Caspari Center Media Review………….March 19, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 38 articles on the subjects of the “Jesus tomb,” anti-missionary activity, sects, Christian Zionism, and anti-Semitism. Out of the total:
- 9 dealt with archaeology – the “Jesus tomb”
- 11 dealt with anti-missionary activity
- 3 dealt with sects
- 3 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 6 dealt with anti-Semitism
- 2 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
- 2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
- 1 dealt with conversion to Judaism
- 1 dealt with Christian tourism
The most prominent feature of this week’s Review is coverage of the “Jesus tomb,” the discovery of which has gained international attention through the recent screening of a documentary film claiming that a Second Temple tomb discovered in a Jerusalem suburb in the 1980’s is the family tomb not only of Jesus himself but also of his wife and child. The interest in this is almost paralleled by various anti-missionary activities and sects – largely, as noted in the previous Reviews, in response to a Haifa court ruling in favor of the “missionaries” and the awarding of an honorary degree to a Mormon leader. As in previous weeks, Prof. Ariel Tauf and his book on the Jewish use of the blood of Christian children for ritual rites also remains in the news, not least for his retraction and an Israeli court decision to bring him to trial. Other references to anti-Semitism also occur in relation to the IDF. At the same time, Christian Zionist activities are also well represented.
The “Jesus Tomb”
Yediot Ahronot, March 2, 4; Jerusalem Post, February 27, March 2; Makor Rishon, March 2; HaZofeh, February 27; Ma’ariv, February 27; Haaretz, February 27, 28, 2007
Although the archaeological findings regarding the so-called “Jesus tomb” date back to the 1980’s, when the burial cave was first discovered, the issue has risen to international prominence at the present time due to the world-wide screening of James Cameron’s film. “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” documents the archaeological history of the find and presents a interpretation of the facts – namely, that the tomb, agreed as dating from the Second Temple period, constitutes the bar Jesus (or bar Joseph) family tomb. The argument is based on statistical interpretation of the names discovered on six of the ten ossuaries (“bone boxes”). All of these, so the claim goes, are related in one way or another to Jesus and his “family” according to the witness of the NT. The name “Yeshua bar Yehosef” indubitably indicates an ossuary containing Jesus’ bones. The unique “Mariamne” is identified as Mary Magdalene (with the help of the fourth century NY apocryphal text, the Acts of Philip) who, according to the results of DNA testing, is shown not to have been a relative to the “Jesus” buried in the tomb and therefore “must” have been his wife. The “Judah bar Yeshua” is presumably Jesus’ son, given that it is a family tomb.
This is the theory (in brief) propounded by the film’s producers. Significantly, while the film’s screening on Israeli TV (on the “Discovery” channel) garnered widespread coverage in the Israeli press – in both secular and religious papers – the content of the coverage was far less sensational. Almost without exception, the feature most frequently alluded to was the furor the film has generated in the Christian world. Thus Yediot Ahronot (March 4) noted the Vatican’s response under the title “Discovery of Yeshu’s tomb – a hoax.” According to HaZofeh (February 27), the film has “aroused interest on the threshold of messianic fervor amongst Christians worldwide.” And as Amiram Barkat in Haaretz (February 27) commented, “While in Israel the press was concerned with the question of the theory’s validity, the western media focused on the claim that the film was endeavoring to shake the foundations of Christianity by presenting Yeshu as married and the father of children and hinting that Yeshu’s bones remained in the tomb.”
Very little was said regarding Jewish responses to such claims – which might have been anticipated to have been in favor of the finding of Jesus’ remains, proving his resurrection to have been a deception. Evidence of this attitude was completely lacking. The primary Jewish reaction came from Israeli archaeologists, who had been responsible for the original analysis of the findings in the 1980’s. While such figures might well have been expected to feel a need to defend their reputation, it was clear that this motive played a lesser part in their response than did the desire for (scientific) truth: “Prof. Amos Kloner of Bar Ilan University, who published the findings of the excavation of the burial tomb in the 1990’s, continued yesterday to claim that the film lacked any scientific basis” (Haaretz, February 27). Again in Barkat’s words, “[The Israel Antiquities] Authority noted that the foreign news agencies, which related to the affair as a sensational discovery, were surprised by the relatively cold reactions it aroused in Israel … The skepticism of Israeli archaeologists is well based on past experience. In recent years the archaeological world has been faced with no small number of discoveries connected to Yeshu and the New Testament heroes which have gathered a lot of coverage in the international media despite the fact that their scientific credibility was in doubt.” The archaeologists in the main remained adamant that the statistical interpretation given to the proximity of the six names – that the tomb could not be any other than Jesus’ family tomb – was artificial and that the commonness of the names (as Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land pointed out, 16 names account for 75% of the total in use during the period known from inscriptions) could not bear such statistical weight.
