“Your Thoughts: Problematic Texts”

If we look back at the history of Christian acts of persecution of Jews—the Crusades, the Inquisition, and blood libels, just to name a few—a strong argument has been made by numerous historians, most notably Father Edward Flannery, that these acts of violence, prejudice, and deep seeded hatred originate from the anti-Jewish sentiments taught from the texts of the New Testament.  Other gospels and books of the New Testament share the name calling.  Jews are called a “brood of vipers” (Luke 3), “snakes” (Matthew 23), “descendants of the devil” (John 8), “thieves and bandits” (John 10), a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2 & 3) and are outright charged with the murder of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2).

No matter the progress Jews and Christians have made in interfaith discourse, anti-Jewish texts are read aloud every week in Christian congregations across the globe.  Thus constitutes a fundamental barrier in progress for Jews and Christians. Despite teaching together, despite where we march, despite interfaith programs and dinners we come to, we cannot change the Christian canon to conform to a more Jewish-friendly rhetoric.

Christianity is not the only religion that faces this challenge. We, too, can find similar issues in our own texts. Each week, we read the assigned parashot, and we either smile or cringe depending on the lot we have been given.  Within our Torah, texts exist that we as Progressive Jews, Americans, Humans, find offensive, difficult to believe, or troubling in nature.  We should be compelled to start with the owning of another human being as property, and the rules associated with this ownership found in Exodus chapter 21.  This is to say nothing of the understanding of women as property of their fathers, until they are married and then they become the property of their husbands.  Let us not forget the laws in Deuteronomy 22 that stipulate if a man rapes a woman and if she does not cry out for help, she is liable and put to death, but if a woman is raped in the countryside, she is free of blame.  Other passages in the Tanakh are equally disturbing.  Joshua’s attack on Jericho ends with the extermination of everything in the city, man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and ass.  Our prophets have some problematic speeches, including Joel’s reversal of the common vision of peace, stating, “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears.” Slavery, patriarchal society favoritism, sanctioned murder, rape, thievery, and genocide, all stand prominently on the pages of our canon.

Dealing with problematic elements in our texts is not a new problem; the rabbis have wrestled with outdated or distressing imagery in the Torah for centuries.  Our question then is how do we as scholars, rabbis, and lay Jews analyze our current religion when it is based on texts that are problematic, and further, how do we reconcile Christian dogma when it is based on anti-Jewish texts?

 

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