Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

Friday, April 26, 2013

Jesus and Me: One Jew’s Encounter with the Christian “Other” (Part II) – guest post by Larry Behrendt


Part I was published yesterday and can be found here.
Like most Jews, I grew up knowing next to nothing about Christianity. So what caused me to take the New Testament off the shelf? Two events of little intellectual consequence: the publication of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”, and the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The Brown book came first. I thought the book was a silly page-turner, but I wondered if there might be something to the story it told of Christian origins. Could it be that the real Jesus was just an ordinary human being, with a wife and kids, and that the history of Christian-Jewish enmity was based on a misunderstanding? Answer: hardly. But I’ll give Brown credit for planting an idea in my mind, that the real Jesus might have been different than the man-God portrayed by the church.
Oddly enough, Gibson’s “Passion” movie taught me a similar lesson:  that the Jesus story might be told in different ways, with different potential impacts on Jewish-Christian relations. I felt that it was important that more Jews master the nuances of the Jesus story. Yes, there’s plenty of anti-Jewish content in the New Testament, and it’s possible to tell the Jesus story like Gibson did, with Jesus on one side, and the Jews on the other. But if the New Testament is portrayed with an anti-Jewish slant, then the portrayal is anti-Jesus as well. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was a Jew, and also that his parents were Jewish, his teachers were Jewish, his friends were Jewish, he ate Jewish food, his scriptures were the Torah, Prophets and Writings, he lived in a Jewish village, he was taxed like a Jew, he began his ministry in association with the Jewish John the Baptist, he gathered Jews as his disciples, he preached “only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and he died having been accused of claiming to be the “King of the Jews”. 
We have a tendency to talk about Jesus’ Jewishness in a way that’s different from how we would talk about the Jewishness of Jesus’ Jewish opponents, or Rabbi Hillel, or Golda Meir. We tend to think of Jesus’ Jewishness as something that he was merely born into and then emerged from, even escaped from … that Jesus was a Jew like my father (born in Berlin in 1927) was a German. Or we imagine that Jesus was Jewish plus, a Table-Fellowship Jew, a Feminist Jew, a Universalist Jew, a New Covenant Jew or a Jewish Christian. 
But as for me -- I think Jesus was a Jewish Jew.  
To show that Jesus differed from Judaism, some folks point to Jesus’ arguments with other Jews about Jewish law. But Jews have been arguing about the law with other Jews since day one.  Sometimes Jesus took a lenient position (picking grain on Shabbat, see Mark 2:23-28), and sometimes he took a strict position (divorce, see Matthew 19:9). It all looks perfectly Jewish to me. There are Jews who have taken a much more radical stance towards Jewish law: there are the Karaites, who deny the Oral Law altogether, and there are Reform Jews (like me) who deny the binding nature of the law. Compared to Jews like me, Jesus’ views concerning the law were positively mainstream. 
There’s another area where Jews butted heads with Jesus: the New Testament records frequent Jewish complaints that Jesus spent too much time eating with sinners (see for example Luke 15:2). But all Jews want sinners to repent; the question is how to bring this about. Evidently, some Jews felt that the best way to deal with recalcitrant sinners was to shun them, to exclude them from polite society until they showed a willingness to repent … and evidently Jesus felt that if you welcomed sinners into the heart of the community, then repentance would follow. It’s a question of tactics, and I think Jesus was the better tactician, even if the New Testament does not document vast numbers of sinners who repented at Jesus’ dinner table. But the question of tactics persists to this day, evidenced by the lack of pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, gun runners, terrorists, extortionists and other undesirables present at the average church social (not to mention the average Passover Seder). 
Anthony has asked here what kind of a Jew Jesus was. I think this is an important question, but it’s also a question we can overthink. I think the best answer to Anthony’s question is this: Jesus was a first-century kind of Jew. Sure, Jesus’ point of view differed from other first-century Jews, but there were considerable differences of opinion among first-century Jews. The famous historian Josephus identified 4 principal Jewish sects, and the Talmud later counted 24 sects, so there must have been room for Jews to disagree and still be counted as Jewish. With all of the Jewish criticism of Jesus recorded in the New Testament, I see nothing to indicate that Jesus intended to take his movement outside of Judaism, or that his movement was regarded as something other than Jewish by other Jews. Moreover, the Romans regarded Jesus as Jewish – the Romans may have intended to mock Jesus by executing him as “king of the Jews”, but the final identification of Jesus as “of the Jews” seems to have been accepted without question by all concerned. 
I conclude that if someone had followed Jesus out of a restaurant and asked him who he was, he would have answered that he was a Jew. If pressed, he might say that he was a Jewish Jew, and if pressed further, he would say that he was Mr. Jewish Jewy McJew Jew. This is not to say that Judaism is Christianity, or vice versa, and as for Jewish Christianity (or Messianic Judaism), I wish those folks the best of luck, but I think that the opportunity for being simultaneously Christian and Jewish passed from the world scene at least 1500 years ago. 
But I do think that Jews and Christians can (and should) do their Jewish shtick and their Christian thing in closer proximity. Christians worship the Jewish Jew Jesus as the second person of a triune God, but Christians have historically mangled their notion of what is Jewish. E.P. Sanders wrote in 1977 that the then-prevailing Christian view of first century Judaism was a “massive perversion and misunderstanding”. Working with Jews, Christians should be able to improve on this.  
As for Jews, we’re crazy if we turn our back on the most talked-about Jewish Jew in world history. It’s high time we claimed Jesus as our own, as a master teacher and story-teller, as the Jew who inspired more people to read our holy scriptures than any other. But here’s where we need Christian help, because we’ve too long associated the Jewish Jew Jesus with disputations, inquisitions and pogroms, and as a result we can’t make heads or tails of him. As I make Christian friends and learn how to speak the language of interfaith dialog, I increasingly come to associate Jesus with awe, reverence and an encounter with the divine that is experienced by billions of people. 
Christians and Jews need each other. This is why I write a blog.

