Saturday, December 30, 2006

Misusing Jesus

Christian Century, a leading Protestant magazine has a very interesting article "Misusing Jesus How the church divorces Jesus from Judaism" by Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish New Testament scholar who teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
...when Christian congregants, ministers and professors do acknowledge that Jesus was Jewish, they often provide no content for the label. The claim that "Jesus was a Jew" may be historically true, but it is not central to the teaching of the church.

The problem is more than one of silence. In the popular Christian imagination, Jesus still remains defined, incorrectly and unfortunately, as "against" the Law, or at least against how it was understood at the time; as "against" the Temple as an institution and not simply against its first-century leadership; as "against" the people Israel but in favor of the gentiles. Jesus becomes the rebel who, unlike every other Jew, practices social justice. He is the only one to speak with women; he is the only one who teaches nonviolent responses to oppression; he is the only one who cares about the "poor and the marginalized" (that phrase has become a litany in some Christian circles). Judaism becomes in such discourse a negative foil: whatever Jesus stands for, Judaism isn't it; whatever Jesus is against, Judaism epitomizes the category.

This divorcing of Jesus from Judaism does a disservice to each textually, theologically, historically and ethically.


Levine critiques not only the sub rosa anti-Semitism that appears in the Palestinian theologian Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Center, but also in feminist and liberation theologians, and even more surprisingly in such mainstream Christian institutions as
he World Council of Churches press in Geneva; Fortress Press, which is connected to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and the Catholic (Maryknoll) Orbis Books.

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