Monday, April 02, 2007

Passover meets Holy Week

Tonight my lesbian feminist family will again enjoy the Passover ritual, the seder, and eat festively and probably excessively.

This morning Boston Globe columnist James Carroll published a timely reminder to those of us who are Christians that we have long misused our own scriptures:

Because the Christian observances of Holy Week are structured around the last days of Jesus, which were themselves structured around his own Jewish observance of Passover, the two are intrinsically linked, and always will be. ...

Many Christians assume the Gospels [the scriptural stories of Jesus' life and death] were written by eyewitnesses who were present for the events reported, but that is wrong. Mainstream scholars are unanimous in dating the Gospels to a period about two generations after the death of Jesus, between the historic crises of the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (in the year 70 ), and then of Jerusalem itself (in 135 ). These catastrophes prompted the questions, What is it to be a Jew without the Temple? What is it to be a Jew without Jerusalem?

Some Jews answered that observance of Torah, or Law, would be the center of Jewishness now, with memory joined to hope. Rabbinic Judaism was born, and its cry at Seder tables would forever be, "Next year in Jerusalem!" But other Jews answered that Jesus was now the "new Temple." They understood themselves as the "new Jerusalem," and became the church. The important point is that Christian-Jewish antagonism began as an argument within Judaism.

Then lots of other folks, Gentiles, became adherents of the Jesus movement. They didn't have a horse in the family fight between the two strains of Judaism -- but they vigorously adopted the quarrel as their own and took it out on the weaker party, the Rabbinic Jews, for a millennium or so. As Carroll adds:

Christian antagonism mounted, even to calculating the calendar, with Easter set negatively against Passover, a polarity of time. Holy Week became the season of anti-Jewish violence. To leave the "Christ killer" time bomb behind, Christians must read the Passion narratives with a critical eye, emphasizing that, when it comes to the question of "the Jews," the Gospels are not gospel.

Last summer, we got a chance to have a look at what Moses is reputed to have seen after he led the ancient Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and to the "Promised Land." The story goes that he didn't get to enter that place "of milk and honey" because of the unfaithfulness of his people, but he gazed out from Mt. Nebo in what is now Jordan and saw it lying before him. Here's the contemporary view:

Now I know I've been writing about the human contribution to desertification lately, but it is hard not to wonder whether God pulled a fast one on Moses.

1 comment:

Civic Center said...

The first pages of T.E. Lawrence's autobiographical tale of his Middle Eastern adventures, "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," points out that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all come not just from the same tradition but from one tiny, fucking little desert. All the mystics did their thing, alone, in the same patch of the Sinai. He didn't exactly use those words, but you get the point.

Still, I've had it with monotheism. It's a curse.