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Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.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

    Since there is no mention of Jesus outside of the bible in any historical writings or scientific evidence of his existence, it's interesting to see various religious claim a fictional person as their own.

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

      Patti: You are wrong. Here is a list of men who mentioned Jesus, and they were not associated with the Bible.
      1)Cornelius Tacitus
      2)Flavius Josephus
      3)Lucian of Samosata
      4)Pliny the Younger
      9)Mara Ben Serapion

      April 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      @ORT, even the MOST skeptic of the theologians I have spent time with admit that NONE of those you have cited were contemporaries of Jesus. NONE wrote in the first century, most were born after Jesus, and much of what is attributed to them is suspect, at best.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Patti

      Ort, you are misleading. ALL of the people you listed were born AFTER Jesus supposedly died (i.e. Tertullian b. 160 A.D.) There are no historical writing about Jesus DURING his supposed lifetime.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • sam

      Ort is super busy trying to be right.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • GodPot

      1)Cornelius Tacitus – born 56 AD
      2)Flavius Josephus – born 37 AD
      3)Lucian of Samosata – born 125 AD
      4)Pliny the Younger – born 61 AD
      5)Suetonius – born 70 AD
      6)Tertullian – born 160 AD
      7)Thallus – earliest references to Jesus were 20 years after his death
      8)Phlegon – born 80 AD
      9)Mara Ben Serapion – written sometime between 79AD & the 3rd century and only mentioned "a wise king executed by the jews" but never mentions Jesus.

      Notice a trend for anyone writing about Jesus? They did know how to read and write during the time Jesus supposedly lived you know, the alphabet was not just invented 20 or so years after his death, though Christs divinity almost certainly was...

      April 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • moonster

      Sam and Patti – what are you so closed minded and brainwashed that a man by the name of Jesus existed? There is no doubt a man by that name existed and he was written about outside sacred writ as well. The man existed who that man was to many is a question of faith. Now go bow to your secular brainwashing cads and maybe open your mind to the possibility that there is more.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  2. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    Is it just me, of course it isn't, but why isn't there ANY evidence of an historical Jesus in any writings from the first century?

    April 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Patti

      thecollegeadmissionsguru, we must have been separated at birth.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  3. SOLH

    So why do the JEWS call him "Memsa!" meaning the Bustard in Hebrew !!!!
    Now they claim him !!!!!!
    Ibrahim grew up worshiping statues as GODs, would the MET in NYC claim him because of all their Satues?

    April 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  4. Jimi

    Too late, the mormons converted Jesus postumously while no one was looking.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Ting


      April 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  5. Zebulon

    This whole discussion seems a little silly. How can we debate the "Jewishness" of someone who never existed? Face it, folks: We have not a shred of real evidence that Jesus is now or ever was a real person. The mishmash of "gospels" and epistles, virtually all of them forged and relentlessly reworked to suit the political agendas of early church fathers, are certainly not proof. Let's direct our intellectual talents to issues that have some relevance to the real world.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      joos of today are made up european people group.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      You are so very right!

      April 5, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      That was NOT to agree with the Hawaiin guy.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Patti

      Well said!

      April 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  6. hawaiiduude


    April 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Emerson M. Chue

      I just want to say GOD bless you for your hard work by expolsing what is going on before the eyes of the U.S. and the world.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  7. hawaiiduude


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

      Your an idot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  8. Jews for Jesus


    Jesus spent his childhood learning scriptures and spent time with the Jewish Priests and was known for his wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the scriptures which would have been the Torah.

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

      yes but the joos of today do not follow the torah they follow the talmud a hateful book against non joos especially christians.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Jonah

      Jesus demonstrated great knowledge on the Jewish scriptures including Torah.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      And you KNOW this HOW?

      April 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Snow

      Didn't you know.. Jesus and Jonah are drinking buddies..

      April 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  9. Islam is True Religion

    Islam has defended Jews for long time, while christians still continue to accuse Jews as killer of Jesus, for this fact I believe Islam to be only true religion on earth.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • The Gospels

      muslims love to say that the jews were responsible for Jesus crucifixion because they don't bother to read the Gospels.

      Jesus came to fulfill a divine destiny and was the supreme sacrifice for the atonment of sins of all mankind. Neither the jews nor the roman had that power over the life of Jesus.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Jesus came to fulfill a divine destiny and was the supreme sacrifice for the atonment of sins of all mankind. "

      No, your god killed it's own son that proves it's evil and doesn't deserve to be worshiped.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • solh

      Who started the first world war? Muslims? NO
      Who started the second world war? Muslims? NO
      Who killed 20 millions of Aborigines in Australia? Muslims? NO
      Who sent nuclear bombs on Hiroshima&Nagasaki? Muslims? NO
      Who killed 10 millions of Indians in North America? Muslims? NO
      Who killed 50 millions of Indians in South America? Muslims? NO
      Who took 180 millions of African people as slaves? Muslims? NO
      Who was the cause of death of 88% of these African? Muslims? NO
      Who and who and who.. Return to History of Europe and America...
      You have first to define terrorism properly...
      You have to use one measure for the events
      You HAVE NOT to USE DOUBLE MEASURES for the events
      If a NON-Muslim commits something bad..it is a crime.
      But if a Muslim commits the same crime..he is a terrorist...
      So first remove this double measures...then come to the point!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Stopabortion

      "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! " Galatians 1:8.....this passage my friend, takes care of muslims and mormons....

