Re: [XTalk] Amy-Jill Levine in the Jew/Judean Debate
- 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?
----- Original Message -----
From: Loren Rosson
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
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
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
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