Home Trends Giles Fraser & Amy-Jill Levine • Judaism & Christianity: Can we recover the Jewish Jesus?

Giles Fraser & Amy-Jill Levine • Judaism & Christianity: Can we recover the Jewish Jesus?

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well hello there and welcome to the final episode of season three of the big conversation from unbelievable bringing you conversations between leading thinkers across the religious spectrum on science faith and theology in partnership with the john templeton foundation on today’s show we’ll be discussing judaism and christianity and i’d love to know your thoughts by the quick multi-choice survey with today’s show the link is in the info and if you want bonus content from the big conversation do sign up at the big conversation dot show the links for both the survey and to sign up are with today’s video well today we’re asking how do we recover the jewishness of jesus jesus was a jew but has modern christianity become divorced from its jewish roots and can we recover the distinctly jewish teachings of jesus the rabbi and how should we understand the shared story and differences between these two great religious traditions charles fraser is rector of saint mary’s newington a well-known uk journalist and broadcaster as well as a priest his recent book chosen lost and found between christianity and judaism tells the story of the personal crisis that followed his resignation from some paul’s cathedral and the healing journey of reconnecting with his jewish roots amy jill levine or aj as she’s usually known is university professor of new testament and jewish studies at vanderbilt university now aj is a jew but who has spent most of her academic life engaged in the study of jesus and the gospels seeking to recover the jewishness of jesus really looking forward to this conversation aj and giles um on the commonalities and distinctives between judaism and christianity and sort of exploring both your stories in the process as well because i i sort of think that both of you are interesting personal intersections between christianity and judaism so so welcome along to the show both we’ll we’ll start with you aj um tell us a little bit about growing up and what it was like to essentially i suppose grow up as a jew in a distinctly christian community as far as i’m aware not only distinctly christian but distinctly roman catholic um i grew up in new england in massachusetts in a neighborhood that was almost entirely portuguese roman catholic so i grew up with our lady of fatima i used to go to mass with my friends because it got me out of sunday school um and when i was a little child i like going to mass the services were shorter than they were in the synagogue but other than that it was pretty much the same thing it was a bunch of guys in robes speaking in a language i didn’t understand and there was a lot of sitting up and sitting down and the major difference was that you got fed during the mass but you got fed after sunday school right um so my parents told me that christianity which for them meant catholicism was very very much like judaism we worship the same god the one who created heaven and earth uh we pray the same prayers most notably the psalms we take authority from the same books whether it’s genesis or isaiah or the book of esther um so we’re related so my initial sense of the church was it was like the synagogue we did not go to because in the town next door there were three synagogues and there’s the one we went to and there’s the one my uncle arnold went to that my father would never set foot in because he didn’t like the rabbi and then there was and it was all part of the same thing and we we all went to public school so religious education class was after school and we’d get on the bus that took us to school in the morning to first grade to second grade and we talk about what we learned in religious education class i in the next town in hebrew school and the catechism and every once in awhile we had you have moses we have moses you have david we have david and then my christian friends had a bunch of other people and i’d go home and ask my like who’s this jesus guy who everybody was named mary all the women were married and and my parents would say oh they’re jews oh like they’re part of the family but you know the family we don’t talk to so my initial sense of christianity and it’s still my sense of christianity it’s a relative and there are some problems as we’ve aged in the branches those family have moved in different directions uh and then a little kid said to me on the bus when i was seven you killed our lord and that created some other questions that were not quite so friendly so not only as you mentioned have i dedicated my entire academic career to looking at jesus and the gospels to recover the jewishness i’ve also dedicated it to help christians and read their gospels and understand their lord without having to import anti-jewish stereotypes i think jesus looks fabulous i think he’s terrific i would have a glass of wine with it right because he’d pay right with no problem whatsoever um i don’t think you need to make judaism look bad in order to make jesus look good and it bothers me that so often that happens in christian preaching and teaching hmm wow you’re getting an applause there from child friends i’m really looking forward to this conversation immensely because i i think there’ll be a lot of interesting agreement maybe some disagreement as well as we go along we’ll see um tell us a bit about your story then giles um maybe start with the book you’d call it a ghost story why is it a ghost story it’s a ghost story because um so i um it’s ten years ago this october that i resigned from saint paul’s cathedral uh the occupy movement came and there was there was all of that and for a for you know half a millisecond it was front page news in this country uh and um people may remember it but actually the story is really about what happened next and um at a sort of very low point me not knowing quite what i wanted to do with my life not really having a plan i was um encouraged to go and apply for a job in liverpool which was to be the dean of the cathedral in liverpool so i i got a train up there i always get to places ridiculously early justin and i got to liverpool like three hours early or something sat outside the station drank coffee smoked lots of cigarettes and i think what you know what and then this sort of strange thought wolf did acro i thought i know nobody here what am i doing liverpool it feels like a as a sort of you know exile you know um and that’s that’s that’s i just don’t know anybody there and then this thought came actually i have one very tenuous connection which is that my a distant relative of mine used to run the synagogue for 40 years um in toxid so i got a cab and i went up there and i knocked on the door of this synagogue it was all locked up and there was a caretaker it was so fortuitous and the caretaker showed me in showed me around this extraordinary synagogue built by um christian church builders so it felt strangely familiar quite puginesque uh and then there on the wall is this huge oil painting of reverend samuel friederberg who was my great-grandfather’s brother and i looked at this painting and i lost it i absolutely lost it i sort of broke down at the side of the road and i cried and cried and cried my fathers i come from on my father’s side of very very long line i mean i mean we came to this country in sort of 1820s um one of the earliest um jewish families um in this in this country um 17 and uh and um throughout that time they sort of increasingly sort of lost their jewishness i guess they sort of like changed their name they merged they they tried to fit in dealing with anti-semitism here um and when the war started my father um who was a little boy in gold is green um was um taken out of london because it was so dangerous because the nazis were dropping bombs on the golden screen and went out to a small country prep school in biddeford in devon and they had little blue crosses on their caps and uh and and it was all he knew christianity ended up being all he knew um and that’s that’s how i