As the History Channel mini-series “The Bible” winds up, Rabbi Michael Bernstein thinks about how Judaism and Christianity seem like two faith separated by a common scripture.
Where the greater challenge arises, however, is seeing my own traditions, beliefs and sacred sources interwoven with Christianity in such a way that they become the prelude and later the counterpoint to the Christian faith. The stories told by “The Bible” are animated by this perspective and the producers in their choices of excerpts, casting and pacing have fashioned a testament to their deeply held belief of the univocity and seamlessness of their account that runs as a record of G*d’s interaction in history through prophets from Noah through Jesus, each in turn occupying the same stage and playing of a variation of the same script that begins with the Creation of the Universe and moves inexorably to a Day of Judgment. I have had mixed feelings watching it…
…Ironically, even as the series comes to an end, this week brings another overlap of the Jewish and Christian traditions. Jewish communities are celebrating the Passover holiday, highlighted by the ritual retelling of the Exodus at the Seder and Christians are reaching the pinnacle of a Holy Season with the observance of Easter. This used to be a time fraught with danger for Jewish communities in Europe as a toxic mix of suspicion, fear and bigotry would often spill over into blood libels, pogroms and other assaults on the Jewish minority. Some of this danger had its source in the emphasis on just those elements of the Gospels which focus on the complicity of Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus. However, while enmity between different faiths is by no means wholly resolved, more and more the confluence of Easter and Passover has become an opportunity for celebrants of different faiths to learn from each other. At our Seder, we had guests from all different backgrounds, including friends who wanted to learn about how Jews keep alive the memory of the Exodus and its message of both peoplehood and universal values of freedom. At the same time Easter has become an opportunity to learn more about how my friends and neighbors are inspired by their understanding of the Bible, especially the stories of the Gospel.
There are many ways to be Jewish and many ways to be Christian. My experience has been that we have much to learn and little to fear from exploring each other’s tradition. While an event like “The Bible” can be a conversation starter and in that way can initiate bridge-building and meaningful interaction, I much prefer the interaction that grows from being able to learn directly from one another, drawing from what is personally inspiring for my neighbor and sharing what is most meaningful in my own encounter with Scripture and tradition.