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Amy-Jill Levine in the Jew/Judean Debate

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  • Loren Rosson
    List members -- Continuing our earlier thread, I had completely forgotten that Amy-Jill Levine critiques Elliott and Esler (who advocate dropping Jew from
    Message 1 of 2 , Oct 16, 2007
      List members --

      Continuing our earlier thread, I had completely
      forgotten that Amy-Jill Levine critiques Elliott and
      Esler (who advocate dropping "Jew" from the discussion
      of 2nd-Temple times in favor of "Judean") in her book
      published last December, _The Misunderstood Jew: The
      Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus_ (see pp
      159-166). I critiqued her critique this morning on my
      blog, and I think it's worth recapping here on
      Crosstalk.

      Levine warns that replacing "Jew" with "Judean" in the
      New Testament leads to "a Judenrein ('Jew-free') text,
      a text purified of Jews" (p 160) which feeds neo-Nazi
      fantasies. Recounting a skinhead who interrupted one
      of her public presentations, she insists on "the need
      for the church to recover Jesus as a Jew" (p 161) to
      fend off dangerous crackpots. She's completely candid
      about her agenda being driven by political as much as
      historical concerns (ibid), but in my view, you can't
      mix the two at the same time. The former precedes the
      latter. The historical-critical task should be engaged
      without fear of potential abuse, and only after should
      we worry about building bridges with today's world.

      To be fair, Philip Esler does the same thing on the
      other side of the debate, insisting that it is
      actually the term "Jew" itself which is so dangerous:
      it "encourages the anti-Semitic notion of 'the eternal
      Jew' who, it is alleged, killed Christ and is still
      around, to be persecuted if possible" (Conflict and
      Identity in Romans, p 63; noted also by Jill-Levine in
      her book, p 160). And of course, if Jesus' foes in the
      gospels are understood as Judeans rather than Jews, it
      can be understood by some to dilute the gospels'
      inherent anti-Semitism. But this almost amounts to an
      apologetic trick.

      I think Esler and Levine are playing the same game by
      invoking political concerns about anti-Semitism --
      making each other potentially unwitting allies of
      neo-Nazism. I happen to think they're both right (the
      use of either "Jew" or "Judean" in NT studies can be
      pressed into anti-Semitic service, and indeed each
      has), but also both irrelevant. We shouldn't be basing
      our historical assessments on how such assessments
      might (will) be abused. If we did that, we could never
      practice scientific inquiry with integrity. We should
      decide whether "Jew" or "Judean" is the proper term
      based solely on historical concerns, and then leave
      the political worries to theologians, pastors, and
      other responsible teachers.

      Of course, Esler and Levine also offer historical
      reasons for their term of choice, and as I've made
      plain in previous Crosstalk postings, I think Esler
      and Elliott are on the stronger ground. I don't accept
      Levine's repeated insistence that "continuity
      outweighs discontinuity" (p 162) when comparing the
      2nd-Temple period to the rabbinic one. This completely
      undermines the territorial relationship the chosen
      people had with land and temple prior to the latter's
      destruction. There is continuity, to be sure, just as
      there is continuity between pre-exilic Israel and
      post-exilic Judah. But we don't refer to the earliest
      Israelites as Jews. Nor should we call the Judeans
      such. On top of this, "Judean" is the more elastic
      term befitting the time period when geography and
      ethnicity could blur or not, depending on context. As
      such it's more useful, even if at first confusing.

      I do agree with Levine that portraits of "Jesus the
      Jew" have erased a lot of damage done in the realms of
      theology and politics. But as Bill Arnal's shows in
      _The Symbolic Jesus_, they have also played into
      contemporary agendas where historical concerns take a
      back seat. It is perfectly possible to speak of Jesus
      as a Judean (or better, from the insider perspective,
      a Galilean Israelite) and avoid the political spectre
      of anti-Semitism. And since it's historically
      accurate, we should do just that.

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH
      http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com


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    • Karel Hanhart
      I agree with Amy-Jill Levine that terms like Judean(s) can serve to gloss over the Christian contribution to the persecution of Jews. The Wirkungsgeschichte of
      Message 2 of 2 , Oct 17, 2007
        I agree with Amy-Jill Levine that terms like Judean(s) can serve to gloss over the Christian contribution to the persecution of Jews.
        The Wirkungsgeschichte of certain texts in the Gospel runs like a poison through the good stream of Christian tradition, thus readying the European soil for the seed of Hitler's unspeakable genocide.

        On the other hand, Christian interpreters must deal with the origins of their tradition. Speaking of Christian Jews would have in modern language certain connotations that do not do justice to first century Judaism.
        In an attempt to solve the problem (- it cannot truly be solved when trying to jump over the garstige Graben of 20 centuries -)
        (a ) I am using terms as Jews and Jewish, whenever I refer to the Jewish people throughout history.
        (b) However, describing first century Judaism and interpretating specific texts of the Gospel I do use Judean(s) for the Jewish people, being the literal translation of the Greek ioudaios(i). After all tradition comes to us through that language.

