Amy-Jill Levine. The Misunderstood Jew

Amy-Jill Levine.The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus.  HarperOne, 2006.

This book addresses a crucially important issue–and from a distinctive point of view.  Levine is a prominent member of a pretty exclusive club, Jewish New Testament scholars with appointments at major Protestant seminaries (she teaches at Vanderbilt).

She is clearly highly qualified to address Christians on the issue of Jesus’ Jewishness and its significance for contemporary Jewish/Christian relations. She writes clearly and engagingly. She tells us many important things, especially about Jesus, including, for example, Jesus’ affirmation of Torah.

For Christians whose consciousness has been raised in the past generation by scholars such as Krister Stendahl and numerous others since, Levine’s argument won’t be earth-shaking. But the book aims at a wider audience, so it will surely be read by many who definitely need to be challenged to see Jesus as a Jew–and even more to be challenged toward a much less polarized view of Christianity’s relationship with Judaism.

I am totally affirmative of any careful and sensitive attempt to overcome anti-Jewishness among Christians. And I believe the best place to start is with Jesus and Paul. I appreciate Levine’s contribution to this work. She offers many good points to help Christians to understand the key differences between Christianity and Judaism even amidst the close links.

Yet, I did find the book increasingly annoying as I read through it. For one thing, while surely her critiques of many Christian perspectives are valid, I felt myself chafing because the kinds of generalizations she makes about “Christians” are not ones I accept as characterizations of my views (and I know I am not alone). I would have liked more nuance on her part.

And as the book proceeded to her recommendations for present-day practices, I felt myself being lectured to. I sensed a kind of condescension and self-assuredness of her standing on the moral high ground. I almost got the feeling that she wrote this book as a “favor” she is deigning to offer us, not as something that comes from her own passionate desire to meet Christians halfway and work together toward a world of peace, as task to which we each have distinctive contributions to add.

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