I finished reading The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine.
From childhood, Levine had a charitable and open attitude toward Christianity. I think I mentioned that as a small child she wanted to become Pope when she grew up. This, I believe, caused the Christian anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic attitudes she ran into to hurt even more.
She concluded that most Christians don’t want to offend or put down the Jews. Most Christians don’t even realize when they are doing it. Even those whose self-image is that they are progressive, inclusive, and welcoming to all often use Judaism as a foil. One of the themes she comes back to often is the role of seminaries and Biblical theologians who do not point out enough that much that gets said in the pulpit about Judaism and Jesus has little foundation.
She makes it her mission to make up for this, to point out to Christians how some of the things they say sound to a Jewish person. Her last chapter is an acrostic (like some of the Psalms) of 26 things from A to Z that would help Jewish-Christian conversations.
Some of them are things she has already covered. Some of them have to do with the need for Christians to really grasp that Jews did not kill Jesus. He was executed for sedition by the Romans (the High Priests were Roman appointees and collaborators).
She says we should be aware of our hymns, for instance. How many Christians have sung The Lord of the Dance without thinking?
In this catchy, popular hymn we sing with Jesus:
“I danced on the Sabbath, and I cured the lame. The holy people said it was a shame. They whipped and they stripped, and they hung me on high; and they left me there, on a cross to die.”
Something about that hymn always made me uncomfortable. But, like many Christians, I never really focused on the words. They really are horrible and terribly inaccurate. If I was Jewish and present when that hymn was sung, I would have to walk out. I apologize for ever singing those words.
Another good point she makes is that when Christians study the Bible, but not the rabbinic writings, they may assume that Jews have actually enforced some of the more draconian laws in a book like Leviticus. Christians will be unaware of the discussion about these laws within Judaism and the softening interpretations of the rabbis.
She points out that the lectionary, the set of Bible readings used in many churches, is more anti-Jewish than the Bible itself. She calls on pastors and liturgists to be aware of this distortion and seek to correct it. Again, this is a good point.
Sometimes Levine seems to me to be a little overly defensive. There is no real need to downplay that fact that some Jews were involved in the death of Jesus. I realize that some will misuse that fact. But what happened is what happened. Proper Christian theology sees the whole human race as responsible through their official representatives. See Acts 4:27.
Levine speaks from within Orthodox Judaism today. So I do not think she needs to defend ancient Judaism quite as much as she does. The very fact that Judaism has developed means that Jews have left behind some of the past. Orthodox Jews have not left the past behind as much as Reformed or Conservative Jews have. But Levine clearly believes that it is a good thing that Judaism has developed and continued to reinterpret its heritage over the centuries.
I enjoyed the book and hope she continues to raise awareness among Christians and Jews about ways to be honest and helpful to each other in conversations about our differences and our common faith in the same God.