"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jesus, Judaism/Baseball v. Christianity/Football, Changing Interpretations

The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine

Here are my last notes from this book. See this post for more of my thoughts.

First what the author said about herself in the introduction. I especially liked the last sentence.

"I find that the more I study Jesus, Mary Magdalene, James, Peter, and Paul in their own historical contexts, the more I come to appreciate my own Judaism: the diversity of its teachings, the richness of its encounter with the divine, the struggles it faced in accommodating to the Roman world. I appreciate, even find inspirational, the message of the kingdom of heaven, a message that spoke of the time when all debts are forgiven and when those who have willingly give, without thought of reciprocity, to those who need; a time when we no longer ask, 'Who is my neighbor?' but 'Who acts as neighbor?'; a time when we prioritize serving rather than being served. ... But as much as I admire much of the message, I do not worship the messenger. Instead, I find Jesus reflects back to me my own tradition, but in a new key.  I also have to admit a bit of pride in thinking about him -- he's one of ours." (pg. 8)


In discussing the "distinct canons" of both Christians and Jews, the author notes that even what ends each canon is significant.  For Christian's, the Old Testament ends with Malachi.

1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty.
 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
 5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

For Jews, the Tanakh usually ends with II Chronicles 36 and the edict from Cyrus:

22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
 23 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
   “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the LORD their God be with them.’”

"The Tanakh thus ends not with a promise to be fulfilled by something new but with an injunction to return to one's home, to one's roots."

Ms. Levine uses a sports metaphor saying Christianity is more like football.  "There is a linear sense to the Christian canon; one moves from the promise of the line of scrimmage to the goal of the (eschatological) end zone.  Judaism, at least as understood by the canonical order, is baseball. The concern is to return to Zion, to go home." (pg. 199)

I guess this helps explain why Jews have often longed to return to Jerusalem.


She discussed that Judaism had a more communal approach whereas Christianity in a general sense was more individualistic.  Jews were more likely to argue with the texts and with other Jews and realize "in some cases multiple meanings are possible.  Jews are more inclined to say, 'I'm right, and you may be right too.'"  (pg. 205)

Perhaps related to this - at least in my mind - this midrash which the author gives as an example of "a number of midrashim [that] go out of their way to prevent the view that Moses is divine."  She writes,

"Moses receives God's permission to see the great teacher Rabbi Akiva. Seated in the last row of Akiva's school, Moses is so distressed by his inability to follow the discussion that he grows faint.  Yet when Akiva's students inquire, 'Master, where did you learn this?' Akiva responds, 'It is a Law given to Moses at Sinai.'  In other words, Moses could not understand the interpretation of the Torah that he himself received. The story not only highlights Moses's limited knowledge but simultaneously praises those who continue to interpret the text and celebrates the text's own ability to speak to each generation." (pg. 202)

I believe she's saying the text is not set in stone, but the interpretation should be changeable as people change.  Also there is the fact that not even the prophets who gave us the texts can say for certain what they mean especially for all people of all times. 

Your thoughts?


sanil said...

I love every single word of this. I don't really have much to say about it, but it was wonderful to read and I appreciate that you shared it. :) Thanks!

Susanne said...

Yeah, I guess it's kind of self-explanatory. Thanks for reading and for your feedback! It's encouraging. :D

Karrie said...

Christianity is football, Judaism is baseball.... makes perfectly good sense!

Although, personally, I'd rather play tennis ;)

Susanne said...


Good hearing from you!

Suroor said...

Thanks for this post, Susie. Very interesting read.

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