May 21 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….May 21, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 20 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, Christian Zionism, the Christian media, Christianity, Christian tourism, and two book reviews. Out of the total:


  • 1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
  • 3 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 2 dealt with Christian Zionism
  • 2 dealt with Christian media
  • 1 dealt with Christian tourism
  • 1 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
  • 2 dealt with Christianity
  • 1 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
  • 2 were book reviews


The remaining 5 articles dealt with various matters of Jewish and Christian interest.

Despite a major Jews for Jesus campaign in Tel Aviv (the first of its kind in terms of scale and scope), coverage of anti-missionary activity was very muted in this week’s Review. (No response to the campaign, which took place April 23-30, has yet appeared in the Israeli press.) Christians in Israel are well covered, partly in regard to the procession of the statue of Mary in Haifa and partly in the Post’s In Jerusalem column on Christianity, which this week focused on Christ Church in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Christian media and book reviews take up much of the rest of the coverage.


Anti-missionary Activity

HaModia, May 3, 2007

Yad L’Achim recently received a fresh call for help in the fight against “missionary” activity, this time from an organization aiding the deaf (and blind) in Israel. According to the report in HaModia (May 3), the organization lately discovered that one of its executive staff, a deaf woman, was an active Jehovah’s Witness who had been “using” her position for two years to spread missionary preaching within the deaf community. The organization dismissed her from her position and invited Yad L’Achim to come and address a conference designed to expose missionary tactics and activities. The convention was conducted with the aid of 28 translators for the benefit not only of the deaf but also for the deaf-blind, each of whom was provided with an interpreter. “Following the lecture [by Yad L’Achim’s Alex Artovski], tens of deaf people ascended the platform and presented, with the help of translators, their personal stories and exposed the desperate attempts of the missionaries to the audience … Many of the deaf people learned for the first time that the missionaries with whom they came into contact weren’t innocent Jews but soul hunters seeking to convert them.” The organization expressed delight with the cooperation with Yad L’Achim and the hope that it would increase and develop – as of course was also Yad L’Achim’s wish.


Christians in Israel

Kol-Bo, May 4; Yediot Haifa, May 4; Jerusalem Post (In Jerusalem), May 4, 2007

According to reports in the two local papers (Kol-Bo, May 4; Yediot Haifa, May 4), 35,000 Christians participated in the traditional procession in honor of the Virgin Mary this past week. The procession concluded with a picnic. The procession begins from the Latin Catholic Church on Meginim St. and ends at the Carmelite church of Stella Maris, carrying a statue of the Virgin. Yediot Haifa quoted Father Nagi Ya’akov from the Armenian church as saying: “All the Christian streams [denominations] in the country participated … In our eyes, this constitutes the goodwill of all the Christians in the country, who pray and yearn for true peace, so that love for the creation will unite us all – Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims.” The tradition began in the wake of the First World War, when Catholic Church officials decided to remove the Virgin’s statute from the roof of Stella Maris and relocate it to the Catholic church in the lower city. Two reasons for the decision were cited: fear for the statue’s safety and the fact that it would act as a sign of the Virgin’s protection over all the Christian residents of the city. As Nagi Ya’akov also explained: “Church officials promised Mary that her return to Stella Maris would take the form of an honorable procession in thanksgiving for her protection of the city’s residents during a bloody war.”

The Post’s In Jerusalem column on Christianity continued this week with a lengthy article, again by David Smith (who writes regularly for the Post’s Christian edition), this time devoted to Christ Church. “Christ Church, the first Protestant church in this part of the world, has spawned dozens of institutions throughout Israel. According to Kelvin Crombie, these include the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Beit Immanuel in Jaffa, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Palestine Exploration Fund, and much of the Hebrew Christian movement.” The origins of the church lie in the work of the naturalized-English Dane John Nicolayson in Jerusalem, who belonged to the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews (the LJS) – together with the political circumstances of the 1830s and ‘40s, that provided the opportunity for the British to extend their – Protestant – presence in the “Holy Land.” The British government of the time was extensively influenced by the LJS’s “Jewish restorationist” policies and hopes, so much so that the church, initially built for the first British consul, was eventually incorporated into British designs for an Anglo-Prussian bishopric which would represent not only Protestantism but also “Hebrew Christianity.”