grew up but i and and this this experience of seeing this um distant relative really awoke something in me that i hadn’t properly dealt with which is something about my past something about where i came from and so i i live in a household my father’s jewish my wife is israeli my two boys are jewish we speak hebrew at home me quite badly my five-year-old thinks my hebrew but you asked my five-year-old what my hebrew is like you say your hebrews rubbish dad my hebrew is rubbish um but anyway that’s what we try and we try and sort of live this this life where my my uh where we we model the um a creative relationship between christianity and judaism we live next door to the church i’m the priest and yet when we’re in the house we we are we we speak hebrew and do jewish festivals so there’s all of that there’s so i live that tension um and yeah most time it’s wonderful it’s absolutely creative and i love what aj said you know it’s fantastic there are so many things that you get to learn so much so much creative i mean there are times when it’s painful there are times when it’s really difficult and painful and that’s what that’s what we live in it’s it’s an extraordinary and wonderful thing actually it it’s it’s it’s a super book i really enjoyed reading it aj’s had the opportunity to read it as well and it is part memoir family history theological reflection obviously going into some detail as well on on that whole situation of 10 years ago the occupy at some points and your own resignation we might get to some of that as well in the course of the show what was your response to reading the book aj um i i think giles nailed it when he talked about it as a ghost story um there’s a past that haunts um and sometimes ghosts are friendly and sometimes ghosts are things you just have to deal with so i i think that’s the right genre not in the sense of scary but this is part of my past and how do i acknowledge it and what does it mean for me today and that that was the part that besides the history which i really like because i’m a historian but that stuff was familiar having a memoir attached to that and showing how this not only jaws personal history but the history of judaism and christianity impacts an individual today i thought was extremely helpful because it shows how relevant the past is once we acknowledge it and how difficult it is if we don’t acknowledge it and don’t wrestle with it i mean one of one of the interesting things about all this of course is that giles had your mother been jewish you would have been jewish ethnically as it were but it was by the end of the fact your father was jewish that you are not yourself jewish um i mean aj maybe you could explain where that tradition comes from which in some ways is so different to the usual sort of way things work in the world isn’t it that um things descend on the father’s side rather than the mother’s side well at the time of jesus it actually did descend on the father’s side that was that was the dominant view and it shifts sometime in the second century uh right after the brackhoper revolt and although the reasons are not clear a number of them have been given um the one that appeals to me the most and this is a personal judgment rather than an historical judgment is in a time of war there is rape and what do you do with the children so if you assure that there’s a maternal line rather than a paternal line then the children and consequently their mothers do not find themselves exiled from the community and then and then the the the horrible things that happened the trauma is continued so there are number of reasons for this but in any case in the second century it shifts over to the maternal line and then because jews have no head jew to tell us what to do and if we did we won’t listen anyway so we have these different movements in judaism as you have different movements in christianity you have anglicans not all of whom obey the archbishop of canterbury right i mean then you have the episcopal version and various other versions of whatever that communion is they’re off doing their own thing um so in the reform movement um and i don’t know if this is a problem where you are but here in the states people keep saying reformed judaism is reformed that’s presbyterians so it’s it’s a reform movement and they say it’s if either parent is jewish as long as the child is raised in a jewish household so now we have these big questions about who counts as a jew and who doesn’t count as a jew um the lovely recollection of brother daniel in the book who who’s raised as a jew during the shoah during the holocaust converts to catholicism and then wants to enter the land of israel under what’s called the land the law of return which is if you’re a jew you can get citizenship and then they have to take this to the courts to def to decide well this guy’s clearly a jew because his mom is a jew but he’s also a catholic priest in or out split vote and he gets in not because he’s jewish but because they honored him and requested uh and accepted his request so jews are still debating this thing yeah you know that’s and the way you end your book giles is actually sort of asking the question are my children jewish or christian and what i mean what’s your answer to that ultimately well i you know so so the book ends with me baptizing jonah my youngest in the river jordan at the place where by reputation jesus himself was baptized uh um by tradition and um and the interesting thing about it is that the people who gathered there i was i was out in uh tel aviv um learning hebrew doing ulpan and um the only people could collect together for that baptism were my jewish family so we we were there with a jewish friend they’d never seen a baptism before they know i did what this was all about um uh it’s also the place that actually interestingly that um the people of israel first and this is again by tradition the people of israel first enter into the promised land um that’s the the same that’s the same place um so we we sort of gathered there and it’s it’s a it’s an extraordinary place so this is a place in geographical terms one of the lowest places in the earth it’s a it’s a fault line in terms of geography it’s a fault line in terms of politics you know there’s so you’re on the border between um jordan and israel and it used to be a minefield it’s only just been cleared so the idea that you know that there are splits that run through us and and in a way this this the book is about the history of the sort of divorce the split between between um jesus jewish following which became called chris became christianity and and um and judaism and it’s a it’s a it’s a very painful one and it runs through me and i i suspect it’ll also run in some way through my children i hate the idea that i bequeathed to them some split but that’s the reality but it’s but you can see it as a split you can see it as a as or you can also see it as a really important way of reclaiming just as aj has done so importantly in her work reclaiming a richer deeper sense of the reality of of jesus and his mission and ministry um so i i i inhabit this this division yeah i mean but at times well let’s talk about that work aj just give us a sense of what are some of the key missteps you think or mistakes that christians have often made about jesus i mean where do you believe oh dear lord how much time do we have maybe start with with jesus the rabbi i mean what how do you conceive of jesus i mean when you strip away the halo and the you know golden hair and blue eyes what what sort of a a rabbi was jesus as far as we can tell from the historical record yes well he’s not a rabbi as we think about rabbis from rabbinic literature correct um any more than paul would be a church father as we think about the church fathers uh from the the the indian and post-nicely and um rabbi is just an honorific um it’s kind of like sir it’s my master of my great ones it’s like sir um he’s a teacher um he is a lay teacher he tends not to cite scripture very much and i think when scripture does get cited i think that’s the gospel writer coming in and filling in the gaps i think he has an enormous amount of lay wisdom i think