Academic journal article Theological Studies

Galilean Journey Revisited: Mestizaje, Anti-Judaism, and the Dynamics of Exclusion

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Galilean Journey Revisited: Mestizaje, Anti-Judaism, and the Dynamics of Exclusion

Article excerpt

"Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee" (Jn 7:52).

RECENT DECADES HAVE SEEN critiques by scholars doing historical-Jesus research of his portrayal in theologies inspired by the preferential option for the poor. (1) Virgilio Elizondo's landmark work, Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise, has been criticized by some for anti-Jewish rhetoric in its portrait of Galilee, and of Jesus' conflicts with Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem. (2) Mary Boys treats Elizondo's work as emblematic of liberation theologies, asserting, "Scholarship simply does not support the sweeping generalizations they draw, and the anti-Judaism in their work is appalling." (3)

The basic tension that Elizondo identifies, however, is not his own invention. It is rooted, rather, in the Gospel narratives themselves and raises complex issues for certain readers of the Second Testament. The deadly conflict between Jesus and some Jerusalem authorities poses special problems for a culturally contextualized theology like Galilean Journey, which wrestles with experiences of marginalization in the Mexican-American experience. In what follows, I argue that Elizondo's focus on the critical-prophetic nature of Jesus' ministry fortifies and encourages Christian efforts toward justice, and (while granting some points of his critics) cannot be fairly said to advocate for the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. I suggest, rather, that the critiques serve to focus attention on the complex hermeneutics of interpreting (for a post-Shoah world) the first-century intra-Jewish conflicts that led to the death of Jesus. Thus, we are led to ask, How can Christians hold fast to the prophetic dimension of Jesus' ministry, portrayed in the Gospels as a confrontation with Jewish religious authorities, without falling into, or being vilified for, anti-Judaism?

On the one hand, if Christian accounts of Jesus omit his critical stance toward the religious hypocrisy, legalism, and exclusionism of important elements of first-century Jewish leadership, then significant dimensions of his preaching and ministry are lost. Indeed, it would seem these lessons should be at the forefront of Christian self-examination regarding the sad consequences of later efforts to establish Christian identity in contradistinction to Judaism. On the other hand, when such themes are linked to anti-Jewish caricatures and supersessionist theological ideas, the tragic legacy of Christian mistreatment of Jews is inevitably perpetuated and their contribution to liberation threatened. I argue, therefore, that both historical Jesus research and theologies grounded in the option for the poor have important, complementary, and sometimes mutually corrective roles to play in seeking a solution to this dilemma.

Biblical scholarship has identified sections where the Gospels retroject conflicts between nascent Christianity and Judaism into the time of Jesus, and literary and archeological sources continue to deepen our understanding of the religious, cultural, and political character of the Galilean region where Jesus spent most of his life. At the same time, the transhistorical problem of Christian anti-Judaism increasingly demands a hermeneutic to assist in the reception of these biblical accounts among Christian faith communities in a post-Holocaust environment. In what follows, I argue that Elizondo's theology and the U.S. Latino/a theologies his work has helped to initiate (1) offer important insights on questions of marginalization, alienation, and power, and (2) provide valuable hermeneutical resources for the ongoing reception of Gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry and its attendant conflicts. (4) I also suggest that Elizondo's principles be turned around to assist in the interpretation his own work, so that its ongoing reception remains true to its liberative spirit.

Elizondo frames his analysis of the Galilean Jesus in his account of the dynamics of mestizaje, that often-violent encounter of cultures at the heart of the Mexican-American experience. …

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