Read more from Larry Behrendt at http://jewishchristianintersections.com/.

26 comments:

  1. Larry, thanks so much for this reflection and for contributing to our blog. This is an important point.

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    1. Chris, you're welcome. Thanks for the encouragement and for teaching me so much in the relatively short time I've known you.

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  2. Larry, you say that it is time for Jews to claim Jesus as a master teacher and story-teller... of course some of those teachings and stories have been associated with anti-Judaism. Does claiming Jesus mean that a certain selectivity is in order? Or do you suggest that we read Jesus as we read Malachi or Ezekiel - one Jewish Jew indicting his kinsmen to be better people?

    -anthony

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    1. Good question. Enormously complicated. I don't have a complete answer. In many ways, my blog is a laboratory where I'm trying to figure this out.

      Do we Jews need to approach the New Testament with a certain selectivity, in order to "claim Jesus" as one of our own? Probably. But we've done so little in the way of "claiming", that I think we can start with those Jesus stories and teachings that best resonate with us. Consider this a "low hanging fruit" strategy. Perhaps we'll learn lessons from the relatively easy material that we can take to material that's more difficult for us. I don't know any way to approach this question other than to try things, and see what seems to work.

      But I don’t think Jews can or should read the NT to “selectively” edit out anything we find to be anti-Jewish. That’s not going to work. The anti-Jewish component of the NT is interesting to us. It’s a part of our history – to put it bluntly, it’s a part of our history that we’ve been historically reluctant to examine on its own terms, for historically good reasons, too. I just don’t want to focus exclusively on the question of NT anti-Jewishness – even if this was all I cared about, it would be important to see the bigger picture. I’ve had the odd experience of sitting through a church sermon about the “legalistic” and “hypocritical” Pharisees, all the while wondering how the congregants would greet me (the spiritual heir of the Pharisees) after the sermon. The answer was: with all the usual warmth and respect. I wasn’t a “Pharisee” to them. The text is one thing, and how the text is received is a different thing.

