Jesus The Misunderstood Jew: Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts on differences between Jewish and Christian traditions focusing in particular on attitudes toward the Bible, learning and dialogue.

It’s a measure of how enduring historic Jewish and Christian approaches to faithful inquiry are that they find fresh expression in the daily newspaper. Dr. Amy Jill Levine raises several significant concerns in The Misunderstood Jew about how Christian biblical study misses the sharpness of Jesus’ first century critique of religion and also has progressively (and unintentionally in many cases) bolstered anti-Jewish attitudes.What is striking today is how differently the two traditions interpret the role of Jesus and scripture and how these affect our contemporary religious practices and attitudes. Levine writes that Christians read the Old Testament retrospectively and see Jesus as the suffering servant described by Isaiah.But she writes,

Jews traditionally see Isaiah 52:3-9 as referring not to a single, future figure but to God’s servant the people Israel, redeemed from exile. (p. 211)

In contemporary Christian understanding Jesus as the messiah is viewed as a personal savior of individuals, a role so sharply defined it is a mission statement for many Christian denominations. But the understanding in Jewish teaching, expressed most beautifully in Isaiah, is that Israel the people are the suffering servant called to obedience to God. The two could not be more divergent–individual or community.

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