A New Book Presents a Very Jewish—and Flawed—Perspective on the Death of Jesus

In his book The Messiah Confrontation, Israel Knohl of Hebrew University argues, firstly, for the Jewish origins of Christian ideas about the nature of the messiah and, secondly, that the execution of Jesus must be understood through the lens of the dispute between the two major Jewish sects of his time: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. John J. Collins explains how Knohl brings these two lines of though together:

He argues that the basic conflict over the nature of the messiah was originally an intra-Jewish one between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which predated Jesus. The Sadducees, who [according to Knohl] initially condemned Jesus to death, were a small anti-messianic group that disappeared from history a generation later. For other Jews, notably the Pharisees, arguing about who was or was not the messiah was nothing out of the ordinary. They did not condemn other messianic pretenders to death, and they would not have condemned Jesus.

To Collins, this is an “engaging, provocative book” that gets much correct, but that also relies heavily on unconvincing readings of certain Dead Seas Scrolls. Collins also disputes Knohl’s specific conclusions regarding Jesus’ death:

According to this story [in the Gospel of Mark], the high priest asked Jesus directly, “Are you the messiah, the son of the Blessed One?” He answers, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” . . . Knohl argues persuasively that Jesus’ answer would not have been judged as blasphemy by the Pharisees. Only the Sadducees, who held to the anti-messianic ideology of the Torah, would have regarded it as such. But ultimately, Jesus was not crucified because Sadducean judges convicted him of blasphemy. He was executed by the Romans on a political charge, because some people were saying that he would restore the kingdom of Israel.

From the viewpoint of a Christian scholar, Knohl’s willingness to take the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels at face value seems a little naïve, although it also bespeaks a generous respect for Christian tradition.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jesus, Religion & Holidays

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security