      I mean, we Jews read Freud, and Marx. We can handle anti-Jewish material without losing sight of the bigger message in the text.

      I find most interesting your question, do I suggest that “we read Jesus as we read Malachi or Ezekiel”. My question back to you is, who is the “we” in your question, and I acknowledge that there’s no simple answer to this question. Part of what I want to do on my blog is to have Christians and Jews read NT material together. This is paradoxical: while I want Jews to claim Jesus as our own, I want this to happen in partnership with Christians. I’m asking for a lot! I imagine that this partnership would consist of a Christian “you” and a Jewish “you”, from which a “we” might emerge, but not a “we” that would subsume the “yous”.

      But to answer this question directly: I don’t want to put Jesus in a box. There’s too much going on in the gospels to read Jesus only as we read Malachi or Ezekiel. Clearly, Jesus is in the tradition of the OT prophets, but Jesus is also in the tradition of Moses, and Ezra, and Hillel, and Akiva. I also want to consider Jesus as a maggid, a faith healer, even a miracle worker. All of this can be viewed Jewishly, and claimed Jewishly. I’m not ambitious enough (not even arrogant enough) to think that I, personally, can do all this. For the moment, I’ll probably focus on Jesus as teacher and story-teller, because it is in this sense that I find Jesus most accessible. It’s also the sense that (probably) Jesus is least threatening to Jewish Jews.

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  3. Hi Larry,

    I appreciate your thoughts. I hope this question doesn't put you into an uncomfortable position, but if a Jewish person comes to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, do you think they should stop trying to live as a Jew and assimilate into Gentile society?

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    1. I don’t think your question puts me in an uncomfortable position, but the question itself may be impossible. It’s hard to give hypothetical advice! I think you’re asking about people who find themselves living on a religious boundary, or border. I’ve written a bit about this on my blog – life on a religious border is complicated. I have no general advice to offer. Every person’s situation is different.

      The story you mention below, that of Rabbi Zion and the Jews of Bulgaria, also defies easy categorization. I’ll focus just on whether Rabbi Zion was a “believer” in Jesus who continued to live as a Jew. Let me briefly recount what I’ve learned about Rabbi Zion. The article you cited claims that the Jews in Bulgaria were saved from the Nazi death camps because of the special relationship between Rabbi Zion and Archbishop Stefan of Sofia, and that this relationship was forged when Rabbi Zion had visions of Jesus and approached the Archbishop to discern their meaning. But the article also mentions Rabbi Zion’s relationship with Peter Deunov, the founder of a religious movement sometimes called Deunovism, and sometimes called the “Universal White Brotherhood” (despite the name, the group does not appear to be racist). According to Wikipedia, after his arrival in Israel Rabbi Zion was found by an assembly of Rabbis to have an interest in Deunovism, and for this reason he was removed from his duties as a judge on a Beit Din.

      The Deonovist movement is described as a form of “parachristian spiritualism”, a combination of Christianity with “a new age sensibility”, where “the custom is to dress in white and greet the sun every morning with a special group dance”. The French government lists this group as a cult. I don’t know of any official Christian take on the Deunovists, but evidently the Bulgarian Orthodox Church opposed Deunovism. It’s hard for me to imagine a friendship between Rabbi Zion and Archbishop Stefan based on Zion’s interest in Deunovism. Also, I don’t know if being a Deunovist, or being interested in Deunovism, would make one a “believer” in Jesus in any kind of conventional sense.

      Evidently, Rabbi Zion is embraced as something of a hero and a role model in some present-day Jewish Christian communities. Most of the material on the web about Rabbi Zion is to be found on Jewish Christian web sites, some of which claim him as a “Messianic Jew”. Without more information about Rabbi Zion from other sources, it’s hard for me to evaluate his interest in Jesus. As for his “living as a Jew”, the evidence is that the Jewish mainstream regarded him as unorthodox, but that he was embraced by his fellow Bulgarian Jews throughout his life in Israel. So, perhaps Rabbi Zion found a way to integrate a non-orthodox belief in Jesus into his Jewish life, in a way that was accepted by some Jews but not all.

