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January 18, 2013 12:16 pm

Jesus Was Jewish? That’s News to Many Christians

avatar by Bernard Starr

Email a copy of "Jesus Was Jewish? That’s News to Many Christians" to a friend

Kosher Jesus by Shmuley Boteach.

When I interviewed Christians and Jews for my book “Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew,” I heard over and over “everyone knows Jesus was Jewish.” But when I dug a little deeper I discovered that “everyone knows he was Jewish” really means “he used to be Jewish.” Then I found that many still believe that Jesus was born Christian and that he launched a new religion.

For example, Jane, educated in Catholic grade schools, agreed that Jesus was Jewish. But when I followed up with, “Did he remain Jewish throughout his life?” she said, “Oh, no. He became a Christian and started Christianity.” “When did that happen?” I asked. “When he was baptized by John the Baptist,” she answered confidently. “It says so right in the Bible.”

Noah, a young Jewish college student, who attends a small New England college, asked his Christian fraternity brothers, “What was Jesus’ religion?” They stared at him as if he were an idiot. He pressed for an answer. Unanimously they declared, “Christian, of course.”

The fact is, Jesus was born into a family of practicing Jews dedicated to Judaism. As prescribed in the Torah, he was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. Throughout his life he was thoroughly committed to Judaism, the Torah and Jewish practices. He prayed in synagogues and taught Torah to “multitudes” of fellow Jews. And John the Baptist only baptized Jews to purify them for the expected arrival of the Jewish Messiah. All this is stated clearly in the Gospels; Jane’s quote is not.

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Christians are astonished when I inform them that the word “Jew” appears 202 times in the New Testament and 82 times in the Gospels, while “Christian” does not show up at all in the Gospels and is mentioned only three times in later parts of the New Testament — the first mention is when Paul is preaching in Antioch years after the crucifixion (Acts 11:26). Why is “Christian” absent from the Gospels, which span Jesus’ life and ministry? Because there was no Christianity during Jesus’ life.

With the goal of healing antagonisms and closing the longstanding divide between Christianity and Judaism, I set out to restore the Jewish foundation of Christianity — a foundation that Christianity stands on. In this quest I explore issues that have been overlooked or minimized, issues that were major factors in severing ties between Christianity and Judaism and that blurred their common heritage.

As I continued to struggle with the puzzling question of how Christianity lost touch with Judaism, I discovered a Church policy spanning centuries that may have been one of the most potent underpinnings of the historic Christian-Jewish divide: the Church’s ban on Christians owning a Bible, reading a Bible or translating their Bible into native languages — edicts that persisted until the 16th century, and even beyond. Christians, therefore, only knew what they were told by Church officials — and what they were told was stripped of Jesus’ Jewish identity. And, of course, the coup de grace: The teaching that the Jews killed Jesus.

Then when I stumbled on several Medieval and Renaissance paintings of Jesus, his family and disciples, I was struck by their misrepresentations, distortions and anachronisms. This prompted me to examine hundreds of other classic paintings. I even took a walking tour of the Renaissance galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. To my astonishment, Jesus, his followers and his Jewish community were consistently pictured as blond, fair-skinned, northern European latter-day Christians, often surrounded by latter-day saints, Christian clergy and Christian artifacts — images totally at odds with biblical facts and without a trace of any Jewish connections. I concluded that these distortions of “omission” established a powerful platform for anti-Semitism that continues to reverberate today. The artworks set the “Christian” Jesus apart from “the Jews,” when, in fact they were all part on the same Semitic tribe of dedicated Jews.

I then turned my attention to the crucial question, “Did the Jews kill Jesus?” — a charge that has echoed with deadly consequences since the crucifixion. Taking a fresh look at the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and the events leading up to them, I concluded that the narratives make no sense whatsoever, scripts that wouldn’t pass muster for an episode of “Law and Order.” Moreover, the Gospels state explicitly who killed Jesus, a finding that will surely provoke controversy and heated debate. It’s puzzling that the true perpetrator has been overlooked or underplayed.

Have you ever wondered what Jesus might say about virulent and enduring anti-Semitism? Indeed, what would the thoroughly Jewish Jesus have said to church leaders, monarchs and others who launched murderous acts such as the Crusades, the Inquisition and genocides in his name? I tackle this question in a mock trial, in which Jesus asks these perpetrators, “How do you justify your violent acts based on my teachings and mission?”

