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Summary: Jesus the Jew.

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Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Snapshots of Jesus 01; Date: 4 October 09

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Jesus The Jew

In 1973 a book was published with the title “Jesus The Jew” which – at that time – was shocking news to most Western Christians. The author of the book – Geza Vermes – a Jewish scholar – was reprimanded (by the chaplaincy at an English University) for suggesting that Jesus was a Jew. Yes – Moses (the one that led the people of Israel out of Egypt) had been a Hebrew but Jesus was a Christian. A Bible lecturer (Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza) had an old Catholic gentleman in her class who – after some dogged resistance – was finally persuaded that Jesus was indeed Jewish. “But,” he added at once, “the Blessed Mother [the Virgin Mary – the Mother of Jesus] for sure was not!” This gentleman simply reflected his upbringing – my upbringing – and maybe yours. In the Western world – all the icons – all the pictures in all the churches and cathedrals – all the old Hollywood movies before 1973 – they all show Mary as a white woman with a white baby Jesus, who was the Son of God – conceived by the Holy Spirit – and not a Jew.

When the 1993 edition of the “New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary” included a new definition for “Jesus”, saying that he was “the central figure of the Christian faith, a Jewish preacher (c. 5 BC – c. AD 30) regarded by his followers as the Son of God and God incarnate”, there was an outcry among some traditional Christians. On the frontpage of “The Times” (1993) the English public could read that a senior evangelical and a member of the General Church Synod (of the Church of England) found “the idea of Jesus as a ‘Jewish preacher’ to be a rather derogatory term (a putdown)”. Later this pastor tried to make amends by stating that “the ‘Dictionary’ helpfully records for the first time that Jesus is Jewish”.

This was in 1993. Why did it take that long for the “Dictionary” to state for the first time that Jesus was Jewish? Why was – and maybe still is – the idea of a Jewish Jesus so troublesome? The harsh truth was – and is – that Christians – for centuries – had hated the Jews with violent persecutions and killings. I still remember a story which I heard a school. Around the time of World War II – at the entrance of a small German village – there was a sign that said “No Jews Allowed” and right next to the sign was the proud display of a cross with Jesus on it (a crucifix) because the small village was Christian. No one in the village picked up on the irony. If you say that no Jews are allowed in your community, then Jesus is also not welcome because he was a Jew.

At this point we cannot trace the history of Christian anti-semitism (animosity toward Jews) but simply consider a few instances of murderous hatred. In the year 1096 the first Crusade began and in this time – approximately – a quarter to one third of the entire Jewish population in Germany and northern France was murdered. In Jerusalem the Jews fled from the Crusaders, locking themselves in the main synagogue, where all nine hundred and sixty-nine people were burnt to death. The Crusaders believed that they were avenging the death of Christ and therefore – outside – they sang “Christ, We Adore Thee” – holding high their Crusader crosses.

Jews were blamed for every calamity – from hurricanes and earthquakes to the Black Death – with the consequence that thousands upon thousands were killed all over Christian Europe. Then, Jews were expelled from nearly every country in which they resided. In 1290 they were expelled from England – in 1492 from Spain – and there were repeated expulsions from France and Germany.

The hatred from Christians was relentless and even men (and women) of God – like Martin Luther – behaved in ways which make us – deeply – ashamed today. For instance, in 1542 he wrote the tract “Concerning The Jews And Their Lies”. Listen to a few quotes: “ … Much less do I propose to convert the Jews, for that is impossible … The sun has never shone on a more bloodthirsty and vengeful people than they are … Their breath stinks with lust for the Gentiles' gold and silver; for no nation under the sun is greedier than they were, still are, and always will be … they are nothing but thieves and robbers … they are a heavy burden, a plague, a pestilence, a sheer misfortune for our country … So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them. Rather we allow them to live freely in our midst despite their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying, and defaming; we protect and shield their synagogues, houses, life, and property. In this way we make them lazy and secure and encourage them to fleece us boldly of our money and goods, as well as to mock and deride us, with a view to finally overcoming us, killing us all for such a great sin, and robbing us of all our property (as they daily pray and hope) …

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