Nathan Sass

Responding to “Their Jesus, Our Jesus” by Simcha Jacobovici

In Theology on December 27, 2013 at 1:52 PM

On December 26th, 2013, a producer and layman archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici wrote an op-ed in the Times of Israel entitled “Their Jesus, Our Jesus”.  I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Jacobovici and his body of work.  He has demonstrated a dedication to uncovering what some may call “lost truths” in the world of Biblical Archaeology.

What follows is a critique and mild rebuttal of his op-ed, and I hope it is taken in the manner with which it is intended – one of respect and not hostility.

In his piece, Simcha points out that Pope Francis will visit Israel on May the 25th, and appears to be making no effort to honor the Israeli Prim Minister by visiting him, but making Mr. Netanyahu travel to visit him.

I am not a Pontiff, nor am I even a man of “importance” the Christian Church.  From one layman to another, let me say first that I agree whole heartedly with Simcha’s criticisms of the upcoming official visit.

I would go further and add to Simcha’s critique to add that the Roman Catholic Church, indeed almost all organized religious institutions today, is far more political than theological.  The Pope is a head of state more than he is anything else, notwithstanding his state’s borderless condition.  Expecting anything less than political considerations from the church is a fool’s errand.

For example, in high school I decided to enter the pastoral ministry in the Lutheran Church following graduation.  My senior year, my pastor took me along to a conference of the Missouri Synod where I was exposed to the seedy political underbelly of organized religion.  It had the air of any other political gathering, complete with cliques, power brokers, and maneuverings.

I decided then that the official ministry was not for me, though my faith remains the core of my life.  I realized that man’s sinful nature corrupts everything it touches, most especially organized anything – including religion.

What Jesus wanted, in my opinion, was not for there to be “special bosses” of faith, but that we would all be teachers and students.  We are all leaders with responsibility, and followers with humility.


This brings me to the portion of Simcha’s piece where he criticizes the Jewish world for refusing to honor “their Jesus” so as to protect “our [Christian] Jesus”.

Simply put, at least this particular Christian does not believe that Jesus is, or even could be, “ours” or “theirs”.

I do not fear the historical Jesus.  I do not deny the Jewish Jesus.  Far from being “the first Christians” (in a non-Jewish sense), Jesus and his disciples were Jews, a fact which is both undeniable and something to be celebrated.

In this humble layman’s opinion, the loss of the “Jewishness” of Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian church is something for which Christians should be ashamed and actively endeavor to correct.

The gentiles who comprise 99.9999% of the Christian world ought to be taught the Jewish roots of their faith.  We should have, from the beginning, embraced the simple fact that Jesus was a Jew, lived as a Jew, and worshiped as a Jew.  He did not go to mass.  He did not worship on Sunday.  He did not drop Jewish laws or customs.  Jerusalem, not Rome, was the Holy City for Him.

Perhaps you can blame the loss of this Jewishness on the politicization of religion, which probably began well before Constantine who only expanded it to epic levels.

Simcha, at several points along the way, references things Jesus said from the Gospels in support of his argument that Jesus saw his mission as purely to minister to the Jews and that gentiles were to be ignored.

He points out that in Matt 15:24 Jesus says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  He fails to mention the rest of the passage where the woman Jesus is speaking to persists in her petition to Jesus, and that Jesus commends her on her faith and her daughter was healed.

Far from supporting his argument that Jesus was anti-gentile, the full passage shows that Jesus loved non-Jews and Jews alike, provided they expressed faith.

This selective use of the Gospels among the “historical” or “Jewish” Jesus movement is a constant irritation to me.  On the one hand these groups argue that the Gospels are not to be considered accurate or even contemporary with Jesus.  They argue that the quotes and stories are unreliable and colored by political desires (normally blamed on the work of the Apostle Paul).

In the very next breath, when they have appoint to make in support of their views they will quote selected parts OF THOSE VERY SAME GOSPELS to make their case.

The ultimate expression of this dichotomy is when Jacobovici and others argue that the Talpiot Tomb is the actual tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and that he was fully human and died and was buried along with his family.

To believe this, they must necessarily ignore the entirety of the Gospel’s accounts of the resurrected and ascended Jesus along with the numerous documented traditions and teachings of even the earliest disciples of his death, resurrection and ascension.

Gospels they simultaneously use to get the names they point out on the inscriptions of the ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb itself!

Either the Gospels are reliable or they are not.  You cannot on the one had argue they are, but only for the purposes of getting the names you need for the tomb, and then argue they are not and ignore that they all point out that there was no tomb of Jesus to be identified.

You just do not get to chose arbitrarily what parts of the same work are reliable just to suit your own needs.

Take it as it is, or not at all.  Find extra biblical identification of Jesus and His family and use that to support your Talpiot conclusions.

Furthermore, the denial of the FULL Gospel account is illogical.

It is an unassailable fact that the disciples (save perhaps John) were martyred for their refusal to deny the risen Christ.  To attempt to explain that most basic of facts as some sort of mass lie perpetuated by a sub sect of Jews is a bit, shall we say, disingenuous.


Finally, as a Christian, I do not fear, nor do I deny, the Jewish Jesus.

Simcha, I embrace and welcome more information about “your Jesus” (the historical one).  “Your Jesus” does not preclude me from “my Jesus” (the theological one).  The two are not mutually exclusive, and the latter can only ever be taken on faith.  If you seek facts and evidence of the latter, you will never find it.

However, from what I have read, it does appear that you cannot similarly welcome the existence of “my Jesus” as easily.  “My Jesus” cannot exist in your world as it would directly contradict the things you have been taught all your life.  This is not to say your faith is invalid or wrong, only that the theological Jesus conflicts with it and that is a contradiction not easily reconciled.

“My Jesus” is “Your Jesus” and then some.  He was a real man.  He lived in First Century AD Israel.  He ate, slept, walked, talked, and lived as a First Century Jew would have.  He observed the laws of Moses.  He held the Sabbath (Saturday) as Holy.  He was unremarkable in all his human qualities, and was as “normal” as any other long since forgotten first century Galilean.

The “and then some” of “my Jesus” was that his mission was not merely physical.  It was more than Roman occupation.  It was more than an exclusively a Semitic-centered lashing out at the corruption of the Temple.  It was more than just another in a long line of Jewish heroes sent to fight oppression and occupation.

His message was for all mankind.  His message was beyond the physical and temporal space in which we inhabit.  He taught love, forgiveness, charity and redemption.  He died not for the exclusive liberation of some first century Jews (I should note that if that was His mission, He was remarkably poor at it by any measure) but for the redemption of all man.

“My Jesus” absorbs all that your Jesus is and was, and profoundly expands on it.

Because of “your Jesus”, I and many others are grafted onto the vine of Israel.  (Oh no….I think I just quoted Paul!!!!)  Like Ruth, ancestor of David and Jesus himself, I have become a full part of the children of Israel through faith.

It is hard for me to imagine “your Jesus” turning away a convert to faith because of my lineage.  I rather think He would welcome me with open arms as Ruth herself once was welcomed.

After all, the Canaanite woman’s daughter was healed by “your Jesus” and “mine”.

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.  (Matt 15:28)

Perhaps you and I as brothers of the same Almighty God should stop trying to have “our own Jesus’s” and take him for what he was…in his entirety.  It is we who should adjust to Him, and not He who should be adjusted to us.

  1. Well said!

    Sent from my iPhone

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