As I’ve weaved in and out of church groups over the years, sharing my story with the people I met there, someone with an interest in apologetics always wants to know: when was the moment you read the Bible and realized that the Old Testament points to Jesus?
There was no such moment like that for me – my reasons for conversion, I’m now able to say, had nothing to do with apologetics and everything to do with a desire to fulfill spiritual needs that simply weren’t being met in the religionof my birth.
The fact of the matter is, I avoided certain parts of the Gospels on purpose because I couldn’t reconcile their anti-semitic history with faith in the God I was beginning to know.
I’m still not sure what to make of the passages that are commonly recited at Easter time (Matthew 27:25 in particular, “His blood be on us and on our children!”), in which the Jews are depicted as bloodthirsty hounds who seem to crave violence. In this anti-semitic -sounding reading, Jesus isn’t a long-predicted sacrifice necessary for human redemption. Instead, he’s a helpless murder victim. A target of his own people.
And such passages made it easy to justify violence against the Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years.
So what do I do with these passages now? For a while, I skipped over them, figuring I already understood the nuts and bolts of the gospel story. I struggled mainly with the application part: walking the walk, not simply talking the talk.
But when Easter rolls around each year, I’m forced to address these passages again. All the memories of being called a “Christ-killer” from childhood come flooding back.
To be honest, I don’t understand how those ugly accusations fit with the tradition that I have found (and really, according to basic Christian theology, I thought we all killed Jesus with our sin?). In Christianity – now in the Episcopalian denomination – I found a path to a one-on-one connection with God that didn’t exist in my family’s tradition of Reform Judaism (or at least, I was never told about it). I found redemption and hope for a new beginning, a new self, after living with the stain of sexual assault for too long. I found peace within the narrative that one day all would be made new; all things evil would be reconciled, and every wrong I suffered would be made right.
Most of all, the idea of a God in human skin who felt all the gritty things every human body feels intrigued me. I wanted to know that God.
It may sound strange, but focusing on the Jewishness of Jesus helps me get over the hurdle of anti-semitism in both the New Testament and in Christian history. Just because certain passages of Scripture can be used to justify Jewish discrimination doesn’t mean they should.
I don’t know how exactly I’m supposed to understand the parts of the gospel that make me cringe, but to quote Ani DiFranco, “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”
I know those less-than-savory (dare I call them “ugly”?) passages are there. I can’t ignore them. But if Judaism has taught me anything, it’s the art of nuance, of holding good things in tension with the not-so-good, as well as understanding that the Bible is a product of its time. The parts that feel anti-semitic are no less disturbing than the passages in which God commands the genocide of the Canaanites, or when he drowns the whole world, save for eight people, in a massive flood.
I’m okay with the knowledge that the Bible is more than just a history of God and his relationship with us – it’s also a deeply political work, a product of its times. It contains the very best and worst of human nature, and that is one compelling reason why it is worth reading.
In summary, I hold fast to what is good, and pledge to wrestle with the rest. That is the Jewish way of reading the Bible; the only way I know how.