Jesus Who?

It's time to clear up Jewish misconceptions about Christianity.

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In the following article, the author describes common Jewish myths about Christianity and explains why she believes it is important for Jews to learn about Christianity. In subsequent articles, Levine will debunk these misconceptions and put the development of Christianity in historical context. These essays first appeared in Moment magazine, and were also published in Best Spiritual Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass). Reprinted with permission of the author.Non-Jews

That many Christians have misperceptions about Judaism--views rang­ing from the slightly humorous (all Jews are smart, all Jews can read He­brew) to the blatantly obscene (Jews are children of the devil, Jews seek world domination) is common knowledge to us Jews. We would like our Christian neighbors to appreciate Judaism as a tradition of spiritual depth, profound practice, rich culture, and moral emphasis, and we would also like them to know that we Jews do not have horns, do not worship a God of wrath and law as opposed to a God of love and compassion, and do not spend much time worrying about the state of our immortal soul. 

But ignorance cuts both ways. It's time for us to learn more about Christianity: not just its history of anti-Semitism, but also its theological depth and system of morality.

Why Learn More?

Most Jews know little about Christianity, and what we know--impressions often gleaned from benign mall decorations of elves and bun­nies to the spoutings of narrow-minded ministers convinced that they have a lock on heaven's doors--is likewise often mistaken. Our errors range also from the harmless (thinking that "Christ" is a last name) to the horrifying (thinking that all Christians are anti-Semites).

Yet, in fact, since the birth of the Christian church, we have been ask­ing questions about this moment. Today, with the rise in Christian missionary efforts to convert Jews, on the one hand, and with the current congeniality of interfaith dialogue on the other, it's time to revisit these questions.jesus

Learning more about Christianity helps us in at least two ways. Not only does this type of inquiry tell us how anti-Jewish attitudes developed within the church, but also, informed historical discussion enables us both to appreciate the traditions of our Christian neighbors and to en­hance our appreciation for the choices Judaism made.

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Amy-Jill Levine

Amy-Jill Levine is a professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, where she also directs the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality.