March 28 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….March 28, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 16 articles on the subjects of the “Jesus tomb,” anti-missionary activity, Israeli attitudes to Christianity, Christian sites, and Christians in Israel. Out of the total:


  • 2 dealt with archaeology – the “Jesus tomb”
  • 5 dealt with anti-missionary activity
  • 3 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity
  • 1 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 1 dealt with Christian sites

The remaining 4 articles dealt with matters of Jewish and Christian interest.

Articles regarding the “Jesus tomb” continue to surface in additional papers in the Israeli press. These are complemented by several reports reflecting, in various forms, Israeli attitudes towards Christianity. Anti-missionary activities also maintain a central profile in this week’s Review.


The “Jesus Tomb”

Kol HaZman, March 16; Jerusalem Post, March 14, 2007 

In the wake of a widely screened television documentary film, the local Jerusalem paper Kol HaZman commissioned a lengthy article by Dr. Eli Shai on the “Yeshu the Crucified one” who died but is now “living in Armon HaNatziv.” According to the paper, Shai has a doctorate in “Messianic Mysticism.” Having documented the “facts,” Shai opened his analysis of them with an explanation of the relative “coolness” with which the tomb’s discovery was greeted in Israeli circles. He linked the first factor with the “trend” of recent decades amongst archaeologists to question any association between “opportune” archaeological findings and “known traditions.” “It was easy to assume that in an intellectual climate in which the Exodus, settlement of the Land, and other identifications with biblical events appeared suspicious, the archaeological community found it difficult to accept [any] signs connected with the New Testament. This archaeology never delighted in anything related to gentile sacred objects.” In addition to the fact the find was not made by recognized archaeologists, it is also true that “the established scientific administration pushes to the side any discovery or story which has the potential to excite the imagination. What happens to such findings is that solid and meticulous professors pronounce upon them as sensational and unfounded rumors.” If despite all these difficulties the story does gain attention, a bespectacled professor explains it, the reality, and the media as “completely unscientific.”

A second article, in the Jerusalem Post (March 14), focused on additional “testimony” from Stephen Pfann. Pfann’s brief appearance in the film gave the impression that he accepted the theory (at least partially). Matti Friedman’s interview with Pfann corrects that impression by reporting that Pfann has recently “released a paper claiming that the makers of The Lost Tomb of Jesus were mistaken when they identified an ossuary from the cave as belonging to the New Testament’s Mary Magdalene.” Pfann argues in the paper, published on his university’s web site, that the name “Mariamne,” which the film asserts refers to Mary Magdalene, is a misreading and that the ossuary actually contains the bones of two other New Testament women, Mary and Martha. “In view of the above, there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary … to Mary Magdalene or any other person in Biblical, non-Biblical or church tradition,” writes Pfann as quoted in the article.


Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity

HaModia, March 15, pp. 2, 3, March 16, pp. 1, 9; BeKehila, March 15, 2007

Following the Haifa district court decision, backed by the Attorney General, to allow the Jehovah’s Witnesses to convene in the city’s conference center, Yad L’Achim posted an advert in HaModia (March 16, p. 1) warning its Orthodox readership that “the serious implication of the court decision is that Jews and missionaries are under the same law.” In order to enlist forces in the fight against the mission, the advert spelled out the danger of the latter: “The missionaries have received encouragement and backing from the legal system. The wave of missionary activity is bringing daily victims. Only a legitimate public struggle will bring about the introduction of a bill which will seek to forbid missionary activity in the country.”

In connection with the same event, HaModia (March 16, p. 9) reported that Yad L’Achim received multiple responses from the diaspora to the call for prayer on Ta’anit Esther against the legitimization of missionary activity in Israel (see previous Reviews). The same article – together with an earlier one from the day before – also reiterated Meir Porush’s call for “stricter punishment for persuasion to convert in the face of increasing missionary activity.” According to Porush, the growth of missionary activity can be traced to “a sophistication of methods,” “unlimited resources and funds,” and “a large pool of volunteers in hundreds of places across the country” – all of which lead to a situation in which missionaries are “running wild without any interference.” One of the bases for Porush’s argument came from the recent interview given by Howard Bass, in which he claimed that since his arrival in Beersheva, 40 people had been baptized (see previous Reviews). However, he attributed a large part of the problem to the “indifference” of the Israeli public which “encourages the wicked deeds of the missionaries,” and an “anemic law” without teeth which is rarely enforced. Porush identified the present day “missionaries” with the crusaders of the Middle Ages: “For hundreds of years the threatening sword of those who carry the cross has hung over the heads of Jews in the diaspora. In the days of the crusades, Christians also attempted to conquer the Land of Israel by the sword. Although, they were eventually expelled, thank God, the carriers of the idea of the cross have not ceased. Today their children’s children are working to bring the cross into the Land by means of various inducements: money, packages, food, assistance to those leaving the country. They build villages, purchase land and property, they have rest homes and hospitals, they run youth hostels and children’s camps, organize trips and parties.” He concluded by saying that indifference to “apostasy” is a “crime for which there is no atonement. This war is not only a religious affair but also a national one of great importance for our very survival.”

