The Misunderstood Jew, Amy-Jill Levine

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The Misunderstood Jew

The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus

By Amy-Jill Levine

Excerpts and outline of the text:


  • “The point of interfaith conversation is not to convert the person across the table, but it is also not to abdicate one’s own theology for the sake of reaching agreement. There is no reason for Jews and Christians to sacrifice their particular beliefs on the altar of interfaith sensitivity.” (p.6)
  • To understand Jesus, it is necessary to understand Judaism.
    • “By seeing Jesus as a Jew with regard to both belief and practice, Christians can develop a deeper appreciation for teachings of the church. Today Jesus’ words are too familiar, too domesticated, too stripped of their initial edginess and urgency. Only when heard through first-century Jewish ears can their original edginess and urgency be recovered.” (p.7)
  • If Jews come to the table with a sense of victimization and Christians come with a sense of guilt, nothing will be accomplished. Conversation cannot begin with either entitlement or apology. One comes to the interfaith table not with guilt and not with entitlement, but with humility and interest. (p.14)
  • When Jews and Christians study Scripture together – both the texts we share and the texts distinct to each group – we discover both what we share and how we come to define ourselves over and against each other. (p.15)

Chapter 1: Jesus & Judaism

Chapter Sections:

Jesus Context and Content

  • This divorcing of Jesus from Judaism does a disservice to each textually, theologically, historically and ethically….To understand Jesus, one must have familiarity with the Scriptures that shaped him…….The insistence on Jesus’ Jewish identity reinforces the belief that he was fully human, anchored in historical time and place. (p.19-20)

Understanding Torah

  • Jesus dresses like a Jew – See Numbers 15:37-40. “By preserving the detail that Jesus wore fringes, the New Testament mandates that respect for Jewish custom be maintained and that Jesus’ own Jewish practices be honored, even by the gentile church, which does not follow those customs. (p.24)
  • Jesus eats like a Jew – See Leviticus 11:3 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8. (p.24-26)
  • Jesus followed the commandments given to Moses (p.26-33)


  • Tax Collector vs. Pharisee analogy suggests that the greatest saint in the church works for the redemption of the greatest sinner. Such a parable appears simple to those not familiar with first century Judaism. Parable is in fact shocking in its portrayal of a tax collector. (p.37-41)

Prayer (p.41-51)

Reclaiming the Jewish Jesus

  • “Jesus of Nazareth dressed like a Jew, prayed like a Jew, instructed other Jews on how best to live according to the commandments given by God to Moses, taught like a Jew, argued like a Jew with other Jews, and died like thousands of other Jews on a Roman Cross. To see him in a first century Jewish context and to listen to his words with first century Jewish ears does not in any way undermine Christian theological claims. “(p.51)

Chapter 2: From Jewish Sect to Gentile Church

Chapter Sections:

Messianic Expectations (p.56-62)

Peter, the Rock (p.62-64)

The Gentile Mission (p.64-71)

Jews & Gentiles (p.71-72)

The Failed Two-Track System (p.74-78)

The Pauline Gospel (p.78-82)

The Olive Tree and its Branches (p.82-86)

Chapter 3: The New Testament and Anti-Judaism

Chapter Sections:

Anti-Judaism: Defining the Problem (p.87-93)

  • Anti-Semitism refers to hatred of Jews as an ethnic group, and it assumes an essential and unchanging Jewish identity. Anti-Semitism ascribes to Hews innate negative traits. Given this definition neither Jesus, Paul, nor the New Testament is anti-Semitic, but are they anti-Jewish?
  • Anti-Judaism is the rejection of specific Jewish teachings and practices and/or of Judaism as a “way of life” or means of salvation. (p.88)

Enter the Historians (p.93-95)

  • The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (Dec. 21) A study by a Vatican based group of Roman Catholic Biblical scholars that seeks to weed out anti)Jewish views in the church.

“The Jews, Who Killed the Lord Jesus and Oppose Everyone” (p.95-102)

“His Blood Be on Us and on Our Children” (p.99-102)

“You are from Your Father the Devil” (p.102-110)

More Than a Prophet

A Jewish Book? (p.111-114)

Hearing with New Aids (p.114-117)

Chapter 4: Stereotyping Judaism

Chapter Sections:

The Theological Problem (p.119-121)

The Educational Failure (p.121-126)

