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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    We pray for peace in Israel! God bless you and keep you Israel.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  2. Sal

    Jews calling Jesus a Jew is like the Buchenwald officers presenting honorary citizenship to the piles of corpses they murdered. Jesus was not a Jew, and they regarded him as a Gentile for thousands of years. The internet and free access to a large body of information has put the Jews on damage control. They can't hide the misdoings anymore through their control over the World media, they internet is trickier to control.

    The Jews are panicking, because they know the only ally they have in the World is the US and they can see the US is on the decline. The second the US hits the #2 spot of World powers, expect a few billion Arabs to take back the land Britain stole from them and traded to the Jews per the Balfour Declaration. Not even Jesus can save you this time, Jews have only survived through the years by deceit and parasitism. Every nation they've ever inhabited has kicked them out sooner or later. This is no coincidence, a host always kicks a parasite out when they notice the extent of the damage.

    April 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  3. Everett Wallace

    Truth. JESUS is the Only jew and the JESUS of 2012 on Earth in the flesh in the United States likes being aroung thugs like HIMSELF not religious folk always talkin about the crucifixion lie and how much they loove HIM. Nope I am HERE to take care of business. HEAVEN has taken all that it can take and it's not taken no more. Judgement Day has arrived.

    April 28, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  4. Cyrus

    Yes, Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew living in the kingdom of the Jews.
    He also, following Jewish tradition, warned the Jews of the temple their behavior was corrupted and dangerous – as prophets always do.
    The Jews should have listen to him, because 70 years later Jerusalem was completely destroyed and looted, and 300,000 captives taken to Rome as slave labor.

    April 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  5. ruth cohen

    shalom from holy jerusalem

    before you get all excited that 3 rabbi's said something about jesus. lets get some facts here. all of us here in israel know that a man called jesus lived in our land. there is no question about that. and yes we talk about him now more than say a few years ago. and that is that. we also talk about everything else under the sun including other people who were famous in history. if you ever came over to the university and joined a discussion on such matters you would find that we are a learned people, curious about everything and like learning and that is all. as for kosher jesus the book is regarded as a joke here. so dont get over excited folks. jews are jews are jews are jews. instead of repeating your same old ideas over and over again why dont you come to israel and find out for yourselves who we are, what we think, go out into the streets of israel and meet the nation.- ask them yourselves. go the conferences at the universities and speak to world experts who know many languages and all the sacred books of the ancient world and can quote from any of them. in the face of such knowledge and wisdom you may learn something new.

    April 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Sal

      Visit Israel? The same apartheid nation you see in videos where foreigners are violently attacked just for wearing immodest clothing? Israel is a third-world theocracy, only elevated a bit to civilized status by the handouts of the US. Even South Africa abandoned apartheid, yet in 2012 Israel not only embraces it but looks to further it.

      April 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  6. Ryan


    April 27, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  7. question

    It is often asked: is a Jew who believes in Jesus still a Jew? The better question is: is a Jew who doesn't believe in Jesus really a Jew? The definition of a Jew is of course the key here. If one is to seek this matter out before G-d, through His revelation (Scriptures) he or she may find the answers surprising.

    April 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  8. Everett Wallace

    Where did these drawings and pictures of JESUS come from was HE white, black, brown or does it even matter. The GOD that I know does not care about race at all. No one knows what a true jew looks like. GOD THE FATHER says you are only a jew inwardly not outwardly, it is whats on the in side not the outside. For all we know a True Jew is 9 feet tall solid muscle with the body of GOD able to withstand direct hits of nuclear weapons, now thats a JEW.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  9. Muneef

    And say, "Indeed, I am the clear warner" – 15:89

    Just as We had revealed [scriptures] to the separators 15:90

    Who have made the Qur'an into portions. 15:91

    So by your Lord, We will surely question them all 15:92

    About what they used to do. 15:93

    Then declare what you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists.

    Indeed, We are sufficient for you against the mockers 15:95

    Who make [equal] with Allah another deity. But they are going to know. 15:96

    And We already know that your breast is constrained by what they say. 15:97

    So exalt [ Allah ] with praise of your Lord and be of those who prostrate [to Him]. 15:98

    And worship your Lord until there comes to you the certainty (death). 15:99

    April 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Cyrus

      The Prophet Mohammed was speaking about idolatry to his own people. The had a house where they kept there many idols, and questioned Mohammed about this One God. He was not talking about Jews and Christians. Prophets lecture their own people.