he’s influenced strongly by the prophetic tradition he would have heard scripture in synagogue and that’s what you hear when you grow up and since he’s not distracted by the internet or the local lending library because there is none in nazareth script scripture is his base text um i think i think personally he had an experience of god um today we might call this a born-again experience or religious awakening or the bolt from the blue i and it was probably at his baptism that something struck him that he was he was commissioned to prepare his people for the inbreaking of the kingdom of god okay that’s fine where christians get it wrong oh well they think that jews are all struggling to follow every single jot and tittle of the law and if they don’t god’s going to snap them with the lightning bolt or condemn them to hell which makes all jews either you know sanctimonious or neurotic and jesus comes along and says don’t worry be happy when he doesn’t he actually makes the law more rigorous right the law says don’t murder he says don’t be angry that’s harder the law says don’t commit adultery he says don’t think about it that’s harder that integration of the internal and the external a number of christians um uh think that jesus came to do away with purity laws quite to the contrary what he does is restore people to states of ritual purity um so that when people who are in states of impurity like a hemorrhaging woman is probably a vaginal or uterine hemorrhage now i know people might be listening to this over dinner and they don’t want to hear such things but you know what’s in the bible um there’s no law saying you know lady you have to be locked up in some back shed there’s no law against touching somebody with leprosy so what he’s doing is he’s restoring people to states of ritual purity um when he debates with fellow jews about the law like can you plug grain on the sabbath which in fact he’s not doing his disciples are doing it that’s a that’s a debate at the time um and josh points this out in the book you know the law says honor the sabbath and keep it holy um and i’m just paraphrasing here you know one jew looks at another and says what constitutes work and now you have two synagogues um because we’re still debating that so he debates with fellow jews about how to follow the law but that doesn’t take him away from the law you don’t debate something in which you have no investment correct um a number of my christian friends think that jesus invented feminism and that first century jewish women were oppressed and repressed and depressed and suppressed by this horrible patriarchal androcentric tradition and jesus comes along and says oh no everybody’s equal no to the contrary um if he did then six out of the twelve apostles would have been women right and and the mom would have gotten some higher role he’s a first century patriarchal jew who has women followers as did pharisees as did john the baptist as did others the other justin can i just put it this way yeah go ahead jesus jesus wasn’t a christian this is this is the sort of this i think is the sort of like this is the key mistake is that christians think jesus was a christian and that this christianity is weird as a religion in so far as the person who as it were founded it wasn’t a remember of the religion that he actually founded now this is a very weird business about christianity and it distorts people’s thinking jesus never heard the word christian that wasn’t in his mindset okay can i ask a question about that because i i i like your point but i want you to develop it just a little bit more yes so and i think you’re right so when you say that people think jesus is a christian and he’s not what’s the connotation of christian that they’re uploading to what jesus is yeah well it’s that so that they are they are up they are projecting back onto him a sort of post nice seeing or post augustinian or the 2 000 years of sort of what you what what has come to be understood as christianity but particularly post you know the sort of stuff that paul does with with with christianity now i just don’t think that’s a part of jesus was a uh temple going jew who although he had arguments with the temple and you know jews having arguments with jews by the way is not an unknown thing um he he wasn’t unique in having arguments with the with the temple authorities i mean i have to say the qumran lot probably even more so in terms of their arguments with uh with the temple authorities but we we so readily project back i mean we’ve got used to the idea it’s not a controversial thing to now say obviously jesus wasn’t blonde hair and blue eyed so we’ve we’ve know lots of people have have we’ve got that very very good that’s that’s great but now let’s actually let’s let’s keep on going with with where that goes and say actually jesus jesus was didn’t have this sort of fully formed christian um philosophy jesus is jesus references this is what i’ve said i’d like to i want to hear what aj says about this we call it the new testament i mean we’re used to knowing that we shouldn’t really call the old testament the old testament the sort of supersessionism i call it the hebrew scriptures but the new testament is there’s not that much new in the new testament okay this is a very this is a thing that actually so much of the new testament is drawn from the book of isaiah or from from the hebrew scriptures doesn’t make sense it doesn’t make sense as a book without being understood in terms of the hebrew scriptures so there’s not much new in the new testament and that’s what christians really so aj did jesus be anything quote unquote new then or do you think he was just another jewish teacher doing his thing and was it paul or someone else that kind of suddenly it took off in a different way what why did the christian revolution take place if if he it was in a sense so typical of of other jewish people at the time well part of it is packaging um you can have jews who were known as healers and there were other charismatic healers or exorcists at the time and i think jesus was a healer and an exorcist you can have other people who are teachers and they’re charismatic you have people who um convince others to leave their mothers and fathers and spouses and children and follow him um and that becomes a sectarian movement um when you put it all together and then you have a group of his followers who are convinced that he is lord and savior and therefore convinced because they experienced him as having risen from the dead that gives you something that’s quite distinct um he does say some things that i can’t track elsewhere he’s the only person i know who comes out and says you have to love your enemies um which is really hard jewish law says you can’t mistreat them if you’re hungry you’ve got to feed them right if they’re if they’re lying in a ditch you got to take care of them but nothing says you have to love them jesus just up the ante a little bit for a while um jesus talks about making a new covenant in his blood i don’t know anybody else who’s doing that’s interesting um so he has his own distinctive parts and a great much of his teaching when it comes to things like ethics morality storytelling that’s part of the culture i also would not dismiss charisma certain people have it and certain people don’t and you can and you can just see this if you watch theater right you get the main the the actor who was hired to play the part and it’s fabulous you get the understudy and the evening was a disaster same words different presentations i won’t leave that up i want to take issue with something that gel said right because i’m an american and we’re crude i actually think um that the term old testament should be recuperated in this in the same way that we recuperate words like queer which is perfectly normal term time it could be quite complimentary why well first of all um last time i checked which was last night when i was finishing your book you’re still an anglican and in your old testament you have greek stuff so if you talk about the hebrew bible you’re actually chopping off part of your canon um hebrew bible is a protestant term you’re not a protestant you’re part