Mel Gibson confirms new project on Jesus’ resurrection


Mel Gibson confirmed that he is making a movie about the resurrection of Jesus, recalling that he had the “tar kicked out of” him for his movie about the last days of the Christian messiah, “The Passion of the Christ.”

“That’s a very big subject and it needs to be looked at because we don’t want to just do a simple rendering of it,” Gibson said last weekend at SoCal Harvest, an evangelical Christian arts festival. “I mean, we can all read what happened.”

At the beginning of his interview with evangelist Greg Laurie, first reported by IndieWire, a film business news website, Gibson thanked the cheering audience for the support of evangelicals during the controversies surrounding “The Passion,” a 2004 movie critics and Jewish groups said stoked anti-Semitic themes.

“I love you folks,” said Gibson, who belongs to an ultraconservative Roman Catholic sect. “You know, about 12 years ago, when I was literally, when I made this film, I was literally getting the tar kicked out of me, and it was you people out there, evangelicals, who stood up and supported me, I thanked you at the time, but I thank you again, and that was great of you.”

Jewish groups said at the time that Gibson relied on anti-Semitic stereotypes to depict Jesus’ persecutors, including Caiaphas, the high priest. The movie nonetheless was a box office success, resonating among devout Christian audiences. As the controversy ensued, it emerged that Gibson’s sect rejected much of the Vatican II doctrine that had absolved the Jews for the death of Christ, and that his father was a Holocaust denier.

Two years later, Gibson, during an arrest for driving while intoxicated in Southern California, spewed an anti-Semitic rant against the Jewish sheriff’s deputy who arrested him. That and subsequent scandals involving his marriage and allegations of abuse toward his girlfriend tanked his career for a period, although he has scored some recent successes.

Randall Wallace, a screenwriter who has collaborated with Gibson in the past, said in June that they were working on a sequel to “Passion,” but Gibson at the time would not confirm the project.

In his SoCal Harvest interview, Gibson clarified that he did not view the project as a sequel to “The Passion.” “It’s not the ‘Passion 2,’” he said.

 

At Israeli brewery, last sip of beer Jesus might have drunk


A Jerusalem brewery has produced a craft beer with a taste it says dates back to the time of Jesus. A sip of the concoction may help explain why wine was the preferred sacred drink of the Bible.

Herzl Brewery, Israel's smallest, took wheat that Tel Aviv University geneticists say was the strain used for beer in the Holy Land two millennia ago to produce 20 litres (five gallons) of “biblical beer.”

There's a hint of honey and berries in the cloudy – and flat – nectar, which has a three percent alcohol content. The brewery made it from 5 kilos (11 pounds) of grain donated by the university, along with the other traditional ingredients hops, yeast and water.

Herzl's owner Itai Gutman and his friends have downed most of the results of the six-month experiment. Only one bottle remains and there are no plans to make more.

“We were curious about being able to come up with the first 'biblical' beer,” said Gutman, whose award-winning brewery produces five contemporary labels for sale. “It's really not the kind of flavour that has a market.”

Wine is the sacred beverage for both Judaism and Christianity, is frequently mentioned in their scriptures and figures to this day in their religious practice.

But beer likely would also have been familiar to Jesus and his disciples. It was brought over from Egypt by the ancient Israelites, according to the Jewish Museum in Munich, which is taking part in 500th anniversary celebrations of the Bavarian Beer Purity Law that regulated Germany's brewing industry.

Australian church: Jesus was not Palestinian


Jesus was not Palestinian, a major church denomination in Australia said after an umbrella Jewish group’s challenge to a story that said Christ was born in Palestine.

Two Palestinian members of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, which has links with the Uniting Church of Australia, wrote the story that appeared Dec. 22 in the online political publication New Matilda. The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network has a relationship with the Uniting Church of Australia, the country’s third largest Christian denomination, through the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network.

Stuart McMillan, president of the Uniting Church of Australia, wrote in response to a letter from Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry: “I would like to assure you and the Jewish community that the Uniting Church does not accept the view that Jesus was Palestinian. We affirm that Jesus and most of his early followers were Jewish. We note that Jesus was born neither in Israel nor in Palestine, but in the Roman-occupied province of Judea, and that it is entirely inappropriate for anybody to attempt to claim political capital from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to bolster claims of either ‘side’ of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

In the article, Samah Sabawi and Bassam Dally wrote: “An official delegation representing our country in Israel has added fuel to the flames of extremism abroad by applauding proven human rights violators and insulting the living descendants of Christ in his home of birth in Palestine.”

