Monday, 18 June 2007

Amy-Jill Levine

Tonight I attended a public lecture at Auckland University given by New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine, currently on a tour Down Under. Levine is a joy to listen to, and a highly distinctive voice in the field (and I don't just mean the New York accent!)

For a start, she is a member of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. Most New Testament scholars are of course professing Christians, but invariably exude a dour Calvinism, a mixture of apologetics and thin-lipped worldly denial. Jewish teachers don't seem to have that problem. While Catholics and Protestants tend to wallow in the awful sinfulness of it all, the Jewish view is generally far more optimistic, mercifully lacking the concept of original sin. I swear that you could tell the Presbyterians in the audience: they were the ones who didn't get the humor!

In the fundagelical camp there are those (usually devotees of the arcane discipline of "systematic theology") who suffer under the illusion that only Christians (i.e. their kind of Christian) can have anything relevant to contribute to theological discussion. Levine gives the lie to that myth. The church was conceived within first-century Judaism, inspired by a Jewish prophet, spread abroad by a Jewish apostle. Levine, who works tirelessly to emphasise the essential Jewishness of Jesus and his message, asks the kind of questions that bring us closer to the "real Jesus" than most Christian scholars are capable of. Being outside the fold, so to speak, means she can afford to be honest and direct. The denominational hacks who dominate the field could learn a lot from people like Levine. Her recent book The Misunderstood Jew is not to be missed. It's a sensitive, respectful look at Jesus through Jewish eyes, minus the Christian schmaltz, which makes it a uniquely valuable contribution.


Tom Amiel said...

I started reading the book recently and it's a very good introduction into the Jewishness of early christianity. I so agree with your comments about the fundamental differing world-view between Judaism and Christianity... the concept or original sin has done so much damage down the centuries. As Jews we toast every meal with "L'Chaim" - to life - nuff said.

Reality said...

She is a great teacher.

I have a set of her lectures on CD. She covers "The Old Testament" Parts 1 and 2. These are available from THE TEACHING COMPANY at

Along with this set, Bart Ehrman also provides a lecture series at this site. His lectures cover The New Testament, Part 1 & 2, After the New Testament, Part 1 & 2, and Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication, Part 1 & 2.

They are both fantastic sets, and come with additonal reading recommendations.

While one may not agree with everything they teach, these studies will surely generate additional contemplation and may suggest reasonable possibilities in answer to some controversial theories.

Reality said...

I just noticed the link I listed does not go to the right site.

This one should work better:

bear_track said...

My guess is that Levine writes something like "Let's be inclusive"
and "Let's play nicely together" and, Oh, by the way, Jesus is not the Messiah.

Does this sum it up accurately?

camfinch said...

"My guess is that Levine writes something like "Let's be inclusive"
and "Let's play nicely together" and, Oh, by the way, Jesus is not the Messiah."

The question isn't so much about "the Messiah" as "a Messiah". The word means an anointed one, and there were a number of such figures considered Messiahs in the presumed history of the Hebrews. Joshua, David, etc. fit the bill, at least as their lives and deeds are recorded in the O.T. Jesus and his followers would well have seen him as an anointed one, with a mission to restore the kingdom of Israel.

Bob said...

If you are reading this I have a request. Can you alter the style of the comments page so that it (the text portions) fill the screen. Reality has posted a link but it gets cut off because of the narrow text area. This change would also make it easier on the eyes when reading comments from some of our more long-winded posters. Thx

In case Gavin doesn't see this, does anyone out there know how to contact him?

XCGMouse said...

But, "Being outside the fold, so to speak, means she can afford to be honest and direct." - likewise, suggests, Levine - being a professing Orthodox Jew - would be prone to a respectful look at Jesus through Jewish eyes, plus the Jewish schmaltz...

Gavin said...

Bob, unfortunately I don't have a lot of control over the comments format. The best way to post a link is to use html code linked to text.

Bear Track: short answer - nope.


Rob said...

To post a link:
<a href="URL">link title</a>

<a href="">google</a>

Mike Lechner said...

What you had to say about Dr. Levine is good and true. She is a joy to listen to. Jesus was Jewish. That is the bottom line. Why is it that we gentiles think that we are the only ones who know how to interpret the Jewish scriptures? When I read the Tanack objectively, it is interesting to discover that the passages Christians use to support their beliefs do not fit the context of those passages. It leaves me wondering if we've got it all wrong. After all, according to Isaiah 2, the gentiles are suppose to gather in Jerusalem (not Rome) and be taught by the Jews. Somehow, we Christians got it all turn around.

Felix Taylor, Jr. said...

As Doug Ward rightfully said, he looks forward to the day when one is no longer stigmatized for an interest in the Hebraic (or Judaic) roots of Christianity. God speed that day. I am looking forward to getting the book on loan from my public library.

lilypad said...

This looks like a good suggestion. Am not familiar with her works, but do have some interesting books by Borg, Spong and Funk on Jesus' life and teachings. My sister is Orthodox, so will ask if she knows of this author.