Christians today, especially evangelicals, are eager to let go of long-standing antagonisms and are reaching out to Jews in a spirit of reconciliation. But memories of unspeakable persecution over many centuries are a barrier for Jews to participate fully in the healing process. Given this new environment, I appeal to my fellow Jews to drop the “Jesus Phobia” and accept Jesus as a faithful Jew — without having to embrace the claim that he was the Messiah. To encourage this I point to the pantheon of false Jewish Messiahs throughout history, many of whom were destructive to Judaism, but are still revered for their teachings, while Jesus is rejected.

Finally, I could not resist commenting on Dan Brown’s popular novel “The Da Vinci Code,” which, like classical artworks, begins with a Jewish story but promptly converts it into a Christian one. I show how “The Da Vinci Code” gets recoded when Rabbi Jesus’ wife and daughter are authentically recast.

In exploring these issues and the realities of Jesus’ life, I strive to shed new light on the history of anti-Semitism and on the destructive forces that have alienated Christians and Jews. My aim is to help heal the rift between the religions and galvanize the reconciliation process.

Bernard Star is author of ‘Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew’ that is available at Amazon.com for Kindle and at Smashwords for all other e-book formats.

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  • ray johnstonlynch

    I GUESS ONLY GENTLE JESUS HAS THE ANSWER-HE CAME UNTO HIS OWN PEOPLE,THE JEWS,WHO WERE JEWS ETHNICALLY,LINGUISTICALLY,AND RELIGIOUSLY-JUDAISM WAS A CLASSIC ANCIENT TRIBAL RELIGION,THAT LATER,ESPECIALLY THROUGH ITS OFFSPRING RELIGION CHRISTIANITY-THE RELIGION OF THE SAVIOUR OF MANKIND,JESUS,THE ETERNAL CHRIST BECAME-A WORLD RELIGION,IRONICALLY,JESUS OF NAZARETH,IEUS NAZARENUS,REX IOUDORUM,WAS AN ORTODOX JEWISH RABBI-TEACHER-WHO FULFILLED ALL THE SPECIFICATIONS OF CENTURIES OF PROPHETS IN THE JEWISH BIBLE AS THE MESSIAH,FIRST TO HIS OWN JEWISH PEOPLE,AND ONLY THEN TO THE WHOLE WORLD-LORD AND SAVIOUR!YET IN THE WHOLE WORLD,ONLY THE JEWS,AS A PEOPLE ,AS RELIGIOUS BODY-REJECT HIM OUTRIGHT ,REFUSING EVEN TO DISCUSS HIM AS AN UNDENIABLY IMPORTANT HISTORICAL PERSON-‘HE CAME UNTO HIS OWN,AND HIS OWN RECEIVED HIM NOT!’THIS IS THE QUESTION OF THE AGES REGARDING THE JEWISH KING OF KINGS,THE GENTLE EMPEROR OF THE UNIVERSE.

  • PIM MEIBOSCH

    Oh and that whole snacking on body-and-blood of Jesus thing.
    CANNIBALISM ?????????

  • John Sanocki

    When Luke wrote (Luke 24:27) “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”, he did not tell us the parts of Scripture that Jesus referred to. He might have referred to the following verses:
    1) Deuteronomy 18:15
    2) Daniel 9:24-27
    3) Zechariah 2:12-14 (Christian Bible 2:8-10)
    Whether these verses referred to Jesus we will find out when the Messiah comes.

    Meanwhile we are wasting our time arguing with Christians about the nature of Jesus.
    We should concentrated on issues that both Jews and Christians can agree that early
    followers of Jesus followed the Torah as can be seen in the Book of Acts 21:20 “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:”. In Acts 18:21 we read that Paul wanted to be in Jerusalem to observe coming feast.

    The message that the Jews should be teaching to Christians is that they should return to Torah observance.

    By the way, I am a follower of Jesus who attends an Orthodox Synogogue.

    • Excuse me sir, but a follower of Jesus by definition is not an Orthodox Jew. He is an apikoris, a heretic. BTW where does it say that Jesus was a Rabbi?

  • David Hoffman

    Mr Starr writes: “Given this new environment, I appeal to my fellow Jews to drop the “Jesus Phobia” and accept Jesus as a faithful Jew — without having to embrace the claim that he was the Messiah. To encourage this I point to the pantheon of false Jewish Messiahs throughout history, many of whom were destructive to Judaism, but are still revered for their teachings, while Jesus is rejected.”

    This paragraph is factually inaccurate, and the advice it offers to Jews is unsound, indeed pernicious, though I am willing to assume that it was offered in good faith.