of the catholic community right so you get books judith and susannah you got the books of the maccabees week the holiday of hanukkah you got the books of the maccabees it’s a fair trade um so i i don’t like old testament hebrew bible and i also don’t like it because it suggests that jews and christians are reading the same canon and we are not because the story that the old testament tells starting with genesis and ending with malachi the prophet malachi is a promise model everything drives toward jesus and that’s how his early followers read the text and he may have read it the same way if he thought he was commissioned in that sense so it’s a promise model and then you get the fulfillment model and you get it really coolly to go back to that baptism scene you have by the way a lovely picture of you and your child in the river that’s that’s how the book ends i think it was great before the back matter um uh so what happens malachi predicts right at the end of malachi the end of the old testament uh the coming of elijah to announce the messianic age and then the gospel of mark which is probably the first gospel that we have begins with john the baptist in the role of elijah announcing not the messianic age but the messiah jesus so it’s a promise fulfillment model so i’m old i i turned 65 last week i’m old old is fabulous old gets you medicare it gets you health care in the united states it gives you discounts in the liquor store you know the problem is not about the old bit the old the problem is the old and the new juxtaposition it implies this form of supersessionism that christianity is a sort of upgrade of judaism and this is the problem seeing it is a sort of like you know well that that’s how it used to be but now it’s this okay and that’s what’s implied by that and that’s that that is a bob that’s bothersome yeah i’d rather shift it it’s it’s not an upgrade of judaism it’s an upgrade of the old testament and that’s correct in the same way that rabbinic literature is an upgrade of the old testament because both judaism and christianity are an upgrade of the tanakh right the jewish bible because what christianity is is commentary on and nobody’s practicing the type of judaism that jesus was practicing second temple judaism so you’ve got rabbinic commentary over here saying here’s how we understand deuteronomy or here’s how we understand leviticus and you’ve got the new testament over here saying here’s how we understand deuteronomy and here’s how we understand the videos is the it’s an older text for both of us i just want old to be respected and that’s why i want to recuperate that term because i can’t find anything in the default that works we’ll come back to this in just a moment folks so we’re just going to take a quick break um fascinating stuff and i do want to talk about the new and the old split because there is a sense in which you know it’s hard to avoid jesus doing something new when he takes the passover meal the soda meal and he does something new with it you know at the you know in the eucharist so um we’ll we’ll talk about these issues and we’ll talk about maybe a bit about paul as well and some paul’s the cathedral as well in the course of the rest of the conversation my guest on the big conversation today talking about judaism and christianity are giles fraser and amy jill levine or aj as she’s known and we’ll be back very shortly for more conversations between christians and skeptics subscribe to the unbelievable podcast and for more updates and bonus content sign up to the unbelievable newsletter welcome back to the big conversation from unbelievable with me justin briley and just a reminder that today’s show on the jewishness of jesus is one we’d like to hear your thoughts about as well there is a simple multi-choice survey in the info with today’s show why not fill it out let us know what you think and if you want more from the big conversation including bonus content then do sign up there as well at thebigconversation.show all the links are with today’s video in the info well today we’re asking how do we recover the jewishness of jesus great to have on the show today giles fraser whose new book chosen lost and found between christianity and judaism tells his own story of the healing journey he went on reconnecting with his jewish roots aj levine is university professor of new testament and jewish studies at vanderbilt university and a jew who has spent her academic life really engaged in the study of jesus and the gospels um loving the conversation so far folks but um you know your your insistence giles that the new testament and christianity in that sense is not an upgrade on judaism um i mean a lot of people will think well isn’t that the whole point that jesus came to do something quite radically new taking a tradition like the passover feast and saying i am now that lamb i am the the summation of all of this and there’s something rather new about that so is it any surprise that people think about this is a new thing albeit that obviously in those first years the movement was still very much part and parcel of judaism it was still temple going jews who believed that the messiah had come but that in itself is a a novel claim arguably isn’t it i mean you’re right obviously i mean but one of the things that um aj said earlier is that if you go back to the first century there isn’t a head jew okay that’s that that gets to define what jewishness is okay um if you go back to to this this period there’s all sorts of different expressions of judaism all of which are arguing with each other all of which are disagreeing now christianity is one of those they’re all doing something new so to that extent quite quite right that there is something new but the way in which they’re doing something new is within the recognizably within the the sort of like the the parameters the the literature of and we’ve already discussed this and disagreed with it the hebrew scriptures okay so let’s just forg forgive me that aj for now but we’ll we’ll so or or what people might like to say the old testament you know there is no way of understanding the whole sort of messianic movement uh um which jesus taps into without understanding the way in which that grows out of um you know the kings and david and then and then through isaiah and all the different sorts of tributary stuff it doesn’t make any sense without that so this is what i mean by there isn’t very much new about the new testament is the idea that there’s something like this is sometimes sparklingly different it it isn’t i mean the obviously there are differences and and but but they’re differences that are well within put it this way well within the bandwidth of legit i would say within in the first century legitimately jewish experience you know people are disagreeing about a whole range of things and christianity is one of them christianity begins to become very separate from jesus jewish jesus following becomes very separate from other jews when it starts to see itself almost increasingly exclusively as a as a as a mission to the gentiles um and that you know becomes a sort of international phenomena rather than a phenomenon rooted in a particular sort of place and we’ve been we’ve learned in the last few years to start talking about some ways and anywheres and it’s a little bit like that there is something about um that the jewish experience which is rooted in in place and there’s something about the christian experience which becomes as it were international and that’s when they start getting very different sorts of sorts of things one of the really interesting things is you know when paul starts to start to think about um the the the the christian experience being there for the gentiles he doesn’t deny that it is also there for jews but increasingly over the first few centuries jewish jesus followers get written out of the script they get squeezed from both sides they get squeezed from the emerging synagogue and they get squeezed from the emerging church and ultimately this sort of gets written out of the story um and christianity defines itself as not jewish judaism defines itself as not christian in the first few centuries