March 22 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….March 22, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 16 articles on the subjects of the “Jesus tomb,” anti-missionary activity, Jewish-Christian relations, the Christian media, anti-Semitism, sects, Christians in Israel, and Christian tourism and sites. Out of the total:


  • 1 dealt with archaeology – the “Jesus tomb”
  • 6 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
  • 2 dealt with anti-missionary activity
  • 1 dealt with sects
  • 1 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 1 dealt with Christian tourism
  • 1 dealt with Christian sites
  • 1 dealt with the Christian media
  • 1 dealt with Judaism
  • 1 dealt with anti-Semitism

The most prominent feature of last week’s Review – the “Jesus tomb” – has quickly faded into obscurity, with only one article devoted to the subject in this week’s Review. The story which has replaced it is that of delegation of German bishops whose visit was also reported last week. Unfortunately, the improvement in relations seems doomed to be blighted in the light of inopportune and regrettable remarks made during the visit. Anti-missionary activity also continues its course as usual – paralleled by coverage of Christians in Israel, Christian sites and tourism, and sects. A lengthy article was also included on the translation of the Tanakh (“Old Testament”) into Greek – the Septuagint.


The “Jesus Tomb”

Makor Rishon, March 9, 2007

A brief note in the religious weekly Makor Rishon (March 9) by Ayal Megged entitled “Yeshu and the sorcerers’ cave” examined the importance of the discovery of the so-called “Jesus tomb.” Megged’s appraisal was that the film possesses “no religious significance, and therefore its importance is cast into doubt.” He characterized the film as “intriguing gossip from the first century which, in my eyes at least, is the most turbulent period in history.” The latter evaluation derives its force from the fact that, in Megged’s opinion, this was the century “in which the Jewish people’s fate was effectively sealed for the rod rather than for mercy.” How this came about he also has no hesitation in delineating: It was in this period that “the fateful error was committed – that same unfortunate decision to exile Yeshu’s followers  and to remove them from Judaism – which paved the way for the creation of a new, confrontational and accusatory religion.” Megged’s take on this period of Jewish history is that it would have been better for the Jewish people “to come to terms with a different stream side-channeling from the main one – just as people later related to Hasidism,” instead of “creating for itself an everlasting enemy.” If the significance of the period is anything to go by, anything related to it should be important – especially something connected to “the most famous family in human chronicles.” Yet, “this proof or another that Yeshu was married to Mary Magdalene, and that they had a son, is completely lacking in any true significance. It is not Yeshu’s real or actual family which is definitive but the myth. Christian mythology won’t change as a result of some archaeological discovery, however interesting or sensational – nor, unfortunately, will the fate of the Jewish people.”


Jewish-Christian Relations

Yediot Ahronot, March 6, 7, 8, 9; Haaretz, March 7; Jerusalem Post, March 7, 2007

Despite the apology that came belatedly after the fact, the Jewish world was scandalized by the recent remark of two German bishops, members of a delegation whose intention – it was hoped – was to improve Catholic-Israeli-Jewish relations. The first comment at the heart of the outrage was allegedly reported in a German paper and ran: “In the morning we saw the pictures at Yad Vashem of the inhuman Warsaw ghetto, while in the evening we were in the Ramallah Ghetto. One could explode from this. Of course, Israel has the right to exist, but such a right cannot be exercised so brutally.” Understandably, Yad Vashem protested vigorously at such a comparison: “The remarks illustrate a woeful ignorance of history and a distorted sense of perspective. Making analogies between the mass murder that was part of the plan to annihilate the Jewish people, carried out under the German Nazi regime, and the current situation in Ramallah, and using words whose rhetorical power is immense, does nothing to help us understand what is going on today; such words only further poison the atmosphere, making it that more difficult to find workable solutions to deeply entrenched and thorny problems. These unwarranted and offensive comparisons serve to diminish the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and mollify the consciences of those who seek to lessen European responsibility for Nazi crimes.” In conjunction with this remark came another on crossing into the Palestinian Authority, from a bishop originally from East Germany: “Something like this is done to animals, not to human beings. I never in my life thought to see a wall like this again.”

