How did a Jewish teacher, healer, sage and mystic become the vehicle for so much hatred and harm directed against his own people?
“Dialogue is demanding and difficult. It is often painful. It entails deep listening, letting others define themselves and being willing to confront and transform deep-rooted prejudices in ourselves. It requires the courage to re-envision absolutely everything we tend to cherish and protect, and to relinquish our entrenched vainglorious ego attachments, our inflated sense of ‘I, me and mine.’ This challenge to grow beyond tribalism, to approach others in a fair and reasonable way, is an essential step in our human evolution.”
—from the Invitation to the Reader
Judaism and Christianity have had a volatile relationship in their two-thousand-year history. Anger, rivalry, insensitivity, bloodshed and murder have marred the special connection these two Abrahamic faiths share. In the last several decades, scholars, activists, laypeople and clergy have attempted to expose and eliminate the struggles between Jews and Christians.
This collaborative effort brings together the voices of Christian scholar Ron Miller and Jewish scholar Laura Bernstein to further explore the roots of anti-Semitism in Christian faith and scripture. In a probing interfaith dialogue, Miller and Bernstein trace the Jewish-Christian schism to its very source in the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew. Illuminating the often misunderstood context of Matthew’s gospel—a persecuted Christian minority writing some sixty years after Jesus’s death—this examination of a foundational Christian text discerns the ways in which the Jewishness of Jesus was forgotten and Jews and Judaism became Christianity’s foil. More important, it takes a renewed look at Matthew with contemporary retellings that present a new and better future of conciliation and compassion between the two faith traditions.
This book ambitiously aims to contribute "to a much needed healing of the two-thousand-year rift between Christians and Jews." To achieve that bold objective, Miller and Bernstein focus on analyzing the Gospel of Matthew, asserting that "it is paradoxically the most Jewish and the most anti-Jewish book in the Christian Testament." Miller, a former Jesuit priest who chairs the religion department at Lake Forest College in Illinois, uses his own translation of Matthew in 36 brief chapters. Bernstein, who spent five years in rabbinical studies, offers her commentary followed by Miller's discussion of her analysis as well as his own exegesis. Each chapter concludes with three questions, intended for use by small groups of Jews and Christians that the authors ask readers to organize. The topics range from messianism and the Lord's Prayer to sin, peace, identity, miraculous birth and Jewish renewal, among others. Bernstein's controversial conclusion calls for Jews to pay heed to Jeshu, as the authors call Jesus, and to welcome this "rebbe" as a revered teacher. While some may see the book's aim as grandiose, the authors tackle an enormous and bitter problem in a concrete, helpful way.