Baker Academic

Thursday, September 19, 2013

(Avoiding) Sermonizing Anti-Judaism

My thanks to Brian LePort for pointing me to this:



  1. This article expresses things I've had trouble articulating, in particular my discomfort with praying for healing.

    I've encountered the anti-Judaism that follows the logic (1) Jesus was good, the best person there ever was, therefore (2) his opponents must have been bad, the worst people there ever were, and by the way (3) his opponents were all Jewish. The logic is flawed. For example, most of the things Jesus opposed were prevalent in the Roman world, at least in some general sense. Jesus opposed those thing where he found them, in his world, which was almost exclusively a Jewish world. And I'd argue further that he opposed them in a thoroughly Jewish way.

    One big problem with the anti-Judaism in the anti-Jewish logic described above is that it diminishes Jesus. Jesus' teaching loses something if what he was opposing was the most oppressive of societies. He'd get points for having the guts to speak out against such oppression, but it doesn't take much imagination or intelligence to propose ways to alleviate such oppression. I think a true-er context for Jesus is that he lived in a generally good society, one that was probably a little better than the larger Roman world, and that Jesus' genius was how he preached ways for that generally good society to get better and realize its true potential.

    1. Thank you, Larry. I wholeheartedly agree. I would only add one wrinkle.

      Christians are (and have been for some time) in the business of self-crucifying. Indeed, we are at our best (and perhaps that's not saying much) when we find our identity in cruciformity. We are at our worst when we attempt to stand above culture and condemn it. We can find both elements of "Christlike-ness" in the NT. To my mind, only one of these is worthwhile.

      Given that we (Xns) are in the business of self-crucifying, we have a tendency to identify as the religious establishment. We are analogous (so the story goes) with the Pharisees and Temple establishment and Roman persecutors. Indeed, the caricatures that we've created for these historical figures are projections of our worst selves.

      By identifying with these caricatures, we find ourselves in need of healing, condemnation, etc. I think that there might be virtue, for example, for American Christians to realize that we look much more like Rome than the society Jesus hopes for when he preaches the Sermon on the Mount.

      The lamentable byproduct to these caricatures is that we Xns have sinned against the historical figures represented by these narratives. Rome becomes an anti-Christ (when we know it was more complicated than this) and "the Jews" become unfeeling elitists who resist grace (when we know that this isn't true).

      In short, by writing ourselves into the NT as the "unbelieving" and "hard hearted", we Christians have unwittingly created ancient Judaism in our own images.

      This is not to forget that we Xns have historically condemned Judaism on other grounds. I only speak from my experience as character within the narratives of my generation.