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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    Just to let everyone know, most Jews despise Shmuley's book on Jesus. Most Jews do not want anything to do with Jesus. This is a really skewed picture of reality to promote Shmuley's book and or his election. Don't be fooled into thinking that there is any truth in this. If you don't believe me then just call the local rabbi and see for yourself.

    April 18, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  2. Paul

    Paullied: Call part of the Bible “OLD”?
    You are right, that is why Jehovah’s Witnesses call those sacred writings the ‘Hebrew Scriptures’.
    The Hebrew Scriptures are certainly not out of date, nor obsolete. Without the Hebrew Scriptures we would not understand the Greek scriptures as many of Jesus disciples and apostles drew from them to help us understand Christ. Particularly how he fulfilled many of the prophecies recorded in Psalms, Daniel and many others. The Hebrew Scriptures help us understand man’s beginning and Gods purpose for creating this earth and humans in his image.
    Without the Hebrew Scriptures we would not have the fullness of truth and our faith would be sadly lacking in solid evidence for our creators purpose. True Christians today are truly thankful for the example of faithful patriarchs like Noah, Abraham and prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and many others who spoke the word of God and were intrusted with these sacred writings. All praise to our God Jehovah, YHWH.

    April 18, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  3. rofl

    "Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah found themselves in the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, position of being blamed for his death"~ Everyone knows the Italians did it... duh!

    April 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Anne

      Good Lord, I sure hope you are being sarcastic. It was the Romans that were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, who was a Jew.

      April 18, 2012 at 4:15 am |
  4. Craig

    Every man, woman and child in Israel are required to be in the military, they are also conceived that way. Jews should ask themselves why every country on earth has hated them, for all time and heed the words, "Those who do not believe will be left behind!!" Your chance only lasts during your lifetime so don't waste the opportunity.

    April 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Anne


      You are obviously very ignorant of the Jewish religion. Jews have nothing to fear except for the terror caused by ignorant people like you.

      April 18, 2012 at 4:10 am |
  5. Jesse Caron

    And not a single word in the article about Paqid Yirmeyahu Ben David. Interesting. None from him, either. He's tried before, and got snubbed, I think. I guess he has better things to do!

    April 17, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  6. Josh


    April 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  7. JonfromLI

    Is there' really something more to this story than another Jews for Jesus ploy?

    April 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  8. Kevin G

    By trying to "accept Jesus as one of their own," yet not accepting Jesus' divinity, Jews continue to short-change themselves. His life and his death were in fulfillment of their own prophesies, why can't they just accept it? It sometimes seems that what makes Jews special is their retention of everything bad that was ever done to them. If they were to truly accept Jesus as who he is, they would have to let go of all that. It just seems that forgiveness – the cornerstone of Christianity – is anathema to Judaism. I can't see how these two opposing forces could ever be reconciled, without a willingness to change, and again, this seems not to be a hallmark of the Judaic spirit. In that light, I'd have to say that some Jews may want to reclaim Jesus, but He's not really available. He's moved on. If you want to be with Him, you'll have to catch up, not try to pull Him back.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • house

      Gd point but is the question of lineage an issue and if so the idea of back tracking may not be back tracking according to some jews.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:54 am |
    • Carl

      If forgiveness is such a cornerstone of Christianity as you state, why have so many thousands of Jews been murdered, tortured, and abused by Christians because we do not accept Jesus and are accused of his death? The Catholic Church did not officially "release" the Jews from condemnation until a very few decades ago. This is the root of virulent anti-Israel positions and even anti-Semitism by so many Protestant churches today. Better look inside yourself as a Christian a little more carefully to accept other faiths as they are without pre-conditioning an acceptance of your beliefs.

      April 17, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • anonymous

      Because unlike your religion that believes in a dead guy. Jews aren't retarded

      April 17, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Craig

      Kevin G-Very good comments and right on the money!

      April 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  9. BigRed

    So Jews have reclaimed Jesus and taken him back? Great. I hope they keep him. We've had just about all we can take from that man.

    April 16, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Craig

      BigRed you are you and not "we" or you wouldn't hide behind it. Heed the words, "If you don't believe you will be left behind." Your chance only lasts during your lifetime so don't waste this opportunity1

      April 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  10. PaulLied

    "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."