The first bishop, accordingly, was a Jewish believer – Michael Solomon Alexander, another naturalized Briton, originally from Poland. Ottoman government opposition and bureaucracy ensured that Alexander in fact never saw the church consecrated, since he died a very untimely death after having been in office only four years. Although the bishopric continued, it quite quickly lost its Jewish character. One of Alexander’s successor’s, George Blyth, “saw reconciliation with the Eastern Orthodox and Arabs as primary to his ministry. Using private funding, he bought property in east Jerusalem to build St. George’s cathedral. As Arab nationalism grew, this church identified with it. Today former St. George’s Canon Naim Ateek is the leading voice in Palestinian liberation theology.”

The “rift” between the LJS (now ITAC, the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church) “reached a peak in 1979, when PLO executive member Elias Khouri became assistant bishop of the Jerusalem diocese.” According to Smith, Christ Church dissociated itself from this trend and has endeavored to maintain its “commitment to the Jewish people as well as ministering to all of Jerusalem’s diverse population.” It is now a place where “messianic Jews and gentiles still receive communion together … ‘eating the same bread and drinking the wine from the same cup – a cup that had been given to the Anglican Jewish bishop Alexander and inscribed with the Hebrew words, ‘to Melchizedek, King of Salem.’”


Christian Zionism

HaDaf HaYarok, May 3; Sha’ar haNegev, May 14, 2007

Both these articles report the donation of $30,000 for the establishment of an amusement park in a new high school in Sha’ar HaNegev. The money was raised by a congregation called “Friends of Israel” in San Diego, under the leadership of Greg Stevens – “and, as they say, that’s only the beginning” (HaDaf HaYarok, May 3). According to HaDaf HaYarok, Sha’ar haNegev recently also hosted not only this group but also an Israeli-Palestinian group looking to develop a program of dialogue and meetings between Gush Etzion [settlement] leaders and the local council designed to encourage tolerance and understanding.


Christian Media

HaIr – Tel Aviv, May 3; Yediot Ahronot, May 3, 2007

For good or for bad, Hollywood seems to be coming (returning) to Israel. According to the report in Yediot Ahronot (May 3), three Hollywood movies are to be filmed in Israel this year, including the most expensive ever filmed in the country: “Jesus [Yeshu] the Savior: The Exodus” (at a budget of $40 million). The movie is said to “document Yeshu’s childhood.” While Hollywood actors are to be brought over, the film’s directors also plan to make use of “tens” of Israeli actors. Their original choice of Morocco as the film’s base was changed due to Israeli persuasion, the claim being made that “if you want to film the original – you have to come to Israel.”

A less than sympathetic movie review was carried by HaIr – Tel Aviv (May 3), which looked at the documentary “Jesus Camp” which details the summer-camp activities of a group of “fanatical” evangelical youth whose recreational jaunts favor anti-abortion demonstrations and speeches against homosexuals, liberalism, and evolution over swimming and shopping. According to the author’s report, the movie constitutes a very “powerful” but “disturbing” experience that documents the “horrors of the Jesus Christ camp.” “It is intended also for those who embrace the Crucified’s coffin. In effect, it is designed for anyone with eyes in their head. Its heroes are part of the collection of sweet kids who arrive at the camp, most of them, surprisingly, completely happy with the activities.”


Christian Tourism

Ma’ariv, May 7, 2007

On a recent visit to Israel, a delegation from the Russian National Security Council warned their Israeli counterparts to prepare for the imminent arrival of “huge numbers” of Russian pilgrims in conjunction with the development of of hotels and the improvement of access to sacred sites in Israel. An Israeli source was quoted as saying that this was a “friendly warning” rather than a form of criticism. “The Russians identify pilgrimage as an essential part of their activities in the Middle East. From our perspective we are talking about a positive phenomenon – especialy in the context of Israeli tourism.”


Jewish-Christian Relations

HaKibbutz, April 27, 2007

The “Orfeld Circle” is composed of a group of kibbutz members from across Israel and a group of Catholics from across Germany, joined by their shared interest in community living. The Circle recently met in Israel for a conference whose topics of discussion included “church, synagogue, and kibbutz” and the Vatican ambassador’s recent refusal to participate in the Yad Vashem ceremony on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The conference in fact concluded on that day, and, according to the report, “it was very moving to see Jewish-Israelis and Germans visiting the Holocaust Museum together and promising to work together to the best of their ability against all forms of anti-Semitism and racism. One of the Catholic members of the group, known to have close ties with the Pope, wrote him a personal letter, and the group was of the opinion that this might possibly have had a direct effect on the ambassador’s change of heart (see previous Reviews).