Even the circumstances in Arad were associated with Haifa. According to a report in the same paper (March 15, p. 3), the situation in Arad has considerably “deteriorated.” The latest event was an alleged attack by “missionaries” on a “Rabbi who was innocently passing by” the “missionary” center in the city. “In front of the eyes of the passers-by, to their amazement and horror, a missionary attacked the Rabbi and brutally pushed him. This was in the middle of missionary activity distributing missionary material, and out of fear that the Rabbi intended to warn the crowd against taking such poisonous and doubtful material.” “As if this was not enough,” the “well-known apostate missionary, Eddie Beckford,” was “unable to keep hold of his temper” and when he saw from his car a group of Yad L’Achim workers crossing the street, he “swerved, went up onto the pavement and tried to run [them] over. On seeing them escaping, he stalled his engine, got out, and began to chase after them. Catching up with one of them, he began hitting him. A short while later the worker was taken for medical assistance by ambulance.” According to the report, Yad L’Achim had already “exposed” Beckford in a video depicting him giving “brutal and uncontrollable blows” to another Orthodox man. This time, while he fled the scene he was quickly caught by the police and brought before a judge. “The court imposed a restriction order on him and determined that he would be forbidden to enter Arad for 45 days, the assumption being that during this time a charge would be brought against him.” The Jewish “victory” – in the form of the court’s refusal to delay the trial at Beckford’s request – came over Purim, the implication being that the Jews were saved on that day as in the time of Esther. In the words of Yad L’Achim’s director: “The disturbing court decision in Haifa has given a strengthened spirit to the missionaries who hang their hope on the legal system granting them greater freedom of action.” [Editor’s note: Reports from Eddie Beckford and other believers in Arad give a very different picture of the events. According to them and their eyewitnesses, it was the rabbi and the Orthodox who attacked Mr. Bedford.

On the other side of the coin, BeKehila (March 15) reported that members of Lev L’Achim had been “rather surprised” to receive a “summons for police interrogation” in one of the Shfela cities. The charge – suspicion of “missionary activity and religious preaching.” According to the article, the “sin” involved was a Talmud-Torah school which “does indeed attract children from all classes to it. They, who are well known for their struggle against the soul-hunters, preach – if at all – a life of Torah.” The background to the summons appears to lie with a “wicked and hostile person” who, provoked by the school’s success, complained to the police about “missionary activity amongst minors.” After several weeks, the accused received a letter stating that the case had been dropped due to “insufficient evidence.”


Israeli Attitudes towards Christianity

Jerusalem Post, March 20; Yediot Ahronot, March 18; Ma’ariv, March 15, 2007

Ma’ariv (March 15) reported this week on the action recently taken by a group of parents whose children fell in the line of duty and were buried in a military cemetery in Kiryat Ata to have the body of a Christian soldier (girl) buried in the same plot removed. The girl had been serving as a “single soldier” – one without a family in Israel – and was killed in a road accident and buried in the cemetery upon her grandmother’s request, the latter living in that area. The military court decided that while the girl’s body should not be removed from the cemetery, it should be distanced from the graves in the vicinity by two meters. The parents were dissatisfied with this decision, claiming that the soldier should be buried in a corner of the cemetery. “Maybe according to Jewish law this decision is alright, but in our opinion it’s too close. In the end, the [girl’s] grave was moved a bit further and a half-meter-high wall built around it, which became a bench, but it doesn’t have to be used [for this purpose].”

Jewish law clearly rules that non-Jews must be buried in non-Jewish cemeteries. In the words of Rabbi Schlesinger who supported the parents’ request, “This is not a matter of racism but of halakha [Jewish law]. People need to understand that just as there are Christian and Muslim cemeteries, so Jewish cemeteries must also be exclusive and no one needs to be hurt [by this].” Schlesinger’s suggestion was to erect a military cemetery for non-Jewish soldiers. According to Israeli law, any soldier killed during the line of duty is buried in a military cemetery close to the last soldier to have been buried – whether Jewish or not.