      It appears that for Rabbi Zion at least, it was good for him and others that he continued to live as a Jew, to the extent that he was able to do so. As I said, every person’s situation is different, and Rabbi Zion’s case was more different than most! I don’t think religion is a matter of one size fits all. This may or may not answer your question, but it’s my best first shot.

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  4. While waiting for Larry's answer, allow me to extend the same question to Chris and Keith, also.

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  5. While waiting for Larry, Chris and Anthony (sorry for calling you Keith) to answer, i thought I would link to the story of Rabbi Daniel Zion, chief rabbi of Bulgaria during WWII He was a Jew who became a believer in Yeshua but continued to live as a Jew. Nevertheless, he helped save his people from the Nazis and then led them in making aliyah to Israel.

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  6. So three people who pride themselves on Jewish/Christian dialogue won't offer an answer on whether or not a Jew who decides to believe in Jesus should try to remain Jewish. And yet, if there hadn't been Jews who believed in Jesus to begin with, there wouldn't be a Jewish/Christian dialogue to be had. Interesting.

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    1. Bilbo, I’m sorry I could not reply any sooner. Please understand: while my Jewish observance may be spotty, I have a practice not to post or comment on the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. If it’s any comfort to you, I’m sure that if Rabbi Zion were still alive, he wouldn’t post on Shabbat either! I tried to monitor this site for comments up until Friday evening. I much appreciate comments in general and yours in particular.

      Yours is a complex question; I'll try to get an answer to you before I go to sleep.

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  7. Bilbo, calm down the passive aggression. I, for one, just saw your comments. And only Anthony is professionally engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogue as an academic specialty, although Anthony, Larry, and I would all--I think--acknowledge to being involved in it informally, as are all believers and/or scholars of Judaism and Christianity. As to your question, why would you assume that such a person would need to stop identifying him or herself as a Jew? And what would assimilation with Gentiles mean in today's context? The majority of Jews today already live and work with Gentiles.

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  8. Hi Chris,

    Ask yourself, if a Jew openly acknowledged that he believed in Jesus, do you think his membership in his synagogue or temple would be revoked?

    Assimilation into Gentile society: stop doing whatever positive things he was doing to live as a Jew, such as membership in a synagogue, keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, marrying a Jew, circumcising his sons, raising them to identify themselves as Jews, etc.

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    1. Dear Bilbo,

      It could be that I'm not the best person to address this. But since I haven't chimed in much on this topic and I happen to care deeply about it, I'll risk a response.

      1) It really depends on the synagogue. The common refrain that I've heard from my Jewish colleagues is that "one does not get in by belief, so one cannot get out by disbelief." This is to say, that Jewishness is not something that one chooses. Observance is another matter.

      2) We have two-thousand years of examples of Jews who became Xns and Xns who became Jewish. Reactions to these "conversions" have varied widely. Complicating this further, self-identifications as "converts" have varied widely: from those who refuse to call themselves converts to those who become downright hostile to their previous communities.

      3) You ask: "do you think they should stop trying to live as a Jew..."? This seems a strange question to me. I wouldn't presume to prescribe a course of action.

      4) I echo Chris' observation. Tone is difficult to communicate via blog comment. With a topic as important as this one, extra care is warranted.

      5) Don't bogart that southfarthing leaf, dude.

      -anthony

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    2. Bilbo, consider that the Jewish intermarriage rate in the U.S. is close to 50%. So, roughly half the couples who would join a synagogue are intermarried, and roughly half the singles who are synagogue members are going to intermarry. At least in my neck of the Jewish woods, we're not tossing people out of synagogue simply because they're Christian, if for no other reason that we'd lose too many Jews that way.