David Horowitz, in the Jerusalem Post (March 2), hoisted the filmmakers on their own petard, accusing them of using the NT evidence arbitrarily and only for their convenience. “Where’s the logic in relying on the New Testament for the names of Jesus, Mary and his brother Joseph, but then ignoring the New Testament when asserting distant Talpiot [the suburb in which the tomb was discovered] for a burial tomb, and ignoring the New Testament, too, in asserting that Jesus had a partner and a son?”
Perhaps the nearest response that would reflect a Jewish attitude came in the religious Makor Rishon’s “TV guide” (March 2), in which the author noted that such questions as “what is the chance that these are really the remains of the well-known figures, Yeshu, his mother Maria and his brother Joseph? And is ‘Judah bar Joseph’ Jesus’ son?” – “these are truly interesting questions, with a not inconsiderable theological volatility.” Ma’ariv (February 27) extended this theme in relating to the press conference held in New York: “Who would have believed that, in all the places in the world, Yeshu would have chosen to suddenly resurrect himself in the New York public library, squeezed between MacDonald’s and a computer store? This may not be literally true, but in effect it’s what is actually implied by the controversial claims made by the makers of the film ‘The Lost Tomb of Yeshu.’ The basic question which has troubled Christianity since its beginning has been Yeshu’s nature, considered by Christian believers to be the Son of God. The argument over whether he was human or God has divided the church from its inception and is still a matter of debate.”
One of the clearest indications of motive came, again, from Amiram Barkat’s article in Haaretz. Barkat quoted the Roman Catholic researcher Joseph Dias as suggesting that the film’s inspiration came from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code: “The Da Vinci case demonstrated to people, like the director James Cameron [of “Titanic” fame] and his friends, that it was possible to make a lot of money from literature dealing with Yeshu and claiming to be scientific.”
Quite naturally, the Israeli media also related to the people actually affected by the tomb’s discovery – the residents of the neighborhood which was built on top of the site. Thus the Jerusalem Post (February 2) printed an article entitled “East Talpiot residents adjust to the possibility they’re Jesus’s neighbors” and quoted several people’s reactions to the discovery. One of these stated: “Three weeks ago, on my way back home, I met a journalist who asked me how would I feel if the cave I live next to turned out to be Jesus’s tomb. I was shocked, and then she said this was the Canadian delegation’s gift to Israel [Editor’s note: the film’s producer is a Canadian Jew].” Likewise, Ma’ariv (February 27) noted that “There is no doubt that the film’s claims have the potential to shake the Christian world and the residents of Dov Gruner St. in the Talpiot neighborhood, where the tomb is located.” According to the same report, the Jerusalem municipality is undecided what to do with the site. It claims not to know to whom the land belongs, or whether there would be any tourist interest if the tombs were reopened and made accessible to the public. “And perhaps the residents also need to give their permission for private property to be overrun by thousands of tourists.”
Oded Golan, whose trial for forgery of the inscription on the “James ossuary” is being currently conducted, has not failed to jump on the bandwagon. In concurrence with the film’s claim that the James ossuary actually constitutes one of the items which mysteriously went missing from the tomb, he is now arguing that the James ossuary was discovered in a “nearby tomb” and that a lab test has demonstrated that the two ossuaries were covered with earth which came from the same region (Haaretz, February 27).
