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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Putting Judaism back into Jesus...so the Christians won't hate us!

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."

(pg. 116)

Ms. 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?


Unknown said...

I think I need to visit Baptist churches in the south sometime. See, in my churches they were pro-Israel and pro-Jew in abstract, political terms. In terms of religion, they felt sorry for them because they were "still looking for the Messiah" (which I won't go into because I see Levine did already) and so they had to be converted to Christianity. As far as friendships go, I was only encouraged to be friends with Jews (or any non-Christian, or even certain types of Christians, like Catholics and Mormons) if I was actively working to convert them. So it's a very strange sort of "support." So I'll admit that part of me is cynical and wonder if that's what is happening in most other churches as well, but I hope I'm wrong, and figure you know better than me so I probably am. :) Yay!

I don't remember if I've mentioned this before, but King of the Jews by D Thomas Lancaster and a bunch of other resources from First Fruits of Zion (publishing company) has a lot more focus on the way ancient Jews would have heard his teachings. Have you looked into any of those at all?

I think I read the multiculturalism statement differently. I would think the way she set it up forbids the kind of control that worries you (and me). It would allow people who want to live that way to do so, but not to force it on others.

Very interesting post! I think I will like this book.

Susanne said...

Maybe I am not representing people here correctly, but I understand your comment about feeling sorry for them. I tried to convey that by this:

"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 didn't do a good enough job.

Hmmm, I never remember being encouraged to be friends with someone only to convert them. Of course we desired them to have the love of Christ and freedom in Him that we have (wink, wink), but in actuality I'd say most aren't concerned enough to evangelize that much. Some do of course, but many don't.

Thanks for those book recommendations. I'll have to look into those. I do find it interesting to read about cultures.

Ah, maybe I did misread that statement. Thank you for telling me how you read it!

I will go back and read it in context to see if I misrepresented her.

Overall I like the book quite a bit. I've actually got a little more I want to share from it,I think,but I was wanting to write some notes this morning while I had the chance.

Thanks much for your feedback!

Susanne said...

Oh, and how the author talks about Christian teaching it's more of blaming "the Jews" and Judaism for things. "Christ killers" never was in my vocabulary growing up. I was genuinely perplexed when I heard Jews were upset that Mel Gibon's TPOTC might stir up feelings like this because it was such a foreign concept to me.

I'd been taught ALL our sins put Jesus on the cross. Not "the Jews" so why would I blame them?

Unknown said...

Ah, I see. I'm sure it is not that you didn't do a good job, but that I missed the line somehow. Thanks for pointing it out! Still, it sounds like it's less extreme than what I know. Very evangelistic. There is literally no reason for them to be friends with a person if the person isn't Christian or likely to become one with effort. I do have to applaud them that the most recent time I went back, they were learning that it's important to actually listen to the people they talk to and try to understand their feelings and beliefs...so that they will have better knowledge of how to convert them. *facepalm* So close, guys, so close!

(I'm really sorry if I get annoying when I use your comment-space to voice my frustration over my old churches. I'll try to dial it back.)

At least we're on the same page with that one! I have never heard that sort of hate-mongering. (Well, maybe from Westboro, but even there it's not that they "killed Christ," just that they're not Westboro Baptists, so they're evil. Obviously.) I remember that criticism at the time of the movie, and I've always been a little confused by it too. Maybe that's an old attitude and we're both fortunate enough to live in more enlightened times?

Joni said...

Susie, this sounds like a book that would be interesting to me.

I am in the same boat as you - I never went to a church that promoted the Jews as Christ-killers. That's pretty much the antithesis of the purpose of what Christ's death was.

