Professor Uses Her Religion to Build Bridges; She Wants to Create Ties between Judaism and Christianity

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Amy-Jill Levine says her Jewish faith is anything but a challenge in her career as a New Testament scholar whose expertise includes Jesus and Christian history.

On the contrary, it has fueled her desire to build bridges between Judaism and Christianity, though not at the expense of her own beliefs.

"I'm not a proselytizer for Christianity and I'm not saying Jews and Christians should dismiss all our differences, hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya," the Vanderbilt University professor said. "I just want us to understand where we agree, where we disagree, and why."

Levine will be the visiting scholar this weekend at Beth Shalom Congregation in Mandarin, where she will speak on subjects ranging from Jesus in his Jewish context to how Jews and Christians read Scripture differently. The Times-Union spoke with Levine by phone this week. Here's some of what she had to say.

You've described yourself as a "Yankee Jewish feminist at a Protestant divinity school in the Bible Belt." How is that working for you?

I'm sitting in an endowed chair at a major university, and I'm continuing to have my salary paid, so apparently it's working pretty well.

When and how were you drawn to study the New Testament?

I grew up in a neighborhood (in North Dartmouth, Mass.) that was predominantly Roman Catholic. I found the traditions both beautiful and fascinating, from Christmas trees to Easter bunnies to the Latin Mass. But when I was a child I was also accused of having killed God by a little Catholic child on the school bus. I found it impossible to put together how this tradition that had such beauty to it could say something so hateful. So I started asking questions. I was 7 years old then.

What kind of reaction do you get from fellow Jews about your academic interests?

For the most part, fellow Jews ... find the subject quite interesting. ... I find that a number of Jews are interested in Jewish-Christian dialogue, and they very much want Christians to understand Judaism and to understand it correctly.

How have your academic interests impacted your own faith? …


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