      But like every situation you've raised here, this is complicated. If the Jew who "openly acknowledged that he believed in Jesus" does so vocally and actively, that can be a problem. If this Jew uses the synagogue as a forum to proselytize, that's going to be a big problem. If this Jew is a divisive force in the synagogue, then the synagogue is going to act. Much depends on the community, the branch of Judaism involved and the particular belief and behavior of the Jesus-believing Jew. Is it any different in the average church? If a Christian professes Muslim beliefs in church, would this be tolerated? An evangelical church might happily accept a Roman Catholic as a member, but what would happen if that member vocally professes that the Pope is infallible and that faith alone is not enough for salvation? I assume you’d approach this church member in the manner of Matthew 18:15, but that you might end up having to follow Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18:17.

      Most of this is common sense. When I attend church, I try to do so politely and respectfully. I may let people know that I'm Jewish, but I don't throw it in anyone's face. I don't recite the Sh'ma while the congregation is reciting the Lord's Prayer. I put something in the collection plate, but I don't take communion, and I don’t apply for church membership. Yes, the hypothetical you pose is that of a Jew participating in Jewish worship and living in a Jewish community, but depending on what you mean by “belief in Jesus”, a Jew who believes in Jesus may effectively place himself outside of the Jewish community (and, as you’ve pointed out with the example of Rabbi Zion, it is possible to carefully negotiate a belief in Jesus and Jewish community membership). We can debate whether it should be so, but the vast majority of Jews consider Jewish Christians to be Christian, and a Jew who publicly professes a more or less Christian belief in Jesus may end up being treated like an apostate even though he’d still be regarded as Jewish.

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    3. Thanks for your response, Larry. I certainly agree with you that a Jew who believes in Jesus should be circumspect about their views within a Jewish context, such as a synagogue. But then how silent should they be? If complete secrecy is needed, is it worth it? Meanwhile, there are other problems. If this person has children that he wants to raise as Jews, then must his children also be sworn to secrecy? And of course, there is always the desire for fellowship with others who share his belief in Jesus, which is often difficult to find outside of a church. For such a person, when the topic of Jewish/Christian dialogue comes up, there are issues that he wishes someone would discuss, but alas they are usually ignored.

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    4. Biblo, you're asking more hypothetical questions that I cannot answer. Every situation is different. I DO feel sympathy for those folks who find themselves caught on a religious border, but a religion (particularly a tiny and historically persecuted religion like Judaism) needs borders to maintain its distinctiveness and integrity. I'm paraphrasing Rachel Adler here, and if you're interested you might enjoy reading the post on my blog about Adler.

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    5. I deny that disbelief in Jesus's Messiahship is a necessary borderline for Judaism, as you imply here. What are necessary borders to Judaism are biological descent (or officially recognized conversion to Judaism), membership in the Jewish community, and some sort of adherence to traditional Jewish practice. Believing in Jesus's Messiaship threatens none of this.

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  9. Hi Anthony,

    Following your numbers:

    (1) I think you'll find that usually what your Jewish colleagues mean by "unbelief" does not include positive belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. In Christian dominated countries, the one unifying theme among Jews -- from atheists to orthodox -- has been that they don't believe in Jesus. If, for example, you asked Jerry Coyne why he doesn't consider believing in Jesus, his instinctive response would not be, "Because I'm an atheist," but "Because I'm Jewish." Only secondarily would he add, "And I'm also an atheist."

    (2) Yes, a very mixed history of conversions, which I agree does complicate consideration of my question.

    (3) It might seem strange to you, but asking a Jew whether they should try to live as a Jew and pass on their Jewish heritage wouldn't seem at all strange to a Jew. There is an inbred sense of obligation not to forsake one's heritage (which I believe is divinely inspired). That is why the very question of believing in Jesus is not a live option for most Jews. But for those few who do come to believe in Jesus, the next question is, "Now what do I do about being Jewish?"

    (4) Sorry for my tone.

    (5) Saruman stole the best. You wouldn't want today's crop.