        In order to distinguish between followers of John and Jesus, I invented the anachronistic term Christian Judean(s), well suited for their first century life setting. In Hebrew I would classify them as chassidim in the broad sense of the word.

        One doesnot have to apologize for the Gospel. However, one can no longer do justice to the Gospel if one ignores the poison of particular passages under discussion, rightly or wrongly labeled as 'anti-Judean'.

        As I see it the Gospel is best called a Judean document - but can it be called a Jewish document?

        cordially

        Karel


        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Loren Rosson
        To: crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 8:25 PM
        Subject: [XTalk] Amy-Jill Levine in the Jew/Judean Debate


        List members --

        Continuing our earlier thread, I had completely
        forgotten that Amy-Jill Levine critiques Elliott and
        Esler (who advocate dropping "Jew" from the discussion
        of 2nd-Temple times in favor of "Judean") in her book
        published last December, _The Misunderstood Jew: The
        Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus_ (see pp
        159-166). I critiqued her critique this morning on my
        blog, and I think it's worth recapping here on
        Crosstalk.

        Levine warns that replacing "Jew" with "Judean" in the
        New Testament leads to "a Judenrein ('Jew-free') text,
        a text purified of Jews" (p 160) which feeds neo-Nazi
        fantasies. Recounting a skinhead who interrupted one
        of her public presentations, she insists on "the need
        for the church to recover Jesus as a Jew" (p 161) to
        fend off dangerous crackpots. She's completely candid
        about her agenda being driven by political as much as
        historical concerns (ibid), but in my view, you can't
        mix the two at the same time. The former precedes the
        latter. The historical-critical task should be engaged
        without fear of potential abuse, and only after should
        we worry about building bridges with today's world.

        To be fair, Philip Esler does the same thing on the
        other side of the debate, insisting that it is
        actually the term "Jew" itself which is so dangerous:
        it "encourages the anti-Semitic notion of 'the eternal
        Jew' who, it is alleged, killed Christ and is still
        around, to be persecuted if possible" (Conflict and
        Identity in Romans, p 63; noted also by Jill-Levine in
        her book, p 160). And of course, if Jesus' foes in the
        gospels are understood as Judeans rather than Jews, it
        can be understood by some to dilute the gospels'
        inherent anti-Semitism. But this almost amounts to an
        apologetic trick.

        I think Esler and Levine are playing the same game by
        invoking political concerns about anti-Semitism --
        making each other potentially unwitting allies of
        neo-Nazism. I happen to think they're both right (the
        use of either "Jew" or "Judean" in NT studies can be
        pressed into anti-Semitic service, and indeed each
        has), but also both irrelevant. We shouldn't be basing
        our historical assessments on how such assessments
        might (will) be abused. If we did that, we could never
        practice scientific inquiry with integrity. We should
        decide whether "Jew" or "Judean" is the proper term
        based solely on historical concerns, and then leave
        the political worries to theologians, pastors, and
        other responsible teachers.

        Of course, Esler and Levine also offer historical
        reasons for their term of choice, and as I've made
        plain in previous Crosstalk postings, I think Esler
        and Elliott are on the stronger ground. I don't accept
        Levine's repeated insistence that "continuity
        outweighs discontinuity" (p 162) when comparing the
        2nd-Temple period to the rabbinic one. This completely
        undermines the territorial relationship the chosen
        people had with land and temple prior to the latter's
        destruction. There is continuity, to be sure, just as
        there is continuity between pre-exilic Israel and
        post-exilic Judah. But we don't refer to the earliest
        Israelites as Jews. Nor should we call the Judeans
        such. On top of this, "Judean" is the more elastic
        term befitting the time period when geography and
        ethnicity could blur or not, depending on context. As
        such it's more useful, even if at first confusing.

        I do agree with Levine that portraits of "Jesus the
        Jew" have erased a lot of damage done in the realms of
        theology and politics. But as Bill Arnal's shows in
        _The Symbolic Jesus_, they have also played into
        contemporary agendas where historical concerns take a
        back seat. It is perfectly possible to speak of Jesus
        as a Judean (or better, from the insider perspective,
        a Galilean Israelite) and avoid the political spectre
        of anti-Semitism. And since it's historically
        accurate, we should do just that.

        Loren Rosson III
        Nashua NH
        http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com

        __________________________________________________________
        Shape Yahoo! in your own image. Join our Network Research Panel today! http://surveylink.yahoo.com/gmrs/yahoo_panel_invite.asp?a=7





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