and those people who still go to synagogue and think jesus is the messiah they just they end up being entirely stranded ideologically written out the script what’s your thoughts on that analysis aj um i i think that was spot on particularly the conclusion um paul himself is not a christian and paul doesn’t use the term either so if you have to figure out what’s new with paul paul is a jew who believes that the messianic age has broken in with the death and resurrection of jesus okay so you’re a jew and the messianic age is here now you might have thought oh everybody comes back from the dead because that was that was on the books um or all the exiles all the jews who had been dispersed throughout the roman empire um and places south and west and east they would all come back to the land of israel called the in gathering of the exiles including the 10 lost tribes who as far as i know are not the british and have not yet returned there is no peace on earth there’s no final judgment but the messianic gage is here so how do you know and what do you do well one of the signs of the messianic age and you can see this in isaiah isaiah that sounds so much better you can see it in isaiah or you can see it in zechariah is that the idea that the gentile nations will turn from their pagan gods called idolatry to worship the god of israel so paul who has his own experience it’s not a conversion experience it’s not like he went from being a jew to being a good christian but he has this oh i’m going from being a persecutor of this movement into the diaspora to it’s to its major pr guy says oh i am commissioned to bring this good news which is what gospel means to the gentile world to the pagan world and now he’s got to explain to pagans how this jewish messiah who dies on a cross in the land of israel and whose book is the greek translation of the old testament that’s what they’re supposed to follow and the marketing was brilliant and what he was able to do is tell these gentiles um you are now equal with jews in terms of uh you don’t have to be like a a visitor in the synagogue you’re equal to anybody else who’s there and you are part of the covenant with israel and because he’s a good jew who knows morality if you’re hungry we’ll feed you and if you were sick you we will nurse you and if you have no family we will be your family and and when you die we will bury you and take care of you um and gentiles turn to this because it spoke to them in a way that the various pagan cults were not doing plus it was free this was the best market offer in town you didn’t have to pay for a sacrifice you got dinner they fed you what could be better but but you you cast this as one of the problems in a sense giles it’s both a blessing and a curse the universality of christianity also means that it becomes a sort of something that begins once i suppose rome gets involved um to be imposed upon people and and is that is that your problem with the way that it was ultimately divorced from its jewish roots well i’ve got a lot of problems but this is one of them um so one of the things that um that the stalinists uh accused jews of being was rootless cosmopolitans uh that’s that’s that’s the thing that’s that’s regularly accused that’s not jews that’s christians who are rootless cosmopolitans uh fundamentally uh christianity uh judaism is a a religion that has a rootedness in place christianity is is ruthless it has no it has no ultimate loyalty to place now i have a i i now there are good things and bad things about about rootedness in place and there are good things and bad things about as it were your internationalism the bad thing about christian internationalism is it can very easily uh sit alongside the desire for empire so the idea of converting the world and empire and the say the british empire those two things were were they cooperated with each other um so that that’s part of the problem i love you i love everybody you will all think exactly as i do now that’s a dangerous that’s a dangerous part of christianity you know i embrace you all but what i’m really asking you to do is to think like me okay now that’s a that’s the that’s you know i i i take you seriously i want you to believe what i do but there’s a there is a sort of like an there is a dangerous quality to that um on the flip side that there is a different sort of dangerous quality it’s not as dangerous actually as christianity but there’s a sort of like um you can get with judaism you can get a sort of like this is this is us this is what we think we don’t want to convert you we’re not that bothered about what you think not totally true because it shouldn’t be true because um one of the things that’s there from abraham through isaiah and so forth is that the jewish people who are chosen by god are also chosen are also a blessing to the gentiles to the nations to all of us and so you know that there is a there is a there is an obligation on jews to explain and to model how they are also a blessing to the world um but nonetheless there is a very very different sort of experience and i think there’s good and bad in both actually um and and i think uh that i think that is i think it’s a complicated thing but that’s where i think that for me that’s one of the big tensions think about it um and this this goes back to this goes back to another error that that some of my friends make so um i’m presuming that that most of your listeners have heard of the parable of the good samaritan um with this question of you know the lawyer says who is my neighbor um and my christian friends go oh that’s a terrible question because everybody’s your neighbor right what no um your neighbor is your fellow jew right and if you read leviticus where it says love your neighbor as yourself and leviticus 90. that really does mean fellow jew the problem is if you read on in leviticus which christians tend not to do because leviticus doesn’t come into the church the same way that isaiah or the psalms does is the same chapter and leviticus goes on to say you have to love to you have to love the stranger who who lives because you were strangers in the land of egypt in other words jews have two categories you’ve got a neighbor and you’ve got strangers and you have to love them both um and you can see that in jesus parable of the uh the uh the final judgment the sheep and the goats i was a stranger and you welcomed me right um what happens in christianity is the character the the category of stranger drops out you’re either the neighbor which means you’re a fellow christian you’re a potential neighbor or you’re a heretic or an apostate or an infidel and therefore we’re going to kill you um so it’s a question of how do you deal with how do you deal with the other without trying to make the other you um and that’s that’s the dangerous side of a universalistic rather than as as giles correctly noted in ethnically based religion you can convert to judaism if you want which makes you a member of the jewish people but you don’t have to and jews aren’t banging on your door saying have you met moses no they’re not i mean and what’s your feeling though i mean it is obviously an evangelistic religion aj um do you do you have a problem with that i mean is is it would you is that a downside of christianity or is it just part and parcel of of what the religion is in a sense you know i have so much fun when evangelists come to my door i just love it don’t you want to start with the greek or the hebrew um i no i think christians ought to evangelize because christians are commanded to do so the great commission in matthew is go make disciples well you can translate it all the gentiles and let the jews off the hook but that original mission to the jews never got abrogated right that’s still there um and while paul is out dealing with his gentile audience peter takes his role as as the apostle to the jews so that’s still out there but it’s a matter of not should you evangelize if you want to by all means do so uh but how do you do it and how do you do it with the respect for your fellow jew or your fellow hindu or muslim or whoever and you do it not by telling the other person what’s wrong with that person’s