    I know of no “pantheon of false Jewish Messiahs” who “are still revered for their teachings”. Indeed, while there were no doubt several minor individuals whose messianic pretentions caused some local, time-limited damage, I can think of only 2 and one-half possible candidates whose activities figured large in Jewish history: Bar Kokhba, Shabbtai Zvi, and (the one-half) the last Lubavitcher Rebbe. Bar Kokhba was primarily a political and military leader. Although he was undoubtedly a devout Jew and a Torah scholar, he left behind no body of teachings that continue to be studied. Shabbtai Zvi (and his wannabe, Jacob Frank) was, and continues to be, abominated by normative Jews. He was certainly never revered by them for his teachings. As for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to his credit he never claimed to be the Messiah, although he has been criticised for not doing enough to dampen such speculation among his followers. Moreover, like Bar Kokhba, and unlike Jesus (“My kingdom is not of this world”) and Shabbtai Zvi, he attempted to fulfil any messianic potential that he might have hoped was in him through the criteria established by Jewish law. See Laws of Kings in Maimonides “Mishne Torah”.

    More importantly, the main reason Jesus was rejected by the Jews is not because he failed to be the Messiah but because he claimed kinship with the Al-mighty and to be the sole channel of access to Him. (“No one comes to the Father except through me.”) This perfectly fulfils the definition of idolatry in Jewish law.

    The Christian theologian and author CS Lewis stated the case best, “”I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. … A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. …. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

    With those choices available, believing Jews will continue to maintain a prudent distance from anything having to do with that individual.

    • Bernard Starr

      What about sixteenth-century Kabbalist Isaac Luria who was called Messiah by his followers. While Jews today do not accept Luria as Messiah, many study and embrace his mystical teachings.

      And a quote from my book: “After Luria’s death at the young age of thirty-eight, his student Hayim Vital became his spiritual heir. Everything we know about Luria comes from Vital’s writings since Luria’s teachings were strictly oral. Vital recorded and taught Luria’s Kabbalah. Following in Luria’s footsteps, Vital declared himself Messiah. Do Jews shun him for that? On the contrary, he too is an honored Kabbalist. His writings are must readings in Kabbalah courses.”

      Read Jerry Rabow’s book, “Fifty Jewish Messiah’s and find more examples.

  • It’s not possible that Jesus is the Messiah, G-D or even a Prophet. IMHO he was a Rebellious Son who got just what the Torah describes: betrayed by the Siccari, capital punishment and hanging on a tree! end of story. why focus on a man who HASHEM sent into this world (from the hall of souls) to test the Jews as to whether or not they would follow the Torah? time to move on to more important things like ending islamic domination of the middle east by showing muslims that they follow a pedofilic, war mongering, adultering, nevi sheker!

    • @John M Hummasti – I would agree with part of what you wrote; namely that it is impossible that Jesus is the Creator of the Universe. To reduce the Supreme Intelligence to a mere mortal would be ridiculous. However, my reading of Jesus’s own words is that he never claimed to be divine in the first place. This was attributed to him by others.

      When you declare that it is impossible that Jesus is the Messiah or a Prophet, this will be based on your understanding of what a Messiah or Prophet should be. A simplistic, literalist understanding of prophecies relating to the Messiah will of course prevent Jesus from proving his claim to Messaihship – but it will also prevent anyone from ever being the Messiah. People in the past have often fallen into the trap of literalist interpretations, and have thus failed to recognise the fulfilment of ancient prophecies. I wonder how many more millenia the Jewish people are prepared to wait for their Messiah, and when they will begin to question the logic of why the promise of a Messiah should be made that would never be fulfilled for thousands of years.

      When it comes to the question of testing the Jews as to whether or not they would follow the Torah, it can be shown that for a long time Jews have ceased to follow it in its entirety. Dozens of divine teachings in the Torah have been whimsically rejected, and are no longer considered valid today, as if people of the Jewish faith know better than YHWH Himself which rules are now to be followed and which not.

      As for your call for ending the “Islamic domination” of the Middle-East, I would understand that by that you mean the Islamic PRESENCE. For Islamic countries have long ceased to be able determine the paths they wish to take, their foreign and often domestic policies being largely determined by the Western or other powers that control their wealth. Dictators and puppet governments have been kept in power in Islamic countries by those Western powers who want to continue to exploit their natural resources. There is therefore no need to show “muslims that they follow a pedofilic, war mongering, adultering, nevi sheker”. Unless, of course, your real desire is to remove the religion of Islam from the map. In which case, you should ask yourself whether the political leaders you follow do not have paedophiles, war-mongerors, adulterors and liars among their ranks. If your leaders are far from all that, then Muslims may be inclined to listen to you. If not, then I would take a good dose of humility, if I were you.

