Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Seeing Others As They See Themselves

I find it fascinating to consider whether we see other people in the way that they see themselves. I fear that, too often, we attribute characteristics to certain others that they simply would not recognise. Sometimes we even do it to be nice. I have been reading Amy-Jill Levine's The Misunderstood Jew which I discovered to be a fascinating exploration of Jesus' Jewishness. Professor is well-placed to offer such a perspective. She is Jewish, but has studied Christianity in depth, especially Matthew's Gospel, and teaches across Judaism and Christianity. She describes herself as a "Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt."

I was particularly interested in what she says about how we refer to the Bible and how our attempts to be “correct” can misfire and see that as an illustration of how we can unhelpfully project our thinking on to others.

There is a tendency in certain circles to make reference to the “Hebrew Bible” when talking about what other Christians might call the “Old Testament.” It is an attempt to be inclusive – but Professor Levine suggests that it misses the mark. She comments: “By seeking a common term that would not offend anyone, well-meaning scholars thus erased .. Judaism’s distinct use of the canon …..  The problem with the expression “Old Testament” lies not in the labelling, but in a combination of cultural attitudes and Christian education. “Old” need not mean “bad.”  …..  It is not the terminology that needs to change: it’s Christian education. Instead of using the falsely neutral, Protestant, linguistically inaccurate term “Hebrew Bible,” Christians might simply use the title “Old Testament” … Jews should continue to use “Tanakh.” The separate labels .. prevent the canon of one group from being subordinated by or subsumed into the canon of other; they have the added benefit of indicating that synagogue and church each has its own story.”

There are plenty of places where we think that we know how other groups should think – and need rather to let them be themselves, contributing in their own special way to the wonderful tapestry that is God’s world.

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