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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.


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