HaModia, February 27, 28, March 1, 2; Mishpaha, February 8, 22, pp. 18, 29, March 1; BeKehila, February 22, pp. 21, 27; HaZofeh, February 23; Yom L’Yom, February 22, 2007
The Haifa district court’s decision allowing the Jehovah’s Witnesses group to hold conferences in the municipal conference center (see previous Review) continued to gain attention, particularly in the religious press. The latter were extremely reluctant to perceive the affair as one of “discrimination,” as the court had ruled when the municipality refused to renew their contract. Thus, for example, Mishpaha (February 22) entitled its report on the event “Attorney General in favor of missionary activity” and again, “Shock: Court allows missionary activity” (February 8), while BeKehila (February 22) noted that “The court gave support and legitimization to the public baptism of hundreds of Jews to Christianity.” Interestingly, according to the latter report, the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves claimed that they do not fall into the same category as other “minorities” such as Muslims or Christians.
The visit of a leading Rabbi to Yad L’Achim’s offices in Bnei Brak and his support of the movement was also widely reported in the religious press. As part of its PR, Yad L’Achim claimed that “the weekly average of appeals for rescue from the mission which arrive at our offices and various branches stands at close to twenty persons” (HaModia, March 2). The same article noted that Yad L’Achim employs a range of resources in its fight against the mission, including “a roster of lawyers, lectures and propaganda events in state schools, tracts and booths, house visits and seminars for the needy lower class amongst whom the missionaries work.”
A fascinating insight into the workings of the anti-missionary mind is given in an article in HaModia (February 2), which cites the appeal of an eleven-year-old boy to Yad L’Achim: “My name is … and I really need help. I am eleven years old, a Jew, and my family made aliyah from the former Soviet Union. My great-grandfather was a Rabbi and all my family were strong observers of the commandments. Until one day two women came to our house who wanted to speak with my mother. At the beginning they brought her all sorts of literature which spoke about the need to be a good person, etc. Several days later, they brought her a Christian Bible. When I saw it, I shouted and made a fuss and asked my mother what it was. She told me ‘it’s alright.’ I began crying and [tried] to explain to her that Jews are forbidden to do this but she didn’t listen because they brainwashed her or something like that! Now they come every day and I can’t cope any more. She doesn’t understand that their goals are different! She thinks that they just want to ‘help.’ All our family says this, but she’s not convinced. And I was five years in a religious school and they explained to us a lot about the mission and I know what it is. That’s exactly what happened to us. At the beginning they came only to bring a book, then they brought a Tanakh and then I don’t even want to think about what they would have brought next.”
The ever-present and increasing danger of the mission was addressed by a leading Rabbi before Purim, who called the religious public to “awake and pray on the Fast of Esther [the day before Purim] in the face of the decree of destruction [apostasy] and the growth of the mission” (HaModia, February 28). According to the report, the missionary threat is posed not only by its extension to all the cities in the country but also because the missionaries “disguise themselves as Jews, even as Orthodox” and thus deceive and capture many Jewish souls.
Mishpaha (February 22) carried an article concerning the Ministry of Education’s intention to establish a “special mechanism to deal with foreign sects and radical missionary bodies” in the country who “are displaying an intensive educational involvement in the state-run schools.” The new apparatus is designed to “formulate new, stricter rules” regarding what is permitted and what is prohibited with regard to “missionary activity.” The mechanism was instituted by Yuli Tamir, the Minister of Education, in response to an appeal by MK Meir Porush. Porush intimated that the information regarding the “illicit” activity of the mission had also been conveyed to the police, who had “unfortunately displayed complete indifference” to it. Even before the new apparatus became operational, Tamir issued an immediate prohibition of the use in schools of the book “The Way to Happiness” and other “related material.” This book forms the basis for the Scientologists’ educational program, which they are attempting to introduce into the school system – a program which includes “seminars for the reduction of violence and the teaching of values to the students.”
Emtza Netanya, February 23; Zman Hadera, February 23; Mishpaha, February 22, 2007
These articles could also have been included in the previous section, dealing as they do with the Orthodox response to another sect – the Mormons. The three reports all deal with the award of an honorary degree to Paul Olstrom by an academic college in Netanya in honor of the establishment of a Chair for Jewish-Mormon Dialog (see previous Reviews). As Zman Hadera (February 23) asked: “Is Paul Olstrom a true friend of the people of Israel or is he a missionary seeking to convert Jewish youth? Netanya College will have to answer this question.” Part of the answer was given in Prof. Arad’s speech: “We are strict about not being in contact with bodies or groups who are likely to engage in any kind of missionary activity. Paul Olstrom is not an official [Mormon] representative and holds no religious office in his community. On his visit now he is also a guest of the security forces and the IDF” (Emtza Netanya, February 23). The article concluded with a brief history and explanation of the Mormon religion.
