I am going to enjoy reading this little book.
Something he says right off the bat in the Introduction is something I’ve been saying for eons, it feels like. …”the Bible, from cover to cover is Jewish literature.”
Yup. Jesus, while incarnate, was a Jew. All of the Apostles, disciples, and every single author of every single text of the canonical documents of the Bible was Jew. Even if it turns out, as I profoundly hope, that anonymous author of Hebrews was a woman, she was Jewish.
We don’t think about this much. Or we don’t think it matters. But I have long suspected it is quite important indeed.
Chances are the people reading what I write are Gentiles, as am I. We’ve grown up in a culture shaped by the Graeco-Roman world. We see evidence right there in Acts that things are moving in a Gentile direction, what with Paul getting kicked out of Jerusalem and all. Once we are past the Gospels stuff about Paul dominates the New Testament. Have you ever wondered, as have I, where are the letters between those followers of the Way who stayed in Israel and those who went out into the world? I suspect there was correspondence. Was it all lost when the Romans sacked Jerusalem? When Masada fell? Who knows? In any event by the second century, the church is Gentile and no longer Jewish. Indeed, in reading some of early literature such as Justin Martyr’s “Dialog with Trypho, a Jew” or “On the Passover” by Melito, Bishop of Sardis we see such a strong bias against the Jews that we could be forgiven the use of an anachronism and call such literature anti-Semitic. That last sentence is my point, not Gist’s.
Gist says we lose when we read the Bible through a Gentile lens. He says the Greeks misunderstood the teachings about impurity and in their error, equated impurity with sin, which Jews did not do. He says that most Jews probably walked around in a state of impurity most of their lives because it was unavoidable. Strict purity was only required when going into the Temple. A menstruating woman was impure because of the discharge, but she was not in a state of sin. A couple who had sex was impure because of the emission of the seminal fluid but were not sinful. The equation of impurity with sin, well, we can see where that has led us. All those priests celibate for no good reason.
He identifies a second problem when we forget that the texts and the authors of the Bible are Jews. Gentiles ”fell into reading the texts literally, that is the red the Gospels and Old Testament narratives as reliable history. Many people still do. The problem with that is that Jewish literature is not meant to be read that way: much is lost and misunderstood by doing do.”
I am looking forward to what he has to say.