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Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary – R. Allen & C. Williamson

April 11, 2016

PTGWBTJThis doesn’t deal with the epistles and does not quote passages in detail. It deals with general issues.

At the time when the various documents of the New Testament were being written, here was increasing animosity between the Jews and those Jews who followed Jesus – it isn’t correct to contrast ‘Christians’ and ‘Jews’ – those terms came later.

The trouble is that those documents were set in aspic, as it were, so when preachers talk abut the passage for the day they tend to cast all Jews in a bad light. Ultimately, this had led to anti-Semitism, whether intended or not.

Despite high-sounding and pious proclamations from the mainstream churches, very few seminaries deal with this issue, so anti-Jewish preaching continues.

This book tries to set the record straight – if only busy preachers would take time to consult it.

The first purpose of the commentary to bring out the Jewishness of the Gospel texts, by pointing out how they reflect Jewish traditions, concepts, practices, and institutions, whether prior to or contemporaneous with the New Testament. In some cases the authors also refer to later rabbinic discussions on similar issues. The commentary thus enables preachers or other interpreters of the text to stress the dependence of Christianity on its Jewish matrix and the continuity between the two traditions. The second purpose is, as the authors state, “to reflect critically on points at which the lections caricature Jewish people, practices, and institutions.” They urge interpreters to place such polemic in historical context, thereby undercutting any tendency to consider it universally relevant, and when necessary to engage in a vigorous moral and theological critique of the very texts upon which they may be preaching.

We learn that John the Baptist was actually “keeping kosher” by eating locusts and wild honey in the wilderness; that Jesus was dressed as befits a pious Jew (wearing the tassels reminded him to love and keep the commandments) when the woman with the flow of blood reached out and grasped the border of his garment; and that when Jesus sat down to teach–whether in a boat, on a hillside, or in the synagogue– he was engaging in common Jewish rabbinic practice.

We also learn (in the commentary on the Mary and Martha text from Luke) that first-century Judaism, like first-century Christianity, was far more pluralistic in its teaching about women than we have sometimes been led to believe; that there were actually other first-century Jews who, like Jesus, prayed to God as “Abba“ (see commentary on Luke 11:1-13); and that Pentecost, as depicted in Acts, was an ingathering of the human family that many Jewish writers anticipated happening in the eschaton.

It was written at a time when I was doing a series of Bible studies with my local group of The Council of Christians and Jews.  We covered much of the same ground and I had as possible publisher – but this book got in first – whatever – as long as the message gets out and is read and heeded. (Mind you, our work was different because it involved ordinary Jews and Christians reflecting on and reacting to texts together.)

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