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    1. Bilbo, if you read my posts here, you know that I'm no mythicist. I believe that Jeus was a real person. I believe that the NT contains considerable amounts of historical truth about Jesus. I believe that Jesus was a great teacher and maggid, a figure who should be acknowledged (I used the word "embraced") by Jews. I believe that Christian belief in Jesus is central to a real encounter with the divine, one that I believe I've seen experienced by my Christian friends. This is, in my humble opinion, one heck of a lot of belief.

      You wrote that the one "unifying theme" among all Jews is that we don't believe in Jesus. Once you define what you mean by "belief", there's some truth in what you say -- certainly, you're not the first person to say this. At the same time, one might be misled to think that by "unifying theme", you're talking about something central to Judaism. Jesus (or if you prefer, belief or non-belief in Jesus) is simply not important to Judaism. In my many years in religious school, Jesus' name was never mentioned. I've never heard Jesus spoken of during a religious service. It's rare to find Jesus lectured about in Jewish adult education, except perhaps in a history survey or a discussion of antisemitism. This is a fundamental asymmetry between Judaism and Christianity -- not just the importance of Jesus, but also the extent to which the one religion considers the other.

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    2. Hi Larry,

      Up above you stressed the need that Judaism has for borders, obviously implying that allowing belief in Jesus's Messiahship would threaten its borders. Yet here you try to deny that disbelief in his Messiahship is important to Judaism. You can't have it both ways.

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    3. I can't have it both ways? Sure I can! What I said was, Jesus is not important to Judaism. The question of messiahship IS important to Judaism. There are lots of people who were not, and are not, the Jewish messiah, and nearly all of them are unimportant to Judaism.

      Of course, Jews accept the importance of Jesus outside of Judaism. Jesus is the center of Christianity, and Christianity is important. Jesus' teachings are a core component of what we call our "civilization", so Jesus is important to the world at large.

      I'm going to make an executive decision here, unless Chris and Anthony overrule me. I am enjoying this conversation, and this conversation is very much the kind of dialog I'm trying to foster. But at the same time, we've drifted off the topic of my piece, and I'm not sure we're within the topic of this site. So I'm going to take your latest unresponded-to question over to my site, post it there, and discuss it there. I mean no disrespect by doing this, and I hope you understand.

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    4. Good Larry, proceed as planned. I think you're right that the conversation has drifted. This post has gotten lots of discussion going, though, so let us thank you again for your willingness to share your insights!

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  10. Thank you for your time and your thoughts. However I do have one comment I would like to make.

    You said:

    "as for Jewish Christianity (or Messianic Judaism), I wish those folks the best of luck, but I think that the opportunity for being simultaneously Christian and Jewish passed from the world scene at least 1500 years ago. "

    I am neither a Jewish Jew nor a Jewish Christian but I think the above statement is a bit off. The fact is, there are people today who are Jewish and they are also Christian (and vice versa). To say that they do not exist or to deny their existence is at best paradoxical, at worst prejudicial.

    It sounds to me like you are willing to accept Jewish Jews and non-Jewish Christians but you want to ignore the people in between?

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    1. Anon, this comment is in two parts, to comply with the blog's limit on the length of any single comment.

      Anon, I am not ignoring the people “in-between”, or claiming that they do not exist. In fact, I specifically mentioned them, as you noted. Yes, I mentioned them in passing, mostly to make a point: Jews can embrace Jesus as one of our own without becoming Christian, or Jewish-Christian. We can embrace Jesus as Jewish Jews, and perhaps even become better Jewish Jews in the process.

