The Pope is coming to Israel on May 26th. This present Pope, Francis, is supposed to be a great friend of the Jewish people. There were big plans for his upcoming trip, but these fizzled when he announced that he would spend less than a day in Israel. Not only that, he will not pay a visit to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin – Bibi – Netanyahu. Rather, Bibi will be trudging hat-in-hand to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Jerusalem to get an audience with his “holiness”. When Popes go to Washington D.C., they pay their respects to the President at the White House. But when they come to Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Ministers always trudge to the Popes. Popes never visit our Prime Ministers. This humiliation is a perfect metaphor for everything that’s wrong with Jewish-Christian relations.
The Jewish people have returned to the land of Israel, but when it comes to Christianity, we still behave like ghetto Jews. More than this, we have ransomed our history to their theology. Meaning, Israeli archeologists and historians are loath to bring up anything – anything – that might upset Christian theologians. As a result, the birth of Christianity in the land of Israel has become a dark hole in historical space, where not a single artifact has ever been authenticated that might encroach on Christianity. What seems to be important is their theology, not our history.
More than this, what’s important is Christian mythology generally, not the reality on the ground.
Some examples are in order. Let’s start with the most blatant. The Pope is going to celebrate mass in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Why? Because the Palestinians run Bethlehem, while the Jews run Jerusalem. So on May 25th, Pope Francis will be going to Bethlehem, the cradle of Christian civilization, where Jesus was reportedly born. According to Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, Jesus was a “Palestinian Messenger”. Never mind that the Palestinians didn’t exist in Jesus’ time, you won’t hear the Pope contradicting Abbas’ statement. What Abbas did, and what the Pope is playing along with is called “replacement theology”. Basically, it means that the other guys always try to “replace” the Jews with their own people. That’s why Christianity calls itself the “new” Israel. Get it? The Jews are the “old” Israel, and they’ve been replaced by the “new” Israel. The Jews adhere to the “old” testament, while the Christians worship according to the “new” testament. The Palestinians have gotten into the act and Jesus has now retroactively become a Palestinian. Anybody who thinks this is funny should realize that once you have “replaced” a people theologically and ideologically, you want to “replace” them physically. From the destruction of Jerusalem, to the exile of the Jews, to the Crusades, to the Inquisition and, finally, the Holocaust, the history of Jewish-Christian relations has been one of persecutions and pogroms. Put simply, “Replacement Theology” is a prelude to genocide.
The Pope’s mass in Bethlehem will be broadcast around the world. What they won’t tell you is that the Palestinian Muslims have driven the Christians out of Bethlehem. In 1950, the Christians represented 80% of the population of Bethlehem. Today, they represent 14%. Arabs that you see in Manger Square during the Pope’s visit will be Muslims, playing the role of Christians for the sake of CNN cameras. I repeat, the cradle of Christian civilization is bereft of Christians. They’re living in Canada and Argentina now. They’re not talking about it because they don’t want the few Christians left behind treated in Bethlehem the way their Coptic Christian brothers and sisters are treated in Egypt.
I want to make this very simple: While Christians are living freely in Israel, Muslims are oppressing Christians all over the Muslim world, including Bethlehem. The irony is that the Pope will go there and not raise his voice against the oppression. On the contrary, he will be celebrating mass among the Palestinians, but not in Jerusalem. He will be snubbing the Jews and praising the Palestinians – I guess that’s because Jesus was a “Palestinian Messenger”.
But that’s not the only myth that has to be perpetuated. Because it’s important for Christians that nothing historical be found that contradicts Pauline theology, Israeli archeologists have decided that – by definition – nothing can be found from the early Jesus movement. Their argument is that since the first followers of Jesus were Jews, they left nothing behind that distinguishes them from other Jews. This is patently absurd. There is no team that doesn’t have a uniform. Every Jewish movement, then and today, has distinguishing marks. But the absurdity is promoted because to say otherwise is to identify objects from the first century that contradict the official theology of the various Pauline Christian Churches. So any archeological artifact that might impact on Christianity is dated earlier or later than the time of Jesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls? Earlier. Anything with a cross on it? Later. Anything that can’t be dated earlier or later e.g., the infamous James ossuary, is declared a forgery. The name of the game is to keep archeology away from Christian theology.
