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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    Now jews want to steal easter, great.

    May 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  2. Cos

    Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
    Romans 12:14

    May 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  3. Lois

    n did they not claim him???......I am Catholic and I claim him as my God....

    May 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      you support a group of pedophiles, how horrible of you!!

      May 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  4. Neil

    As a very bright 8 year old in a very liberal Reform Jewish family, when I asked my mother about Jesus she replied "He was a very great Prophet, perhaps the greatest, but he wasn't God."

    I seem to recall somewhere in the New Testament, Jesus states "Know ye not ye are all sons & daughters of the One God?" That may not be the exact words, but its close.

    Almost 70 years later, I believe what my mother said, but even much, much deeper and fuller.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  5. rmvw

    As a christian and one who has been born again through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, The comments affirm scripture to me more each and every time I read them. Jesus spoke that for his name sake christians would be rejected, despised. Paul teaches that men would become oblivious to the inspired word of God, that they would reject,despise, even believe in damnable doctrines and reproach and Blaspheme the the name above all others Jesus Christ the son of the living God.The day is fast approaching when men with their demon possed ideologies will cry for the HILLS, AND THE MOUNTAINS TO FALL UPON THEM TO HIDE THEM FROM HE THAT IS KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, my friends in this very hour in this very minute Jesus awaits your call , you who have hated and tried to persuade others of your hate towards our Lord and Savior , went to a Roman Cross and shed his blood for you.

    May 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Neil

      As a very bright 8 year old in a very liberal Reform Jewish family, when I asked my mother about Jesus she replied "He was a very great Prophet, perhaps the greatest, but he wasn't God."

      I seem to recall somewhere in the New Testament, Jesus states "Know ye not ye are all sons & daughters of the One God?" That may not be the exact words, but its close.

      Almost 70 years later, I believe what my mother said, but even much, much deeper and fuller.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  6. stvnkrs10

    sorry we killed you, please come back?

    May 3, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • whatudeserve

      So sweet.

      May 4, 2012 at 4:46 am |
    • celietz

      We should be sorry that Jesus had to die to pay for our mistakes our sin, but the fact is Jesus came to die for us all and mainly for the Jews. Let's not forget that God sent Jesus for a reason and that reason included dying for us. Jesus was the Lamb, the ultimate sacrifice. So yes, we should be sad that this had to happen at all, but we should also rejoice that our God loves us so much he sacrificed his only true son for us, his adopted children. We should also understand that Jesus was and is the Jewish Messiah even though some Jews refuse to believe it. Jesus came to save the Jews first and foremost and the Gentiles second. Jesus is a Jew, he is the Messiah and he's is the son of God, so if he really did not want to die on the cross do you actually believe for one second he could not have stopped it from happening? But he did.....to save all of us, Jews, Gentiles, everyone. What a huge gift, not only on the part of Jesus, but by God the father. Think about it, as parents would any one of us sacrifice our one and only child for the greater good? So again, it's sad Jesus had to die, but I am glad he choose to do it, or I would be condemned. So rejoice, for he say come again. Jesus lives and has paid our debt in full. Rejoice!

      May 4, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Zed Mezcalhead

    He's totally right about Paul. Paul switched to Christianity out of spite to Nero for stealing his girlfriend, some actress when Nero was going through his "acting" phase. Remember that scripture "I become all things to all people..." To the Christians he became a Christian. He infiltrated them, and was able to get out of those shackles when he was incarcerated. Paul bad. Paul rewrite the bible. Call it "divine inspiration." You can't prove nor disprove it, so it is hailed as truth and an unsuspecting naive generation buys into it. and it is so.

    May 3, 2012 at 1:44 am |
  8. Dan

    One of the distinguishing characteristics of Judaism is that unlike idolatry, you don't need a concrete, visible "object" to worship - my gosh that's what Christians do with that nice Jewish boy Jesus, isn't it? The idolatry of Christianity is a shame, as it the extremists who seem to have kidnapped the Christian religion and turned it on its head while they try to use the government to impose their beliefs on everybody else. That's so un-American, and so un-Jesus like.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  9. Ron

    That is the last link to make Jesus a Mormon. Jews reclaim Jesus, he is yet again a Jew. Mormons baptize dead Jews so Jesus ends up a Mormon. Soon they'll find a way to make Him a honorary GOP member.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • tkirac

