Belated but sincere Easter wishes to Christian friends out there. And a hearty Chag Sameach to Jewish friends who are observing Passover.

To make amends for my tardiness, I am sharing a link to this piece arguing for a reappraisal of the New Testament as “Jewish” literature. I’m not convinced by all its arguments, but it’s very interesting and thought-provoking and seems especially apropos as both communities observe intertwined holiday seasons.

In “What Jews (and Christians too) Should Know About the New Testament,” Amy-Jill Levine wrote (Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 2012):

Most Jews do not grow up with New Testament stories. While the term “Prodigal son” may be familiar, Jewish readers may not know that this very Jewish parable, which begins “There was a man who had two sons” (Luke 15:11), evokes the Hebrew Bible stories of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. Jews who attended U.S. public schools prior to 1962 likely recited the “Lord’s prayer” every morning, but not a few believed the words included “Harold be your name” and “Lead us not into Penn Station.”

Most Jewish readers approach the New Testament, if they approach it at all, with at best a certain unfamiliarity. This is unfortunate, for much if not all of the New Testament is Jewish literature. [...]

But for most Jews, especially those aware of the difficult history of Christian-Jewish relations, the dominant first impression may well be one of dismay, if not worse. Some will conclude the text is a message of hatred for Jews and Judaism. Others will find blasphemous the announcement of Jesus’ divinity. Still others will find illegitimate the assertions that Jesus fulfills Jewish prophecy.

For these dismayed readers, a second look is advisable. When the New Testament is understood within its own historical contexts, not only can Jews recover part of Jewish history, but also the polemics, the assertions of Jesus’ divinity and the claims of fulfilled prophecy become comprehensible. [MORE]

There is a lamentable tendency to project the contemporary cultural values and power relations onto scriptures written millennia ago, in vastly different circumstances. Sometimes such ahistorical interpolations serve a salutary purpose by reminding us of things we’d otherwise like to forget, but in any case they’re unlikely to help us understand the texts themselves, their actual impact at the time or why contemporary believers continue to accept them today.

Incidentally, while the particulars are different, I think analogous historical and political dynamics must likewise be kept in mind when one attempts to evaluate Quranic pronouncements critical of Jews or Christians (not that all of them are negative).


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