religion you do it by telling the person what’s right with your religion right so i say to my students if you want to evangelize you first have to know why you are a christian and why that means something to you and if the answer is simply because this is how i was raised or because i got social justice that’s not going to carry got that anyway i mean to to a jewish person who does convert say to christianity and then goes on to say now i feel like i’m a fulfilled jew that i do know the messiah has come do you find that patronizing arrogant or do you say well hey that’s that’s your way of looking at it i find it an unfortunate term because it’s going to code negatively to most jews who hear it and anything that demeans one particular group or sounds like it demeans a particular group i don’t think is a helpful way of expressing somebody else’s religion so if you say i had an emptiness and now i feel fulfilled which is a personal experience which rings true to that individual that’s terrific um it that’s different from making a universalizing claim that this is the fulfillment of judaism and what’s your because i don’t get the sense that you’re a great fan of for instance giles the messianic jewish sort of movement as such you you don’t particularly have a burden to see jewish people accept jesus as the messiah would that be fair to say giles be correct be correct i’m i’m i’m very nervous of and and wouldn’t myself uh be any part of a sort of mission to the jews you know i think i’m by the way i think the jewish people have a particular relationship with god which is there in the bible and uh and and uh i think god knows quite god knows what he’s doing with the relationship with the jewish people and he doesn’t need my help okay so the the and there is a distinction between the distinction running throughout the bible between the relationship of god and the jews and the relationship of god and the and the gentiles um i’m a gentile uh and uh but i am very nervous of but but not least let’s just name it i’m very nervous of um the christian mission to the jews because of the history of anti-semitism with which christianity has been bound up i mean just so phenomenally forced conversions um uh violence for centuries okay and and the id and and conversion has been a part of this story of anti-semitism so i’m sorry uh that that one i mean i have i know of course i know um jewish people have converted to christianity and that they bring a rich um experience of god with them and uh i i celebrate that but i will be no part of um trying to convert jesus christianity but there’s nothing stopping you from bearing witness right no no i mean so it’s not it’s not a conversionary effort so i tell my students listen don’t don’t set up a separate mission to juices just in terms of cost benefit analysis you can you can invest your time better elsewhere because most people aren’t going to pay um but if you want to witness to jews do so by by how you act right and and if that works that’s terrific but if you follow um your old testament or even your new testament jews are still under covenant that covenant was never abrogated and if you want to make jesus the final judge which is kind of how he functions in the new testament in certain passages that’s up to him and he gets to determine who’s saved and who’s damn that’s not your job adrian i have enough problem i have enough problem um witnessing to the people of south london okay so this is yeah this is i i i just i’ll just take i’ll just chew off as much as i can manage you know so i’m not i’m not going to go into the whole idea of of uh of the conversion of the jewish people there’s so much rubbish been talked about um about about you know when when there are those people who who believe that only if you convert the jews to christianity only then the messiah will come again and all of that sort of stuff i just don’t i just don’t go there i have enough i have enough here in south london to to sort out without without worrying about that well it sounds almost aj in this particular conversation that you’re you’re more keen for giles to wear his faith on his sleeve when it comes to that i’m not keen about conversionary issues but i am also not keen on telling christians that they should not bear witness to their faith sure sure because i don’t think you you sacrifice the particulars of your own religion on the altar of interface sensitivity which is one of the things i appreciate about joel’s book he’s a christian you can tell i am invited yeah you know i am yeah yeah yeah absolutely but in a sense though giles as a christian presumably you do believe that jesus is the messiah the long promise awaited one the one who fulfills all the hopes and fears of all the years you know um and in that sense um there is presumably a distinctive here between you and aj as much as you agree on a great deal um aj how do you respond to that central claim of christianity that jesus was the fulfillment of all of that long-awaited messiah and indeed his death and resurrection you know which which obviously as you say launched this movement in a very different way to any other messiah led movement of the first century right so my question to my students and my primary job at vanderbilt is to teach people who want to be christian ministers how to read the new testament which is a weird job for a jew in tennessee so and i grant that um is to say to them if you believe all this what difference does it make in your own life and if it makes no difference go you know go believe in the giant spaghetti monster or believe in in some other god from some other religion because it doesn’t matter so they’ve got to figure out what if jesus comes back in the body what does that tell you about your own body because he could have come back is jesus the friendly ghost he’s in a body he eats what does that say about your body um uh if he comes back and there’s a sense of something beyond death what what does that do when you’re counseling somebody who’s dying and what do you say and how does this impact your belief system i don’t have that belief system but i know that paul did and i know that matthew did and i know what i teach in a non-denominational school so i know what episcopalians think and what lutherans think at least what they’re supposed to think i say how does this how does this particular worldview then function in your own life and how does this help you read the text so i don’t have to believe it in order to be sympathetic to it right i’m a teacher i’m not a practitioner and what what do you make of that girls i mean to to what extent does the the radical claim there of christianity make a difference i mean is this a serious disjunct you know i suppose i’m trying to find if there is a kind of you know a point at which you you i mean can you just say well it’s it’s all no i bet i believe that jack jesus is the son of god so this is this is the this is the point at which um uh the creator of heaven and earth enters into um our lived reality in time and space and makes a difference now jews aren’t going to accept that uh clearly not but that’s that’s the the basis of my faith i just don’t think you can understand what that really means in religious terms without understanding the the biblical context for that in the biblical context of that is also fundamentally as it were jewish so that’s that’s what’s going on here yes absolutely i’m quite a straightforward boring orthodox christian in so far as i think that um that there is something extraordinary about what happens with the incarnation and the god enters time and space in a unique way to bring a completely different sort of relationship between humanity and god um that’s a massive big claim i wouldn’t describe you as boring um though you may be orthodox giles but one of the one of the bits i enjoyed most in in the book actually was when you talked about some polls and um again set the scene for those who may be not familiar with this especially listeners you know overseas who who watch and listen to unbelievable um the occupy movement that took over the area around some pools and and why you ultimately led to you feeling as a cannon of some