The remarks were carried in the German media and the German Embassy was embarrassed by them. “It is difficult to understand how they could say these things. Only a few hours earlier the head of the delegation said moving things during a visit to Yad Vashem.” Other German church figures also expressed regret for their colleagues’ words. Writing to Yad Vashem, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the head of the Catholic Church in Germany, stated: “No one meant to hurt the feelings of Holocaust survivors or the Jewish population in Israel. Without reference to any specific situation, it is impermissible in any way to link current problems or injustice to the mass murder of the Jews which the Nazis committed.” At the same time, the chief Vatican historian came out in the delegation’s defense, calling “absurd” the claim that the bishops’ remarks were “anti-Semitic.” Yad Vashem also responded to this statement: “It is troubling and disturbing that precisely the Vatican historian distorts historical facts. Any stretching of a line between premeditated genocide performed out of ideology and a political conflict represents an attempt to falsify the reality of our times.” Israel’s ambassador to Germany also severely criticized the bishops’ remarks in an official declaration, expressing his “shock and anger” at the “demagoguery”: “Rather than turning to the use of demagoguery, the bishops could have met with the families of the more than 1000 Israelis who in the last six years have fallen victim to Palestinian terror just because they were Jews. A one-sided presentation of the conflict and use of a double message cannot be adopted by those seeking to contribute to the obtaining of peace.” [Editors note: All three papers carried exactly the same quotations of the bishop’s remarks.]

According to Yediot Ahronot (March 7), “Israel Today – Christians for Israel” [NAI – a German Christian organization based in Jerusalem] conducted a survey whose findings indicate a sharp deterioration in German support for Israel: More than 60% of Germans consider Israel to be the greatest obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

The paper’s Eldar Bak (March 8) expressed what was most likely the view of most Israelis with respect to the issue: “How much arrogance, closed-mindedness, and stupidity can there be in a person who dares to compare the situation of the Palestinians in the territories to that of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II? All the more so when we are speaking of the leaders of the Catholic Church in Germany.” Bak cited additional surveys that indicate that 30% of Germans believe that Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinians is identical to that of the Nazis to the Jews. “In a most grievous way, leading streams in the Catholic and Protestant Churches are abetting the revision of history” which is being conducted by German politicians and intellectuals.  He also pointed to the fact that while happy to fault Israeli political policy, the German bishops failed to criticize the “persecution” of Christians in the Palestinian Authority, “which leaves that community with only one option: to migrate from the territory of the ‘Holy Land.’” He also very relevantly pointed out that “All the Church leaders had to say was that the Israelis are relating to the Palestinians as to animals and that Ramallah is like the Warsaw Ghetto.”


Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity

YNET (Yediot Ahronot on-line), March 7; Zman Hadera, March 2, 2007

Under the title “Tel Aviv Rabbis against ‘Messianic Jews,’ an article in the on-line version of Yediot Ahronot (March 7) reported that Tel Aviv’s religious population has erupted in a storm over the news that a “missionary sect by the name of ‘Messianic Jews’” had purchased property in the center of the city. It was noted that “Not for a long time has such an elaborate organization of Rabbis and religious figures been seen joining to fight against the mission in the religious world.” Even the Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, has lent his weight to the campaign. The premises, on Brenner St., were once owned by the Histadrut [Labor Union] and have now, it is claimed, been turned into a missionary center which engages in various activities, “including baptism to Christianity [and] classes for children in which they beguile them to convert to Christianity.” The danger to which these children are exposed derives in part, according to the Rabbis, from the lack of proper religious education in the regular schools and the lack of any immunization against missionary activity such as that engaged upon by the Messianic Jewish “sect.” In what would appear to represent rather a hypocritical move, the Rabbis appealed to MK Colette Avital for help, arguing that it was “a reproach and shame that a building which for so many years served as a symbol of social and humanitarian aid” has now become a place for baptism. [Editor’s note: the Orthodox are not particularly noted for their socialist sympathies.]

Avital – whose relation to these religious circles is unclear – wrote a letter to the Tel Aviv Mayor in response, asking whether the municipality was aware of the situation, whether the group had permission for its activities, and whether it had been checked to see if the latter were in contravention of the law against conversion of minors. She also stated that her intervention was predicated on the involvement of children; had the activity only been directed towards adults she would not have answered the appeal. A statement put out by the municipality read: “No activity connected to the teaching of religion, guidance, education, etc. requires a municipal business license. Anything related to criminal activity should be referred to the police.”

