Judeochristianity Jewish star Christian cross

Why Judeochristianity?

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Isaiah 56:7

One of the most remarkable conversations I ever had took place at Cabrini Hospice when I was music therapist there. My patient was a Muslim woman. I entered her room very carefully, not wanting to disturb her in case she was sleeping. She was up watching a game show with her son. As soon as she saw me, her mouth widened in a smile.

She told me her name was Amina, Arabic for “one who believes.” Amina was African-American, in her early fifties, already thin and frail from the ravages of cancer. She converted to Islam years ago, and has found it a deep source of faith.

She turned down the TV and asked me to sing to her, something soothing. Afterwards she told me about herself, how she found her faith and what it meant to her. Then she challenged me. “I have several definitions of love,” she said, “and I always like to know what people think it is.”

For Amina, love means the union of all people under belief in one God. “It’s so simple,” she said, “but people make it all so complicated.”

Then she turned to me and said, “You’re Jewish, aren’t you?”

Why was she asking me that? I wanted to know. She replied, “You have a kind heart and you try very hard to do good.”

I was stunned by her kindness. We were of two very different faiths, yet at that moment there were no barriers between us, not religion and not politics. A common spirit infused us both; we knew it, and that’s all that mattered.

I never forgot what Amina told me: “It’s so simple, but people make it all so complicated.” What could be simpler than love without limit because we are all created by the same God? Shouldn’t that be what monotheism really means? Sometimes I wonder about the “monotheism” of those who so easily allow their religion to divide people, whose God elevates members of one faith above the rest. Different groups of people, each claiming belief in the one true God, often believe that God accepts only their own faith and rejects not only all other faiths but their members as well. The Western monotheisms in particular seem to have fallen into a three-way rivalry for the status of God’s chosen. This is not true monotheism. All those Gods with different preferences can’t be the same. These modern religious competitions seem much like the ancient warfare between tribal deities, each divinity favoring its own people over all others.

“It’s so simple, but people make it all so complicated.” Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he instructed us to learn from children? That the appearance of wisdom can get in the way of truth? So many thick volumes of theology have been written spanning centuries, head-breaking stuff whose study would take many years. Do such things really help us understand God and God’s will for us?

The Need for a Bridge

I have called the approach I am taking here “Judeochristianity,” and that name may be a liability. Christians may feel their Christianity is fine the way it is, and Jews may not want to hear anything about Jesus. Others may wonder if any of it is relevant to them. That would seem to leave me with a very small audience. However, I have reasons for hoping otherwise.

It is not my intention to replace either Judaism or Christianity. Rather, I want to build a bridge. The greatest joy of my hospice work has been the opportunity, through music, to cross the boundaries that usually separate people, and to build connections instead. As a music therapist working in hospice, through familiarity with the music of different cultures, I was able to minister to people of all religions and races. And in so doing, in spite of the grief and sadness, my patients and I were able to find comfort, security, and faith.

So I have become acutely sensitive to the barriers standing in the way of people reaching each other in a common faith - not a faith that negates individual cultural and religious backgrounds, but one that can span across them. In hospice I met Amy, a young Jewish woman dying of cancer, who was struggling to find this faith. She was impressed by what Jesus had to say, but upset because when she tried to approach Jesus’s teachings and ministry she was met by church doctrines that imposed requirements on her she could not fulfill and that ultimately rejected her. And so I wrote an essay, “Who was Jesus?” which became chapter 2 of my book Judeochristianity: The Meaning and Discovery of Faith, to help Amy cross that bridge and find the faith she was searching for while being true to herself and her Jewish background.

As I wrote that chapter and traced the outlines of Jesus’s ministry, I was struck once again by how Jesus himself tried to build those bridges. He began by ministering only to his own people, but his vision expanded as he encountered people outside his group who also needed faith and a sense that God loves them. Jesus did not set out to establish a new religion. He devised no complex theologies and prescribed no catechisms. He saw himself as authentically Jewish. And so he rebelled against the religious establishment of his day, which had lost its faithfulness to Jewish values and had become an empty shell obscuring the place where that faith had once been.

