A Secular Jew Explains the New Testament

Last week, I read a post on Reddit from a guy who only saw the final Harry Potter movie but recreated his own version of the entire series’ plot based off that limited knowledge. He was joking around, but it showed how you might miss out on some major details of the full story if you only catch glimpses of it.

I bring that up because of Jamie Bernstein. You all know Jamie. She’s written a few guest posts here, like when she attended an anti-vaccination rally and when she got kicked out of the AutismOne Con. Jamie’s awesome.

She was also raised as a secular Jew… and never had to read the New Testament.

So everything she knows about the life of Jesus is based on what she’s picked up from pop culture and friends and things she’s read… but not church and not the Bible itself.

Elyse at Skepchick asked Jamie to explain the New Testament story as she knows it and Jamie agreed:

Sounds perfect to me! :)

For what it’s worth, I’m sure you’d get a warped version of the Bible if you asked most Christians, too. Some don’t even know the Ten Commandments.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • William R. Dickson

    I was raised plain old secular, so I also never had to read it. The only remotely compelling argument anybody ever made to me in favor of reading it was that certain literary references would go over my head, but ultimately I decided that that probably wasn’t going to have a significant impact on my quality of life. And I can’t help but notice that I get plenty of non-biblical references that other people miss, so I figure it all comes out in the wash.

    I just mentally substitute an appropriate scene from The Life of Brian when I need a biblical reference.

    • http://twitter.com/UAJamie Jamie Bernstein

      I tried watching Life of Brian, but couldn’t understand most of the jokes as I didn’t know enough about the bible to really get it.

      • Kenneth Dunlap

        It pretty well flopped in America for that exact reason… You actually demonstrated as much knowledge as a majority of American christians…

  • Karen

    Bringing perfume to a magic baby on the hay.
    Sounds about right.

    LOL…Jamie, you’re brave!
    LOL

  • Annie

    “Hey that’s the magic star!”  She did a great job.  Sure, some key concepts were left out, but isn’t it crazy that someone can have absolutely no religious training in the new testament, and simply because of growing up in the US, basically know the whole story of Jesus?  I know this was meant to be funny, but the fact that Christian religion seeps into so much of our culture that even an ex-Jew atheist can recite the story is a bit frightening.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Natalie-A-Sera/743004321 Natalie A. Sera

      Jamie might not want to be called an “ex-Jew” — at least in the Reform movement, you can be an atheist and still a full member of the Jewish community, because we are an ethnic group and a tribe, just like Hemant can be an Indian without believing in either Jainism or Hinduism.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I thought her description was very funny.

    I was a bit surprised, though, that someone of Jewish ancestry living in the
    United States wouldn’t at least be aware that many Christians blame the Jews
    (at the time of Christ) for Jesus’ death.     I guess she didn’t have any Christian fundamentalists in her circle of friends.  Perhaps she is fortunate.

    • http://twitter.com/UAJamie Jamie Bernstein

      I know that, but I thought it wasn’t correct. Or maybe it is and just no PC. No idea. I just kind of forgot about it when I made the video.

    • Conspirator

      Years ago my mom was at some musical (Jesus Christ Superstart perhaps) that covers this with a lot of her friends, one of them happens to be Jewish.  Part way through the she leaned over to my mom and said “I’m so sorry my people killed your lord”.  That just cracked me up.

      Funny thing is the Christians should be thankful.  After all God had to send Jesus, who was God, and his only son, here to earth to be sacrificed to fulfill the prophecy and forgive us our sins.  So without Jesus being killed by the Romans at the request of the Jews the prophecy wouldn’t have been fulfilled and we wouldn’t have been forgiven.  So why the fuck do some Christians hate Jews for that?  Especially since Jesus was God and came back to life anyways.  

  • Conspirator

    Granted she’s got a lot of facts wrong, but she does show how ludicrous the story is.

    I love how she got things twisted on the “big dinner” to celebrate Jesus’ return.  She’s either referring to the last supper, or extrapolating from the fact that a lot of people have big family dinners on Easter.  

    And what the hell is frankincense and mihr anyways?  

    • http://twitter.com/UAJamie Jamie Bernstein

      I thought it was the last supper. I just figured everyone had a giant dinner to celebrate the resurrection. I’ve since been told I’ve got the order all mixed up.

      • Conspirator

        Yep, the “Last Supper” or “Lord’s Supper” was his last big meal before dying and took place on Thursday.   It may have occurred during Passover, which he celebrated since he was Jewish.  

