That Jews have issues in considering the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth should come as little surprise. Christ, as Jesus was later called, challenged the spiritual orthodoxy of his day, and remains a challenge to the faith of millions. The bottom line: If Jesus is the Messiah, then Jews (and everyone else) has to make a decision to accept or reject Him.
Nevertheless, it is a little surprising that at the very epicenter of news coverage of this issue in Jewish and Christian experience, there’s practically no discussion of, well, theology.
At the center of the Israel Museum’s newest art exhibit stands an imposing, life-size marble figure of Jesus. The sculpture, titled “Christ Before the People’s Court,” would not be out of place in a church in Rome.
Yet in this depiction, the Christian savior wears a Jewish skullcap.
The sculpture, created by Russian Jewish artist Mark Antokolsky in 1876, is part of a collection of more than 150 artworks by 40 Jewish and Israeli artists who have used Christian imagery to challenge long-held taboos in both communities. It showcases the evolving attitudes of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli artists toward a figure whose place in Jewish history has been negotiated and reinterpreted over more than two millennia.
It is a risky statement for an Israeli museum.
Throughout history, Jews have traditionally shunned Jesus and his gospel. And while the Holy Land might be his accepted birthplace, for Jews in the modern state of Israel there is often resistance to learning about or even acknowledging Christianity.
Again, that's no surprise: As the Post notes, the better part of the past two millennia have been occupied by those blaming Jews for the death of Christ, culminating in the Shoah, the attempt to exterminate the Jewish race undertaken by Germany's National Socialist, or Nazi, party. Christocentric imagery would be about as welcome in post-war Israel as a public performance of a Richard Wagner opera -- thanks to the composer's anti-Semitism, expressed in Wagner's racist "Judaism in Music" essay.
But unlike Wagnerian opera, still banned in Israel's concert halls, Israelis are warming up, however slowly, to the notion of Jesus as Jew, which he was, and to Jesus' role in the history of Israel, as well as its present-day life. Evangelical Christians in the West are generally among Israel's greatest supporters, Christian tourist/pilgrims bring much to Israel's economy, and Christians of just about every stripe, including Messianic Jewish believers in Jesus, are a vibrant part of Israel's religious diversity.
Those are the facts on the ground. About the closest this article comes to broaching the theological divide is in its discussion of several more contemporary pieces:
As the exhibit, which is arranged chronologically, arrives at works from the past few decades, a theme develops in which Jewish Israelis use Christian iconography to question their political and national identity.
One such work is by Igael Tumarkin. His monogram is the metal frame of a standard-issue Israeli army cot twisted to form a cross. Flanked by material that appears to be a shredded Israeli flag, the piece was created in 1984 and was a protest against the war Israel was fighting in Lebanon at the time. The title, “Mita Meshuna,” means both “strange bed” and “strange death” in Hebrew.
Perhaps the best-known contemporary artwork on display is Adi Nes’s depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” which substitutes Israeli soldiers for the apostles.
Is there no one in Israel contemplating the relationship between contemporary Jewish belief and perhaps the most famous Jew of all time? Are there no Christian thinkers in Israel weighing these subjects? Do any of these people have telephones?
I'd have to wonder if an academic on this side of the Atlantic, professor Yaakov Ariel of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, might have something to say on the matter.
Perhaps time or space constraints prevented a further exploration of the questions. But by not delving even a little deeper, the Post, in my view, missed an opportunity to fully explore an interesting story with clear spiritual overtones.