Unfortunately and tragically, as Christianity developed it came to interpret that rebellion as a condemnation of Judaism and vindication of the Christian religion as its replacement. But in Jesus’s time there was no Christian religion. There is nothing anti-Jewish in recognizing the corruption of the religious authorities in Second Temple times; the historical record bears witness to this. And ironically, in reading how Jesus so strongly opposed those authorities, how he criticized their ostentatiousness and cravings for honors, their excesses of pomp and ceremony, and a Temple hierarchy that became detached from the needs of real people, we might well hear him saying very much the same things about religious excesses in our own times. Centuries of theology have not prevented the church from, in many cases (and with many notable exceptions to be sure, but nevertheless) imitating the same abuses Jesus condemned, while praising Jesus’s name.

Because of the church’s historic anti-Judaism it is not easy to speak about Jesus within the Jewish community. Jews for Jesus and other “Hebrew Christian” groups have only compounded the difficulty, associating any Jewish mention of Jesus with traditional Christian intolerance as well as layers of theological distortion that have obscured Jesus’s message. And even today, when Christians present Jesus to Jews the desire to proselytize is very often behind it. What Christians call “witnessing” seems to Jews like bad manners or even worse. Jews not only find proselytizing deeply disrespectful, they react to it as an effort to erase their religion and culture. These associations are historically based and very strong, and have made any objective consideration of Jesus within a Jewish context next to impossible.

And yet as I learned more about Jesus, I was struck most of all by his Jewishness. Most of his teachings as recorded in the Gospels (especially the Synoptics) are indeed very Jewish. Jesus was first of all a Jew himself, inspired by the Hebrew prophets and most of all by Isaiah. He did not see himself as the founder of a new religion intended to oppose Judaism. He wanted to look carefully at Judaism, extract its essence and make it accessible to everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike. He deeply respected his Jewish tradition: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).

In so many ways Jesus echoed the message of the visionaries who preceded him: in his reaffirmation of the Covenant, in his call for the establishment of justice and fair treatment of the poor, in his condemnation of religious hypocrisy, and in his confidence in God's redeeming power. All these are major themes running through the Hebrew Prophets.

Most notably, Jesus revealed the full implications of the commandment in the Hebrew Bible to “Love the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:19). This core teaching already existed, but it was left for Jesus to make its full meaning known and what it really requires of us. He did so by presenting us with the challenge of loving those who are different. This is a very Jewish teaching (Leviticus 19:34), but Jesus gave it centrality and drew it out in detail. Jesus stood for bringing people together, building bridges between groups whose differences often placed them in opposition to each other. This, he taught, is what it means to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40, Luke 10:27).

The love Jesus taught is non-self-interested love. Don’t just love your own family. Don’t just love those who love you back. Love the stranger. Love the outsider. Love even your enemy. Jesus was very precise.

Jewish Resistance to Jesus

Nevertheless the long and deeply strained history between Christians and Jews has not reflected these values. For centuries most Christians considered Jews enemies of God, doomed to unending suffering for their rejection of the true faith. Jesus thus became for many Jews not a symbol of love but of hate. This is bitterly ironic, considering who Jesus actually was and what he taught.

Even the Holocaust had its roots in Christian anti-Semitism, despite many attempts to deny this fact. Hitler’s Final Solution did not come as a shock to a European population used to terrorizing Jews. As at least one of his early speeches (April 12, 1922) makes abundantly clear, Hitler’s own anti-Semtiism came straight out of his Catholic upbringing. Hitler formed alliances with the German church, which supported him enthusiastically. Courageous and vocal dissenters like Bonhoeffer, Barth, and Niemoller were exceptional. The idea that Nazism was almost as anti-Christian as it was anti-Jewish is a myth that seems intended to salve a troubled Christian conscience, ignoring the long history of Christian hatred of Jews that created a receptive atmosphere for Hitler's policies. Thus with a bitter and unconscious irony, after this history whose crowning achievement was the Holocaust, many Christians today still try to talk Jews into a religion that threatens to condemn them if they don’t accept it. The proselytizers also completely miss the resonance Jews feel between the threatened flames of hell and the flames of the crematoria. They believe they are presenting Jews with a religion of love and expect Jews to believe it too. What kind of reasoning can support this?

The reasoning goes something like this (at least according to traditional Protestant theology; Catholicism does allow a place for good works but keeps the idea of Jesus paying for our sins with his blood). The human race is so depraved and sinful that we all deserve to be cut off from God and punished forever. There are no exceptions. “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Perfect justice is an attribute of God, and through perfect justice the human race stands condemned. There is nothing we can do on our own to accumulate any merit. So only through a process of atonement can we be forgiven and saved from the extreme and uncompromising punishment we deserve.