In his letter to McMillan, Wertheim wrote: “The proposition that Jesus was a Palestinian and that the Palestinian Arab population of today are his ‘living descendants’ is so absurd and offensive that it deserves an immediate and substantive rebuttal.”

Wertheim referred to continuing attempts to “to erase the Jewishness of Jesus and the common origins of Christianity and Judaism, and to pretend that the Holy Land has no Jewish national or religious history.”

The Jewish leader told JTA that he would meet next month with McMillan to further discuss the issue.

Hebrew word of the week: Yeshu/Jesus


The Hebrew name יהושע yehoshuaʿ,* was pronounced yeshu in Galilee; becoming Iesus or Jesus in Greek-Latin. The form Yeshu was probably common among the Jews at that time, but was discontinued afterward. Among Christians today, the name is common only among Latin Americans, pronounced Jesus (Hay-zuse), but not among other Catholics. However, its Arabic form ’isa, or Issa, is a common surname among Christian and Muslim Arabs (including Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Vista), of Christian Lebanese origin).

Many people avoid using, out of respect, the name Jesus (Christ) in everyday talk or exclamations, saying gee (whiz) instead (similar to holy moly for holy Mary; gosh for God; heck for hell; darn for damn); just as observant Jews say/write G-d, Eloqim, Adoshem, HaShem, etc.

The word Christ (in Greek, Christos) is a translation of the Hebrew mashiaH, for “anointed, Messiah.”

*Spelled ישוע Yeshuaʿ in late biblical Hebrew (Nehemiah 8:17; Ezra 2:2; 3:8).

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Israeli police arrest suspects in torching of Church of Loaves and Fishes


Israeli police said on Sunday suspects had been arrested on suspicion of torching a church revered by Christians as the site of Jesus's miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The suspects were arrested overnight, a police spokeswoman said, following a joint investigation with the Shin Bet internal undercover security agency.

The suspects are set to face a remand hearing in the northern city of Nazareth later on Sunday.

As well as extensive fire damage to the church, a verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of “false gods” was spray-painted in red on an outer wall of the church, suggesting Jewish zealots were responsible.

The church was built in the 1980s on the site of 4th and 5th century houses of worship that commemorated what Christians revere as Jesus's miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered the Shin Bet to launch a top-priority investigation, described the incident as “an attack on all of us”.

After the June 18 fire, the Rabbis for Human Rights group said there had been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

Dozens of arrests have been made in such cases, but there have been few indictments and convictions, with police and prosecutors acknowledging that the young age of many of the suspected perpetrators has led courts to show leniency.

Why religion is a laughing matter


Satire and caricature are funny things. The most effective satire makes us laugh — but then it also gives us something to chew on, to think about.  

Not all satire is humorous, however. In the Middle Ages, caricatured figures were generally not intended to be funny, as for example in the Christian sculptural traditions that depicted Jews and heretics with deformed features. That was essentially an early version of hate speech. Satire runs on a spectrum from humor to bitterness to hatred, a range of meanings that can only be deciphered in their cultural context. We learn to figure out what is funny (think of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), what is trying to be funny but is really in bad taste (“The Interview”) and what is downright mean (Nazi cartoons of Jews).  

But within this complexity, caricaturing and satirizing religion historically have been even more sensitive. The Protestant Reformation produced humorous and heated satire against Roman Catholicism, and even the pope. Once Protestantism was established in a country, however, satire was censored. Humorous cartoons about political issues came into prominence from the Napoleonic Age onward; but the authority of religion protected what was demarcated as holy. In intensely secular, revolutionary France, prelates could be lampooned, but in America it was more often the “enthusiasts” — the wild sectarians such as Mormons and millenarians — who would appear as the object of caricature. Mainstream religion — decorous, solemn and rational — rarely suffered direct attack until the late 20th century.

Why have we not been able to laugh at religion? Underneath it all, are we afraid to take religion lightly? That a wrathful deity might put up with all kinds of other crimes against humanity, life and even lack of devotion to Himself, but not with being laughed at? Would the creator of humanity, who made the world completely good, regret creating a laughing being more than a murderous one? This would be an ironic theological outcome for Western religions. Not that Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism or Hinduism are known for rollicking laugh-fests.

