I’m about to tackle a series of posts here on Christian anti-Judaism and Jewish anti-Christianity. Neither are pleasant topics! But we are devoted here to interfaith discussion of topics at the Jewish-Christian intersection, including our shared histories. Sadly, much of this history is a history of animosity. We must understand this history in order to understand each other, and hopefully, move past this history into a new and friendlier era.
But before we get started … I want to try something new here. The purpose of this site is to encourage interfaith dialogue – encourage this dialogue generally, but also encourage that it take place right here, in the comments to my posts. We’ve had some good discussion here so far, but I want to see if we can do better. So in this post, and maybe in a few posts upcoming, I’ll suggest a topic for discussion in the comments. You can ignore my suggestion, and discuss anything related to my posts that comes to mind … but as my posts can be a bit esoteric, I’ll try to suggest more concrete discussion topics.
Today’s discussion topic: what do you think makes for a “good Jew”? What personal qualities do you associate with being a good Jew? If a Jew is striving to be a better Jew, what should the Jew get better at doing? Don’t be afraid to suggest qualities that might strike you as less than earth-shaking! In the recent Pew Study of Jewish Americans, 69% of Jews said that leading an ethical and moral life is an essential part of what it means to be Jewish. But 42% said that having a good sense of humor is essentially Jewish, and 14% said it is essentially Jewish to eat Jewish food, so obviously not everything that makes one a “good Jew” has to be deadly serious.
Friend of this site Anthony Le Donne has suggested that he and I do an interfaith back-and-forth on the topic of how to read “troubling passages” in the Bible. He suggested that I post something here, then he’d respond on his blog, and we’d continue until we’ve achieved a resolution or (more likely) mutual exhaustion. Naturally, I agreed. Talking to Anthony is great fun, and besides, interfaith dialog is what this blog is all about.
I’d like to start the dialog by selecting a single “troubling text” to help focus our discussion. But which text to select?
[Those so inclined may view my bracha for interfaith study]
In my last post, I initiated this series on the Parable of the Prodigal Son by pointing out that Jews and Christians are likely to read this parable in different ways. I mentioned that this parable has been described by some Christians as the “gospel within the gospel”, because (as at least one author has written) it “illustrates the mercy and forgiveness of God and the joy over a sinner who repents and returns.”
In this sense, the “gospel within the gospel” is like what theologians call “a canon within the canon”. A “canon within the canon” is a portion of the Bible, or a “key”, that we can use to understand the Bible as a whole. Sounds good, right? We can all use a little help to better understand the Bible. But the business of canons within canons is controversial. Some say that “one canon is enough”. D.A. Carson acidly describes the canon within the canon as “a subset of scriptures taught in exclusion to those that would result in true doctrine.” The problem with canons within canons and gospels within gospels is that stuff gets left out, and sometimes stuff gets brought in, to make sure we don’t miss the Bible message. There can come a point where we are no longer using the “key” to understand the bigger gospel or canon – all we are looking at is the key itself.
If there can be a canon within the canon and a gospel within the gospel, can there also be a “parable within a parable”? By this I mean a portion of or key to a parable that’s commonly used to understand the entire parable. In this post, I’m going to argue 2 things:
[Those so inclined may view my bracha for interfaith study]
With this post, I am inaugurating a series on the New Testament Parable of the Prodigal Son. In future posts, we’ll read this parable together, and explore how to do this reading in an interfaith way. But our reading will commence in earnest in my next post. In this post, I want to raise a preliminary question: why am I doing this?
The Parable of the Prodigal Son might be the most beloved story in the Christian canon. For Christians, this parable shows that no matter how far we may wander from God, God still loves us, longs for our return, and is ready to accept us back and forgive us unconditionally. We might explore this beautiful message together in this interfaith space.
But the Parable of the Prodigal Son is a story of two brothers. The younger one is the prodigal son from the title, the one who wasted his inheritance and eventually returns home to the father’s welcome in a way that gives us the warm fuzzies. But there’s another son in the story: he’s the older son, the son that’s not mentioned in the title of this parable, and he’s more difficult to deal with. While the younger son abandoned his family for the prodigal life in a distant land, the older son remained home to work on the family farm. In the Christian view the older son is the bad guy: he’s self-righteous, whiny and ultimately every bit as lost as his younger sibling, yet instead of seeking his father’s forgiveness, the older son acts like he’s earned his father’s love.
I have been giving this blog a hard think. I’ve received positive critical reaction to this blog, but I have not received as much reaction as I had hoped for. I’ve heard from some that this blog is too intellectual, too hard to follow, and perhaps not personal enough. I’m thinking about what to do to make this site a friendlier place for people to speak their minds.
In the meantime, on the Earliest Christianity site, I’ve had on and off discussions with Bgglencoeok, a man of considerable intellect and great passion. Our discussions there have focused on the “Quest for the Historical Jesus”. At my invitation, Bgglencoeok has posted a comment here, and I promised to write a post to go with his comment. You’ll (soon) find his comment below. Perhaps this is a metaphor for how to build a blog audience! First you comment, then I post.
So here goes. What follows is a summary of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus.”
My goal on this blog is to look at early Christianity and its intersection with Judaism from an interfaith perspective. But what does it mean to write from an interfaith perspective? I have discussed here a handful of topics that I imagine to be of interest to Jews and Christians, but these are topics discussed by many authors belonging to different faiths, and to no faith. What makes my discussion “interfaith”?
An inter-national body like the United Nations requires multiple members; an inter-denominational religious service draws on many religious traditions. But I’m one person, with a single religious affiliation: how can I be “inter”? “Inter-“ is a prefix meaning between, among, or within something – but if I try to write from an interfaith perspective, what exactly is it that I claim to be between, among or within?
This is the last in a series of posts here on Daniel Boyarin’s book “The Jewish Gospels“. In this post (actually, I’ll need
two three posts), I will examine the final chapter of his book, where Boyarin provides a controversial interpretation of the “suffering servant” passage found in the Biblical book of Isaiah, chapter 53.
But before we can get to Boyarin, we have a lot of background to cover – so much background, in fact, that I’ll need to devote this post just to the background. In this first post, I’ll look at the way Judaism and Christianity have viewed Isaiah 53. My second post will look at Boyarin’s analysis in the context of the Jewish-Christian dispute over the meaning of this passage.
One caveat: entire books have been written about Isaiah 53, and seemingly none of them agree. Below is my effort to provide a brief but fair summary of Isaiah 53, but it’s probably not as fair as I might wish, and I know it’s not brief!