The Bible tells us that atonement can only be accomplished through blood:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. (Leviticus 17:11)

And so the sacrificial cult of the Temple was instituted to provide the blood through which divine justice could be satisfied. A favorite animal was to be chosen, innocent, without blemish or stain, to accomplish the sacrifice.

But not many years after Jesus’s death the Temple sacrifices ceased. Without them, how could God’s justice be satisfied and humanity be saved? Would the whole human race become doomed to destruction?

Fortunately no, because Jesus gave himself as the supreme sacrifice to atone for all human transgression. Jesus died for our sins. And so through the shedding of his blood we are cleansed, our sins are paid off, we are spared God’s wrath, and we are saved.

But there is a catch. This only works if we accept the gift. And we do so by confessing Jesus as Lord, God, and Savior. If we fail to do this then we will not receive the gift of Jesus’s atonement through the shedding of his innocent blood. The punishment that all human beings deserve will fall upon our heads, which is endless suffering in hell with no chance of escape.

This is the form of Christianity to which most non-Christians are exposed, especially since it has been the most aggressive in reaching out to them, and especially to Jews.

So here is what this form of Christianity asks Jews to embrace:

And the greatest irony of all: This is called a gift of love.

Jews respond correctly that the God in whom they place their faith has absolutely forbidden human sacrifice. God showed Abraham it would be wrong to sacrifice his son Isaac. How then could that same God possibly require the sacrifice of another blameless human being in order for justice to be served?

For these and many similar reasons, to most Jews accepting the offer of Christian missionaries would be taking a giant spiritual step backwards. Of course one could make a Pascal’s Wager and accept the new faith just in case there might be something to it. Then if the new faith proves true one would have a guaranteed escape from hell. If the new faith is false, one loses nothing - except one’s integrity. By selling one’s soul to a religion of fear, one misses the true God of non-self-interested love, what that love stands for, and how it is meant to transform our lives.

Consider the real meaning of these theological assumptions: the entire human race is so depraved and despicable that it merits limitless extreme punishment. This applies to everyone without exception. Therefore our evil nature is beyond our control; it cannot be a matter of choice. For if we know in advance that everyone deserves this worst imaginable fate before committing even a single act, indeed even before the person is born, then no one can choose to be good; no one can perform works good enough to merit escape from final and total condemnation.

But if we are so evil because we were created that way, then how can we be guilty? If even our own free will cannot elevate us above our innate savagery, then how can we be blamed for something we cannot control? We would be no more culpable than a predatory beast who only acts according to its nature. And so a God who created us in such a way that we cannot choose to be good requires our salvation through the shedding of innocent blood. Such religion is so unattractive that it is no wonder its adherents must resort to threats of hell in order to persuade people to join it.

The good news is that this kind of theology does not represent all of Christianity as we find it today. Christianity exists in many forms and is more diverse than at any other time in its history. Nevertheless, vicarious atonement theology remains a very dominant legacy passed down by great thinkers such as Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, and many others. It even has roots in the New Testament (e.g. the Gospel of John and writings of Paul comparing Jesus to the paschal lamb). It also completely obscures Jesus’s message of non-self-interested love, replacing it with a fearful, vengeful, and ultimately unforgiving God who withholds grace from those who are outside the faith.

The idea that because of our nature all people, without exception, deserve to be damned is not rational. I have known many people, not all of them Christian, to whom it would be inconceivable to apply such punishment. One might even call them saints. My father was one. He was the kindest man I have ever known. He brought us up with good values. He made sure we were properly educated. He was thoroughly honest in business and always treated people fairly. And when a family member got sick, he was always there at the bedside. To suggest that this man would deserve an eternity in hell if not redeemed by the blood of Christ is absurd. To be honest, it sounds demented. Yet this is actually what people believe, and what they want other people to believe.

Jesus taught universal, non-self-interested love. Therefore centuries of anti-Jewish riots and even genocide clearly show that something has gone wrong. A Christianity that must demonize the Jewish religion and Jewish people in order to maintain its validity is clearly a Christianity that has lost its Jewish roots.

Distorting Jesus

Jesus never threatened anyone with hell if they did not believe in him. The belief that he did so is based on speculative inferences, taking words out of context, and mistranslations. In fact Jesus was very clear about what eternal life asks of us. Yet very often those who claim to take the Bible literally choose to focus only on their own interpretations of selected phrases while missing the core of what Jesus actually taught. Jesus explicitly answered the question of what eternal life requires. So why don’t the biblical literalists focus on that, instead of reading their own meanings into more obscure passages?

