St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Look to 2013 in Jewish-Christian Relations

As a Christian with long involvement in Jewish-Christian relations I am exhilarated by unfolding new understandings of Jesus on both sides of that divide.  I want to share some of this unfolding development as we enter 2013.

On the Christian side, ongoing work in recapturing the Jewish Jesus goes back for many years to the 1960’s.   Unfortunately so much of this is in scholarly studies that most people in local churches do not hear of it too often.

What people also may not know is that, in a growing number of seminaries and graduate schools of religion across the country, Jewish scholars teach New Testament Studies.  Christian scholars have taught Old Testament studies for centuries; it’s encouraging to see the traffic go the other way.

Let me tell you about Marcie, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household in New York, had a Jewish education from kindergarten through university, and had very little contact with Christians.  When Marcie went to Israel one of her friends invited her to a Jewish-Christian dialogue.  At first she balked but then gave in and discovered how good it was to sit with Christians and learn together.  As a result, Marcie eventually came home to the US and returned to Harvard for a degree in New Testament and Early Christian studies.  She is now developing curriculum for adult Christians in a project I’m involved with through the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem.

Those of us who study scripture welcome this interchange of ideas, intuitions, and scholarship.  Jesus was a Jew, deeply embedded in his time and culture, and Jewish scholars have always known more about those matters than Christians because of their study of major Jewish texts like the Talmud.  For centuries Christians were not listening, just as Jews thought there was not much to learn from Christians.  Now ears are open both ways and we all benefit.  This is a rich time.

Christians will profit greatly by using the recently published Jewish Annotated New Testament (with NRSV text), edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler. Scholars comment on each book of the New Testament, and the collection of essays will amplify your understanding of the New Testament.  These essays alone are worth the price of the book.  You can read about the Dead Sea Scrolls, about concepts of the Messiah, about the synagogue and the Jewish movements of the time, and about Jesus in modern Jewish thought, among others.

Daniel Boyarin, a Jewish scholar of the early centuries around Jesus and the formation of Judaism, shares new conclusions in The Jewish Gospel.  Always innovative in his research, Boyarin shows that Jesus kept kosher (no big surprise), that the Gospels are really more, not less, Jewish in both content and aim (more surprising), and that the concept of a suffering Messiah was embedded in Jewish thought, not an invention of the church (most surprising).  He proposes that the “Son of Man” title for Jesus meant what many people think “Son of God” means, and vice versa.  I discuss Boyarin’s book at Temple Beth El’s Wednesday Breakfast on January 16th (small donation for breakfast), which starts at 8:45 AM.  Temple Beth El is at 3980 Sonoma Springs Avenue.

In our diverse nation it becomes more important each year to appreciate our neighbors’ cultures and faiths.  Jewish-Christian relations have progressed greatly since the new start after World War II.  Find your way into this arena; it will enrich your soul and sharpen your faith whether you are Jewish or Christian or neither.  Any step you make toward interfaith understanding is a step toward peaceful community and God knows we need that.

published 04 January 2013