Jesus was a Jew who practiced a Jewish religion and preached mostly to Jewish people about Jewish themes.
I explored this idea earlier in the week through an interview with National Book Award winner James Carroll about how Christians often overlook Jesus’ Jewishness. Today, I extend this line of thinking a bit with a conversation with Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She has written a provocative book titled Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, wherein she discusses how reading the Gospels through a first-century Jewish lens changes many common interpretations.
Here we discuss her thinking and where modern Christians may be missing the point of Jesus’ most popular parables.
RNS: You self-identify as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” Why are you so interested in Jesus and his stories?
AJL: I am an historian who is doing what I love to do: studying Jesus with other people who also find him fascinating and inspirational. There shouldn’t be anything surprising about a Jew who is interested in Jewish history, and such Jews as Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, and Paul, are part of that history.
People who think of me as a misfit because I do not worship Jesus are operating under a category confusion. Faith is not based in logic; faith is not derived from empirical observation or historical data (see here 1 Corinthians 1:23) – it comes from the heart, not the head. Belief is not like Suduko; it is like love.