“Jesus” is a controversial term in historical research. There’s no agreement on the question of whether he was a real person, and if he did exist, it’s not clear which of the statements attributed to him are authentic. There’s no agreement on the question of whether Jesus presented himself only as a wise man and a teacher, or whether he claimed to be the messiah who ushers in the End of Days.
It’s also not clear why the Jewish leadership handed him over to the Romans. Was it because he presumed to be the son of God and presented himself as “king of the Jews,” or was it out of fear that he’d cause unrest among the people and upset relations between the province of Judea and its Roman government?
Perhaps archaeological findings discovered in the future will settle the debate over some of these issues. But one thing is certain: Jesus, whether he was a historical figure or a legend, was born, lived and died as a Jew. This is a fact no one disputes.
Jesus didn’t found Christianity; that was done by Paul. But because he was the central figure of the Christian religion, which established and shaped the culture, politics, diplomacy, worldview and lifestyle of the Western world from the start of the Christian era until today, Jesus was the most important Jew of all time.
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As part of the Jewish revival in the Land of Israel, the state has made sure to appropriate prominent Jews throughout history and laud their achievements as proof of the Jewish genius that ostensibly continues to be embodied by Israeli Jewish society, which presents itself as the elect of God, “the chosen people.” That’s how Israel treats Einstein, Freud, Moses and a great many others.
And yet, they deny the greatest Jew in history. Jesus’ Judaism is noted in his Hebrew Wikipedia entry only incidentally, a detail buried deep in the third paragraph. He barely appears in the school curriculum. Secular Israeli children know very little about Maimonides, but even less about an even greater Jew – Jesus.
With this being the Christmas season, it’s worth recalling that Israel systematically represses the fact that the “nativity” this holiday celebrates happened here, that this land is the cradle of Christianity, and that Jesus was our flesh and blood, a Jewish superstar, the most influential Jew of all time.
Israel’s Jewish national consciousness emphasizes Jerusalem as the Jewish people’s eternal capital, the rock of our existence. Jews demand exclusive control over Jerusalem and claim it is their property. They dispute the Muslim demand for ownership of the Temple Mount (which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary), but forget that some 2.5 billion Christians around the world view Jerusalem as the place where the Passion of Jesus occurred and where the Christian faith was born.
Jerusalem is no less important to Christians than to Jews. That’s why the American Embassy is located in the city today. Israel owes U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategic support – thanks to which it enjoys unprecedented geopolitical status and has gained a tailwind for the occupation – to evangelical Christians. They are the greatest gift ever given it by that great Jew, Jesus. Without him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be a bit player on the world stage.
Jesus’ Judaism is an unpleasant, denied truth. But Jesus was a classic Jew – a suspicious, revolutionary, brave, dissident, ambitious outsider. He’s made of all the materials that have characterized the Jewish genius throughout the generations. The very least he deserves from Israel is a city square named after him.