Christianity and the Jews

Religious scholars have debated for thousands of years what it means to be the Messiah and to bring in the messianic era. As a result of Roman limitations on religious and economic freedoms, many Jews prayed for the Messiah who they hoped would finally bring peace; hundreds of individuals emerged and gained followers during this period of messianic fervor. One of these men, Jesus, inspired the birth of a religion which would change the world. Christians have been linked to the Jews from the start, and the relationship between the religious groups has remained intertwined and often complicated.

  1. Who put Hyracanus in charge as both Nasi (or “prince”) and also as High Priest of the Temple?
    • Pompey
    • Jesus
    • Pontius Pilate
    • Constantine
  2. What does the Hebrew word “Mashiach” mean?
    • Son of God
    • Blessed
    • Anointed
    • Chosen
  3. Which of these descriptions is NOT what the 11th century rabbinic scholar Rambam described as criteria for the Jewish Messiah?
    • Comes from the line of Kings
    • Will rebuild the Temple
    • Will perform public miracles 
    • Will reinstate all the Torah laws in proper form
  4. What is the Old Testament?
    • Book of Revelation
    • Epistles of Paul
    • The writings of the Apostles
    • Five Books of Moses
  5.  What did Constantine’s Edict of Milan do in the Roman Empire?
    • Outlawed Christianity
    • Legalized Christianity
    • Restricted Jewish practice
    • Blamed Jews for Jesus’ death
  1. The Torah makes virtually no mention of the Messiah or messianic era, although some Prophets describe in greater details what the future may entail. At the same time, many Jewish prayers, including the Amida, Ani Maamin, and Yigdal, focus on the coming of the Messiah. Why does the Torah not explicitly speak about the coming of the Messiah, while some Jewish prayers emphasize it?
  2. Jesus had many followers before his death and gained even more after the Romans killed him. Think of a person in the last 50 years who had a similar influence. What makes a person so inspirational to others that they create a committed following even after their death?
  3. Initially, Jesus’ followers were considered Jewish, even though some of their practices differed from the traditional interpretations. After Jesus’ death, Paul and other Christian leaders instituted that followers no longer had to be circumcised, did not have to follow the Laws of Moses, should pray in Greek as opposed to Hebrew, and needed to believe that Jesus had died to atone for the sin of Adam and Eve. After these changes, it was clear this was no longer a Jewish sect. How does a group get defined as Jewish? Are there certain beliefs and traditions the group must follow?
  4. The Catholic Church published the Nostra Aetate in 1965 and proclaimed it no longer held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus after years of persecution and antisemitism. Is it possible to forgive a nation or group after years of persecution?
  1. Use our ready-made lesson plan on false messiahs in Jewish history.
  2. The Rambam explained that one aspect of the coming of the Messiah will be the rebuilding of the Temple. Create a map of the Temple and label the purpose of each area. Use this website and video for reference.
  3. There are sites in Israel which have significant meaning for Christians, including Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. Choose one city and create a travel brochure describing its importance to Jews and Christians.
  4. Throughout history, Jews have been blamed for Jesus’ death and have also been accused of blood libel, or murdering Christians (especially children) and using their blood towards Jewish rituals. The ADL defines these allegations as antisemitism. In 2013, there was a cartoon published in the British Sunday Times about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which referenced the blood libel. Write a letter to the editor in response to the published cartoon. See here for an example.
  5. Give your students our Kahoot on Judaism and Christianity!
  1. Rambam’s criteria for the Jewish Messiah is that he will reinstate all the Torah laws in their proper form, will rebuild the Temple, and lead back the Jewish people to Israel. The prophet Isaiah also describes the Messiah bringing world peace. Does this image sound appealing to you? Are you concerned or confused about some of these ideas?
  2. Learning about Christian thought and Jesus in the context of Jewish history may seem odd to some! How do you feel about this? What was comfortable for you about this and what might have been uncomfortable?
  3. Paul taught that Christians only needed to believe in Jesus to be granted eternal salvation and that they no longer needed to practice any of the traditional rituals of the Jewish community. Do you think rituals strengthen a community? Can you identify a Jewish ritual which has meaning to you?
  4. The belief that Jews were “Christ Killers” was used to justify antisemitism. The Jews were victims of many centuries of antisemitic policies and attacks, including the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion of Jews from England. Do you think antisemitism is still prevalent in today’s society? Have you ever experienced antisemitism?
  5. Read this article on the Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Bible. Why do you think the Bible was written in a way that lends itself to multiple interpretations, instead of always being direct in its messaging?

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