        Good Friday is when he was killed, Easter Sunday was when he was resurrected.  People celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday, and most celebrations involve eating so we all have a big meal, but it’s not tied to the Last Supper as such.  

        I was raised Catholic, so I’ve always just taken knowledge of these events for granted.  I can see now how someone from outside would view this though.  

        Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I covers this also, that could provide another Jewish perspective on this.  I believe that’s where I saw that when Michelangelo arrived to paint The Last Supper he didn’t like that so many people had their backs to him so he had them all move to one side of the table.  Although I question the accuracy of this.  ;)  

        • Curt Cameron

          The Gospel of Mark has the Last Supper as the Passover meal, but John has Jesus being killed the day before Passover. The implication with John is that Jesus was symbolically the lamb killed for the Passover meal, and the lamb would have been killed the day before.

  • Anonymous

    Gays and marriage? Whut?
    This is funny and all, but it strains credulity a bit. I could be wrong, but I think maybe she embellished a little.

    • http://twitter.com/UAJamie Jamie Bernstein

      The gay marriage thing was a bit of an embellishment. There clearly wouldn’t have been anything about gay marriage in the bible, but that’s why it’s so ridiculous when the claim is made that gay marriage is wrong “because of the bible.” That part I really was joking on. The rest is a pretty straightforward explanation of what I really thought.

      • Anonymous

        You’re kind to reply. I appreciate and understand your explanation. Personally, I soaked myself in the Bible in an effort to retain my shrinking faith (didn’t work, quite the opposite in fact.) I enjoyed your version, and trust me, it’s just about as plausible as the “real” thing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=820924697 Ben Reimers

        Actually there are a few mentions in the bible about homosexuality, both old and new testament. AFAIK it doesn’t come up in the Jesus story itself, but it is there in the NT, though with no specific emphasis over any other sin.

        So while there is a scriptural basis for Christians to be against homosexuality, it’s no greater than for eating shellfish or shaving your beard. Technically, they should be as against clean-shaven men getting married as much as they’re against gays, but that one’s too inconvenient for them to follow so it’s easily ignored.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

    The cutting the baby in two is Solomon, so Old Testament. Wonder where she got it being Jesus from? Interesting…

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    I love this!  I can really relate to this.  Prior to a couple of years ago, I hadn’t read the Bible, so my impression of it was also from the media, tv holiday specials, and some of the things that are mentioned about Jesus in Islam.  Although I did know some more than what she said in the the video, I didn’t know much more, and my own summary would have been very vague.

    The part I found kind of surprising was when she mentioned the story about him threatening to cut the baby in half, since that’s actually King Solomon from the Old Testament.

    This video really shows that (a) Christianity is in our culture to such a degree that even non-Christians know some basics (e.g. virgin birth, the star, 3 wise men, crucifixion, resurrection) and (b) the media is sometimes intentionally vague when talking about religion, leading to many people (sometimes including religious believers themselves) having only a vague idea of what the holy books say.

    Much thanks to Jamie!

  • Anonymous

    Great video, Jamie. I studied Christian theology at the graduate level & your summary isn’t too bad :chuckle: — a few things mixed up or left out, and a couple more that make even less sense without the context (like the perfume thing), but all in all not bad. I loved the “gang of prostitutes” thing.

  • Heidi

    Jamie, that was awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Natalie-A-Sera/743004321 Natalie A. Sera

    Jamie’s video cracked me up! I’m Jewish too, but have made the effort to learn about Christianity because that’s what the majority of this country is, and I might as well understand their ideas. But I’ll admit that I’m not nearly as good-humored about it as she is — I see it as a bunch of propagandistic lies contrived to convert the Greeks and Romans to Christianity by placing the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews, when they really had no reason to desire it, while the Romans had every reason to desire it — he was advocating overthrow of the government!
    And what pains me so much about it is that so many of my ancestors and their families and friends were killed and harrassed, highly taxed and made to live in poverty in ghettos and expelled from most Western European countries at various times because people believed in those lies.  Hitler was only the last of a long line of Jew-killers.
    I take the Jewish writings for what they are — an attempt to explain the universe in pre-scientific times, and a written-down oral history, and a collection of sermons and attempts to keep the Jews Jewish, and proverbs and love poetry, and legends, etc. but you don’t have to believe in god to treasure it for its window into an ancient culture, even when that culture wasn’t pretty. The Christian writings, on the other hand, are openly proselytizing, and mostly lies.

  • Anonymous

     ROTFL! That’s so funny, and Jamie is adorable.

  • Sara

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