    "... because I hung out with J..."?????!!!!!!!

    What in the world those that mean? J.... is dead ... period!! There is no hanging out with anyone my friend. Completely ridiculous!! I'm just glad that what ever it is you did or who ever it is you hang out with has made you a better Jew. I just hope it has made you a better Jew in the eyes of our Almighty G-d and not in the eyes of men because in the eyes of men does not count.

    April 16, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Barry

      @PaulLied you need to chill out and relax. You sound like younare so threatened.

      April 18, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  11. PaulLied

    "I had no idea Christians read the Old Testament."

    Yes they do ... they read something called the Old Testament, which is a bad translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. A lot is lost in their translations. Calling it the Old Testament is just a slap on the face of all Jews. Old meaning to them out of date. That is why they also read their Greek Scriptures or what they call the "NEW" testament. Out with the "old", in with the "new". A slap on the face of all Jews. It is a shame for any Jew to go along with calling "OLD" anything close to our Hebrew Scriptures in translation. Our Hebrew scriptures are not "old", out of date, nor obsolete. Torah was given to us Jews from our true G-d and it is perfect and forever ... per the Almighty G-d.

    April 16, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Muneef

      The Moses Torah was rewritten and much was lost as link explains;


      April 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Carl

      The "Moses Torah" as you phrase is unchanged for over two thousand years. The Dead Sea Scrolls are verbatim to any of today's Torahs except for a handful of letters.

      April 17, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • JonfromLI

      As a Jew, I've never taken offense to the term "Old Testament". Without the "Old", THERE WOULD NEVER BE A "NEW".

      April 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  12. Muneef

    Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. 2:62

    They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer]. 3:113

    They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous. 3:114

    And whatever good they do – never will it be removed from them. And Allah is Knowing of the righteous. 3:115

    Indeed, those who have believed [in Prophet Muhammad] and those [before Him] who were Jews or Sabeans or Christians – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve. 5:69

    Indeed, those who have believed and those who were Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians and the Magians and those who associated with Allah – Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed Allah is, over all things, Witness. 22:17

    April 16, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  13. PaulLied

    "Jews can understand their own history more thoroughly through studying the life of Jesus." ????????!!!!!!!

    Jews can understand their own history more thoroughly through studying Torah and Tanakh, our Hebrew scriptures given to us by our true G-d. Jews can understand their own history more thoroughly by reading Jewish texts, not Christian ones that think to know about our history but don't.

    April 16, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Carl

      Absolutely correct. Jews have nothing to do with Christian's belief in Jesus and he is not a part of our studies in any way whatsoever. I would bet those cited by the author are so called messianic "Jews for Jesus," an insidious form of evangelical Christian who attempts to coerce gullible Jews with minimal knowledge of our own faith to adopt Christianity as a natural extension of Judaim without needing to give up any beliefs or practices. Remaining Jewish and believing in Jesus are mutually exclusive – the latter defines a Christian.

      April 17, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  14. The Vicar


    April 16, 2012 at 5:52 am |
  15. Surazeus

    Jesus was a human who helped his people, then died. The word god has two entirely different definitions. One meaning of god is a human in a powerful political position. In this sense, Jesus was a god. The word God also means a universal consciousness who creates the universe. In this sense Jesus is not God.

    Jesus was a Jewish man, and uncrowned king. He helped people escape from Roman slave camps and set up seven communities in Turkey. Paul hijacked control of his community and twisted it into Christianity, which has been murdering women for centuries.

    Modern Christianity should be called Paulism instead.

    April 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Women

      Not just women. Don't forget the Spanish Inquisition .... more than women died there and all in the name of the Holy Church.

      April 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • H

      Universal consciousness...is it separated from God or man?