Oddly enough, given its minority status, Judaism seems to be the religion that has produced a larger repertoire of humorous religious satire. The tradition that supposedly invented the absolutist, jealous, wrathful God also produced a people that considers religion pretty funny? That is pretty funny, but true. Jokes about rabbis abound, as well as about Jewish practices such as the Passover matzah and bitter herbs, circumcision, conversion and bar mitzvah, not to mention theological topics such as God, Satan and death. Such jokes are even recited from the pulpits of quite religious congregations. Are Jews secret atheists? Is this revenge?

No. Jewish humor comes from the Jewish tradition of destabilizing structures of power — which is the source of both revolutionary ideology in the sociopolitical realm and humorous satire. From biblical times, our texts recount the overthrow of ancient worldviews that believed in child sacrifice, the rights of the first-born, divine humans, divine rights of kings and dynastic rule. They limit the power of owners over slaves, of husbands and fathers over women, even of humans over animas with the laws of the Sabbath.  

But humor can go deeper, liberating the mind. The Exodus story is in part a satire on Pharaoh who believes himself a god. While he was issuing decrees and whips were lashing the Israelites, women outsmarted him. The midrash tells us of the midwives who said, “We can’t kill the Hebrew boys as they emerge from the womb — the women deliver their babies so fast we can’t get there in time.” Really! And if you believe that, I’ll sell you a bridge over the Nile. Worse yet, modern children’s songs about the Ten Plagues make Pharaoh a laughingstock, a helpless victim of forces he thinks he controls. 

The story of Balaam and his talking donkey in the book of Numbers is a parody of a prophet who thinks he can outsmart the deity and get rich. The tale of Elijah competing with the prophets of Baal in the book of Kings is a hilarious caricature. The book of Esther satirizes the power of villains and foolish kings. The book of Jonah has plenty of irony: Really, Jonah, you think you can run away from an infinite God? The strange ending to that story could almost be a cartoon: You feel sorry for the plant that died, but not for the thousands of people of Nineveh who would have died if they had not repented? And so many cattle?   

Our problem today is that too much of religion has not fulfilled its promise as a disruptive, liberating force. It is another bastion of structural stability and entrenched power. Ironies of divine behavior are interpreted as warnings and punishments. The force of humor is repressed by being associated with arrogance: Religious authorities proclaim it sinful to satirize views of God, religion or its representatives. But, isn’t the arrogant shoe on the other foot?

Religion in most traditions is no laughing matter because it is defined as nonmatter, as “spiritual,” as on a higher level than we benighted humans. But for Judaism, everything human is, simply, human. Everything natural is, simply, nature. There are visible and invisible worlds, but “God” is not defined by any of their terminologies. So everything, including our religions, is subject to critique.  

Humor — as satire, as caricature — is a Jewish way of subverting idolatry. But the best humor comes not with bitterness or revolutionary zeal. It comes with love, or at least appreciation, for the precarious and tender efforts of human and divine partners to be in relationship.  

One of the cartoons that supposedly angered Islamic radicals depicted the founder of Islam, holding his head in his hands and saying, “It’s so hard to be loved by idiots.” The cartoon could have been one of God as the old bearded man in the sky, looking down on His human creations. It must be hard for Him, too, to be loved by those idiosyncratic creatures who forget what He is all about.


Tamar Frankiel is president of the Academy for Jewish Religion California and a scholar of comparative religion.

Pope, Netanyahu spar over Jesus’ native language [VIDEO]


Pope Francis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded words on Monday over the language spoken by Jesus two millennia ago.

“Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu told Francis, at a public meeting in Jerusalem in which the Israeli leader cited a strong connection between Judaism and Christianity.

“Aramaic,” the pope interjected.

“He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu shot back.

Like many things in the Middle East, where the pope is on the last leg of a three-day visit, modern-day discourse about Jesus is complicated and often political.

A Jew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the Roman-ruled region of Judea, now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He grew up in Nazareth and ministered in Galilee, both in northern Israel, and died in Jerusalem, a city revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, and to which Israelis and Palestinians lay claim.

Palestinians sometimes describe Jesus as a Palestinian. Israelis object to that.

Israeli linguistics professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann told Reuters that both Netanyahu, son of a distinguished Jewish historian, and the pope, the spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, had a point.

“Jesus was a native Aramaic speaker,” he said about the largely defunct Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. “But he would have also known Hebrew because there were extant religious writings in Hebrew.”

Zuckermann said that during Jesus' time, Hebrew was spoken by the lower classes – “the kind of people he ministered to.”

