Judaism and Christianity: Embracing the “Other”?
Published on: August 22, 2012
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  • John Barker

    I think that even a confirmed atheist like Nietzsche believed that the Hebrew scriptures were of a quality akin to the the best of the Greek heritage. I think that thoughtful people who want a faith that is both rational and transcendent would find great richness in the blend of Judaism and Christianity, but I have no idea how the idea could be implemented. This of course is why we have scholars and theologians.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Perhaps the most influential recent popular, but scholarly book on a re-approachment of Christianity and Judaism has been Barrie Wilson’s “How Jesus Became a Christian” (2008).

    Barrie advances a “cover up thesis” that there was a switch away from the teachings of Jesus to those about Christ propagated by the Apostle Paul and others. Barrie contends:

    (a) that the two factions of the Jesus Movement and Pauline Christianity were two separate religions;
    (b) Paul’s Hellenistic religion was not the religion of Jesus. The religion of Paul displaced that of Jesus;
    (c) Only one faction of early Christianity produced the New Testament and the Book of Acts is a fictitious history bridging the two factions; and
    (d) anti-Semitism has its roots in this cover up, by suppression of those who were witnesses to this cover up.

    Barrie’s re-approachment is thus a split-level embracing of Jesus and a debunking of early Pauline Christianity as a “substitute, counterfeit religion, one vastly different from that of its founder.”

    Put in Peter Berger’s terms (that he may not necessarily approve of) Barrie has attempted a hermeneutic interpretation of how Christianity was socially constructed.

    If historical social constructionism is a basis for re-approachment of the two religions of Judaism and Christianity it no doubt will cut both ways.

    Many Christians and others believe that the “Story-of-Israel-in-the-Bible” is the actual story of an historical nation or tribe called Israel. Some scholars point out that by 500 BC what was remaining of historical Israel was Samaria. According to 2 Chronicles 36: 22-23, the new Persian colony of Yahud was founded by the “Donation of Cyrus” (the Persian ruler). Thus, a group of returning former Babylonian exiles needed an “origin” story (“the return from the Exile”) to enable this small Persian colony of Jahud to establish their credentials as the “true Israel” (see Arnaldo Momigliano, “Alien Wisdom: The Limits of Hellenization (Cambridge U. Press, 1975; and Shaye Cohen, “Those Who Say They are Jews and Are Not, How Do You Know a Jew in Antiquity When You See One?,” in Diasporas in Antiquity, Brown Judaic Studies, 1993). Hellenized Israelites rejected circumcision as evidenced by Paul. Using a play on words, the question becomes is “Israel’s” history “real?” (is-real).

    Not being a scholar of Judaic history, I don’t know how accepted this “return of Persian exiles” story is. It certainly is not accepted within American Christianity.

    Obviously, Barrie Wilson’s interpretation of Christian origins doesn’t square with American Sunday School Christianity. Neither square with what might be called Cecile B. DeMille’s “theology” of both religions. How re-approachment might get beyond the Sunday School and Hollywood theologies is another question.

    The humanization of both religions may be a good starting point for re-approachment. But it may not be a good end-point.

    Jewish sociologist and theologian Will Herberg once observed in his book “Protestant, Catholic, Jew” (1955) that Christianity and Judaism had become separate denominations within American Judeo-Christian Civic Religion with Judaism being the political version and Christianity the spiritual version of that civil religion. I am less hopeful about a reconciliation of the political and the spiritual divisions in both religions.

  • Jim.

    Thank you for pointing out this important point…

    (The historical memory of coercive conversions makes for deep suspicion of such missionary activity, which is understandable, and for perceiving this activity as anti-Semitic, which is less understandable: If, as many Evangelicals believe, people are headed for hell unless they “accept Jesus as personal lord and savior”, then refusing to evangelize Jews would be the ultimate anti-Semitism.)

    … but it deserves more than a parenthetical.

    Christians are to embrace the ‘other’ by Christ’s command – “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Evangelism and proselytizing is how Christians embrace the ‘other’.

  • Luke Lea

    There cannot be two other religious traditions whose historical relations have been as awful as those between Judaism and Christianity.

    Let’s see: Sunni v. Shia?
    Judaism v. Canaanite?
    Islam v. Christianity?

    Why start off with a needlessly dubious proposition?

  • Luke Lea

    You forgot to mention that things started off with Jewish persecutions of Christianity. In point of Judaism invented the idea of religious intolerance did they not?

    I haven’t read you in a long time — decades. But I remember some good stuff from the past. I guess age catches up with us all, including me!

