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Friday, November 25, 2011

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craig

Hmmm...the concept here is completely illogical. Modern Judaism arose in the early 2nd century as a reaction against and rejection of Christianity. It makes about as much sense for Modern Jews to become "better Jews" by reading and studying the New Testament as it does for Calvinists to become "better Calvinists" by reading and studying the Catholic Catechism. Yes, educated Jews should be familiar with the New Testament, but hopefully it challenges their faith and world view--and does not confirm or comfort them in it.

Howard

I agree with Craig.

Also, since Ignatius Press is a Catholic publisher, I suppose that the implication is meant to be that Catholics can get important insights into the New Testament from 21st-Century Jews because, I guess, no significant changes have occurred to their lifestyles or cultures since before the Temple was destroyed.

Look: it's one thing to say that God's covenant with the Jews has not been abrogated, but it is another to remember exactly what that means. Obviously it was also true of those Israelites who were slaughtered after worshiping the Golden Calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai, or who were killed by the fiery serpents in the desert, or who perished in the rebellion of Korah. There really are examples of Hebrews who did not accept the Law at Sinai, only they left no descendants. If they had, would Ignatius Press be turning to them for insight into the Torah?

I suppose it might be possible to find learned Mormon scholars who could write a book on the Council of Nicea, including both its doctrinal decrees and its canons. Is there any point in seeking out the opinions of those who may indeed have opinions, but who lack the theological virtue of Faith?

Carl E. Olson

Craig: Yes, there is a certain amount of illogic to Levine's statement, and yet it also makes sense in that the Gospels and the New Testament are all about the perfect Jew, Jesus Christ, who fulfilled and completed Judaism. Now, Levine surely wouldn't agree with that statement (otherwise, she'd be a Christian), but I wouldn't discount her remark so quickly. Rather, I'd like to ask her, "How, exactly, has the study of the New Testament helped make you a better Jew?"

Howard: You are overreacting. First, I offered no editorial commentary (either pro or con) about this news; I merely presented it as a piece of interesting news. After all, I know a few of my readers are Christians with an interest in the New Testament and NT studies. And, of course, it is interesting and somewhat unusual news. Secondly, as the prominent text on the upper left hand of this blog states, "Opinions expressed on the Insight Scoop weblog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Ignatius Press." No obvious opinion was expressed, as already stated, but I thought I'd mention this qualifying statement.

Finally, I would simply point to this statement by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini:

Christians, then, read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. While typological interpretation manifests the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament from the standpoint of the New, we must not forget that the Old Testament retains its own inherent value as revelation, as our Lord himself reaffirmed (cf. Mk 12:29-31). Consequently, "the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Cor 5:6-8; 1 Cor 10:1-11)".[136] For this reason the Synod Fathers stated that "the Jewish understanding of the Bible can prove helpful to Christians for their own understanding and study of the Scriptures".

I think this clearly refers to OT studies, but I think it might also be understood to include the NT as well. Now, it might very well be that The Jewish Annotated New Testament is full of statements and assertions and perspectives that are completely contrary to Catholic belief; in fact, it seems completely logical that it would (I've not yet seen the volume in question). But I do think the volume will be of interest to Catholic Scripture scholars; if nothing else, it could provide some meaningful ground for authentic interreligious dialogue. After all, the Holy Father's first Jesus of Nazareth volume interacted at length with the scholarship of noted rabbi/scholar Jacob Neusner.

Besides, I suspect that at least some of these Jewish scholars might be more sensitive to orthodox Christian theology and Scriptural study than a fair number of contemporary Catholic NT scholars. Sad, but probably true.

Finally, you ask, "Is there any point in seeking out the opinions of those who may indeed have opinions, but who lack the theological virtue of Faith?" Yes, absolutely. As Gaudium et Spes stated:

Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them. ...

We think cordially too of all who acknowledge God, and who preserve in their traditions precious elements of religion and humanity. We want frank conversation to compel us all to receive the impulses of the Spirit faithfully and to act on them energetically.

For our part, the desire for such dialogue, which can lead to truth through love alone, excludes no one, though an appropriate measure of prudence must undoubtedly be exercised. We include those who cultivate outstanding qualities of the human spirit, but do not yet acknowledge the Source of these qualities. (28 and 92)

Dr. Levine, to her credit, is not interested in living in an intellectual ghetto or in resorting to stereotypes. The least we can do, as Catholics, is the same.

