Baker Academic

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mika Ahuvia on Toledot Yeshu

Mika Ahuvia writes a thoughtful introduction for newcomers to Toledot Yeshu. This is a family of parodic texts mocking the life of Christ. While these texts are extant from the medieval period, they possibly represent tradition that was shared orally for some time. Ahuvia offers a bit of information new to me in this introduction: "According to some late medieval sources, it was a Jewish custom to read Toledot Yeshu on Christmas Eve." She also offers this insight, "Mockery, however, is one of the most powerful tools of the weak, and it is not surprising that Jews resorted to this tactic at various times and places." 

This is an important point and deserves much more weight in Jewish-Christian discourse. We must read our traditional polemics within the framework of power dynamics. We do this not to justify the rhetoric, but to better understand our ancient (and often alien) relatives.

I especially appreciated this paragraph:
"Many scholars prefer to avoid discussion of Toledot Yeshu, which recalls uncomfortable periods of history when relations between Jews and Christians were antagonistic. Unfortunately, such avoidance of history has disastrous consequences. I would argue that it is the parts of our history that we refuse to look at that pose the most danger to us. Avoidance of historical shortcomings encourages complacency, displacement of responsibility, and lack of sensitivity to others. It is when we confront the difficult parts of our shared history that we can come to terms with why people needed such mockery and why others might employ such rhetoric against them, understanding the historical violence and prejudice that shaped this text. It is only when we confront that part of the human spirit that loves to degrade the other that we can invite in more enlightened responses."
This is a short introduction to a much misunderstood text. I highly recommend it.


1 comment:

  1. The above link to Mika's article directs you to the webpage Ancient Jew Review. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to this fine resource!