pools you had to resign in terms of what happened and then you make this fascinating um connection with the temple in judaism and the way that um there was a sort of purity code if you like and that in some ways what happened at some pools was reaching back to to that sort of sense of something pure was being defiled by these so much to stay here justin so much to say about this and i’ll try and keep so let’s just do the history a bit about me so for those who don’t know i used to be canon chancellor of and paul’s cathedral uh that’s the sort of like you know the cannon theologian i guess there um some paul’s cathedral the mother church of england uh you know it was my dream job fantastic place to be occupy comes 10 years ago that’s the sort of complaint against global capitalism they park themselves right outside the cathedral the cathedral ums and ours about what they want to do for several weeks and in the end decide they want to evict them i don’t go along with the idea that you should evict um peaceful protesters potentially with violence in the name of the church and when the cathedral authorities decide to go ahead with this i resign so that’s the that’s what happens to me now there’s lots of very interesting theological things that happen in the in the course of this one of the interesting things some paul’s itself was uh christopher m was fascinated by uh the jerusalem temple uh there was a model of the jerusalem temple that had done the rounds um a few years before um a sort of european it was a sort of almost a traveling circus really of the of the of the temple great big model um ren may or may not have been a mason which are obviously obsessed with the temple and how the temple works so ren himself was a really sort of like a student of the jerusalem temple or certainly what they thought the temple was then and he said paul’s is a homage to the to the jerusalem temple put it that way in the course of one of the things that happens in the course of the occupied protesters is that an unfortunate situation where it’s a woman uh elderly woman goes into the cathedral and uh is taken short and uh i think she had personally i think she had mental health issues and there was a problem and she evacuated her bowels in the in the cathedral so there were now this is a very interesting theologically this becomes for me a very interesting thing so the question is um is this a social justice issue which you as it were clean it up you it’s not very nice to clean it up but you clean it up you look after the woman and you see this in social justice terms or is this some sense of ritual defilement okay that’s going on here now this is very i mean it may not be all that much of an interest to your listeners but actually it would have been a real interest this sort of thing to people in the first century this is the sort of thing they would really have been exercised by um the question about the relationship between as it were moral defilement and ritual defilement and and i there’s quite a bit of detailed stuff in the book where i try actually i sort of in a sense against my instincts and my my instincts are sort of the moral side to try and reclaim what a sort of ritual purity might be and why it’s important and that for me that was the sort of a part of the book that that required quite a lot of the gears to go around when i was trying to sort of as a sort of you know lefty liberal priest to try and reclaim something of this this this this purity stuff which you know as part of me has a sort of bit of suspicious of you know um to actually say now come on let’s try and really think through what this why this is important and you know that i think i think that’s probably some of the theology there is quite i don’t know it’s quite detailed and quite difficult to go through but that was some of the most important stuff in the book yeah any thoughts on that particular chapter um yourself aj there are certain parts of the jewish tradition in the second temple period that christianity takes and runs with one of which is the sacrificial system in the temple system um and judaism following the destruction of the temple in 70 reboots and says okay we lost a temple to the babylonians back in the 6th century we’ve now lost another temple we’ve been there done that we know how to do this um how do we how do we locate that divine presence in the absence of the temple um and the church went with what eventually became the sacrifice of the mass or the idea of the cross as as a sacrifice and then you get i mean the new testament is a very very bloody book so you get the blood of jesus all over the place which when you think of it is kind of weird because crucifixion is not exsanguination but nevertheless um and what judaism did is it shifted from place to to text so that for judaism the incarnation of god the word of god taking on flesh is the torah scroll and it’s also the tree of life and it is the presence of the divine brought to the congregation during the worship service and in effect undressed and read and then redressed and then put back in this nice little house um as you would do with with with uh with the eucharist so um the church takes some of that temple architecture as we’ve seen and some of the temple idea of sacrifice you can really see this in the epistle to the hebrews which i have to explain to my students jews don’t read because it’s in the new testament um and you say okay well we still know that blood sacrifice is efficacious but you know even in parts of leviticus you can have forgiveness of sins with just basically it’s a vegetarian option um so we no longer have blood sacrifice what do we do well we have options we’ve always had options so let’s run with the options and what we’ll do is we’ll marginalize the role of the priest and replace the role of the priest and this was already happening with the pharisees will replace the role of the priest as the teacher and the liturgical leader with the role of the synagogue ruler and then eventually with the role of the rabbi i do want to say this is a very interesting business because this is one of the areas as a sort of like on the sort of more catholic spectrum of of christianity and and so you know the sacrifice of the mass is something that i just celebrated mass like an hour ago and and um you know what what happens with christianity and judaism with the destruction of the temple is you could say that christianity maintains more of the sacrificial imagery than judaism does judaism becomes as it were a religion of study in the book and all of that sort of stuff in the text but christianity through the eucharist through the person of jesus retains this sacrificial element now of course you know you could say that um the temple will uh one day be you know rebuilt and sacrifices will return and jewish priests will return and so forth which is obviously a highly political statement as well but uh christianity retains a great deal of that sort of sacrificial imagery that’s there within the um the old testament hebrew scriptures in a way that the developing rabbinic judaism doesn’t really now that’s a very interesting that’s a very interesting complex complexity about the relationship between christianity and judaism and the hebrew scriptures yep i think that’s spot on we’ll we’ll come back to this um in the final part of today’s show judaism and christianity and recovering the jewishness of jesus is our topic on the big conversation today i’m justin braley joined today by giles fraser and amy jill levine in the united kingdom just today we passed a hundred thousand people who’ve been killed by the virus i’m not the one here who is claiming that this is being supervised that somebody is watching this somebody knows that this is occurring and somebody’s allowing it to occur we’re in no position to say definitively there is no morally justifiable reason for this particular evil because we need a god-like perspective on all of space and all of time in order to make that claim welcome back to the final part of this week’s final big conversation in our current season uh it’s been a fascinating discussion on judaism and christianity just a quick reminder