Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amy-Jill Levine's "The Misunderstood Jew"

The following is a summary of The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine ---a self-described "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Protestant divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt"---which I wrote up for a friend recently.  If you haven't read the book, it's definitely worth getting.  (It makes a good holiday gift too!)

Introduction (available online via Google Books) - Levine introduces herself and her background and explains why the Jewish background of Jesus and the New Testament (NT) is important to everyone.

1) Jesus and Judaism - Discusses Jesus's positive relationship to Judaism and debunks a number of common misconceptions about Jesus's practice and about the Judaism of his time.

2) From Jewish Sect to Gentile Church - Discusses Jesus's followers and the development of the church

3) The New Testament and Anti-Judaism - Addresses (and for the most part refutes) the accusation that the New Testament is anti-Semitic or contains anti-Semitic passages.

4) Stereotyping Judaism - Addresses seven all-too-common misperceptions/stereotypes/slanders of first-century Judaism.  These are things which are still taught from pulpits and in Bible studies!  Here's the list:

  1. The view that Jewish Law was impossible to follow, a burden no one could bear.
  2. The thesis that all Jews wanted a warrior messiah who would defeat Rome.
  3. The proclamation that Jesus was a feminist in a women-hating Jewish culture.
  4. The conclusion that Jews were obsessed with keeping themselves pure from the contamination of outsiders, whereas Jesus, especially through his parable of the good Samaritan, broke through purity-based barriers.
  5. The insistence that first-century Judaism was marked by a Temple domination system that oppressed the poor and women and that promoted social division between insiders and outsiders.
  6. The assertion that Jews are narrow, clannish, particularistic, and xenophobic, whereas Jesus and the church are engaged in universal outreach.
  7. The increasingly popular argument that the New Testament is not talking about Jews at all, but about "Judeans."
 5) With Friends Like These . . . - Discusses anti-Jewish prejudices in the church and its educational systems; focuses specifically on Liberation Theology, the World Council of Churches, the phrase "The Rabbis," multiculturally-oriented biblical studies which uses first-century Judaism as foil by which to criticize practices of the dominant culture, references to "the God of Judaism," and claims about "Jesus the Palestinian."

6) Distinct Canons, Distinct Practices - Discusses the different canons of Judaism and Christianity, as well as key differing interpretations and practices; then criticizes certain types of Jewish/Christian interfaith ventures (Christian Passover seders) while commending others (interfaith dialogue?).

7) Quo Vadis? - 26 (letters A. through Z.) specific suggestions for ways for Christians and Jews to think, talk, and behave that can help bring correction to all that's been discussed prior in the book.

Epilogue - "If Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau, can learn to live together in peace, there is hope not only for the responsible and the prodigal; there is hope for church and synagogue as well.  And if the church and synagogue both could recognize their connection to Jesus, a Jewish prophet who spoke to Jews, perhaps we'd be in a better place for understanding."

1 comment:

Yahnatan said...

I wrote: "Addresses (and for the most part refutes) the accusation that the New Testament is anti-Semitic or contains anti-Semitic passages."

I think I've slightly misrepresented Levine here. First, the chapter is on anti-Judaism, not anti-Semities. Further, she doesn't make sweeping pronouncement like "is" or "isn't" anti-Jewish. Instead, she highlights the fact that (a) in many cases conclusive answers to the historical question of whether or not a text was anti-Jewish are unavailable, and (b) often the text may be perceived as anti-Jewish regardless of whether or not it is. She concludes with a plea for readers to "make every effort to see through each other's eyes, hear through each other's ears, and interpret with a consciousness of each other's sensitivities. Instead of immediately dismissing the claim that a text is anti-Jewish, we might rather understand how the readers making the claim reached this conclusion. Instead of immediately asserting that a ttext is anti-Jewish, we might rather ask those who do derive an anti-Jewish meaning what the text means to them." (116)

You can also read Amy-Jill Levine's essay on anti-Judaism in Matthew in Farmer's "Anti-Judaism and the Gospels"online via Google Books. In it, she does find Matthew's gospel to be anti-Jewish (though, in one sense, it is not as simple as all that).

Apologies for misconstruing you the first time around, Dr. Levine.