those who have wronged from the punishment of a painful Day.43:65

    And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad." But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, "This is obvious magic."61:6

    And who is more unjust than one who invents about Allah untruth while he is being invited to Islam. And Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.61:7

    They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.61:8

    It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion, although those who associate others with Allah dislike it.61:9
    O you who have believed, be supporters of Allah , as when Jesus, the son of Mary, said to the disciples, "Who are my supporters for Allah ?" The disciples said, "We are supporters of Allah ." And a faction of the Children of Israel believed and a faction disbelieved. So We supported those who believed against their enemy, and they became dominant.61:14

    April 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      the joo tamud calls jesus a blasphemer and devil. The koran calls jesus a holy prophet.

      which religion is anti christ?

      Just sayin...

      April 6, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Muneef

      It says not all were against him as stated;

      But the denominations from among them differed [and separated], so woe to those who have wronged from the punishment of a painful Day.43:65

      April 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Muneef

      The Talmud means school and students like since in Arabic it is Talameed...or as Tolaab which Taliban word came from...so you see those are of a certain schools which study a man made books and not the known Holy Books such as the Torah, the Zaboor,the Angeel and the Quran.
      Books have been changed and made to fit a certain propgandas are Talmud and the New Testment... The Artodox is the correct way if to worship no one but GOD Allah and not his creation and prophets...

      April 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  14. A Seeker Of Truth

    If every person on earth would read the Old Testament, New Testament and Final Testament (Quran), the whole world would be a better place...

    April 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      try reading the joo t a l m u d and see how much they just love jesus and christians!

      April 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • American Since 1635

      Agreed. Yahweh, The Holy Spirit and Allah are all one in the same. It would be cool if folks will wake up, realize this and stop fighting each other.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • just sayin

      allah is an idol and is not the God of the Bible. God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • American Since 1635

      @just sayin – Before you cast judgement, read a copy of the Quran. You'll see the same peaceful message as is also spoken in the Jewish, Christian, and Mormon holy books. Muslims are not godless people, I've personally known many of them in my lifetime. They are nice folks and they are just as holy as Christians, Jews and Mormons.

      April 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • just sayin

      They are nice and violent and follow an idol. The koran is satanic garbage and Mohammed was a liar.allah is not the God of the Bible, to insist it is, is to confirm that you do not know the God of the Bible. God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • George

      Especially when they realize they are reading the wisdom of the first bloggers. lol

      April 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  15. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    April 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      that's your prayer.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • just sayin

      hawaiiduude you shut up about prayer and joos and stuff, hawaiis not even a real state

      April 6, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      joos are a made up people. Made up by hollywood producers Levin and Shwartz

      April 6, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  16. just sayin

    Praise Jesus the Zombie in diapers will ris eon Sunday!!!!

    April 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      typical of cnn censors anyone can say chit about jesus but when we quote the t a l m u d about jesus post is deleted. Google talmud on jesus

      April 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      spoken by one of the antichryst joos?

      April 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • just sayin

      Fraud alert !

      April 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • just sayin

      God alert. Fraud bless you all.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  17. Nii

    U've stumbled on spirituality without realising it. The Bible, Hymn books, Theology books all provide as with info but it only makes sense when we practise loving our neighbor as ourselves. That is what I discovered when I almost lost my faith after being slandered by some Xtians.

    April 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • just sayin

      It brings pants

      April 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  19. Former Minister

    And wouldn't it be wonderful if people would simply live the compassion and justice message of the man and let go of the tribalism, the theology and the ancient books altogether?

    April 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  20. Leo

    Isaiah 53

    The Suffering Servant
    1 Who has believed our message?
    And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
    2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
    And like a root out of parched ground;
    He has no stately form or majesty
    That we should look upon Him,
    Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
    3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
    A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
    And like one from whom men hide their face
    He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
    4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
    And our sorrows He carried;
    Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
    Smitten of God, and afflicted.
    5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
    He was crushed for our iniquities;
    The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
    And by His scourging we are healed.
    6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
    Each of us has turned to his own way;
    But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
    To fall on Him.

    7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
    Yet He did not open His mouth;
    Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
    And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
    So He did not open His mouth.
    8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
    And as for His generation, who considered
    That He was cut off out of the land of the living
    For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
    9 His grave was assigned with wicked men,
    Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
    Because He had done no violence,
    Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

    10 But the LORD was pleased
    To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
    If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
    He will see His offspring,
    He will prolong His days,
    And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
    11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,
    He will see it and be satisfied;
    By His knowledge the Righteous One,
    My Servant, will justify the many,
    As He will bear their iniquities.
    12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
    And He will divide the booty with the strong;
    Because He poured out Himself to death,
    And was numbered with the transgressors;
    Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
    And interceded for the transgressors.

    April 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      Damn it people will you learn your mythology

      this is about Mastema you know leader of the quire Dominion

      i should know i cant stand that Satan

      see look i used satan in the right condination
      yup as an insult kinda like calling some one ba.stard becouse its not a name


      April 6, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      And then they, the God haters say that "if there is a God, they don't want to have anything to do with Him because He created hell and sending people there.
      God didn't create hell for human souls, but for satan and his fallen angels. But YOU are the perfect example why humans will join them! !
      You'll be at home right there with them!

      April 7, 2012 at 9:56 am |
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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.