      In our world, Judaism and Christianity are separate religions. Many write about the "border" between Judaism and Christianity, as if each religion is a separate country. I find the notion of a border to be a useful metaphor in interfaith dialog. One useful thing about this metaphor is that it helps explain (without casting aspersions) that some folks live close to the border, or even ON the border. It also helps explain us focus on what divides us. If I live on the California-Arizona border, this has few personal consequences (so long as both States don't make me pay them taxes!). But consider the border today between North and South Korea. Practically speaking, I don't think it's possible to live on that border, but if we imagine a hypothetical person living on that border, it's easy to see that this person could not be simultaneously 100% North Korean and 100% South Korean. Instead, such a person might have a hybrid identity, combining elements of being North Korean and South Korean, not necessarily in equal measure.

      The Jewish-Christian border is not as “hot” as the Korean border, but neither is it as casual as the California-Arizona border. If we’re speaking in general historic terms since the so-called “parting of the ways”, (1) it has been important to both Jews and Christians to define who is in, and who is out, and (2) both sides have denied the possibility of simultaneously being a member of both communities. I don’t see anything prejudicial in pointing this out – from my exposition about religious borders, you can see that there’s nothing evil or immoral about living close to the border. Nor am I denying the possibility of a hybrid Jewish-Christian identity. I’m making a different point. According to what I think is the best history, Christianity began as a Jewish sect. Evidently, it was once possible – let’s say in the mid-first century – to be 100% Jewish and 100% Christian (or what was to become known as “Christian” – Jesus’ earliest followers did not use this word). The point I was making in my post was that this same possibility no longer exists. The two religions have “parted ways” – or putting it in a less orthodox way, Christianity has changed (Nicea, for example) and so has Judaism (Talmud, for example).

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    2. Anon, here's part two of my reply to you.

      In our day, we’ve seen considerable Christian acceptance of a hybrid Jewish-Christianity, and nearly no Jewish acceptance of Jewish-Christianity. Perhaps it should be otherwise. But there are many reasons why Jews have not accepted Jewish-Christianity, and I’ll name two of them here: (1) the historic link between Jewish-Christian movements and Christian efforts to convert Jews to Christianity, and (2) the fact that to Jews, Jewish Christianity appears to be Christianity plus the appropriation of Jewish rituals and holy objects for Christian purposes. From my study of Jewish Christianity (and let’s be clear, Jewish Christianity comes in many flavors, and generalizations here are as difficult as when we’re talking about any religion), it appears that Jewish Christians accept a standard Protestant Christology, including one God in three persons, Incarnation and Resurrection, Jesus as fully human and fully divine, sola fide and sola gratia, and Jesus as the sole and exclusive means for forgiveness of sin. The Jewish name for people who believe in Jesus in this way is “Christian”.

      This being said, I’ve come to understand that many (perhaps most) Jewish Christians don’t see things this way. I believe that many (perhaps most) Jewish Christians EXPERIENCE a Jewish-Christian hybrid identity, and at times experience this hybridity in the sense of a Jewish-Christian harmony. I think that many (perhaps most) Jewish Christians identify with the Jewish people, with our history and our fate. I take this seriously. Yes: the fact that Jewish Christians perceive what they’re doing as Jewish does not make it Jewish. But at a minimum, the self-perception of Jewish Christians creates an interesting basis for dialog. I don’t know if the Jewish/Jewish-Christian dialog should be a part of Jewish/Christian dialog, or should be its own separate dialog (I suspect the latter, but my mind is not made up).

      The above is what I might have said, in place of the sentence you objected to in my piece, but doing so would have so disrupted the flow of my piece that my central point would have been lost. I might have skipped the topic of Jewish-Christianity altogether, but doing so would have ignored the elephant in the room, and might have been interpreted as my ignoring Jewish-Christianity (the very heart of what you criticized in my piece). Even what I’ve written here is inadequate for the subject we’re discussing. So, I figured I’d drop in the sentence about Jewish-Christianity that prompted your objection, and discuss the matter further if anyone was interested. So, you see! You fell right into my plan!

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  11. I wonder if Larry Behrendt has ever read Sholem Asch's "One Destiny: An Epistle to the Christians"? Larry sounds as if he agrees with (at least some of) Asch's positions. I like Larry's post and Asch's little book.

    Rick Carpenter

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