      Why not? Get a Ford, put a Chevy sign on it and call a Chevy.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:11 am |
  10. To the Elect

    Some have a hunger and thirst to know God. Others don't. Some have a desire to be fulfilled inside, or inwardly. Orthers care only about the outward and the superficial. Some are not satisfied with what this world has to offer them. Others live only for this world. If you are one who knows there is something more to this life and are still seeking to fill the vacuum inside you, then perhaps you, like me, will find the answer in Jesus. I was advised to ask God to forgive my sins through faith in Christ and His sacrifice on my behalf, which I did a long time ago. From that moment on, my life has been very different. The emptiness that I felt inside was gone, and replaced with great peace and joy. I am so glad I asked Jesus into my life and have received God's forgivness and know His peace. If you have not done this, I would adivse you to do the same. May you find peace with God as I have. God bless

    May 2, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  11. I Believe

    Brooklyn Diogenes said – The Romans were compulsive about records. They had a Jewish historian at that time and place, who did not record any of the events presented in the Gospels. – Yet history also records Rome prohibited anyone from recording events about Jesus, like China does now with activists, the Romans censored even their own historian. What a shame you have closed your mind. Imagine that of all knowledge in the universe that you know 50% of it. Now imagine that God exists in the half you do not know!

    May 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  12. Bull Dung

    Who cares which fairy tale (Bible, Quran, etc....) you believe in. All these religions where made to enslave and control man. Look at all the atrocities man has done in the name of their "faith". Every religious person I have met, no matter which religion, claims their book teaches peace, tolerance, and understanding. These same people of "faith" are the worst human beings I have had the displeasure of meeting. We, the beings of this planet, are all the same...humans. To think that there is a g-d here that favors this group of people of a g-d there that favors another group of people is assinine. The "holy books" are nothing but fairy tales about things people couldn't comprehend with their primitive minds to help them sleep better at night.

    May 2, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • prettypiper

      Jesus is the light, and the way.... no man come it , but through him. I only hope your soul will repent. Jesus said my "People will perish for lack of Knowledge". You my friend is just plain IGNORANT.

      May 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Keep It Real

      I always laugh at this tired argument. The "atrocities" committed in the name of God pale in comparison to the ones committed by regimes outwardly opposed to God and religion. Stalin and Mao killed more people by a multiple of 10 than all the deaths in all the "religious" wars since time began. Atheists, agnostics, hindus - believe what you want but know this: you don't want a world without God. Without that notion, say goodbye to 95% of the truly effective charities in the world (Red Cross, YMCA, Alcholics Anonymous) and say hello to exceedingly more darkness and despair.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • wonderbott

      @Bull Dung – one of the most intelligent post I have seen so far – but it will have no impact on those who want to believe – they will give you the same argument – their religion is better than anyone else's. 😉

      May 4, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • rebecca

      @Prettypiper: So anyone who has a different religious belief than you is ignorant? What a hypocrite you are. I suggest you look in the mirror to find the real ignorance. It's good to see the "Christian" message of tolerance was learned well by you.

      May 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  13. Brooklyn Diogenes

    Accusing Shmuley Boteach of cherry picking is quite funny. The Church selected the 20 Gospels from 200 original Gospels, to reduce the level of contradictions. The cherry picking began a long time ago, around 300 CE.
    For a Jew to accept the biblical Jesus as a hero is silly. We have existed as a people for 3500 years, and will go on without an icon for a few more years. Whoever does not want to accept this, can send me an e-mail message in about 1500 years.
    The Romans were compulsive about records. They had a Jewish historian at that time and place, who did not record any of the events presented in the Gospels. There is no reason to accept the biblical Jesus as an actual historical figure. He is a figure from literature like Captain Ahab and Huck Finn and Superman. Maybe exemplary, maybe powerful, but believing in them is not required.

    May 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Joshua

      well said.

      May 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Lsmith

      I guess you are unaware that your first century Jewish historian Josephus reported on Jesus as an actual historical figure.

      May 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  14. DeaconKnowGood

    As a Christian one of my favorite Bible study shows I watching on Christian TV is; 'Discovering the Jewish Jesus' with Messianic Rabbi Kirt Schneider.
    Rabbi Schneider's insight on Old Testament and how it related to the New Testament gives me a better understanding about Jesus Christ.