A letter to Zman Hadera (March 2) reflects the attitude of the “religious man on the street” to missionary activity. In relation to a previous report of missionary activity in the paper, Yerachmiel Began wrote: “It is amazing to think how the enemies of Judaism in Israel are living safely and securely, and in exchange we build them kitchens and conference halls. But on the other side, in a State in which [an Arab] member of Knesset travels to Syria in order to preach against the State of Israel and is welcomed back in Israel as if nothing [had happened], there is nothing to be amazed about … True, some people say that our children are sufficiently mature to know how to discern between right and wrong, but the temptation and curiosity which are the hallmark of university-age youth sometimes takes them to too-distant regions.”



Ma’ariv, March 11, 2007

According to a report in Ma’ariv (March 11), Yoni ben-Menahem, the director of Israel’s radio channel “Kol Israel” recently participated – with partial financial funding from the Broadcasting Authority – in a world peace conference organized by Rev. Moon’s Unification Church in Korea – “a Christian sect which is considered illegal in Israel.” The major part of the trip’s expenses were covered by the sect. Moon believes himself to be “God’s messenger” and in the past has been refused entry into Israel due to a Knesset decision that the church is anti-Semitic and missionary. The Knesset report argued that the sect’s activities in Israel were intended to build a positive image amongst an “intellectual elite.” A second Israeli, Prof. Eliezer Glaubach Gal, also participated in the latest conference, although he claimed ignorance of the organizers’ identity. Ben-Menahem stated that his part in the peace conference was confined to a panel discussion dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Moon, the Jews are “faithless” [without faith] and “spiritually corrupt; the Holocaust was punishment for their crucifixion of Jesus.”


Christians in Israel

Jerusalem Post, March 9, 2007

The Jerusalem Post Magazine, which comes out on Fridays, appears to be running a regular column on “Christianity.” This week it focused on “Baptists in the Holy Land,” featuring an article written by David Smith, a veteran Baptist missionary in Israel. Smith opened with a note of how little Israelis know about the Baptists, including the contribution of Israel-supportive Baptist American Presidents, among them Truman and Clinton. He identified the beginning of Baptist work in Israel with the person of Sukri Mussa of Zfat, who came to faith while studying in Dallas in the early 1900’s, returning home in 1911. According to Fuad Sakhnini, current pastor of the Nazareth Baptist Church, “the first Baptists here were persecuted by the other traditional Christian communities.” Witnessing first in the large Galilee Christian communities – Turan and Eilabun – Mussa organized Bible studies and “home groups.” The Nazareth church was built in 1926 and thereafter new believers continued expanding their outreach to Jaffa, Kafr Kanna, Acre, and Rama. Two additional Baptist churches have recently been established in Nazareth. “During the 1930’s a number of American Southern Baptists arrived in the Holy Land to bolster the local work” and by the end of that decade they had seven missionaries working in the Land. Unfortunately, these were forced to leave due to the outbreak of the First World War. During the 1948 War of Independence, many of the children orphaned found homes in the Baptist-run orphanage in Nazareth. The orphanage  was subsequently relocated to the Baptist Village near Petah Tikva, an estate whose primary purpose had been intended as a “cooperative for Jewish believers in Jesus.” A vocational school was later added to the complex, together with a church, a children’s camp, and a conference program. The school in Nazareth, opened in the 1930’s and “is now recognized by the Ministry of Education as one of the country’s premier educational institutions.” Nine of the winners in a youth physics competition graduated from the school, while its director general, Butrus Mansour, claims that his students annually score in the “top 1%” in English.

