(Read Pt. 1)
The second lecture Levine delivered on Saturday was titled “How Jews and Christians Read Scripture Differently”. She began in the first century by describing the diversity of messianic expectations among Jews. Some sought an anointed king, a priest, a prophet. Some waited for an angel like Michael or the return of figures like Enoch or Elijah. For most messiah was to bring a messianic age: the end of war, famine, death, and exile. For most Jews Jesus did not qualify since none of these things happened. Christians (and all of the earliest Christians appear to have been Jews) thought otherwise.
Differences of Hermeneutics:
Levine says that Christians should calls the Hebrew Scriptures the “Old Testament,” something I will explain below. When juxtaposing Jewish and Christian hermeneutics she makes the following points:
Christians rely on the LXX (this is not to say that other Jews did not). For example, in Isaiah 7.14 the
Hebrew text uses the word עלמה, which translates quite simply as “young woman.” The LXX uses the word παρθένος. Levine says that the word παρθένος eventually began to be used more precisely to mean “virgin,” so that by the time Matthew reads Isaiah 7.14 in the LXX in the first century he sees a prophecy of a virgin birth whereas in the context of Isaiah 7.14 the prophet likely pointed to a young woman who was already pregnant. Jews make this point to Christians when discussing this passage because the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth depends on a reading from the LXX, not the Hebrew text.
Another difference is that of punctuation. The Hebrew text does not have punctuation. So when we read קול קורא במדבר we must ask where we should put the comma in translation. Do we read it as, “A voice crying out, ‘In the wilderness…” or “A voice crying out in the wilderness…” If you put the comma after a voice crying out the statement is “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…” If you put the comma after “…in the wilderness…” then the voice is crying in the wilderness and the voice’s first words are “Prepare the way of the Lord.” For Jews this about the preparation to return from exile: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord back to the land of your forefathers. For Matthew it is about John the Baptist: a voice in the wilderness.
Context is an important difference. When Jesus says that the “meek shall inherit the earth” in Matthew 5.5 Jewish interpreters often hear an echo of Psalm 37.11 where the meek inherit the “land,” i.e. the land of Israel (ארץ). Yet the Greek γῆν can have a universal meaning like “earth.” Jews hear Jesus interpreting Psalm 37.11 where the meek receive the land of their forefathers. Christians hear Jesus promising the world to the meek (eschatologically).
Theological presuppositions inform how Jews and Christians read Scripture. Levine notes that Genesis 1.26 has God saying, “Let us make…” While this is curious Jews postulate that this is a “royal ‘we’,” or that God is speaking to the angels. Christians hear the Trinity.
Levine made several other less important points, but you get the main idea.
“Old Testament” for Christians:
Levine argued that Christians should say, “Old Testament.” It makes sense from a Christian perspective. Yes, “old” can mean antiquated or outdated, but she knows Christians don’t (usually) mean this. Old can be positive as in an antique, or one’s grandparents, or a fine wine!
She says that when Christians say things like “Hebrew Bible” or “Jewish Scriptures” it assumes falsely that everything is shared. For Orthodox the LXX is more authoritative than the MT. For Roman Catholics and Anglicans there are more books in their canon. Even Protestants have a different canonical order. The Protestant Old Testament ends with Malachi preparing to move from prophecy to fulfillment as the next book is Matthew. The Jewish canon ends with Chronicles with a king presenting an edict to rebuild. For Jews this is the cycle of their existence and canonical order gives a different meaning to these same Scriptures.
Levine joked that a sports analogy is the best way to understand the different outlooks of Christianity and Judaism. Christianity is football with a end goal in mind. Judaism is baseball where you go into exile with the hope of getting “home” again.
During the Q&A period Levine made a couple of interesting statements that I jotted down in my notes. She said that in her view (contra The Jesus Seminar) Galilee was not that interested in fighting Rome. Judea may have had more people who wanted to overthrow their overlords. During the war for 66-70 Galilee fought one battle then surrendered. Judea fought to the death.
Also, she stated the the “holy spirit” in Jewish theology was the feminine aspect of deity. She noted how the spirit is connected to Lady Wisdom in Jewish literature. Ruach in Hebrew is feminine, but pneuma in Greek in neuter. The Greek of the church resulted in a holy spirit that was an “it,” but the spirit in Jewish thought is a “she.” Levine postulates that Marty the Mother of Jesus filled this space in Christian thought eventually.
The third and final lecture was titled, “Hearing the Parables Through Jewish Ears”. Levine says that the parables were designed to get people talking to one another. They aimed to shake up the status quo. The point of a parable had less to do with meaning than action: What are we to “do” with this? She compared it to poetry or other forms of art. She acknowledged that the meaning is determined by cultural context, but that this has impacted us as well, as Christians through the ages have reinterpreted the parables based on their cultural context.
Levine presented some of her readings of the parables. She noted that she things the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” should be about the “Prodigal Father,” because of his wastefulness. She was far more sympathetic to the older brother than most Christian exegetes. When reading the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” she noted that the priest and the levite did not pass the man because of purity laws. They were “going down from Jerusalem,” not going up toward it. Rather, Levine says this parable uses the ‘rule of three.’ To get us thinking she asked us to finish this statement: “Larry, Curly, and ____?” We answered “Mo.” She explained that Jews were broken into three groups: sons of Aaron (modern Cohen name), the tribe of Levi (modern Levy, Levison, etc.), and your regular Israelite. In this parable the priest and levite pass by the man so one expects a regular Jew–then the Samaritan comes. Samaritan-Jewish conflict would have made this story seem bleak: the Samaritan is going to kill this man. Rather, he saves him. Levine says it would be like going to Israel today and telling the story based on the Gaza Strip where an Israeli soldier and a Christian peace-worker pass a injured Jew only for him to be helped by a Muslim Palestinian who is part of Hamas. That would be the impact!
Jokes about Biblical Scholars:
Levine told two jokes about biblical scholars that I thought I’d share:
First, she said that when Christians read the story of the three men visiting Abraham they find the Trinity. When Jews read the story it is God with two angels. When biblical scholars read the story…it doesn’t matter because it didn’t really happen anyways! (Not saying I believe this, but you get the point.)
Second, she joked about Song of Songs saying that when a Protestant reads the book she finds an allegory about God and the human soul. When a Catholic reads it he finds an allegory about God and the church. When a Jew reads it there emerges an allegory about God and Israel. When a biblical scholar read it she finds, “really good dirty poetry!”