Jerusalem Post, February 27, 28; Yediot Ahronot, February 28, 2007
The Jerusalem Post (February 27) carried an article promoting Christian Zionism and evangelical “friendship” by Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of “Birthright Israel,” a Jewish organization that brings American youth on visits to Israel to encourage aliyah. Steinhardt claimed that while the American Jewish community has “long been suspicious of Evangelical Christians” because “we fear that their true desire is to establish a theocratic Christian regime in America that has no place for the Jewish people or religion,” “extraordinary times bring extraordinary challenges.” His argument is based on the fact that at a time when, more than at any other period, Israel’s existence is being called into question; anyone who is willing to exhibit friendship should be welcomed. “The Jewish reluctance to embrace Evangelical Christians’ financial and moral support of the State of Israel borders on irrational hysteria. At this juncture in history, are we truly so arrogant as to reject the love and friendship of approximately 80 million Americans because we find invisible, sinister motives for that friendship? At a time of unremitting anti-Israel hysteria throughout the globe, is such a posture reasonable or even sane? … Are we to refuse these acts of loving kindness from Evangelicals merely because we disagree with their religious beliefs? What would that say about us as a people? … Let us not be so haughty to say that Israel cannot also inspire non-Jews to acts of love, charity, and support. By most measures, they are truly friends.”
According to the same paper (February 28), Jewish “inspiration” was indeed behind Michael Evans’ decision to rally “Six million Christian children to pray for Israel on Purim.” “After reading about Rabbi [David Batzri’s] campaign to enlist 10,000 children to pray that God annul [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s plans for the destruction of the Jewish people, I said to myself, ‘Why stop at 10,000? … The number 6 million is a reminder to Christians that never again must we allow a Holocaust. And since the young suffer most in times of catastrophe, it is fitting that children should be the ones praying.”
In an article looking at the appointment of a new Minister of Tourism, Yediot Ahronot (February 28) suggested that the outgoing Minister’s recent attendance at a National Religious Broadcasters conference in the United States was in fact unnecessary. While Herzog was of the opinion that his presence there was beneficial to tourism, he merely demonstrated the “fundamental marketing mistake” of this conception. “The pilgrims really do not need him [to be there] in order to come to Israel … The religious community will come to Israel in any case.”
Mishpaha, March 1; Haaretz, February 27; Yated Ne’eman, February 28; Ma’ariv, February 27 (x 2); BeKehila, February 22, 2007
Prof. Ariel Tauf’s book claiming that Jews may in fact be guilty of using Christian blood for Jewish ritual purposes continues to rouse the ire of many. According to the latest development, Tauf has withdrawn his book from the market and consented to retract his argument in an article to be published in a scientific journal (Yated Ne’eman, February 28). The profits which he has received, he has promised, will be donated to the Anti-Defamation League which fights anti-Semitism. According to the same report – as also in Haaretz (February 27) – the Knesset Education Committee, in a meeting attended by representatives from the Ministry of Education, Bar Ilan University (where Tauf held a position), Yad Vashem, the Anti-Defamation League, and historians, has recommended that Tauf be brought to trial by his colleagues for slandering the Jewish people. Tauf was invited to the meeting, but he did not attend.
While Ma’ariv (February 27) expressed no surprise that anti-Semitism should be showing its face even in academic circles in Israel, a lengthy article in BeKehila (February 22) looked at the nature of the IDF and lamented the fact that its deterioration, morally and militarily, may be attributed in part at least to the fact that it contains many non-Jews. Since the IDF does not ask its recruits their political opinions upon conscription, these may hold anti-Semitic views and even be members of Neo-Nazi parties. “The whole affair of multitudes of goyim, some of them anti-Semitic, some of them Nazis, some of them hooligans, some of them criminals, must be investigated. And whoever is likely to damage Israel in this way must give account of himself.” While the article paid much attention to the numbers of Christians serving in the army (the figures are disputed, but may be as many as 5000), it did not directly associate anti-Semitism with the Christian soldiers.