The ten points of Seelisberg were in fact a distillation of eighteen points put forward by the Jewish historian Jules Isaac whose conversation with Pope John XXIII fifteen years or so led eventually to the Vatican II document ‘Nostra Aetate’ which while focussed on the church’s relations with non- Christians had begun its life as a statement on the Church’s relationship with the Jews. The ten statements stress that it is the same God that speaks in the Old and New Testaments; that Jesus, his mother and the first disciples as well as the first martyrs and members of the Church were all Jews; that the fundamental command to love God and neighbour, found in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, is binding on all Christians and Jews; that Jews are not responsible for the death of Jesus and the Passion of Jesus should not be presented as though they were; that language which uses the word Jews in an exclusive sense of the enemies of Jesus or any suggestion that the Jewish people are reprobate or accursed should be avoided. These are elements that eventually did find their way in to Nostra Aetate and further catholic teaching such as the document based on Rom. 11: 28 – 30: They are beloved for the fathers' sake. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.
Professor Amy-Jill Levine is a worthy recipient of the prize. She is Jewish and a recognised scholar of the Christian New Testament. Her CV is impressive. She is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Jewish Studies, and Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Graduate Department of Religion, and Department of Jewish Studies; she is also Affiliated Professor, Woolf Institute, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations in Cambridge UK. In 2019 she was the first Jew to teach New Testament at Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute. Her list of publications is also impressive including the co-editorship of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the editorship of the 13-volume Feminist Companion to the New Testament and Early Christian Writings. She is also the New Testament editor of the new Oxford Biblical Commentary Series and sits on the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia of Christian-Jewish Relations.
I have read some of her books and been privileged to hear her speak on several occasions, all made possible because of zoom. I have learned such a lot about the Jewishness of Jesus, how the Gospels could be seen as a kind of midrash, that is a reflection in the light of the early disciples’ experience of Jesus on traditional Jewish teaching and stories. I have learned that Jesus lived as a faithful Jew. He kept the law, he ate kosher food, he was circumcised like all Jewish boys, he went to the Temple in Jerusalem, he attended the synagogue, he read the Jewish scriptures and would have prayed and even sung the psalms. He would have prayed three times a day wearing phylacteries, he would have worn fringes on his outer cloak. He kept the Sabbath. And like other Jews of his time, he would have debated what it meant to be a good Jew. In fact, if Jesus set out any guidance it was how to be a good Jew, rather than a good Christian.
Professor Levi loves the New Testament and is fascinated by it. She also loves Jesus. I have heard her say this often while admitting that she doesn’t have faith in him in the way Christians do. For Professor Levine Jesus is a faithful Jew and nothing in the New Testament would contradict this. And she wants both Christians and Jews to recognise it. Speaking of Prof. Levine’s nomination for the prize Prof. Gregor Maria Hoff of the University of Salzburg said, “Her astonishing productivity stems from her lifelong commitment to bringing the fruits of her scholarship to the general public and to promoting positive interactions between Jews and Christians.”
As she receives the first Seelisberg prize at a ceremony in Frankfurt today Prof. Levine will deliver an address entitled, “Learning about Jews by Reading the New Testament,” reflecting her conviction that in studying the New Testament she enriched her own Jewish identity. I look forward to reading it.
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