  • Section describes what is missing from departments of religion, seminaries and university based divinity schools, and how their failure to address certain issues contributes to the spread of anti-Jewish readings of the Bible.
  • A list of popular overstatements and misunderstandings regarding Judaism that are popular amongst Christian imagination. (p.124)
    • The Law as an Unbearable Yoke (126)
      • The view that Jews insist on following the “Law” that is not simply difficult to follow but is, as Peter puts it in Acts 12:10, “a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear.”
    • The Warrior Messiah (127)
      • As long as the God of the Old testament is seen as distinct from the God of the New, and as long as Christian teachers and preachers continue to suggest that Judaism is a militaristic, warmongering system missing a concern for shalom and that Christianity is the system of peace, devoid of any sense of militarism, violence, or revenge, anti-Jewish teachings will continue.
    • The Misogynistic Morass: Part I, The Samaritan Woman (131)
      • Early feminist made Jesus one of their own by lowering the bar on his Jewish context. If Judaism could be seen as a completely repressive system, then anytime Jesus is seen talking to a woman, healing her body, or receiving her support, he becomes a spokesman for women’s liberation.
    • The Misogynistic Morass, Part II, The Forbidding of Divorce(139)
    • Good Samaritans, Bad Jews, and Impure Corpses (144)
    • The Temple Domination System (149)
      • Instead of recognizing the Temple as a place where even the poorest woman could feel that she was making a contribution, a place that the Jewish population risked their lives to preserve, and a place where the earliest followers of Jesus worshipped, academics, priests, and pastors make it a place that exploits the widow, oppresses the peasants, and steals from the population. (157)
    • “Only to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel” (157)
    • The Judenrein New Testament (159)
      • The Jew is replaced with the “Judean” and thus we have a Judenrein (Jew-free) text, a text purified of Jews. Jesus is thus neither a Jew nor even a Judean, but a Galilean.

Chapter 5: With Friends Like These…

Chapter Sections:

Liberation Theology (167-170)

The World Council of Churches (170-171)

Misogynistic and Taboo-Ridden Judaism: The Global Version (172-177)

“The Rabbis’ (178-179)

  • One type of anti-Jewish reading suggests that anything in the New Testament that the writer finds problematic is explained as a vestige of “rabbinic” tradition or as a concession to Jewish demands. (178)

Multicultural Selectivity (179-181)

The God of Judaism, Again (181-182)

  • One of the worst anti-Jewish models asserts that Jesus introduced a new and different deity than the one revealed in Torah and worshipped in synagogue. (181)

The Palestinian Jesus (183-185)

Origins of Evil (185-190)

Chapter 6: Distinct Canons, Distinct Practices

Chapter Sections:

How Not to Read Scripture (191-193)

  • By recognizing their use of separate texts and different theological interpretative traditions, Jews and Christians today are in a better position to advance interfaith discussion without having to resort to charges of falsification or foolishness. (193)

Different Canons (193-199)

Different Interpretations (199-206)

  • Both faiths agree that Psalms are central to worship, but readings of these and understandings of biblical figures and events are very different.  Because of their different understandings of shared stories, Jews and Christians also misunderstand why they come to different understandings of Jesus and of messianic ideas. (200)

Different Practices (206-210)

  • Sharing psalms and sharing ritual. Suggests there are interfaith and spiritual benefits for Christians to see the Last Supper as a Passover meal. Christians will regain connection with the exodus event and thus enhance the meaning of Easter. Introducing Christians to Jewish practices, helps break down ignorance and enhance knowledge. (206)

Interfaith Possibilities (210-213)

  • Section looks at assertions made in The Jewish people and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (210)
    • Insists that supersessionist readings are illegitimate, rejecting any claim that the church has replaced the synagogue.
    • Recognizes the Christological interpretations of the “Old Testament” are made retrospectively. I.e. Readers should not expect to find references to Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament unless they presuppose that those references are there.
    • Acknowledges that Jewish readings of Scripture are viable, even when they disagree with Christian claims.
    • Advises that Christians can learn much from Jewish exegesis. This extends the connection between the two communities beyond Scriptures, to the history of their interpretation.

Chapter 7: Quo Vadis?

Suggestions for interfaith work

  • Be cautious of any statements beginning with “All Jews think…” or any stereotypes that assert “All Christians are…” Judaism in the first century and today are diverse, as was the early church. None of us can fully speak for our community. (p.215) Suggests Christians and Jews attend services of different types of Christian and Jewish faiths.
  • Recognize that Jewish sources and Christian sources both contain hateful material. Dialogue partners need to be able to acknowledge the bad as well as the good, and they should try to keep their levels of defensiveness under control. (p.216)
  • Avoid comments that create the picture of a Jesus divorced from his own people. Jesus is not speaking against Jews and Judaism: he is speaking to Jews from within Judaism.
  • Avoid immediate association of Judaism with the Old Testament. Judaism is based on ever evolving interpretations of the Tanakh. (p.217)
  • Be careful lest misunderstanding come about because Jews and Christians are not using words the same way. i.e. Bible, Messiah, etc. (p.219)
  • Do not seek artificial connections, and do not be afraid of disagreement.
  • Christians and Jews both need to know more about their own history before we can have any great success in interfaith conversation. (p.220)
  • Read Scriptures in an interfaith setting. Individuals do not always recognize the impact a text can have until they read it in the company of those directly affected. And also learn to hear with each other’s ears. (p.220)
  • Address why Jesus died, because far too prevalent are explanations that rely on negative stereotypes of Judaism and Jews. (p.222)
  • Double check that one’s Hebrew school, Sunday school, and religious education teachers are informed about the history of their own tradition and the history of the other. (p.225)