Why the Jewish context of Jesus is necessary
(Photo: Unplash / Robert Nyman)
Many years ago, when my daughter was about five years old, she suddenly asked at the dining table (we had just reached the preferred rice pudding, if I remember correctly): "Mom, do you think Gd is a woman under the carpet ? "
To be honest, I felt very warm after the first shock about my little daughter's unexpected question. At least she hadn't been fooled by the usual myth – not an old white-bearded, superior man in the sky above her!
But what would I answer? This was one of those "Hineni" moments in Jewish history, and for me my daughter was and is as important as Abraham Avinu.
But I was not and am not in favor of: "Whatever makes you feel good, darling" and certainly not: "Now, now, continue with your meal – time for bed."
Neither did I answer my little daughter as I would have if she had been older: "Actually, darling, Gd is transcendent and we Jews have no image of divinity – but he is close to us day and night . although we don't know what he looks like. And of course he's not really "he" – it's just that the Torah always speaks in human language. No, that would have been a bit much for a little girl of five to swallow her rice pudding, I think!
So I actually said, "How interesting, darling. Tell me more …! & # 39;
To put it bluntly, my middle-aged daughter (possibly not very surprising given her early beginnings) is a firm feminist and has absolutely no respect for people, regardless of gender or status!
35 years fast forward and her own daughter, my granddaughter, also five years old, asked me: "Grandma, are you one of the matriarchs?" It was all in Hebrew, and what she meant was not me, her mother, which was exactly right, but I was actually one of the old women who are the ancestors of our religion, people like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah . "Of course, darling," I said, considering her age and understanding.
I was reminded of these two family incidents when the new Archbishop of York recently stated that Jesus is no longer Jewish, as many of us had always assumed, but black.
As a Jew, to be honest, I was extremely enthusiastic about this statement, and it was difficult not to regard it as an insult to our Jewish community from the current leadership of the Church of England, although part of me understood the panic that was it caused you to rise. After watching the violence from the United States on our screens, particularly at a time of Covid when the Church has been attacked by many for taking a cautious approach to physical presence in churches that is above that of the government beyond what was required, it seemed to me that the Church was looking for a scapegoat – at least this is the only explanation for the Archbishop's words that makes sense to me as Jews. I tried to contact him and others on my behalf but no answer came!
Perhaps for family reasons – because he wants colored people to feel part of the large Christian family – the new Archbishop of York has no objection to rejecting 2000 years of history, which, although largely the Jewish family, of whom Jesus is Jesus Hostile and murderous was a member, at least so far (with some notable exceptions, including Marcion and Martin Luther for example) has admitted that Jesus came from a real Middle Eastern country called Israel and was a Jew who attended temples and schools.
The best book on the subject that has been eagerly read by an earlier generation of Anglicans, including high-ranking friends in the Church of England, is Professor Geza Vermes' Jesus the Jew. I knew Geza towards the end of his life when I started my own career as a biblical scholar and historian of Judaism. Geza did not like to suffer from fools, nor was he economical with the truth. He would not have allowed anyone to get away with the suggestion that Jesus was not a Jew. Geza belonged to this group of scholars (all too rarely in our time) who tried to stick to the facts, even if pop theology tried to get in their way.
In Jesus, the Jew, Geza explains the environment in which the boy Jesus probably grew up, the son not so much a humble carpenter, but a builder, as the Hebrew and Aramaic word "Nagar" implies. And when I lived in Haifa a few years ago, I was introduced to a number of people who lived in the nearby Druze village – Christians, Muslims, Druze, Baha'i and some Jews, many of whom had continued to work in the same tradition of skilled carpentry and construction described in the New Testament, and had done very well as an esteemed part of Israeli society.
According to what we know about Jewish life in this time of great turmoil and upheaval, given the Roman occupation, Jesus was born into a Jewish household, circumcised after eight days, and would have had the normal Jewish school. This would have consisted of studying the Hebrew Bible at a very young age along with oral teachings. This great source of wisdom, & # 39; Pirkei Avot & # 39;, contains sayings and advice that Jesus would probably have followed and discussed.