When I was in jr and sr high we were encouraged and exhorted to evangelize and share about Christ. I think I had an exceptional youth leader in that he very much believed and promoted "love and acceptance" for anyone who came through the door, regardless of their faith or background. But I am not sure that I, as an individual, was able to take that beyond my youth group into my school. I was friends with non-Christians, but I would certainly say that it was with the motivation that I would share Christ with them. I think that if they had told me flat out "I will never convert" I would have stopped being friends with them. How sad. :( But I plead for mercy based on my youth - I didn't yet know enough how to just love people because they are people and they are worth loving for that reason alone.

Additionally, I was not confident enough in my own skin to feel that I could befriend and hang out with non-Christians without being "influenced" by them and "succumbing" to "evil desires". I somehow thought that this would happen against my will!

Sanil, that book you mentioned sounds very interesting to me as well.

Unknown said...

Joni - Glad I could recommend something cool for you! :) It's a pretty good book, very informative and unique. I'd offer to send it around (a blog pass-along book club sounds like an awesome idea, now that I think of it :D), but I just gave it to a classmate last night. It seems like a subject a lot of people want to learn about recently, I'm not sure why (or if it's just a coincidence). Anyway, their website also has a lot of free resources that are pretty informative too, if you want to get an idea of the type of stuff you'll see before actually investing in the book. I'm pretty sure that author even has a few articles up still, so you can really see where he's coming from.

Susanne said...

Sanil, I read later from a Jewish guy that in Europe that "Christ killer" accusation was very prevalent and one reason the Germans could so quickly turn on the Jews. He said Jewish ghettos and pogroms were in part because Christians there blamed Jews for deicide (killing God.)

He also stated that most Americans were different because we were evangelized and influenced by a European who appreciated Jews and taught that we needed to love them. He went to N. America as a missionary of sorts and left his mark on us by giving us a love for Jews not as widespread in Europe. That was John Darby, the same guy who came up with the dispensationalism stuff that drives a lot of American understanding of the end times and rapture (so it's thought.)

I didn't realize all of this until I was reading a book a neighbor gave my dad concerning the State of Israel and this Jewish author was explaining Christian Zionism and why so many conservative American Christians were pro-Israel.

And don't apologize for venting in my comments. I don't mind listening to you at all! :)

Susanne said...

Joni, I'm glad you dropped by! I always appreciate your thoughts and enjoyed reading about your personal experiences both with churches, your youth group and reasons to be friends with nonChristians. I was in a Christian school so (yeah right) everyone there was already a believer, right? :) At least they had no excuse for not knowing about Jesus. So I didn't really have the same experiences as you. It wasn't until community college classes and later friends elsewhere that I had nonChristian friends. And, yeah, we all want them to be saved theoretically, but do I often tell them about Jesus? Not really.

Thanks for your feedback!

Unknown said...

Wow, interesting! :) I'm glad you were able to find that out and share.

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

Well the Christian society/community I grew up in had a great love for Israel, who could do no wrong, too.

So great it took me years to undo the one-sidedness I had been taught to believe (my Mum still hasn't, although I'm working on her gently, as for the rest of my (extended) family... well, I provoke them when I get a chance, but mostly I've given up).

Once I was in class with several Palestinians here in Denmark, I started changing opinion, realizing it wasn't so black and white.

But what really made the picture shift for me, was after watching a program, in a Danish series called 'Modige Kvinder' (Brave Women), which followed several women who have risked their lives for what they believe in (fighting FGM in Africa, women's rights in China, the mafia in Italy, terrorists in Spain etc.) One of these women were Amira Hass, an Israeli journalists, whose parents had survived Holocaust, and who had lived in Gaza for 10 years. Hearing her story, reading some of her articles (which seem to be very two-dimensional, and be more concerned with reality than with sides) was a HUGE eye-opener.

These days I still see the Israel/Palestine conflict as two-sided, but I'm slightly more pro-Palestine, simply because, someone has to be, and the Western world definitely isn't. The crimes committed against the Palestinian population are atrocious, and nothing gives you the right to do such things.

Susanne said...

Well said, Becky. I'm glad you shared where you came from and what influenced you. Enjoyed that. :)