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

One could not pose the question more directly: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says nothing about believing anything. He tells his affluent questioner that only one thing is lacking, and it isn’t belief. If you want eternal life, Jesus tells him, put your love into practice. Devote your life to the care of those who cannot repay you. Feed my sheep.

So where are the biblical literalists? One rarely hears evangelists quote that passage when they witness to non-Christians and try to win converts and save souls. Why not? Possibly because Jesus’s hard saying makes them as uncomfortable as it did the rich young man. Why let love stretch us beyond our limits, when it is so much simpler to make a confession of faith, be “born again,” and never have to worry anymore?

Many Christian apologists have stated that without his death and resurrection, indeed without his divine status, Jesus would have been nothing special, just another moral teacher. People who make such assertions show that they have failed to understand Jesus and his significance. Jesus was not just an ordinary teacher. He was rooted in Jewish prophecy; still, he was not like anyone else either before or since. His teachings were not only radical for his own time but for ours as well. It is so easy to hear them recited in churches without really considering what they mean, let alone putting them into practice. Jesus taught a different kind of love that challenges and stretches us even today: love of the stranger as if that stranger were family, love of the outcast, love beyond the limitations of self-interest, even to the point of committing everything we have to fulfilling it. We don’t want to hear that message and we resist it, or we neutralize it by saying that it’s no different from any other moral teaching by any other enlightened master.

One way to escape Jesus’s disturbing message is to replace it with a religious doctrine. Thus the idea - foreign to Jesus himself - that love and works of love cannot save us, but only the acceptance of Jesus’s atonement for our sins through the shedding of his blood. Jesus’s teachings do not require belief, but they do require a change of heart expressed in compassionate acts. Jesus exhorted his followers to sell what they have and give to the poor, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick - in other words, “good works” grounded in love. Yet since the Reformation much of Christian theology has downplayed and even denigrated the role of human action. Evangelical Protestantism in particular shows special contempt for good works, disdaining the role of human effort and calling it futile, in spite of numerous biblical passages to the contrary (Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:14-17, Philippians 2:12). So we are taught that human beings are inherently evil and we can do nothing to change that, not even through the best of our good works and love for others. The Christian churches that have tried to put Jesus’s teachings into action are derided for practicing the “social Gospel.” Faith in the violent act of Jesus’s execution in atonement for our sins has replaced radical love as God’s primary requirement of us. Jesus was too Jewish to have professed such a thing. He knew that love must be put into action in order to be fulfilled.

Faulty theology gave rise to acts committed in Jesus’s name that actually deny who Jesus was. To correct this, Jesus must be seen in his historical, cultural, and spiritual context. In other words, he must be seen against the background of prophetic Judaism from which he came. Therefore a complete and accurate understanding of Jesus must place him in the context of his Jewish origin, in his continuity with Hebrew prophecy, and with his expression of Jewish values, and only then are we prepared to appreciate the full power of Jesus’s message. To reach this complete understanding, we need the contributions of both Christianity and Judaism.

Reclaiming Jesus

So what, actually, was Jesus all about?

There is a deep connection between Jesus and the Hebrew prophets, especially Isaiah. This is symbolized by Jesus’s receiving a portion from Isaiah to read in the synagogue. But the connection is more than symbolic. Isaiah was Jesus’s spiritual mentor. Jesus revived several themes from the earlier prophet: condemnation of religious hypocrisy, the futility of religious practice unaccompanied by charitable behavior, and the demand for social justice. Also central to the message are the reaffirmation of the covenantal relationship between God and human beings, confidence in God’s redeeming power, and the ultimate renunciation of violence (“swords into plowshares”). There are too many parallels between Isaiah and Jesus for their significance to be ignored.

Jesus had respect for the law:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)

At the same time Jesus took the law and extracted its essence. He understood that the law is not an end in itself, that its purpose is to make us good, to make us holy, to unite us to God and others:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (Leviticus 19:1-2)

What is the simplest way to put this?

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

That is the essence of the law, “all the law,” as Jesus explicitly states. The rest of Jesus’s ministry was devoted to elaborating exactly what this means. Jesus did so through his teaching, when he taught that love must extend beyond one’s own circle of familiarity (Matthew 5:46-48), and also by demonstrative action, when he reached out to those whom society rejected. He was pointing out where the law (or better stated, torah, guidance, instruction) intends to lead us.