The height of this absurdity is the tomb of Jesus and his family. It’s been found. It’s as simple as that. It has more evidence going for it than all other tombs combined. For example, as I write this, there is a tremendous exhibition at the Israel Museum celebrating Herod the Great’s tomb. Take note; no intact tomb was found, no intact coffin was found and absolutely no inscriptions. Yet scholars are sure that they have identified Herod’s tomb at Herodium. As another example, take the tomb of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who sent Jesus to the Romans who then sent him to the cross. Scholars are sure that his tomb has been found. His ossuary (bone box) is on display in the Israel Museum. This is the only instance where someone in the gospels has been identified in archeology. And yet, the ossuary in question has on it “Joseph Son of Caiaphas”. The gospel says his name was simply “Caiaphas”, not “Joseph”. 1st century historian Josephus talks of a high priest named “Joseph Caiaphas”, not “Son of Caiaphas”, but that doesn’t matter. Despite the fact that the inscriptions don’t match the texts, everyone is happy with the identification.
Having said all this, in Talpiot, in 1980, a tomb was found perfectly intact. In it, there were ten intact ossuaries. In fact, there were six perfectly clear inscriptions. These include a man named “Jesus Son of Joseph”, a woman named “Maria”, a man called “Yose” (exactly as one of Jesus’ brothers, Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55-56), and a woman called – in Greek – “Mariamene”, a name that in all of Greek literature is associated with one woman only – Mary Magdalene. And yet, scholars are sure that the Jesus buried in Talpiot is not the Jesus of the gospels; that the Maria buried in Talpiot is not Jesus’ mother; that the Yose buried there is not Jesus’ brother; and that Mariamene is not Mary Magdalene. Why? Because this Jewish tomb contradicts Christian theology. If he was buried here, he wasn’t buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. So you won’t see the Pope going to Talpiot.
You won’t see the Pope going to the 2nd station on the Via Delarosa either. Why? Because in its museum there’s an ossuary that was excavated by Franciscan archeologist Bellarmino Bagatti. On it is inscribed the rare name “Simon Son of Jonah” or, in Aramaic, “Shimon Bar Yonah”, which happens to be the real name of the apostle nicknamed “Peter”. The Vatican wasn’t happy with Bagatti’s discovery because it means that Peter was buried in Jerusalem and not in Rome, under the Vatican where he’s supposed to be. All this archeology gets in the way of the theology. So… the Christians ignore it. And what’s worse, so do the Jews. We collaborate with mythologies – old and new. We don’t criticize the Pope when he goes to Bethlehem to hold mass for Muslims masquerading as Christians who are celebrating the “Palestinian Jesus”. Nor do we investigate our own history when it comes to the clear evidence that is emerging concerning the real followers of the Jewish Jesus. Instead, our scholars turn away from the archeological evidence and our leaders go to pay homage to the Pope when he refuses to come to the Prime Minister’s home.
As a final note, for his part, Jesus didn’t know that he was “Palestinian”. He didn’t know that Rome is the center of religious life. He didn’t even know he was a Christian. Jesus lived and died as a Jew. On his cross, the Romans, who crucified him, just like they crucified hundreds of thousands of other Jews, mockingly wrote: “King of the Jews”. Jesus instructed his apostles to avoid gentiles, and to preach only to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He called non-Jewish idolaters “dogs” (Mark 7:24-37). One of his apostles was a “Sicarii” (Judah Iscariot) i.e., a member of a group of violent Jewish revolutionaries, and the other was called “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13). The zealots were the main anti-Roman Jewish rebels. Most importantly, Jesus said that he had come to fight for the Jewish people: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34-36).
From the gospels, what emerges is that Jesus would never have ignored his people, in favor of his enemies. He would not have celebrated any leader from Rome, the city that sent the legions that crucified him.