The Israeli satirical program “The Jews are coming” is a provocative show that first went on air in 2014. It features comedy sketches that poke fun at everyone and everything throughout Jewish history, from biblical times to modern Zionism. Religious lawmakers have tried several times to have it removed from the air, to no avail. We would probably see some jokes in it as anti-Semitic if anyone else created it. The creators state that this is a secular satire against religion, and is therefore part of an inherently internal Jewish discussion.
So when a provocative program like this has a sketch about Jesus, what will they do? Poke fun at the virgin birth? Have Jesus say or do something outrageous? Anything is possible with these people.
Turns out the sketch portrayed the High Priests, not Jesus, as power-hungry corrupt, and evil. The portrayal of Jesus was, although of course largely incorrect, a positive one. Yes, there is some anachronistic talk about “new religion” that no one thought of at the time, but in general, I was pleasantly surprised. They even called him Yeshua and not Yeshu!
The sketch starts with Jesus, played by Ido Mosseri, standing in a crowd saying some of the beatitudes when three priests dressed in white robes come up and cut him off. One of them has a bigger hat and wears the Aaronic breast plate, signifying him as the High Priest. They accuse Jesus of “opening a new branch of our business right next to us.” The Jesus character is not as confrontational as the real Jesus was, but more similar to the meek and mild Jesus known by popular culture, and he replies that he is there because the Jews feel they have no one to turn to.
“You started a new religion next to ours. Only one God is our idea. You’re getting into our niche. If you don’t want Judaism, go and pick another religion, one with those statues.”
Even if this hints at the idea of Christianity being a non-Jewish religion, the sketch still portrays the priests as the bad guys trying to force him out. Jesus answers that he is Jewish, just like them and that the people want a Judaism without social classes, with no lazy priests who enrich themselves at the expense of the people. “In my Judaism, the poor ones will eat meat and I will eat wheat grains and water.”
In response, one of the priests says “Grains? What, are you a parrot?” and another priest says “Oh, I’d love to eat a parrot in a pita right about now. With onion and hummus.”
They start talking about eating parrots and peacocks, ridiculously proving Jesus’ point about how they only eat luxury meat at the expense of the people.
The High Priest then asks Jesus, “Alright, what’s the catch? What’s the business model for your religion?” Jesus replies, “there’s no business plan. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Read in the gospels. It’s all written.”
Another blatant anachronism, of course, but Israelis are not always that well-versed in how and when the gospels were written, so let’s just allow that one to slide. The priests scoff and says “Hah, you know how much nonsense we have written in our writings? Luckily, only we three know how to read.”
They go back and forth like this for a while, and then the priests talk among themselves.
“Let’s kill him and then go quickly to the Syrian before they’re out of pita bread.”
“Are you crazy? What if he is really the Son of God? Have you thought of that?”
“Yes, of course he is the Son of God. And this Aaronic plate really has magic stones, and it’s not at all something you get for free in the supermarket if you donate to a charity. Ok, guys, just follow my lead.”
The high priest turns back to Jesus and says, “I really appreciate what you’re doing. The poor in spirit to the Caesar or whatever you said. We really like it. How much are you worth?”
“Just give us a price. We have strong economic backing.”
At this point, they start naming the temple and Israeli supermarkets, again leaning into the metaphor of them being a business trying to buy up Jesus’ “new branch” into their existing network.
“I’m not selling and not closing. There are Jews who believe in me, in my way, and…”
“We should just crucify him!” one of the priests says.
“Can we make it look like a suicide?” another one asks.
Jesus replies with “Crucify a Jew? Flesh of your flesh?” He goes up to the high priest and says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” At this point, I’m impressed with how the writers have gone through the trouble of actually reading parts of the New Testament, even if this part is an incorrect representation of Jesus. It seems like they are directly quoting from the Bible Society’s modern translation.
The High Priest replies, “you are right, Yeshua.” Yes, he actually said Yeshua, and not Yeshu! “We are all Jews here, and we can’t crucify flesh of our flesh.” Jesus smiles.
In the next scene, Roman soldiers drag Jesus to the crucifixion while the three priests sit down and watch, eating exclusive meat in pita. Jesus is screaming and begging for mercy, which is probably the part that bothered me the most from the whole sketch. I can’t really blame secular people for believing that Jesus would have acted like that. Any non-divine human would. It’s just that Jesus didn’t.
As a Jewish secular sacrilegious satire show, you would expect them to do a lot worse. They could have poked fun at Jesus. Instead, they poked fun at the Jews. I was half-expecting seeing a parallel sketch with corrupt Christian priests, or some sort of joke about Jesus being delusional about being the Son of God. But there was nothing like that. On the contrary, Jesus was the smiling, positive character who wanted social justice and help for the poor. The Jewish priests were portrayed as indifferent people who don’t actually believe in God, and who use the religion to enrich themselves at the expense of the simple people. It’s actually on purpose similar to how the show has portrayed rabbis in previous sketches, using the same actors and some of the same phrases and gestures.
I think this shows how secular Israelis see Jesus, and how they are slowly starting to reclaim him as their own. Maybe partly as an act of deliberate rebellion against the Rabbis. Of course, they don’t believe he is the Son of God, or that he is the Messiah. But they do see him as someone who was on the side of the people against the corrupt leadership of the time. In fact, this secular Jewish view of Jesus is something that has developed in the last century or so. From being a taboo person to even speaking about, Jesus has, for many secular Jews, become a more and more accepted part of Jewish history. His true name, Yeshua, has even started to make a comeback.
I can only hope and pray that this will, with time, also lead to Messianic Judaism being accepted as an inseparable part of Jewish Israeli society.