      April 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Snow

      so.. your god sacrificed his own son to himself to save his creations from a sin he himself assigned due to a stupid rule he himself set.. wow.. what great divine logic

      April 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • coltx32

      sorry a true christian should know that not just Jews were responsible for his death, but Christians too. were not all 12 of his disciples the first Christians? at any rate his death was predicted as early as Genesis in Gods declaration of war on Satan. so yes I killed Jesus in my sin nature as well.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • jasonevans76

      all those instances you list have ZERO to do with scripture and EVERYTHING to with mans freewill and fall from grace. Dont be fooled by RELIGION. After the fall of Rome, many many pagan war-lords converted to gain power....doesnt mean they followed scripture....

      April 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  10. JoJo

    There are exceptions, but in my experience, a Christian is a person who believes EVERYTHING about Jesus except what he taught. A Jew is a person who believes NOTHING about Jesus except what he taught.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  11. Ben

    As he has been called the king of the Jews every year for the last [nearly] 2000 in Catholicism, I think it was always understood...

    April 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  12. reason

    God's objective history:


    April 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  13. Brian

    "The flurry of recent Jewish books on Jesus"..................................These books are just paraphrasing old information. There is money in this, thanks to these superficial articles.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  14. The all potent one

    Chritians are not willing to share. More religeous wars coming soon

    April 5, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Ben

      and a few spelling lessons I hope. Silly point too.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  15. KyRunner

    Where do they come up with this spin? John the Baptist even rebuked the jews

    April 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Natsarim

      You are correct because Johns father was a priest part of the Leivites and he was in the wilderness because of the MESS the Pharisee's were doing as today. John was a man of truth and they did not like it.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  16. Bob

    This article shows more of the gross, and probably willful, ignorance of CNN and their writers. They are claiming that jews today say that they have much to learn from Jesus on ethics without accepting his divinity. However, if they had half a brain, or maybe were honest, they would know that they can't do that! Why? It's because Jesus claimed to be equal with God. He said He was God's Son. Therefore, Jesus either IS equal to God and He is God's Son or He is not a good moral teacher of ethics, but He cannot be both. The reason is, anyone who would say that they are equal to God but isn't is either deluded or they're a liar. So, Jesus MUST be either who He said He was (i.e., equal with God, the Son of God and Lord) or he was a lunitic... or He was a liar. But He couldn't be all three. And that's the way Jesus intended it to be. He wants to force a decision. We either worship Him as Lord or we have to dismiss Him, but do not try to claim that He was merely a good moral teacher. He did not leave that choice open to you. But the one thing this article does prove is that the the editors of CNN are stupid.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • reason

      We also have to either accept or dismiss Santa Claus.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • stu

      haha, you're silly. Jeebus is the best super hero since Batman. Even better than the Hulk!

      April 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  17. EHayes

    The comment "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." is appropriately stated in the past tense as this ideology of the Church was changed with the Second Vatican Council. The Covenant between God and the Jews is valid and not surplanted by Christianity or the new Testament.

    As a Christian who is married to a wonderful Jewish girl it has been my honor and blessing to learn about Judiasm and the Jesus as a Jew. It has increased my understanding and belief in G-D. I hope this quest for common understanding and respect to spread among all religious peoples, but especially between Jews and Christians.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  18. Pipe-Dreamer

    Our fathers who are in the heavens, holy be their namesakes. Give all this day their rationed allotments and forgive us all our indebtednesses as many do forgive others the debts of tresspassing sins. For the glories of God's buildings are our bodies of which all Godliness does reside in ever to bring peace bewteen the physicalities' and the spiriualities' realms. Amen and amen.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  19. QS

    "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."

    I think everybody has the right to say what their own definition of Jesus is...including me, an Atheist, who would define Jesus as an amalgam of all the good things the people of that time thought should be the pursuit of all.

    In other words, he never actually existed and the people who ended up writing the bible embodied all of those "good" characteristics in a "hero" type of character named Jesus in order to give a physical attribute to those characteristics they wanted to promote.

    So, should I not have the right to my own definition of what Jesus was....or wasn't?

    April 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • SammyJ

      You know that there is historical evidence outside of the Bible that Jesus existed right?

      April 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      @ QS who wrote, "So, should I not have the right to my own definition of what Jesus was....or wasn't?"

      Everyone "QS" has the right to being subjective toward whatever it is they think about. My Lord, Christ Jesus is said by many to be the savior and redeemer of all "LOST" souls. Many non-believers will find their just rewards and slip into the darkness to become once again part of the Holy Spirit of Grand Creation. I for one, would rather live life in an abundant measure or live and die and live and die abundantly as scripture does note. Is Christ Jesus my "personal" savior? He may well be but as I sense things, there are many so many Beings of Godliness that the Lord, Christ Jesus may well pass me off to another Being within the Kingdom of Godliness.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  20. Dave

    Messiah means "annointed one" or King, as only Kings were annointed in Jesus day. Both Matthew and John prove Jesus lineage from the "root of Jesse" through Joseph and Mary. He was the legitimate heir to the throne of Isreal and as a Nazorean (insurgent) he died seeking the throne and was buried in a royal tomb in Talpiot.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
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