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Louise Ireland

Hollywood, ADL gather to honor ‘The Bible’ power producers


Actress, producer and philanthropist Roma Downey, who was born in Northern Ireland, speculated that Jesus must have been Irish, too.

“Many wonder if Jesus was Irish. He never got married, he lived at home until he was 30 and his mother thought he was God,” she said, speaking to a crowd of approximately 500 people who gathered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last night, May 9, where Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, received the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 2014 Entertainment Industry Award.

“That’s how you know he was Jewish” came the muttered response of someone in the audience.

The ADL Entertainment Industry Award, an annual honor given out by the ADL, is awarded “to individuals based on leadership and extraordinary innovation in the entertainment industry,” an ADL statement said.

“It’s an acknowledgement of the commitment that Mark and I share with the ADL, a commitment to help people and build bridges,” Downey said last night as she accepted the award.

The evening at the Hilton spotlighted the religiously themed work of Downey and Burnett. Together, the Hollywood power couple produced the 2013 cable miniseries “The Bible.”

This year, they released the film “Son of God.”

In a statement, the ADL praised the honorees, saying their productions “support the organization’s work … fighting hatred of all kinds.”

Burnett is the producer of some of reality television’s biggest shows, including “Survivor,” “The Voice,” “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Shark Tank.”

Downey is known for decade of work on the television series, “Touched By an Angel.” Her production company, LightWorkers Media, creates children’s programming.

The evening netted more than $1 million for the ADL’s Pacific Southwest chapter, which serves Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Riverside and Kern counties.

ADL President Abe Foxman presented the award to Downey and Burnett.

In an interview, Foxman said the entertainment industry promotes ADL-cherished values.

“People look and watch and respond to entertainment in ways they don’t respond to anything else,” he said.

Indeed, the evening highlighted the coming together of two worlds. Foxman; ADL regional director Amanda Susskind and ADL regional board chair Seth Gerber joined Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; “Survivor” host Jeff Probst; model-actress-television personality Brooke Burke; Gary Barber, the chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; and Israeli film producer Avi Lerner last night.

Neither of the honorees are Jewish. Last night at the Hilton, Burnett said his upbringing taught him to embrace other faiths.

He said he’d never heard the notion that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus — it was not until later in life that he discovered that people actually thought that way.

He credited the ADL with not just improving his work, but with making people him a better person.

Previous winners include Katzenberg and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Jews for Jesus video shows Jesus being sent to Nazi gas chambers


A Jews for Jesus video showing Jesus in the selection line at a Nazi concentration camp has spurred criticism “as a cynical abuse of the Holocaust.”

The video, titled “That Jew Died For You,” was posted earlier this month on YouTube by the messianic organization and has garnered more than 1.1 million hits.

In the three-minute video, Jesus is shown carrying a cross as a Nazi officer standing at the gates of Auschwitz sends him to the gas chambers.

“Just another Jew,” the officer says.

“The Jews for Jesus video is a cynical abuse of the Holocaust for purposes of proselytizing,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor in a statement issued Wednesday. “It is deeply offensive not only to Jews who lost family members in the Holocaust, but also to Christians who would not want to see images of Jesus used for propaganda or shock value.”

Foxman called it an “outrageous cheapening” of the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Several media outlets also have slammed the video, which has gained added prominence in recent days in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, which begins on Sunday night.

“With recent anti-Semitic events in Kansas City and Ukraine, our YouTube video ‘That Jew Died For You’ is needed more than ever because it offers a message of hope in times of despair,” Christian Today cited Jews for Jesus Executive Director David Brickner as saying, according to Haaretz.

Poll: 26% of Americans believe Jews killed Jesus


Twelve percent of Americans harbor deeply anti-Semitic attitudes, according to a new poll conducted by the Anti-Defamation League.

The figure marks a decline of 3 percentage points from the last time the ADL took such a poll, in 2011, but approximately the same number as in an ADL poll in 2009. The latest ADL national telephone survey, of 1,200 adults, was conducted this month and has a margin of error of about 3 percent. The results were released Thursday.

“It is heartening that attitudes toward Jews have improved over the last few years and, historically, have declined significantly in America,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

A 1964 ADL survey on the topic found 29 percent of American held anti-Semitic views.

In the latest survey, 14 percent of respondents agreed that Jews have too much power in the United States; 30 percent said American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States; and 19 percent said Jews have too much power in the business world – all figures virtually unchanged from the 2011 survey.