      As a final note, the whole question of Jesus dying on the Cross is a very dubious one. I belong to the Shevet Yosef (now called Yusuf Zai) of Afghanistan, and we received the visit of Jesus after the crucifixion event. He also went to Kashmir, where other tribes of Israel had settled. We were all still Aramaic-speaking at the time, and we showed an appreciation of Jesus’s message that was not extended to him by the tribes of Judah and the remnant of Benjamin in the Holy Land of his time.

      • Bernard Starr

        My article makes no reference to Islam and the middle East.

        • Indeed, your article does not mention Islam or the Middle-East. I was replying to John M. Hummasti’s comment, which does.

          • John M Hummasti

            What’s it matter whether the article mentioned Islam? a nevi sheker is still a nevi sheker and the Torah describes the punishment for them. Both Islam and Xianity will be wiped from off the face of the earth when HaShem resurrects King David the only Moshiach (Messiah) from the Dead!

  • Julian Clovelly

    To many brought up outside of America, the American version of Christianity is highly peculiar and quite backward in its reliance upon readily disproved theology and mythology. Outside of fundamentalist evangelism – itself generally inspired by American incursions – people have simply moved on.

    The Jesus of the Bible, certainly to many of us, never existed. He is a theological creation, that act of creation being ascribed in the Bible to Paul of Tarsus, about whose own real nature there is ample scholarly dispute. What matters is that Paulism was antisemitic per se. There is no escaping that. The Christianity of the Byzantine Empire developed over three centuries out of that stream of belief and superstition, rather than developing out of the almost certainly more Judaic Christianity of the Jerusalem Church. Later Christianity is probably more accurately called “Johannine-Paulism”

    As a number of scholars have pointed out, the key event was the Roman destruction of Judea, which reorientated Christianity by increasing the influence of the quirky Pauline sect in the new vacuum caused by the destruction of Jerusalem. The religion of Jesus virtually died in this massacre leaving a pagan cult which came to justify itself through a collection of specially written or amended Gospels, including a mythology of the entire movement, assembled in two volumes by Luke.

    Can Christianity ever not be antisemitic? I am not so sure it can, just as educated Jews can never really lose sight of the fact that what became the true Founders and developers of Christianity, who came not from Judea but from Hellenic Turkey, progressively lost a plot they never really had. And then – belatedly – Rome got in on the act, seeking historical exculpation for their ancestors in the final traditional version of the tale of Jesus’s execution

    On Sundays many of us here in Australia go fishing or treat it simply as a “day off” – an idea we are happy to ascribe to G-d – any G-d. The rest belongs to the past – a past that can be divisive.

    It is better – more in line with divine intent, whatever theology one believes – to be friends.

  • Yaw

    May I suggest your next book: ” The Judaism in Jesus and Mohammed”. It may not be welcome in certain quarters but I think it is long overdue.

    Now touching on your book especially paragraph 7 above:” the Church’s ban on Christians owning a Bible… and what they were told was stripped of Jesus’ Jewish identity. ”
    Some how I still believed that the mass production of the Bible has corrupted the real and hidden meaning of the scriptures especially the Old Testament-I am a christian.

    Finally, may I suggest another helpful book by Micheal Brown: “The Real Kosher Jesus”.

    Congratulations!

  • Paul Ringo

    Very good article. It’s startling how many people (both Jewish and Christian) are not aware of how deeply the teaching of Yeshua was grounded in Judaism including the Psalms and the Prophets.

    • Sonia Willats

      I agree! He has only ever been a very Jewish Jesus to me. Luke 24:27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” The de-Judaising of Jesus is part of a lie. We know who the “father of lies” is. It was this de-Judaising that enabled the persecution of Jews by “Christians” for centuries.

      Almost all of the NT writers and followers were Jews.
      Thousands of them. Jesus insisted that he had come to preach to the Jews. The Jewish authorities who conspired against Jesus were often unable to act because of the (Jewish) people. You read it in acts as well.

      There was only a small segment of Jews who conspired against Jesus. Jospephus explains how the Roman authorities controlled the appointments of the chief priests.

      I suggest you re-read the gospels. They are JEWISH!

  • Robert Nicholson

    As a Christian dedicated to Jewish-Christian understanding, I cannot describe how glad I was to read this article. Many Jews don’t realize the effect of centuries without the Bible in Christianity – a pernicious policy that engendered endless misconceptions. I welcome your discovery and publication of this information, and I can’t wait to read your book.

    • Bernard Starr

      Thanks Robert Nicholson for your comment. Please contact me. I would like to get more of your views from a Christian perspective.

      Bernard Starr
      bstarr2013@aol.com

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