Tuesday, May 15, 2007

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

The Misunderstood Jew:
the Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
Amy Jill Levine (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)

A Jewish scholar who teaches New Testament to primarily Protestant students at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Amy-Jill Levine is in a unique position address the meaning of Jesus, the “Jewish prophet” for our time.

Expanding our understanding of the cultural and religious context of Jesus’ life and teaching, Levine paints a picture of the culture in which Jesus grew up, including diet and dress of first century Palestine, Jewish holidays and customs, the numerous public roles of Jewish women and the rituals of the temple. Many of the difficult sayings of Jesus that have puzzled Bible readers for generations suddenly make sense in the light of his Jewish heritage.

This is a necessary book for Christians, particularly for preachers and teachers. Christians have a history of stereotyping Judaism, for instance as legalistic, purity-obsessed, Temple-dominated, xenophobic, violent, greedy, and misogynist. Every time we separate Jesus from his context we run the risk of promoting anti-Judaism. I see Levine’s challenge as a call for a deeper and more genuine Christianity.

For the same reason, it is also an important book for Christian ecumenical organizations, publishing houses, and Liberation and Post Colonial theologians. While these institutions have stood against bigotry of all types, as Levine admits, often unintentional anti-Judaic bias in their statements and theologies has gone unrecognized. I see in Levine’s challenge to them as well, a call for a deeper and more genuine Christianity.

The Christian institutions she identifies will continue to challenge contemporary Judaism’s tendency to uncritically support policies of the State of Israel that are unjust towards Palestinians. Anti-Judaic bias is not necessary for such criticism to be legitimate. Unbiased criticisms will be easier for Jews to receive, and their self-critical examination will yield opportunities for a deeper and more genuine Jewish faith. Such is the result of authentic interfaith dialogue.


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