we’ve got a survey we’d love you to fill out with your thoughts on today’s discussion as well you can find the link with the info from today’s show and you can sign up to the big conversation dot show for more conversations and bonus content charles fraser and aj levine have been my guest on the show today talking about judaism and christianity and recovering the jewishness of jesus i’ve really really enjoyed the conversation today i’ll make sure there are links to you both from today’s show as well including the book we’ve been talking about chosen i want to sort of throw over to you guys really what you want to talk about in this final segment of our time together um i think you have a question for for giles aj around on a practical level um not not just for giles for right for any anglican who happens to be listening in and i hope that your survey is not like team giles and team aj and then like the american loses i worry about that i was like you know vote for the jew um vote for her yeah what i would really like to see um and i actually gave a sermon on this at the national cathedral which is an episcopal cathedral here in the united states in march during lent because they put me in the pulpit virtually i would like to see changes in lectionary readings i think there were too many pairings of old testament readings with new testament readings that have exactly that supersessionist approach and there’s no reason for that um the anglican church last year came out with a text called god’s unfailing word and it’s it’s about the relationship between christianity and judaism it’s very long it’s it’s very british which just goes goes on and on and on but you can find some really good gems in there and i think it would be great if that could serve or at least a shirt shortened version could serve as a study base for jews and christians to start talking to each other i want all anglican clergy to learn about second temple judaism so that they do not have to make judaism look bad in order to make jesus look good and to do that you don’t learn from rabbis because most rabbis know nothing about second temple judaism because there’s no second temple jewish text that has relevance to contemporary judaism like the dead sea scrolls for example so you need an academic who knows what’s being preached on sunday morning to come in and do that and i want jews and christians to be able to attend each other’s worship as guests without being pressured and knowing what they can and cannot do or should and should not do but so that we can better know each other and one way better to know each other is to know how we worship and what we say i find as a jew going to christian worship whether it’s an episcopal church or a lutheran church or a methodist church what a catholic church whatever it is um i find that it rings true in so many ways to my own tradition and i can appreciate it as a guest but so often what happens is somebody will make a gratuitous anti-jewish comment and it ruins the entire service for correct so i want i i want to be safe in christian worship because i like it and i learn from it and i’m offer inspired by it and i don’t want to be um disrespected at the same time and i want the same thing to happen in synagogues because i have heard a number of rabbis gratuitously make anti-christian comments when they don’t have to do it because rabbis know even less about christianity particularly the orthodox rabbis than christian ministers know about judaism what what’s your thoughts on on all of those suggestions giles i i did some uh i did some teaching about christianity the other day about balan university at bora land university and i was very surprised about how little that uh that they knew about christianity i mean really had a little new about christianity um aj is i’m sorry this is boring if you want to if you want us to disagree with each other you’re not going to find that justice because it’s absolutely right i mean it’s just a font of wisdom about all of this and everything ever i just second everything listen i so my wife is israeli my wife is jewish um and uh but she’s the vicar’s wife so she comes uh she doesn’t come to church but occasionally she does she comes to support me she usually makes the cake she makes a damn good cake for after church um but occasionally she’ll come to church she came to church around easter time and i get there to read the gospel i go to the center of the church i read the gospel and i go uh they were hiding in the upper room for fear of the jews okay so i’m i’m saying this and my and my wife and my two jewish boys are in there and i’m thinking to myself what on earth is going on here what am i saying now that there are modern translations of the of the new testament um bentley hearts one is an obvious one where actually this is this is not they’re not described as jews in this passage they’re described as judeans now that’s actually an interesting academic uh argument which i’d be very interested to know what aj thinks about but nonetheless there are a whole range of subjects i spent my day today justin listening to a pontifical conference that happened a couple years ago uh in the vatican on the subject of the pharisees for instance and and and what the [ __ ] now if you ask christians what the f what the do a sort of like a word association on the pharisees they’d give you hypocrites they’d give you all this sort of stuff now this is this is extraordinary stuff that we have here you know that that that that that we have a particular sort of religious experience and a group of religious people who are i don’t think it’s too too much to say demonized in our in our the way we understand things and we really have to sort of like work out what’s going on here and you know is it safe to go um if my wife or aj comes to church and i what do we do with those texts which talk about users being hypocrites which talks about the fear of the jews which indeed in matthew’s gospel you know blood is upon you and upon your children and all of that sort of stuff by the way uh just let’s just have this nailed in this conversation the jews did not crucify jesus okay that is a roman instrument of torture and only romans could put someone up upon it okay this is what romans did to keep people in their place and there is something there is something utterly disgraceful about the way in which this roman instrument of torture and the death of jesus has been linked to jews for centuries so we we we have a lot of work to do and i’m going to say one more thing justin i know you want to come in one of the problems about the relationship between christianity and judaism is about the relationship of christianity and empire and power and what’s happening in the last fifty hundred years is christianity is getting stripped of its power christianity is getting stripped of empire we’re beginning to lose that association with secularization and i think we have an opportunity for christians and jews to talk to each other that’s only recently begun because of the way in which christianity is being stripped of its power sorry that was a little rant i apologize no uh a great rant a really interesting rant i mean if i may be the one to try and introduce at least a note of division then again um what what about though and i fully accept that there are many things that the christians could do better to to not alienate and frankly insult their jewish friends when they come to their churches or worship services but in the end isn’t ultimately they’re a natural sense in which a christian will inevitably think of their faith as a fulfillment of the jewish scriptures just in terms of that eucharist which you only recently celebrated giles as i mentioned it is in a sense you know jesus saying i am now the true temple the the lamb that you know all of those things were just pointers ultimately to me coming and fulfilling them all so there’s a there’s a degree to which if a jewish person finds that offensiv


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Giles Fraser & Amy-Jill Levine • Judaism & Christianity: Can we recover the Jewish Jesus?
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