The New Testament from a Jewish Perspective

In 06 Scripture & Theology on 2015/02/06 at 12:00 AM

NOSTRA AETATE (Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council.)  50 years later:

Jewish scholarship on the New Testament has greatly increased in number since NOSTRA AETATE. While there was some Jewish scholarship on the New Testament over the centuries before NOSTRA AETATE, Jews in general have not desired to read or understand the New Testament. This has mostly been due to the harsh statements made by Jesus about Jews and their religious leader in the Gospel, and the accusation by the Church that “Jews killed our Lord.” Centuries of violent and often deadly persecution, pogroms, expulsions, lies and suffering followed. Jews stayed away from this dangerous text, and even those Jewish scholars who wrote about the New Testament, were not widely read by other Jews.

However, three events in the 1940’s prompted a change in Jewish interest in studying the New Testament and in Christian interest in Jewish scholarship on the New Testament. These events are the Holocaust, the birth of the State of Israel, and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The first two were traumatic events that changed relations between Christians and Jews, mostly among clergy, religious, and scholars. Christians began to question what elements in the long development of Christian theology contributed to the Holocaust, while the birth of the State of Israel prompted Christians to ask about God’s character of faithfulness in His covenant to the Jewish people, when the status of the Jewish people changed from wandering to returning home.

Nostra Aetate followed in the 1960’s, opening a new chapter in Christian thinking about Jews, Judaism, and

our relationship to the Jewish community. The church admitted it had been wrong about God revoking the covenant between God and Israel. The covenant was indeed a living covenant, never having been revoked. It also rescinded the deicide charge–“the Jews killed our Lord”–against the Jewish people. Other Christian denominations followed suit and began to reach out to Jews and to the Jewish community. Jews responded, and Christian-Jewish dialogue followed in full force. Jesus’ identity as a Jew, faithful to Judaism, was affirmed by the Church, and Christian scholars became interested in studying the Jewish Jesus to understand the specifically Jewish context and Jewish faith in which Jesus taught. The church needed help from Jewish scholars to accomplish this.

Jewish scholars also became interested in pursuing the New Testament for a number of different reasons, e.g., it was written by Jews and could be studied from a Jewish perspective, it contained elements of Second Temple Judaism not available in other Jewish sources. As Amy Jill-Levine stated in an interview about her book, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, “The more I study the New Testament the better Jew I become.” Likewise, Brad Young, a Christian scholar who studied under David Flusser, a Jewish scholar of the New Testament, said, “If we do not know Jesus as a Jew, we do not know Jesus.”

Because we are often taught by rabbis, and study Jewish sources to understand scripture more fully, we want to offer this study as a way of exposing the breadth of Jewish scholarship on the New Testament that are available, to understand the history and development of this particular scholarship, and to gain new insights into Jesus’ teachings for our faith, life, and discipleship.

At the invitation of the Winnipeg Bat Kol Tri-Diocesan Committee Sister Lucy Thorson gave a conference to a crowd of approximately seventy people on the topic Modern Milestones in Catholic Jewish Relations. Using a power point to illustrate her lecture, Sister Lucy identified the step by step developments within the Church regarding our relationship with Judaism and our Jewish brothers and sisters. Her presentation itemized the various documents, declarations and activities of the Church through the terms of Popes John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. We were led to understand how significant each moment in this history was and how profoundly the Church’s stance has changed during the almost 50 years since Nostra Aetate was written in 1965. Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the Church’s Relationship to Non- Christian Religions, one of the most influential and celebrated documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Rabbi Alan Green offered insights and perspectives from his experience in dialogue. He noted the accomplishments to date and invited us to consider what the next steps might be here in Winnipeg, challenging the group to consider what steps would be necessary to move forward together and to include Muslims in our dialogue. Rabbi Green brought the evening to a close with a prayerful Shabbat chant.

From the Newsletter of the Sisters of Sion: Dynamic Movement of the Holy Spirit



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