When Dr. Amy-Jill Levine was riding the school bus one day as a little girl, another child told her she had killed God. This harsh remark sparked Levine’s quest to understand and study her Jewish faith as well as Christianity and the relationship between the two religions.
She went to church classes with her Christian friends when she was young, started taking college religion courses during high school, and went on to earn her Ph.D. At Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences, Levine is the University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies.
On Thursday, she will bring her expertise to Unity Place in Gastonia to speak on “Jesus, Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations.” The free public lecture is one of several events organized by Gastonia’s Temple Emanuel in honor of the synagogue’s 100th anniversary.
Question: What can audience members expect from your talk on “Jesus, Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations?” Answer:“We’ll look at both the common roots of Judaism and Christianity and the distinct branches and how we came to be separated. Understanding Jesus requires understanding the first-century context. … I’ll be noting where very often both Jews and Christians misunderstand that first-century context.”
Q: How would you describe Jewish-Christian relations in the world right now? A:“We’re certainly in a much better position than we were 50-60 years ago. I’m seeing interest across Christians in Jesus’ Jewish background. [I’m also seeing] more interest from liberal and conservative Jews about Christianity. If we Jews want to understand our own history, the New Testament is an extremely interesting way to do this.”
Q: How far have they come, and how far do they need to go? A:“I’ve seen across the globe interest in Jewish-Christian relations to dialogue as well as debate. [I’m] seeing increasing interest in how Jews understand the scripture that we share as well as how the New Testament sounds to Jewish ears. I’ve seen more respect that comes with the knowledge and the ability of people to agree to disagree and to do so in a civil manor.”
Q: How can Christians and Jews strengthen their relationship? A:“As with most things in religion, there’s no single answer or simple answer. Education is invariably helpful: recognizing that no one religion has a lock on truth or ethics or understanding, that we’re all part of a great whole.”
Q: Do you feel like there are a lot of misconceptions between Jews and Christians? A:“Oh, yes. We don’t understand each other very well, in part because our clergy are not trained to understand the other religion. … Part of the problem is we don’t understand our own traditions very well. The more I study Christianity, the better Jew I become.”
Q: What is the purpose of your lecture, and what do you hope attendees get out of it? A:“I want Jews and Christians to know each other’s religion a little better, to enhance the already positive relationship. I find personally that this type of history can enhance people’s religious experience, can enhance their understanding of the Bible, can sometimes show how the Bible can still inform people today.”
WANT TO GO? What: Dr. Amy-Jill Levine presents “Jesus, Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations”
When:7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Unity Place, St. Stephens AME Zion Church, 201 Franklin Blvd., Gastonia
Cost: Free and open to the public
Note: Dr. Levine will present another free public lecture, “Jesus the Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of a Jewish Jesus,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the main sanctuary of Myers Park Presbyterian Church, 2501 Oxford Place, Charlotte.