    May 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Lindeseig

      Just so you know, a "messianic" rabbi is nothing but a preacher. Messanics may be lots of things, but as far as actual Jews are concerned, they are nothing but liars, apostates, and frauds.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  15. Paul

    I enjoyed your comments Benjamin. Jesus certainly is the Messiah the one promised in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus also talked about his pre-human existence as in coming from God, Jehovah. Right now he is ruling in the Kingdom of the Heavens and waiting to establish his Kingdom on earth. That’s why he instructed us to pray to let God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
    Jesus spoke of a worldwide preaching activity to be done before the end. Matt 24:14. I am happily engaged in this work now along with millions of Christians from all the nations. We truly are being blessed by means of Abrahams seed.

    May 1, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • Särkä

      One cannot fully comprehend Jesus' role as the Saviour without studying the Hebrew scriptures. The first prophecy in the Bible was recorded at Genesis 3:15 which religions fail to recognize. The entire Bible is cohesive and from the beginning to the end teaches about people being able to be restored to the proper relationship with God. All the prophecies about Jesus were fulfilled, and right on time. The churches do not teach the truths from the Bible. Of course, the "old" Testament (Hebrew scriptures) are necessary for teaching, reproving, for setting all matters straight. 2 Timothy 3:16 "ALL scripture is inspired of God and beneficial . . ." And all the terrible things plaguing mankind today can and will be solved with the only solution: the Kingdom under Christ's rulership. The reasons people balk at this goes right back to the Garden of Eden and follows down to this day and that is that man does not want to be told what to do. It is truly an issue of independence from God's sovereignty (the right to rule). Many of you will bristle at this, but every person on earth is enslaved to "some"thing whether it be doing his own thing, attaining riches and status, being held down by a repressive government, or misled with man-made ideologies and philosophies. Easier and more joyful to be under the yoke that Jesus spoke of at Matthew 11:30, "For my yoke is kindly and my load is light." For more information about Jesus' life and reason for coming to the earth: http://www.watchtower.org/

      May 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  16. pw

    Jews are good at "reclaiming" stuff

    April 30, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Joshua

      That's quite an ignorant statement from someone reading the CNN website. Switch to Fox News you ignorant lummox.

      May 1, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Levi

      at Joshua – LOL that was awesome. **wipes tear from eye**

      May 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  17. Benjamin

    Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons. These make up the 12 tribes of Israel. Joseph, because of envy, was betrayed by his brethren and turned over to the Gentiles for 20 peices of silver. They brought back to his Father Israel his coat of many colors (which represents the nations) stained with blood. Israel considered his favored son to be dead. To Israel Joseph was dead. But not to Egypt (Gentiles). For there he arose to power and saved the Egyptians and the world at that time from famine. While Israel considered his chosen son to be dead, the Gentiles were benefiting from the gifts which G-d had given him. Any of this sound familiar yet to another story of a favored son of Israel? Israel sent his sons to Egypt so that they might find food to sustain themselves. There they ecnountered Joseph, their own brother, yet they did not recognize him, as he disguised himself from them and spoke to them harshly. After even more significant events occured, they returned to Egypt where he finally revealed Himself to them. When Israel discovered that his chosen son was still alive, the spirit of Israel was revived. To Israel his son had been resurrected, for he had considered him to be dead. Joseph said to his brothers: "Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for G-d sent me before you to preserve life...Now therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but G-d." This story from Torah, like many others contained in the Tanakh point us to Yeshua/Jesus, Messiah of Israel, who is the fulfillment of the promises to the Fathers, and the One of whom the prophets speak. He is the Savior of the world, and only through faith in Him will we be delivered from the penalty of our sins, and have peace with G-d, both now and forever. Shalom

    April 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • eric

      benjamin, your description of the relation between joseph and Jesus was clearly inspired by the Spirit of the Lord. it is amazing enough already that the Bible contains so much detailed predictive prophecy, but even more amazing when the prophecy is in the form of a real man who lived thousands of years before Christ, and this shows the absolute omnipotent power of God as only he can accomplish such things

      May 4, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  18. SSReichmann

    The jews are now a more than solid ally of the american war machine......hail victory and bless Israel

    April 30, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  19. The Dude


    April 30, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  20. The Dude

    You can have him.

    April 30, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • OK

      I do, and so do you.

      May 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
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