  • Steve Dave

    Wayne,

    One must be careful in supossing that “Pauline Christianity” somehow displaced the “Jesus Movement” when, in fact, Paul’s writings preceeded the Gospel accounts. If we base it on which came first, Paul wins out. And, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, all of the “hard sayings” came not from Paul, but from Christ.

  • Micha

    “(The historical memory of coercive conversions makes for deep suspicion of such missionary activity, which is understandable, and for perceiving this activity as anti-Semitic, which is less understandable: If, as many Evangelicals believe, people are headed for hell unless they “accept Jesus as personal lord and savior”, then refusing to evangelize Jews would be the ultimate anti-Semitism.)”

    Why is it difficult to understand. If Jews are going to hell unless they are converted, that means that Jews as Jews are inherently flawed. Being perceived as flawed as a culture/religion might be better than being perceived as flawed as a race or as a people, but it’s certainly not very appealing option either.

  • Micha

    “(The historical memory of coercive conversions makes for deep suspicion of such missionary activity, which is understandable, and for perceiving this activity as anti-Semitic, which is less understandable: If, as many Evangelicals believe, people are headed for hell unless they “accept Jesus as personal lord and savior”, then refusing to evangelize Jews would be the ultimate anti-Semitism.)”

    Why is it difficult to understand. If Jews are going to hell unless they are converted, that means that Jews as Jews are inherently flawed. Being perceived as flawed as a culture/religion might be better than being perceived as flawed as a race or as a people, but it’s certainly not very appealing option either.

    Consider this: supposed you said that you don’t hate native-Americans. You just want to “civilize” them. Isn’t “civilizing” an act of kindness?

  • Anthony

    “…the differences between Judaism and Christianity are not greater than the differences present within each.”

    The aforementioned provides avenue by which peaceful co-existence and interaction between world views (religious tenents) become operable; embracing the other underscores your linqua franca in that modern and plural societies (and by consequence democracies where Christianity and Judaism share public square) must balance/reconcile historical incompatible propositions while concomitantly valuing individual freedom – it remains important to know though “just who is that other.”

  • John Barker

    @Wayne Lusvardi

    Thanks Wayne, I got this book on kindle and it is fascinating.

    “Perhaps the most influential recent popular, but scholarly book on a re-approachment of Christianity and Judaism has been Barrie Wilson’s “How Jesus Became a Christian” (2008).”

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Dave
    I hear you. It is not my position, but Barrie Wilson’s, about the split between the Jesus Movement and Paul’s Hellenistic Christianity. Wilson’s book is most influential and even though unforgiving of Christian persecution of Jews his book does not come across as a screed or hate filled toward Christians. You make a good point about the lack of time consistency between Paul’s letters and the events in Jerusalem. But Barrie Wilson says the Jerusalem Conference mentioned in Acts is a fiction anyway.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    To John Barker
    I can not claim to be a scholar or competent in the area of Jewish-Christian relations vis-a-vis their common religious scriptures. But I have found these books helpful:

    1. Memories of Ancient Israel: An Introduction to Biblical History Ancient and Modern by Philip R. Davies (2008). Davies puts forth two options: (a) the Minimalist Option that archaeology and epigraphy are primary over the actual bible as secondary source material and (b) the Maximalist Option that accepts the Bible scriptures on their face. Very readable.

    2. The So-Called Deuteronomistic History: A Sociological Historical and Literary Introduction by Thomas Romer based on a Weberian approach that contends the Book of Deuteronomy is political propaganda.

    3. Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence by James D.G. Dunn (2010). The author answers his own question in the negative.

    4. Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament by Terence L. Donaldson (2010). A very balanced treatment of anti-Judaism and supersessionism in the New Testament.

    That the Torah – the first five books of the Christian Old Testament – were perhaps reconstructed to provide an origin story for Persian-Jews returning to Samaria from Exile would seem almost heretical to most American Christians. That the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, etc. might be fictional stories would seem as almost apostasy by many. Such accounts are not necessarily untrue but merely reconstructed. And as cited above, there is evidence in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 of the post-Exile Return of Jewish-Persians.

    If Barrie Wilson’s book about how the Christian religion was historically constructed and the above books on how portions of the Old Testament were also constructed do anything to add to the discussion of Jewish-Christian relations it is that of making religious believers humble and religious moderates.

    Unfortunately, Barrie Wilson’s fine book tends to reduce religion to ethics which I find an unsatisfactory and superficial understanding of religious experience.

