October 2nd, 2005

words

Akedah thoughts

I went to a talk by Ed Kessler on the Isaac story in Jewish–Christian relations. He tried to cram way too much into a short talk, covering a close reading of the text, Jewish and early Christian commentaries, the Isaac story in art (which I missed because I had to be home for lunch), the general history of Jewish–Christian relations, and his basic thesis that Jewish commentators have been aware of the Christian intellectual context to a much greater extent than is usually acknowledged. And he was trying to run a discussion on all these, not just talking about them. But anyway, some interesting tidbits:

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Quite a lot of discussion about how you can draw conclusions from a largely oral tradition and one which was subject to a lot of censorship. The Jewish tradition never directly and explicitly quotes Christian writings, which means that apparent similarities could just be a coincidence, or maybe drawing on a common but unrecorded earlier tradition. Or maybe all the traffic was one way, the Christians were quoting (post-Biblical) Jewish sources but not vice versa. This seems intuitively unlikely to me (I mean, one-way intellectual influences require a highly artificial situation. And why on earth would the Jews have come up with the idea of carrying the wood being like carrying a cross?!), but it can't be formally ruled out on the basis of the very skimpy evidence.

And then of course the consequences for modern Jewish–Christian relations. Kessler pointed out that the Jewish context of the NT is now accepted by most Christian scholars, leading to an effort on the part of Christians to understand Judaism. But what about the other way round? If his examples are to be interpreted in the way he's suggesting, Christian thought was an important influence on Judaism throughout the main period of rabbinic Judaism (first century through eighth century). Should Jewish scholars therefore be paying more attention to Christianity? And what is a good way to engage with Christian influences without letting go of our own, uniquely Jewish, understanding of Torah (and also without imposing our own framework unfairly on Christian thought, as Christianity historically tended to do with Jewish scriptures)?

1] See pw201's comment which expands the New Testament context for this connection.