Newsweek: Jesus is a "nice Jewish boy"

'Tis the week before Christmas and what's on the cover?

A picture of Jesus, His father and mother.

But the story inside tells a trite leftist tale,

With misconstrued facts, Christian faith to assail.

One week before two billion people around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Newsweek trots out a cover featuring the Holy Family with the headline The World of the Nativity.  The cover lines promise to tell readers “How First-Century Jewish Family Values Shaped Christianity.”

Seven words into the story the belittling of orthodox faith begins.

Sometime around the beginning of the Common Era, a nice Jewish girl comes to her fiancé with a problem.  She is pregnant; he is not the father.

So begins Lisa Miller's cover story in the Dec. 18th, 2006 edition of Newsweek.  Readers lured in by the beautiful cover art featuring Francesco Mancini's “Holy Family” are assaulted immediately by the substitution of the politically correct Common Era in place of A.D. (Anno Domini – In the Year of Our Lord, which, along with B.C. – Before Christ – has clearly described historical reality for 2,000 years).

It's the Christmas season, time once again for the media to work at debunking the Christmas story and Christian faith in general. 

The first sentence of the third paragraph starts:

As the world's 2 billion Christians prepare to commemorate the birth of the figure they believe to be the Son of God...

The figure?  Jesus of Nazareth was a man.  And yes, two BILLION people believe Him to be the Son of God, for many very good reasons, including hundreds of prophecies about His birth and life and his unique, well-documented ability to work miracles.  But this article paints Jesus as little more than a product of His upbringing and cultural circumstances. 

Surely Jesus's upbringing was important, but the article treats it with disproportional significance—and a measure of unrepressed cynicism.  When Miller discusses Jesus's adolescent visit to the Temple in Jerusalem, she writes:  “In the temple, Jesus is as rude as a 12-year-old can be.”  This strained interpretation of Jesus's words to Joseph and Mary implies that Jesus committed a sin—a grave insult to orthodox Christian faith.  Miller misses the point of the story completely. The gospel of Luke records that all who heard Him speak were not offended by any rudeness, but were “astonished at His understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46). 

In discussing the teachings of Jesus, Miller cites Elaine Pagels, a well-known feminist historian known primarily for her book, The Gnostic Gospels, which addresses a group of ancient scrolls written by heretical sects early in the Christian era.  According to Pagels, the gospel writers (here Matthew) “recalibrated some of Jesus' more radical sayings to accommodate the familial concerns of regular people.”  Miller fails to qualify Pagels' assertion by reporting that no reliable documentary evidence exists to support it, or that the genuine Gospels predate the Gnostic ones.  Does Miller at least provide a balancing quotation from a contemporary, orthodox Christian theologian?  Don't hold your breath.

Perhaps the most patronizing bit of “reporting” comes at the end of the story.  The crucified Jesus, looking down from the cross at his mother and His beloved disciple John, says “Dear woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother.” Miller calls this “the penultimate act of a nice Jewish boy.”

There you have it.  Newsweek's opinion of Jesus is that he was a nice Jewish boy.  And if you think that is a misrepresentation, consider that following Miller's article, Newsweek continues with a piece by Susannah Heschel, who holds the Eli Black Chair of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, entitled Nativity of the Jews. Heschel contrasts the “simple” birth of Jesus, to a mother and father, to the “more complex, more demanding, broader” birth of the Jewish people. While never denigrating Christians for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, Heschel's piece strives to make the point that Jews – of whom Jesus was one – are still waiting for their Messiah.  And that the Jewish community lives by certain values that the Christian community has apparently forgotten.  Her last paragraph reads:

From the story of the nativity of the Jews, we learn that life is inherently arduous but also sacred; our task is to repair and perfect God's creation.  What challenges do Christians undertake from the Gospel's Nativity stories?  Perhaps Christian faith in Jesus will be understood as the faith of Jesus, so the Jewish values of education and social responsibility that his parents inculcated in him will be renewed for Christians in their celebration of his birth.

The jab, while subtle, is unmistakable, especially following on the heels of Miller's article boiling Jesus' essence down to his Jewish heritage.  Perhaps Heschel needs to visit one of those Salvation Army soup kitchens, or bone up on the history of her employer, Dartmouth College, which, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and so many other schools, was founded by orthodox Christians.

Interestingly, in the front of the magazine in the Editor's Desk section, Miller says that applying the journalistic skills of “skepticism and compassion” to stories of faith allows for the most “satisfying and provocative stories of all.”

Provocative indeed.  Put a beautiful picture depicting the birth of Jesus on the cover of a magazine and devote the inside story to tearing at the faith of two billion Christians.  Merry Christmas from Newsweek.

Kristen Fyfe is a senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.  CMI senior editor Brian Fitzpatrick contributed to this article.