  • Bebe

    One can no longer say all Christians evangelize other nations. Today only Evangelical Christians vigorously maintain this “command”- it is in their name. What is termed “The Great Commission” is taken from verses in Matthew 28, and included in Mark 16. There is an earlier example in Matthew 24:14 (which I paraphrase) where Jesus is asked about the end of the world, and he cites the appearance of various trials, but notes that the gospel witness of whoever chooses to endure until the end will be preached to all nations…and then the end will come. Some rely upon this verse to presage and enlarge the Synoptic verses. Recent exegesis reveals that these Gospel endings, which appear textually after the Resurrection, were most likely added a couple of centuries after the time of Jesus and the Apostles. I myself believe that Jesus may never have intended a global church on Earth (my Kingdom is not of this world). In contrast to Evangelical Christians, while the Roman Catholic Church does have missions, it is not an article of faith for an individual Roman Catholic to assent to the Magisterium’s teaching on gospel evangelization. Equally, the concept of “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” (outside the Church there is no salvation) is no longer held by mainstream Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic. Other Christian sects also have missionaries, but the 19th century ideal of winning souls for Christ is an old wineskin for most of them.

    As Prof. Berger makes clear, the legacy of Christian evangelism shows rather little to admire- and overmuch to repent. Perhaps such evils are the special cross of Christian monotheism. Although I include Islam in a certain amount of proselytism by sword, it is, nevertheless, instructive to note that the Arabic verb “da’wah” means to “call” or “invite” Muslim or non-Muslim to know God through the Qur’an and the Prophet. And, lest the Chosen People be left out, one notes a lot of rather intolerant smiting of Israel’s enemies in Scripture. Still, it has always been difficult to become a Jew; rabbis dissuade potential converts by Law to test their sincerity. It took an acquaintance of mine nearly three years before she could convert and join an Orthodox congregation. In the two Christian churches I know best, Episcopalian and Roman Catholic, a typical conversion period is slightly more than one year. As much as I understand the process in Islam, one’s ultimate witness is God, and a sincere study, a profession of faith, and a ritual cleansing amount to one’s conversion (although it is advised to prepare and declare one’s faith within a center, and the studying will be long). As St. Gregory the Great wrote, holy desires grow by delays.

    I have no personal desire to convert anyone. For I have hope that humanity has learned from the sad crimes done in the name of religious zeal, and now we send the Good News out into the world through example and attraction and not promotion. Yet there is the recent example of American Evangelical Christians in Uganda. I am reminded of what one of my grammar school teachers, who was a Roman Catholic sister, mused during religion class: if the Jews have not yet accepted Jesus Christ, it is perhaps because Christians have yet to manifest his example in the world. Her sage remark holds for all the “Other” peoples of the Creator, too.

  • Peter Berger’s excellent assessment of Alan Brill’s article – and the issues it raises in the BTI Magazine – presents a dilemma in its closing reference to the value of the freedom of the individual (which value I hold). Each of the religious traditions represented in the article have at heart a universalistic message and implication, the eschatological vision of Ezekiel 48, kingdom of God of Revelation 21-22, and the caliphate of Qur’an 2.2, In the polarizing world of religion (and politics)the lesson of plurality and individualism implied by Berger is the necessity to learn to distinguish and live (and govern) with the differences of doctrial “truth,” pastoral “truth” and civic or political “truth.”

  • Jim.

    @Micha-

    Humans as humans are inherently flawed, and it is only by God’s grace through Christ that any of us can be saved.

    It’s not appealing, but it’s an accurate picture of humanity in its natural state.

  • Jim.

    Ephesians I-
    “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”

    If you think that any given evangelist is spreading the Word out of a feeling of superiority rather than a sense of spreading the greatest gift a human can share, remind him or her of this verse to give them a proper sense of perspective.

  • Cunctator

    The opening sentance is rather odd, particularly when written by someone with a well-recognised expertise in the history of religions. What about Islam and Judaism? After all, didn’t some of Mohammed’s initial exercises of leadership involve killing Jews (e.g. Medina)?

  • Stan Leavy

    Too rarely mentioned are those born and raised in Judaism who have discovered a Christian faith in themselves. We really do exist, and cannot be explained away as opportunists, although those have existed. Something in our life has given rise to questions,needs, hopes, in short the conditions that Peter Berger has formulated in “A Rumor of Angels,” bringing us by whatever route to Christian faith and church.We remain faithful to our origins as anyone else, but consider them fulfilled in our faith and religious practice, not
    concealed or superseded.

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