      April 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  10. Benjamin

    "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." Messiah Jn. 11:25

    April 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • BROOM


      April 26, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  11. SlaveWorld

    Kids who believe in Santa grow up to be Adults who believe in Jesus. Makes perfect sense. The human imagination and be a wonderful and scary thing.

    April 24, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  12. jon

    the jew's neglect of Jesus has something to do with what's been going around with them?...just asking....

    April 23, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  13. Joel Gold

    "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me" ......Yeshua/Jesus John 14:6

    April 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  14. Pat

    Yes, Jesus is the messiah promised to the Jewish people, throughout the Old Testament it speaks of his coming. The New Testatment speaks of his life, his miracles, his teaching of the ways in which man is to live, as his own life showed his obedience to God, his miracles, his death which was the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life for us, Jesus is God become man, and he gave his life for us. What greater love is there. Jesus is the Christ, remember there was no Christianity until Christ was born.

    April 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  15. chad

    Isaiah 53 is the key. Isaiah told Jews and Gentiles that the messiah must suffer... The second comming, which Jesus preached, is when the kingdom comes. Great to hear Jews embracing Jesus. I hope Muslims, Budists, ... Will do the same! What if even CNN embraced Him? 🙂

    April 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • BROOM

      Sorry, Chad. Look at the context of Isaiah. It has nothing to do with Jesus. It's inaccurate to cherry-pick certain phrases that are totally out of context to support your belief system.

      April 26, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Airforce1990


      And what makes you the authority on Isaiah?

      April 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Cyrus

      Chad is quite right. Christian theologians see (1rst and 2nd ISAIAH) as evidence for his Godhood. First and Second meaning the first half and second half (as they believe the book of Isaiah was written by two different men). The interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth as God was declared at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, declaring Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
      The problem Jews have is that Jesus was declared to be the "Jewish Messiah" by Christians. The Jews reject this, just as Muslims reject the appearance of any new messiah or Mahdi (as the Shiites believe).
      Everyone has their territory in Heaven already staked out.

      April 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Kellee

      Chad is absolutely right. If you read Isaiah and correlate the verse with what happen to Jesus you can clearly see the scripture was talking about Jesus Christ.

      April 30, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  16. Brother

    Moses , Jesus and Muhammed (Peace be upon them all) are messengers of Almighty GOD. There is no atleast one unambiguous statements in Bible, where Jesus christ himself says "I'm the GOD and worship Me". Respect them all, Learn about them all and Work for the PEACE of human being. Please dont alter the religious scriptures according to some people's wish and desire. May GOD show us the right path. 🙂

    April 23, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • danielwalldammit

      The God of Abraham is little other than a cosmic sadist. Learn more about him? Sure. then stamp the dust from your feet and walk away.

      April 23, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Kreatine

      Jesus said, " I am the way, the truth and the life..no man cometh to the FATHER but by me." Muhammad didnt say this...neither did Buddah. They are both dead...Jesus is alive. 😉

      April 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  17. Grobin

    Christians and the Jews have a lot in common and share most part of the Bible. Our hope and prayers are for peace in Israel and the for the Jews to come to know Jesus who is the Christ!


    April 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • jon

      nicely said...

      April 23, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  18. Bill

    Good for the Jews. Right on for them not embracing Jesus' son as God. The teaching that God embodied himself in his son is the biggest religious lie today, being voted in by that Evil Catholic murderous empire. How can anyone believe anything put out by that pagen based religion? Jews, Jesus was not God. Hold the line!

    April 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Truf

      No one ever said G_d embodied Himself has His Son. Where did you hear that?
      Jewish people can come to the Truth of Messiah by prayerfully reading the Tanach. The primary thing, in my opinion, to look for when doing a search for Messiah (past and future) is to look for someone the Jewish people WILL REJECT. It is a real stumbling block. It is difficult to accept. It requires Israel to MISS Him before it can accept Him.

      April 24, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  19. Raju Cahrles

    Jesus for all. The king of kings and anticipated Messiah,the savior the world. He will come!!!

    April 22, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  20. Sorvino


    April 21, 2012 at 7:54 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.