Book Reviews

Haaretz, April 25; Ma’ariv, April 27, 2007

Stephen Hazan Arnoff’s review of Peter Schafer’s Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton University Press, 2007) gives a brief but instructive overview of Schafer’s argument. Arnoff sets out by establishing Schafer’s credentials – “dubbed the ‘premiere “Christian-Hebraist” of our era’ by the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Burton Visotzky,” a “clearly written and exquisitely informed work on a collection of the fragmented texts about Jesus from the heart of the rabbinic period.”  His first conclusion is that “The simple gathering of thse newly translated texts in one place makes the book an excellent English-language resource for researchers and laypersons alike.” Contrasting Schafer with the Jewish scholar of the New Testament Daniel Boyarin, he favors the former due to his broader range of material and his less emotive approach to the subject: “Tending to over-interpret a thin range of texts, Boyarin also openly admits his temptation to enter into apologetic and polemic energized by a combination of historical understanding, literary and hermeneutical finesse, and personal interest.”

Schafer’s basic claim is that Jewish (rabbinic) relating to Jesus took place primarily in Babylon. Babylon issufficiently far removed from any real contact with Christians to raise any danger yet sufficiently within reach of actual Christian documents (primarily the Gospel of John, written in Asia Minor and embodying its own form of Jewish-Christian polemic) to have access to historical material about Jesus. The use the Babylonian Sages made of this documentation was, however, “parody, inversions, deliberate distortion, and not the least … the proud proclamation that what their fellow Jews did to this Jesus was right.” Arnoff concludes: “Peter Schafer demonstrates that the rabbis of the Talmud found a minor but notable textual mode for combating what they perceived as the direct threats of the Jesus story specifically, and Christianity as a whole. These included confronting charges against Jews that have been difficult if not impossible to shake for two millenia.” Despite Schafer’s achievements, Arnoff suggests that several questions remain answered: “Why is there such a limited quantity of material about Jesus in classical literature? Did the Sages simply not care? Was Jesus too complex a topic to approach? Do we overestimate the level of cultural exchange and/or intolerance beyond the textual interplay of the intellectual elite in the Near East?”

The second review – entitled “Who’s heard of Christianity without Yeshu?” – looks at Yehoshua Efron’s new book The Formation of the First Christian Church (United Kibbutz Press, 2006), together with his 2004 The Beginning of Christianity and Apocalypticism. Efron is a veteran scholar and teacher who, while he has “made many students/disciples,” has published very little. Magen Broshi (himself former curator of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum) lauds Ephron on three counts, of which one relates to his “courage in writing a book about Christianity” and another to his “bravery in saying things which most of the academic world will dismiss out of hand.” Both reasons have to to with the Israeli scholarly climate, which has not advanced far since Joseph Klausner’s time, when this latter author was prevented from teaching Second Temple history for 25 years simply due to the fact that he had published two books about Jesus. More recently, David Flusser also demonstrated great apprehension about translating his “excellent book on Yeshu” into Hebrew. In Broshi’s eyes, “The paucity of books in Hebrew as well as the scarcity of lecturing [about Jesus/Christianity] have led to a shameful ignorance.”

Efron’s main argument is that the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books are of Christian rather than Jewish derivation. To the counter claim that many of these books were found at Qumran, Efron responds that the community at Qumran itself was not Essene but Christian – and therefore, also, that the Qumran literature is not Jewish but Christian. How does Efron substantiate his assertions? “According to him, apocalyptic literature didn’t exist in the Second Temple period. Therefore, when Efron removes Enoch and Jubilees and other such books that were found at Qumran from Jewish literature, there truly is no Jewish apocalypticism. As he says, ‘When illusions are dissipated and hidden truths are bared, it turns out that apocalypticism is nothing other than Christianization in the world of Judaism.’” “There is just one small problem,” writes Broshi: “Most of the scrolls, as a great deal of evidence demonstrates, are from the Hasmonean and Herodian period, before the rise of Christianity.”