Paul, perhaps somewhat overly optimistic, put it this way:

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Galatians 3:23-26)

The law in all its specific detail is a “disciplinarian” or “custodian” (Greek paidagogos, literally, “one who guides a child”). It is meant to help us become what God wants us to be: reflections of God’s goodness. If we experience the inner transformation of faith, the awareness of eternity’s power conforming us to love, then we fulfill the law’s intent. In theory we would no longer need the disciplinarian. But in practice, we cannot be completely conformed to love while still influenced by our human imperfections; we can only approach that state in stages. History, including the history of the church, has abundantly proven this. So some form of law (halacha or “path”) will always be necessary, even while faith is still transforming us. Judaism reminds us of this, and we need that reminder.

Jesus therefore clarified the law’s essence and elaborated its meaning. He did not condemn those who still practice the law in its full detail, nor did he move to abolish Judaism in favor of a new religion. He did insist that if you claim to follow the law, then do it with integrity. Jesus most emphatically did not try to make Jews renounce their Judaism. Rather, like Isaiah, he wanted a clean and honest practice of the religion that reflected its core values. On this he was very clear:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:1-3)

The law is not the problem. The problem is using the law as a pretense of religiosity, detached from the law’s true purpose, while the conduct of one’s life conflicts with that purpose. Any religion can be used that way, Christianity as well as Judaism. But the law itself, practiced with integrity, reminds us of the values God holds dear. There is therefore absolutely no justification for Christian missionary efforts towards Jews.

Clearly Jesus did not aim to do away with the law. He wanted its practice to express right values. This is accomplished through a radical change that the New Testament calls faith. The Greek word for faith (pistis) is much richer than its English equivalent. It signifies more than just belief, and when properly understood in its New Testament context, it indicates a complete inner transformation, a changing of the heart. Through this transformation of the heart in love, we become motivated to lead the kind of life that the law prescribes. This is the essence of Jesus’s prophetic message.

This is how the hard sayings of the Sermon on the Mount need to be understood. They call for exactly this transformation. So do not be concerned only about violent acts, but about the anger that motivates them (Matthew 5:21-22). Do not be concerned only about sexual abuse, but about the objectification of women that leads to it (Matthew 5:27-28). Be clean not only in your actions but in your heart as well. That is the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence.

Judaism’s Responsibility

We may very briefly summarize Jesus’s message as follows, juxtaposing parallels from the Hebrew Bible:

Thus it is not an exaggeration to say that Jesus represents the continuation and fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. But this becomes evident only when Jesus is seen within the context of Hebrew prophecy, which means within the context of Judaism. We can grasp Jesus’s significance fully only within the context of Judaism. If the missions to the Jews are successful and Judaism disappears, then all of this will be lost, a tragedy for Christians as well as for Jews. Jesus’s Jewish roots will be forgotten, and since his message grew from those roots, that message will continue to be obscured.

Therefore Jews existing as Jews, continuing to believe and practice as Jews, have an important role to play even outside their own borders. Christianity must respect that role and be grateful for it. Whether they know it or not, the Jewish people have great significance for Christianity and for the rest of the world as well. One core aspect of Jesus’s message was the reaffirmation of the Covenant between God and humanity. The Jewish people played a distinctive part in the unfolding of this Covenant, because through their history as recorded in scripture it was revealed to the world. This Covenant was always intended to bless not only the Jewish people but all people:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

All families of the earth shall be blessed through the Jewish Covenant. Yet this did not become fully known until Jesus made it explicit, extending his ministry to the Roman, the Syrian, the Samaritan. At first he refused to do so, believing he was to serve his own people only: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’” (Matthew 10:5). But as he began to encounter non-Jews of true faith, his vision of his ministry changed. People of all backgrounds followed him, wanting to be part of the Covenant he inherited.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).

These words could not apply to anyone more than to Jesus the Jew.

And so while much is asked of Christianity, much is asked of Judaism as well. And that is the realization that the Jewish Covenant was always intended to extend to others and to bless them also. That is its fulfillment. The danger for Judaism is that it may be tempted to hold onto the Covenant as its personal and exclusive possession. Only if Judaism resists this temptation can the Jewish people be a “light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6), because that light is the light of God’s active love, justice, and guidance, which the Jewish people were tasked to bring to the world. Because Jesus realized this task he may leginitately be considered a Jewish prophet, claimed by Jews and Christians both.