Smith notes how the Baptist Church in Jerusalem is exemplary of the Baptist work in Israel in general. Founded in 1933 in the center of the city, its early members included “Jewish, Arab and expatriate devotees meeting in a chapel that had been largely built by one man – Roswell Owens – for about $1,000.” The “revival” which occurred in the wake of the Second World War “was cut short almost immediately by Jewish-Arab tensions.” The church was “leveled by arsonists” in 1982. The then pastor, Robert Lindsey, took an optimistic view of the event: “Bob took it as positively as he could, and said that he had been praying that the fire of the Holy Spirit would fall from heaven, though [the arson] wasn’t what he had intended,” stated Chuck Kopp, the present pastor. “Although the crime was soundly condemned by politicians and the chief rabbis, the government was reluctant to allow the church to rebuild, suggesting that it move further from the city center.” The members were disinclined to give in to pressure or extortion and the church was eventually rebuilt on the same site. It currently houses four congregations, “representing about 500 believers” who worship in Hebrew, Russian, and English. According to Smith, “the national work … presently consists of about 6,000 adults and children meeting in 20 churches – the Association of Baptist Churches (ABC) having been formed in 1963.” He closes the article with a quote from Fuad Haddad, chairman of the ABC: “The concern of Baptists today is to witness and be witnesses in the Land. The promotion of the Lord’s work is a priority … local churches have been challenged to double their numbers in a decade. God has blessed and He will continue to bless.”


Christian Tourism

Yediot Ahronot, March 8, 2007

Yediot Ahronot (March 8) printed an article with the headline “Egypt prohibits 2,000 pilgrims from coming to Israel” in which it related how “a new affair threatens to cloud Egyptian-Israeli relations” – the prevention of the pilgrimage to the Easter festivities by the Coptic and Greek Orthodox communities. While Egyptian tour operators annually organize tours for the Egyptian Christian communities, this year they informed their Israeli colleagues “the authorities in Cairo have decided to prevent the pilgrims’ visit.” The decision appears to be linked to the arrest of Muhammad al-Atar, an Egyptian citizen currently on trial on charges of spying for the Mossad [the Israeli Intelligence Agency]. Most unfortunately, the pilgrims paid a deposit that the hotels are refusing to refund.


Christian sites

Haaretz, March 9, 2007

In an article devoted to the gastronomic delights of the Galilee, Haaretz listed some of the culinary places to visit in the region. Number 6 on the list was “Holy water at the Yardenit [the local baptismal site].” It describes a typical baptismal scene: “The procedure is fixed: The priest [minister] and another member of the congregation hold the victim who, on her part, firmly holds her nose, and immerse her backwards into the water in a quick motion. The shock of meeting the cold water appears to have more of an impression than any union with the Holy Spirit, but those being baptized reflect an experience of joy – almost like Israelis stuffed with wine and cheeses who stare at them in joy and try to decide which system is better for the cleansing of sins and the atonement of iniquities – the swinging of a chicken around one’s head or collective baptism in freezing water.”


Christian Media

Jerualem Post, March 11, 2007

Jonathan Tobin reviewed the recently-released film “Amazing Grace” which depicts the life of William Wilberforce, well known as almost single-handedly responsible for the abolishment of slavery in nineteenth-century Britain. Endeavoring to dispel the “myth” that “public expressions of Christianity” in the States – i.e., the entry of Christian conservatives into politics – are “inherently dangerous,” Tobin understood the film’s production to argue that “this is an apt moment to reexamine the role of faith in democratic politics.” The movie, he suggested is “primarily the tale of how religion can improve, rather than pervert, politics. And telling of Wilberforce’s story must come to grips with the fact that his primary motivation wasn’t an abstract vision of the injustice of slavery, but one based almost entirely on his Evangelical Christian faith.” His conclusion: “One need not embrace this faith to recognize and honor the good wrought by this vision … Amazing Grace can, at the very least, remind us that a person whose faith leads him or her to politics is actually more likely than not to make society a better place … Rather than fear them [Christian Evangelicals], let us look to our own faith to seize every chance to embrace a common spiritual mandate in order to banish the darkness that pervades a still-sinful world.”



Ma’ariv, March 9, 2007

Ma’ariv (March 9) carried an article excerpted from a Hebrew translation from the French of Mireille Hadas-Lebel’s newly-published book on Philo, devoted to the motivations behind the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek – widely known today as the Septuagint. “Whatever the reasons may or not have been for the Greek translation of the Torah, it probably began as a completely local event [in Egypt], but with time turned into the cornerstone of the Christian Greek culture which followed in its wake.” With regard to its inspiration: “The whole community, not just Philo, considered the Holy Spirit to have rested on the translation and consequently related to the Greek version of the Tanakh as to a sacred book.”