The percentage of respondents who believe that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus was 26 percent, down from 31 percent in 2011. Eighteen percent said Jews have too much influence over the news media and about one-quarter agreed that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

The survey was released on the first day of the ADL’s two-day centennial conference being held in New York.

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier meets with Pope Francis


In a private audience with Pope Francis on Oct. 24, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), urged the leader of the Catholic Church to confront the evil that exists in the world, even while praying and working for peace.

“Evil existed during the time of Moses as it did in Jesus’ time and as it does in our own time,” Hier told Pope Francis, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Hier, who brought with him 62 SWC trustees and supporters to the meeting in the papal residence in Vatican City on Thursday, called the meeting “an extraordinary event.”

“We need non-Jews as friends,” Hier told the Journal on Oct. 25. “It matters to us that a pope who is the spiritual leader of 1 billion Christians should hear our concerns.”

Speaking to the Journal from Rome, Hier said he had considered limiting his remarks on Thursday to the subject of “human relations,” but ultimately decided against it.

[Related: Francis pledges to further Jewish-Catholic dialogue]

“International issues are weighing on every Jewish home,” Hier said. “People are saying to themselves ‘What’s going to be with Iran?’ ‘Will there be peace with the Palestinians?’ And anti-Semitism is everywhere in Europe — so it was impossible just to make this just sort of a schmooze, talking about human relations and not to talk about the greater concerns of the Jewish community.”

Hier’s remarks were heavy with citations from traditional Jewish texts and did not make explicit mention of either Iran or the Palestinians. But coming at a time of increasing engagement by the United States and other Western powers in the Middle East, Hier’s message was still rather clear.

“[P]eace, like a doctor’s prescription, works only if one is willing to make lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, but there are millions of people who ignore their doctor’s advice,” he said.

So while the world must be open to the possibility of peace, it must also remember its failure to stand up to Hitler in the 1930s, and recognize that, in Hier’s words, “There are some nations who can’t compromise.”

Pope Francis, who addressed the group in Italian, condemned “any form of anti-Semitism,” and broadened that condemnation to include all manner of intolerance.

“When any minority is persecuted and marginalized on account of its religious beliefs or ethnic origin, the good of society as a whole is placed in danger, and we must all consider ourselves affected,” Pope Francis said, according to the Official Vatican Network. “I think with particular sadness of the suffering, marginalization and real persecution experienced by many Christians in various countries throughout the world. Let us unite our strengths to promote a culture of encounter, of mutual respect, understanding and forgiveness.”

The 62-person delegation — the largest Jewish group to meet Pope Francis to date, Hier said — included two Holocaust survivors, a handful of Christians, and one Muslim, Mohamed Alabbar, the chairman of Emaar Properties, the Emirati company that built the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

This was Hier’s fourth meeting with a sitting pope — he met twice with Pope John Paul II during his pontificate and once with Pope Benedict, in 2005. Hier said that Thursday’s meeting was initially scheduled as a meeting with Pope Benedict, who resigned the papacy in February of this year.

Pope Francis kept the arrangement, and Hier marveled at the differences in character between the current pontiff and his predecessors.

“He has the uncanny ability, when he is talking to a person, the rest of the world does not exist,” said Hier, describing what he saw as he introduced each member of his delegation to Pope Francis. “I did not find that in the other three audiences, even though Pope John Paul II was perhaps one of the greatest popes in the history of the church.”

Religious Invocations


Reza Aslan on Jesus, the Jew


Reza Aslan, an author and scholar of religion, has established himself as a familiar face and voice on American television, the go-to guy for commentary on the Islamic world, and he embodies all the right stuff: youthful good looks, depth of knowledge and the kind of media savvy that enables him to answer even the most nuanced questions in measured sound bites. So it was no surprise when Aslan showed up on Fox News last month to talk about his new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” (Random House, $27).

But the Fox interviewer, Lauren Green, was apparently unaware that Aslan does not suffer fools gladly.

“You’re a Muslim,” the network’s religion specialist said at the start of her very first question. “So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

“To be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, with fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origin of Christianity for two decades, who happens to be a Muslim,” Aslan admonished his inquisitor. “Anyone who thinks this book is an attack on Christianity hasn’t read it yet.” When Green pressed the point, Aslan deftly schooled her on the Islamophobia that suffused her questions: “I think it is a little strange that, rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.”