The catch line was more along the lines of, “So a priest and a rabbi walk into a used bookstore…” not just because it sounds like the lead-in to a good joke, but because it’s actually what happened. I’ve said before that I have trouble keeping up with podcasts. I don’t take the bus anywhere, and in front of a computer I tend to prefer to read instead, which means if I start the computer playing something I still end up reading while it plays, and I miss stuff from the podcast. I tried listening while washing dishes, but (a) dishes don’t take that long and (b) people keep talking to me in the kitchen. But I really wanted to listen to the podcast of an event I was sad to have missed, from the Idea Exchange series last season: Rabbi Larry Pinsker and Jamie Howison — “A Rabbi and a Priest in conversation on how we read the Old Testament.” Fortunately, I had a perfect opportunity while last month on the flight to Vancouver en route to Seabeck for the Allelon Missional Order conversations.
I shoved aside the book I was reading and wired up the MP3 player (not an iPod; just felt I needed to mention that) to give it a listen. You can listen online or find it on iTunes (it’s free) by searching for St. Benedict’s Table who sponsors the series along with Aqua Books… and I do recommend giving it a listen — assuming you have an easier time fitting podcasts into your life than I do! It wasn’t long before I was dragging out an envelope I had stuck in the book I was reading and started making notes on it. As the guest, Larry Pinkster had the podium for most of the podcast. The presentation begins with views of the [Old Testament] and then moves on to consider the instruction to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Basically, the notes ran along the following lines, with one or two later comments.
Jewish view of [OT] or Tanakh —
Torah = Law (or “teaching”, aka what we call the Pentateuch)
Nevi’im = Prophets
Ketuvim = Writings
(This is a review of course from when I actually studied Hebrew… very rusty now but I can still read a little.)
Prophets don’t bring new knowledge, they just come to say, “What was it about what God said that you didn’t understand?”
[There is Torah, and there is additional material (including Nevi’im and Ketuvim) which explains how to understand Torah.
Midrash — means “to dig”, consists of teaching by parables; Haggadah includes parables… e.g., At the festival of Purim, one Rabbi has rather too much to drink, and in his drunken state he kills another Rabbi. Not fazed too entirely much, he says a prayer and resurrects the dead Rabbi. The following year, he expresses surprise at his discovery that the resurrected Rabbi does not want to celebrate the feast with him. In response to the protests that everything turned out alright, the resurrected Rabbi simply explains, “I don’t want to go through it with you again.”
[Question sparked by something in the talk: Book of Esther as a method for dealing with genocide? Commentary on responding to genocide?]
[discussion moves to the command to love your neighbour]
(LP) …something about Deuteronomy as instruction on loving your neighbour…
(JH): Walter Brueggemann says that Deuteronomy is a manifesto for neighbourhood; Torah has a call to neighbourliness.
God’s ultimate objective is to dwell among us, to be neighbours (Book of Exodus).
(LP) God isn’t asking us to be perfect, just better than we were. Are you better this year than last? More power to you. In Judaism, you can’t be forgiven of a sin until you’ve fixed it. The Day of Atonement does not absolve you of this, you still have to fix the mess you’ve made. This also applies to the environment.
In the command to “Love your neighbour”, the Hebrew word is “covenental loyalty.” (Note — it’s in the image above, you can check!)
(LP) In Judaism, love isn’t any one action, but your willingness to be present for the other person.
(JH) In the Christian tradition, the word would be “servanthood,” seen in the Incarnation — see the Book of Isaiah.
If you’ve been reading or talking to me at all in the past three weeks, you are almost certain to find some very significant themes here, some of which are just the ends of the threads waiting to be unraveled and rewoven into a tapestry. Definitely food for thought, particularly around the whole question of neighbourliness and what it means to be a neighbour. Referring back to Seabeck where we spent time dwelling in Luke 10:1-12, this whole theme comes up… where else but later in Luke 10 where as some commentators on Leviticus 19 have noted, we see that love for one’s neighbour is not passive, not merely withholding vengeance or not bearing a grudge, but is a sharper contrast which requires “direct and helpful action” toward the “other.” In Matthew 7:12, Jesus relates “the golden rule”, saying “for this is the law and the prophets.”
Concerning this whole concept of neighbourliness arising out of Torah, I am asking myself about the evangelical penchant for the omission of the Old Testament (and especially the Pentateuch, save a few “kid’s stories” in Genesis) unless we’ve reinterpreted it or dipped very selectively. It seems to me that Jesus himself interpreted Torah… one might even say he wasn’t all about new revelation so much as he was about saying, “Look, what was it about what God said that you don’t understand?” And then, of course, he demonstrated. But could it be that in failing to recognize the roots of even Jesus’ message, we have minimized to the injunction to neighbourliness to a single parable and a quaint little rule we tell our children? Almost certainly, we’ve stopped seeing it as the way to live. Yet if it’s true that the Torah tells us what this means and everything else attempt to explain it, then we’re really missing something. I’m find myself quite inclined toward this view, and it makes it all the more tragic that some people see Jesus and the New Testament as an almost wholesale replacement for the Old Testament.
What’s your take on all this?
This is very odd, Brother Maynard, as I have been musing over this recently, myself.
I’ve been reading the Bible from front to back (as I would a novel) and I have been struck by a number of things:
1. The early Biblical accounts (I finished Genesis and am into Exodus now) are just weird. The language is weird, the storytelling is weird, the characters are weird, and the God is almost unrecognizable from the God of evangelicalism in the USA. This has made me uncomfortable.
2. I have never quite understood why it is that Christians (particularly evangelicals) continually beat the drum of “the New Testament supercedes the Old”. Really? Is that what Jesus thought? What about Peter, Paul, John, James. . .did any of these writers really think that their epistles were more authoritative than Torah?
3. Actually, I think that reducing the law to the “injunction about neighborliness” isn’t such a bad thing. It is just that when we see the injunction about neighborliness in the gospels, we ought to be checking out how being a good neighbor was defined by God in Torah.
hi there, first comment on here (found you via mark berry in UK)
…really interested post thanks….
i’ve been similarly inspired by this recently and your post adds some theological background to my hunches of late to keep my faith as simple as possible, while living in the tensions and complexity of life. and for me the key things God’s been drawing me back to are…
love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength
love your neighbour as yourself (implying you also have to love yourself!)
go and make disciples of all nations (cultures?)
thanks for the post, will check out the other missional order musings.
tom nottingham uk