Although not strictly a feature regarding Israeli attitudes to Christianity, an article entitled “Crusade” published in Yediot Ahronot (March 18) reported on the theft of a crucifix and a large iron cross from a Catholic church in Yafo by unknown persons. The article reflects attitudes towards Christianity in its attribution of significance to the event and the objects involved. Thus, the author states “it wouldn’t have crossed the minds of the church members that the church’s holy of holies – a statue of Yeshu and a large iron cross – would ever be stolen.” He describes the sequence of events saying, “During the night someone entered the church and stole from it the two most holy symbols of Christianity.” According to the report, “The police suspect that the person who stole the statue and cross is either one of two [possibilities]: an unscrupulous iron thief seeking to earn a few hundred shekels – or a religious fanatic who sees the Catholic Church as an enemy and sought to create a provocation.”

Sam Harris’s feature (Jerusalem Post, March 20) on “The problem with religion” does not strictly fall into this category and would not be dealt with at all were it not for its outrageousness. In an article applauding Pete Stark for being “the first congressman in US history to acknowledge that he doesn’t believe in God,” Harris based his praise on Stark’s “intellectual honesty.” “The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe Jesus rose from the dead or that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel in a cave. And yet, billions of people claim to be certain about such things. As a result, Iron Age ideas about everything high and low – sex, cosmology, gender equality, immortal souls, the end of the world, the validity of prophecy, etc. – continue to divide our world and subvert our national discourse. Many of these ideas, by their very nature, hobble science, inflame human conflict, and squander scarce resources.”


Christians in Israel

Kol HaIr, March 16, 2007

Parallel to the Jerusalem Post’s new series on Christianity (see last week’s Review), Kol HaIr (March 16) published a survey of Christians in Jerusalem. According to the report, the Christian population in the Land, which was estimated at around 31,000 during the British Mandate period (including non-Arab Christians), “has not recovered from the crisis of the 1948 war.” The conflict induced many of them to leave the country for other places and “the majority of the non-Arab Christian community left Jerusalem,” reducing the community’s number from 19% of the total population of the city in 1946 to 4.1% in 1967. “Since 1967 the community has shrunk even further. In 2005 the Christian community in Jerusalem numbered 14.9 thousand persons (of whom around 2,600 were foreigners, primarily monks and clergymen), and constituted 2% of the total population of the city (about 6% of the Arab population of Jerusalem).” In addition to the demographic difficulties it faces, the Christian community in Jerusalem is also internally divided. According to statistics from the 1990’s, the largest community is the Catholics, numbering 4,500 people, followed by the Greek Orthodox (3,500), the Armenian (1,500), and lastly the Protestant – with only 850 members, the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox (250 apiece), and the Ethiopian Church (60). “The fact that the Arab Christians in Jerusalem are a small and divided minority leads to their great dependence on the majority Muslim community in which they live. In effect, the local Christian community is in a fight for its existence in the Holy City at a time when both sides – the Jews and the Muslims – are fighting over its future.


Christian sites

Ma’ariv, March 16, 2007

In a travel article on “The tear which built a church,” Ma’ariv (March 16) featured Dominus Flavit, the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The report opened with a quotation from Luke 19:41, identified in brackets as “as it is written in the New Testament,” followed by a description of the scriptural event: “The period, the beginning of the New Testament era, Yeshua (Yeshu) got to the top of the Mount of Olives, where Jerusalem was spread out in front of his eyes, the Temple in the center. If we enter the historical picture for a moment, we can add heavy clouds in the sky and a ray of sunshine breaking through the mist of the day, a ray of light shinging in the golden light of the Temple. The heavenly scene which we have added paralyzes Yeshu, a light breeze plays with his beard, slowly slowly the heavy clouds close the small gap, the ray of sunshine vanishes and a shadow falls over the city. Then Yeshu breaks out in bitter weeping and utters his prophecy about Jerusalem’s destruction. On the western slope of the Mount of Olives, where Yeshu’s tears were gathered (according to tradition, of course), a Byzantine church was built and afterwards, in the seventh century, a monastery.” The church of Dominus Flavit (the Latin for “The Lord wept”) was built by a well-known Italian architect in 1955 in the shape of a tear.