Why Do The Jews Not Believe In Jesus?
“Why do the Jews not believe in Jesus?”
Unsurprisingly, this is a question that I receive quite often whenever talking about religion. From college campuses to coffee shops all the way to missionaries handing out pamphlets at the bus stop, it seems that every time I divulge the fact that I am involved in Jewish education, this question is never far away.
The reason for this question is immediately evident. America is a country that is over two-thirds Christian, many of whom have probably never had the opportunity to speak to an educated Jew. While both Christianity and Islam accept either the divinity or prophetic nature of Jesus, Jews simply view him as another name in a lengthy list of false messiahs.
Sure the average Christian would have heard all about Judaism from various Christian texts, but this would only further confuse the matter. While Judaism has quite a ubiquitous presence within Christian historical and theological writings, it is anything but accurate. The most generous description of the way that the Jews are depicted in most Christian sources is that they are the proverbial straw man as to why any group would reject Jesus. Throughout the New Testament, because of the Jewish rejection of Jesus, the Jews are called slaves, children of the devil, snakes, hell-bound, enemies, and most historically threatening: guilty of Jesus’s death.
Now it is important to put this in perspective. The origins of Christianity and its departure from Judaism is shrouded in mystery and there are a multiplicity of views about Jews within the New Testament. Many of the attacks against “Jews” in the New Testament may only refer to specific subgroups rather than Jews as a whole. However, we do not have to look too deeply into history to see how many of the negative depictions of Jews in Christian texts directly led to absolutely anti-Jewish horrible acts.
Perhaps it is because of the bloody history of Jewish-Christian relations that I always cringe when I receive this question. A truly massive number of Jews have either been killed, exiled or forcibly converted, due to a refusal to accept Jesus; this question causes me to immediately recall this knowledge. While the vast majority of modern Christians are either ignorant of, or would openly censure these acts, from the Jewish perspective, they are always in our collective consciousness.
However, after recently being asked this question in a relatively rude manner, I have begun to realize that there is a much more fundamental reason as to why this question irritates me.
The question of why the Jews didn’t accept Jesus is predicated on the fact that an acceptance of Jesus is the baseline. It presupposes that once Jesus came, he was accepted across the board and only a small number of renegade individuals (the Jews) dared to reject him.
Aside from the fact that this view is incredibly insulting because it defines Judaism as a rejection of Jesus, it cannot be further from the historical reality. It took multiple generations after Jesus for early Christianity to gain a following that was somewhat equal in number to Judaism and it only began to rapidly spread after the Roman emperor Constantine made it the official religion of Rome almost 300 years after Jesus’ life. While some Jews at the turn of the millennium were enchanted by Christianity (after all, nearly all early Christians were Jews), for the vast majority, it wasn’t even on their radar.
In this light, the question makes much more sense if we invert it.
Why did anyone ever accept Jesus in the first place?
After all, there are a myriad of factors that the Messiah is supposed to fulfill, with world peace being at the top, most of which never happened.
Many of the supposed typological references to Jesus throughout the Hebrew Bible are based on mistranslations or out of context statements that any knowledgeable Jew would immediately see past.
Crucial details about Jesus’ life differ from one gospel to the next, which compromises the potential historicity of the entirety of the New Testament.
But imagine how insulting it would be if every time I met a Christian, I ran up to them and asked “Why did you guys accept Jesus?” Of course, within the course of a natural conversation or relationship, there may be times to bring up philosophical differences, but it really does not need to always define the terms of Christian-Jewish dialogue.
Why should we focus on the historical and theological differences between religions when we have much more to gain by focusing on our similarities?
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Why are Messianic Jews not accepted when secular or even atheist Jews are? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
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