Common Misconceptions

Christians are not idolators--nor are they inherently anti-Semitic.

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Changed Realties

It is this brave and benevolent response that anticipates the vast im­provements the past half-century has witnessed in Jewish-Christian rela­tions. On the academic front, Christian scholarship for the most part no longer sees the synagogue as a foil for the church or regards Judaism as a depressing and repressing religion marked by numerous unbearable re­strictions. Christian scholars and teachers now emphasize that Jesus can­not be understood apart from Judaism. If you want to understand Jesus, you must understand the Jewish world in which he lived.

Christians in numerous churches--Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and others--have made formal statements prais­ing the depth of Jewish traditions, theology, and commitment to social justice. In Sunday schools and adult education programs, people in these groups and others are continuing to learn about and therefore appreciate Judaism. It is time for the synagogue to reciprocate.

In church and synagogue, our forms of worship, sacred Scripture, un­derstanding of the divine, and views of salvation differ, but we do have shared moral principles. When asked by a potential follower, "Teach me the Torah while standing on one foot," Hillel responded: "What is hate­ful to you, do not do to your fellow. All the rest is commentary, go and learn." When instructing his disciples, Jesus announces: "Whatever you wish that people would do to you, do so to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." The point is not to debate which is the "better" formula:

the "don't" of Hillel or the "do" of Jesus; both teachings import the same guideline, that we treat our neighbors as ourselves.

Both traditions similarly promote both orthodoxy (literally, "right be­lief") and orthopraxy ("right action"), even as both debate internally what those positions should be. Although Christianity will typically empha­size that action comes from belief (as Martin Luther put it, "Good works don't make a good man, but a good man bears good fruit"), the Epistle of James--a text, by the way, that Luther did not like--insists that "faith without works is dead."

And although Judaism will typically emphasize action, halakhah [Jewish law], that action is premised on the covenant between God and Israel. A first-century Jew was asked, "Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?" He responded "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength….And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." The citations are from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18; they are quoted here from the Gospel of Matthew.

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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.