      April 17, 2012 at 4:03 am |
  16. JoelGold

    What is happening is exactly what G-d foretold would happen at the end of the age. The Jewish people will turn to their Messiah in faith! "I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication, so that they will look on Me Whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only Son. Zechariah 12:10 I have been reading many quotes of Jews saying they are jealous of Christians. This too is the work of G-d. For in this age it is still mostly gentiles who are benefiting from the work of Yeshua (atonement) not Jews, and Yeshua is the promised Messiah of the Jews! Unbelieving Jews have good reason to be jealous. I am a Messianic Jew, and have found peace with G-d through faith in Yeshua. I am a completed Jew. As far as Paul never meeting Jesus, well that is just another distortion, or shall I say outright lie. "Saul/Paul fell on his face and heard a voice from heaven saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? And he said, Who are You Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do" ....Acts 9:3-5 As for the idea that Jesus never said He was divine, another distortion: "Before Abraham was born, I AM" Jesus... John 8:58 May the children of Israel seek the truth about their Messiah and find peace with G-d through faith in Him. Shalom

    April 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • PaulLied

      This sounds and smells like idolatry. Why would we Jews be jealous of a people whose god is a man? Only an ungrateful Jew would say that. The writer is a Messianic Jew or in other words a Jew for Jesus, which is only a Christian imitator of his/her leader Paul who lied to convert people to his new religion known as Christianity. This person here is not a Jew. He/She is a Christian pretending to be a Jew in order to convert people to his/her believes of multiple gods, one which happened to be a man ... who died. Paul lied to and well is only understandable that his followers would do the same.

      To those Jews who are jealous of Christians because they want to have their god and their "saviour", why don't you just join them? Stop calling yourselves Jews. Our G-d needs exclusive devotion and idolatry to any true Jew is an abomination, nothing to be jealous of.

      April 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • PaulLied

      This is what Zechariah 12:10 says:
      "10. And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications. And they shall look to me because of those who have been thrust through [with swords], and they shall mourn over it as one mourns over an only son and shall be in bitterness, therefore, as one is embittered over a firstborn son."

      The need to change what is says is so that they can add to their lies.
      Lies ... nothing but lies ... just like their leader Paul.

      April 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Brampt

      Joel-he claims to be Yahweh? Just because he uses the: I AM? give me a brake... Those txts dont prove nothing: exemple John 8:58 were he uses the expression I AM, in diferent translations: "From before Abraham was, I have been." The New Testament, by G. R. Noyes.; "I existed before Abraham was born!" The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed.; "Before Abraham was born, I was already the one that I am." Das Neue Testament, by Jörg Zink.; "I was alive before Abraham was born!" The Simple English Bible.; "Before Abraham came into existence, I have been." New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
      You might consider that your misquoting the bible right? : hey Joel I Am here" Does this make me God cause i put I am in m vocabulary?? Jesus is NOT God!!

      April 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • PaulLied

      Correction to my first post. Our G-d does not need anything. Our G-d "wants" is what I meant to say.

      April 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • H

      What is hebrew prior to the Torah?

      April 17, 2012 at 4:19 am |
  17. PaulLied

    If Jesus existed then he was a Jew but what he said was not new to Jews .... well except when he started to twist Torah around and saying he was making new arrangements other than what G-d had said. And when he acknowledge to one of his disciples that he was god. Well, he could have been born a Jew and said very wise Jewish things that had been known and said for centuries but the minute he allowed to be called a god that very minute he stopped being a Jew.

    April 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • correction please

      First of al he did exist even non-christian historians like Josephus talk about him as well as other activities of the Jewish people. Second Jesus never said he was God. In John 10:32-38 He clearly says he is God's Son not God Almighty. But he does say they are in union (as in purpose) just as he and his followers were in union with him. Please don't mis-quote ot twist the scriptures that could cost you (watch for lightning).

      April 16, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  18. PaulLied

    "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,"????

    What does this guy need? A golden calf? If you want idolatry then have it but please stop identifying yourself as a Jew if you do so. The G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not a man ... nor a calf. Something more tangible ... lets say ... a doll made of wood, a man who thinks he is a god .... Abomination!!!

    April 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Tovah

      Well said. Why do they always have to bring out these wacky outliers that purport to speak for all of Judaism? Don't need or want the golden calf back.

      April 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  19. PaulLied

    Paul lied to convert people to the religion he founded. 1 Corinthians 9:20-23. "And so to the Jews I became as a Jew; that I might gain Jews ... to those without law I became as without law .... to the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts ...."

    April 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  20. Liel


    April 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
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