March 7, 2024

The Un-Jewing of Jesus

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by Dr. Faydra Shapiro, Senior Research Fellow

Efforts to erase the Jewishness of Jesus have a long history, one that dates back almost to Jesus himself.

As early as the second century, Marcion sought to consciously disconnect Christianity from the God and scripture of Israel. That tendency to un-Jew Jesus was strong enough that it took decades of intentional work on the part of scholars and theologians in the late 20th century to give Jesus back his own Jewishness. In the wake of the Shoah it had become clear how much was at stake.

A quick look at medieval and Renaissance Christian art gives us a powerful visual example. Here we see the active effort to decouple Jesus from his Jewish context, through an act of reading Christianity back into the original scenes of his life. Whether that was through representing the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus holding a rosary, the injection of a cross and Latin into the scene of Christ’s baptism, or the transformation of the Passover meal into a Christian Eucharist complete with kneeling and distribution of communion, historical anachronisms have never stood in the way of turning Jesus into a good Christian. This served to emphasize that Jesus was “just like us Christian folk” and not in any way connected with those wretched Jews down the street. Which of course, made it easier to demonize those Jewish folk down the street…