The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine
So I got this book from the library because I thought it would be
interesting to read about Jesus as his teachings may have come across to
a first-century Jew hearing his parables and teachings, messages of
repentance and even prayers. And I guess the book is about that. I mean
the first chapter has sections on his parables and prayers (I enjoyed
the section on the Lord's Prayer), but much of the book is more or less
putting Judaism back into Jesus since the author is a Jew and
understandably doesn't like Christians throughout the centuries and even
today to say that Judaism is a legalistic burden, misogynistic and
overly concerned with purity rules.
I know Jews have been mistreated over the years and I tried to read
this book understanding her mindset on that, however, the group of
Christians I grew up in is so pro-Jew that the current State of Israel
can do the most atrocious things and they chalk it up to "Islam's thugs"
doing something to the poor Jews so that the Jews have no choice but to
defend themselves. So, I read the author's words putting Judaism back
into Jesus (so no one could argue he was anti-Judaism, anti-Law)
thinking, "Oh, I didn't realize some Christians wrote/said/taught these
things." Well, I guess I did know it on some level. Again, it just
wasn't at all what I was taught or even today what most of my family and
friends believe about Jews. I suppose the main thing many of them would
be guilty of is desiring the Jews to follow Jesus because they believe
Jesus is the Way to the Father, the Messiah whom they seek.
But then Ms. Levine said not all Jews were even looking for a
Messiah. She explained that just as there were Sadducees who believed
only in the Torah and no resurrection of the dead and Pharisees who
tended to add fences around the Law and believed in resurrection, there
was Shammai's school and Hillel's - not all Jews believed the same.
Makes sense. I know Christians and Muslims who hardly believe the same
as other Christians and Muslims so why not Jews? There's always a range
of thought in groups with some believing more literally and some more
metaphorically and so forth.
I shared this story on Facebook because I liked how Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov (1745-1807) taught his disciples how to truly love their neighbors.
"Tell me, friend Ivan, do you love me?"
"I love you deeply."
"Do you know, my friend, what gives me pain?"
"How can I, pray, know what gives you pain?"
"If you do not know what gives me pain, how can you say that you truly love me?"
Lesson: "Understand, then,...to love, truly to love, means to know what brings pain to your comrade."
Levine encouraged Jews and Christians to read the texts together and
through each other's ears because Christians may not realize how "the
Jews" doing such and such in John's or Peter's or Paul's words comes
across to a Jewish person. She also pointed out to Jews that most
Christians probably do not read anti-Jewish thought into the New
Testament texts. I believe Rebbe Leib's illustration goes along with
that. If I know that certain texts bring pain to someone because to them
it seem accusatory, I can truly love my Jewish neighbors better.
Besides manna, I don't recall food ever coming down from heaven
to feed people. Unless you count quail which God used to feed people on
occasion. While discussing the "Lord's Prayer" Ms. Levine mentioned the
phrase about giving us our daily bread and recalls a Jewish prayer said
before eating, "'Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who brings forth bread from the earth." Bread, she notes, does
not come forth from the earth. Grain does and then you use the grain to
make bread. It's God giving grain from the earth and humans making and
baking bread. She says these prayers are each "a concrete petition that
God will motivate our hearts to do the right thing. Both insist that
humanity and divinity work together." (pg. 49)
Other notable things according to the author:
1. Jewish teaching for some is such that Gentiles do not need to become
Jews in order to "have a share in the world to come" as "righteous
people of all nations" would be included. (pg. 69) Therefore Jews don't
often see any need to convert people to their faith. (There have been
times of exception or perhaps this thought is the exception.)
2. One Jewish philosopher's thoughts on why men needed to be
circumcised and not women: "Circumcision is required to check male pride
as well as male sexual impulses; women, ... have no such problems." -
Philo of Alexandria (pg. 71) The author's point of bringing this up is
because some have claimed women were perhaps not full members of the
Jewish community since God made an outward covenant - circumcision -
with only the men. She argued that their community considered women full
members without their having to be circumcised. And the bigger reason
for this being mentioned is that some have argued that baptism is more egalitarian since both men and women are included in this covenantal sign.
3. "Multiculturalism, then or now, cannot function if there is a
homogeneous default that causes one group to give up what is of enormous
value to them, especially if what is to be forsaken is divinely
mandated Torah." (pg. 76) -- I just read that and found it both
understandable and a bit disconcerting. It's fine if you are talking
about Jews wanting to eat kosher or observe purity laws. Absolutely no
problem. But it gets more questionable when you have a group whose
divinely mandated scriptures imposes its will on the full population*,
who tells its followers (according to how the majority interpret it)
that they are the rulers and the unbelievers are to be protected, yet
second-class citizens. I guess I was reading too much of what I fear
happening after these revolutions in the Arab world into this
statement. I've been all for the uprisings against these brutal
dictators and I want the people to enjoy freedom, but I do hope they can
avoid bringing Taliban types to power who will rule with iron fists
anyone who does not subscribe to their interpretation of religion.
Sadly, power is often corrupting unless we remember to keep it in check
and stay humble.
* I suppose we do this also when we make laws limiting rights to certain groups because it's against the teaching of our faith. I'm specifically thinking of homosexual groups.
Your thoughts on any of this?