We know that Jesus visited the temple and various home groups that later served as a synagogue, and we know that he loved to argue with learned scholars as this was and remains part of the Jewish tradition. He would also have experienced the normal bar mitzvah at the age of 13 and no doubt offered wisdom words on his Torah part that would have impressed family and friends. I am sure that Jesus would have felt at home with fellow Jews and Jewish religious practice.
As for the Church of England today, I think you should appreciate the Jewish roots of its founder and "put away childish things" when it comes to describing the person of Jesus, rather than simply trying to adapt.
In my experience, bending the truth for appeasement often results in the first fib simply growing into a lie – which then often turns itself into defamation – and ultimately the truth itself is destroyed. Then what price does Christianity have?
It is the saddest nine days of the year for us Jews when we think about our behavior and together we strive to do better. When we remember the destruction of our temple in AD 70, read the Book of Lamentations (attributed to the prophet Jeremiah) and remember all the terrible things that have happened to the Jewish people in history – including one of the worst, the York massacre, which has still not been sufficiently recognized by the authorities. This massacre of 1190 (under Richard the Lionheart) was followed exactly 100 years later in 1290 by the expulsion of the Jews of England (the first such event in world history).
This is all the more why every Archbishop of York should be very careful with his words before speaking, especially when it comes to Jewish issues in a city that until recently has been largely avoided by attentive Jews.
I think we can learn lessons from the American martyr Martin Luther King, who, by the way, worked with Rabbi Abraham Heschel, originally from Warsaw, to break the fire of the Holocaust to counteract bigotry, murder, and violence to promote peace on earth and good will for everyone. It is worth thinking for a moment about MLK's wonderful speech "I have a dream" from 1963, which even anticipates our biblical reading from Isaiah 40 and is read immediately after Tisha B & # 39; Av in synagogues around the world on Shabbat. the Sabbath of Consolation & # 39 ;.
Verses 4 and 5 from Isaiah 40 were specially selected by MLK to illustrate all of his points, and if only his words were properly followed today. Because one can say with certainty that it was not something for real heroes like MLK to be Jewish if the facts were used sparingly, but rather to be celebrated and celebrated by Christians and Jews.
In any case, the Archbishop of York's comments only make me more eager to begin my new role as an Anglican minister trainer from the next term. A good friend of mine, a retired Church leader, recently complained that the Church of England had a "big deficit" in priestly education that he believed was "a failure to give adequate teachings about Jesus." . Who was a Jew, although there are many books on the Jewish context of Jesus and the Christian New Testament. "
To revisit Vermes, it was he who argued in Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea 2012 that there is still a far too common tendency among Christians to look at Jesus through "the distorting non-Jewish spectacle that the church in the United States developed early centuries ".
To quote my friend from the Church again directly: The ordinants that I will train will be "people who, through their priestly ministry, often preach or refer to the Hebrew Scriptures".
In his words, not in mine: "Many clergy have little idea what they are talking about on such occasions. This is because the Jewish understanding of these scriptures, which were, so to speak, in the DNA of Jesus, was never explained to them during their training."
And to quote him further: "The two faiths may interpret the Hebrew scriptures differently, but that does not excuse the Christian preacher to take the trouble to ask: How was / is this passage understood by Jews and how did Jesus understand it? And, to what extent did Paul and others reinterpret these writings and separate them from their original meaning? "
If Christians want to ask and answer such questions, they can certainly enrich their understanding of their own faith while not unnecessarily insulting their Jewish cousins, as it is certainly counterproductive if the Church extends her hand to a group of people at the same time disenfranchised another!
Dr. Irene Lancaster is a Jewish academic, author, and translator who has set up university courses on Jewish history, Jewish studies, and the Hebrew Bible. She completed an apprenticeship as a teacher of modern languages and religious instruction.
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