Jesus’s prophetic task was to bring to the entire world the Covenant with God that Jews discovered through their history. What is commonly called the “Old Testament” is not “old” or obsolete. The Hebrew Bible, as it should properly be called, stands by itself as a record of the great discovery that God is actively involved in people’s lives and in relationship such that our commitment to right values transforms our lives in positive ways. The New Testament offers this discovery to the rest of humanity. Thus when seen together, the two Testaments should not be called “Old” and “New” but rather “Original Covenant” and “Extended Covenant.”

Jews therefore need to understand that God’s Covenant is not with them exclusively, and this is exactly what makes the Jews a blessing to the world. God’s blessing to Abraham was always meant to bless the whole world. Today with a proper understanding of Jesus free of previous doctrinal distortions, that can become a reality.

Conclusion: Building the Bridge

We can therefore summarize the relationship between Judaism and Christianity as follows:

The Covenant represents God’s commitment to humanity. Judaism provides the covenant’s foundation. Christianity provides its universalization.

The foundation of God’s promise is elaborated in the Hebrew Bible and can be summarized by these principles:

Without this foundation Christianity could not exist. Therefore Christianity includes the Hebrew Bible as part of its own Holy Scriptures.

Jesus shows us God’s presence by exemplifying through his life and teaching the practical application of these principles. He brings God’s Covenant and all that it implies to the entire world.

This bridge could not have been built until relatively recently. The true reformation of Christianity did not occur with Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, as is commonly supposed. That event certainly did not reform relations between Chistians and Jews, but only made them worse. The true reformation began after the Holocaust, as we have observed. Its signs can be seen in Vatican II, and in the heterogeneity of Protestant Christianity, which is no longer limited only to the strict doctrinaire versions of the past but which now encompasses more open and tolerant forms than at any previous time in history. One can no longer generalize about Christianity and say it is inherently anti-Jewish. These more open forms of Christianity have captured the true spirit of Jesus in ways that for many years seem to have been hidden, especially from Jews. Unfortunately because of this tragic history Jewish attitudes towards Jesus have hardened. The only legitimate response to that is understanding and respect. Nevertheless it is possible now for relations to begin to thaw.

Thus the approach to scriptural history that we call “Judeochristianity.” It brings together Jewish and Christian tradition in a way that is mutually supportive and clarifying, rather than conflicting. Its purpose is to make Jesus’s message plain, to distill it from years of theological distortion, and to show its continuity with Hebrew prophecy. When this message is allowed to emerge it should bring Jews and Christians together, not divide them.

The purpose of the book Judeochristianity: The Meaning and Discovery of Faith is therefore to present practical applications of the Covenantal principles listed above, referencing both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, to show how they provide us with a comprehensive spiritual path that both Jews and Christians (as well as others) can appreciate.

This is not easy. It is difficult to talk about Jesus without arousing Jewish suspicions. There are historic reasons for those suspicions, as we have seen. Traditional Christian notions of atonement and salvation are at the heart of the problem. Threatening people with eternal destruction is not the way to convince them of God’s love. And so, sadly, Christian doctrine and behavior have made Jesus anathema for many Jews. It is not yet clear whether most Christians really understand this.

This has to change. The work of the Christian Reformation is still ongoing. At the same time, Jews need to reconsider who Jesus was and to reassess his place in history and spirituality without the burden of two thousand years of the prejudice that has tarnished Jesus’s image and the theology that has distorted it. Jesus was fully Jewish and lived and died as a Jew, and Jews have a right to reclaim him as part of their history if they so choose. In this way it may become possible for Jews and Christians to come together with mutual appreciation and respect. But we still have a long way to go, and it may yet take years if not generations. It is not easy, and often not possible, to speak of Jesus within Jewish communities, or to consider Christianity without the triumphalism and supersessionism with which it has become associated. Christian theology must not be allowed to trump Christ’s message.

Jesus’s prophecy is continuous with that of Isaiah. It is not opposed to Jewish tradition; it encapsulates it and extends it. The call to radical love as the aim of the law and fulfillment of the Covenant is a universal message, intended for everyone. To appreciate this fully one needs to respect the inheritances of both Judaism and Christianity - and to preserve them both, since each is needed for the light it sheds on Jesus’s origins, life, teachings, and ultimate redemptive purpose.

August-September 2012 / May 2016