Deacon Harold

This is interesting. I am curious to see how Jewish scholars interpret Saint Paul, particularly his understanding of "justification" and "righteousness" in light of the New Perspectives on Paul movement and E.P. Sanders idea of "covenantal nomism."

Howard

Are you accusing me of "living in an intellectual ghetto or resorting to stereotypes"? If so, please say it directly, rather than merely insinuating.

Your response is not sufficiently persuasive. Part of the reason is that expressions like "the Jewish understanding of the Bible" are ambiguous. The manner in which Jews of the first century A.D. and the first century B.C. understood the Bible is obviously of great relevance to Christian "understanding and study of the Scriptures"; the way a Reconstructionist Jew understands the Bible is decidedly less so.

A Reconstructionist friend of mine, who is in fact an accomplished scientist, invited me to a Passover Seder about 2 years before I became Catholic. (I was Baptist at the time.) There were several disturbing aspects to it. The fact that Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah were always cited as female alternatives to the familiar patriarchal formula of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was nontraditional, but otherwise not so bad; a totally fabricated legend about "Miriam's well" was more problematic, since everyone knew it was a phony story. On the other hand, substituting chicken for the Passover lamb was a bit too much (yes this was really done). So were the prayers to the "Spirit of the Universe", designed to be unoffensive to participants who were atheists, but unwittingly coming disturbingly close to some titles used for Satan.

We owe "respect and love ... to those who think and act differently than we do" not because of their errors, but because they also are made in the image of God, and because Christ died for them also. (Also, of course, we do not know whether they will eventually convert and be given the virtue of Faith. That's because they are people, not museum artifacts.) In addition, we owe respect to those who have made real achievements that are unrelated to their errors. I greatly respect my Reconstructionist friend for his scientific achievements, and I admire his generosity and hospitality. His religious ideas, however, are an awful mess. He does at least "acknowledge God", and even the few traditions that his synagogue maintains preserve "precious elements of religion and humanity"; but that's a very low bar indeed, and by no means a sufficient reason to recommend a book.

You may still say you did not recommend Levine and Brettler's book, but didn't you really? You have not tried to give it an imprimatur, but you did draw attention to it as an interesting book for people to take note of. For some people, that may be recommendation enough.

Carl E. Olson

Howard: Why are you so defensive? After all, you are the one who jumped to conclusions based on conjecture; I merely responded, and tried to do so reasonably, even though I disagree with you. I do not think I am naive about the many different schools and varieties of Judaism. While hardly an expert, I've studied Judaism over the years and have a couple shelves of books by Jewish theologians and scholars, mostly about Jewish beliefs and Scripture. The fact is, I believe that readers of this blog are grown, mature folks who can make decisions for themselves. If and when I have an opinion about the book in question, I'll share it. If I think something is trash, I'll say so. If I think it is sunlight in a bottle, I'll also say so.

You may still say you did not recommend Levine and Brettler's book, but didn't you really?

Well, let's see:

1. I didn't recommend it.
2. I didn't recommend it, really.
3. I still don't recommend it. Nor do I condemn it. I merely note it for the time being. If people of good faith, sound mind, and free will wish to purchase or read the book, that is their decision. I take that to be obvious, but perhaps the bar for obvious has moved in recent years.

Lauri Friesen

My first thought on reading the article was, 'If you are committed to being a good Jew, you might want to avoid the New Testament.' I think that Dr. Levine et al. run the risk of actually finding the living, true God in their textual studies which could make it difficult to remain a good American Jew.

Howard

Howard: Why are you so defensive?

Two reasons, mostly. (1) I've had some bad experiences with other prominent lay apologists. Maybe the guys I'm think of have become burned out from taking too much hateful criticism, but they lose sight of the fact that no matter how orthodox you may be, you're useless as an apologist if you come across as a total jerk -- even to the people who agree with you. (2) More generally, email has long been recognized as lacking a "tone of voice". The same is true of blog entries and comments.

It is because of Jewish friends that I keep looking for a really good book on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. There are a few that come close to what I'm looking for, but as a rule the older books are written in a way that would needlessly offend a Jew, and the newer books seem to imply that our time would be better spent reading the Talmud than the Church Fathers.

Carl E. Olson

I've had some bad experiences with other prominent lay apologists.

I'm sure it's all a coincidence and a matter of simple misunderstanding. But that's just one jerk's take on it.

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