Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi

By Saltzman, Russell E. | First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi


Saltzman, Russell E., First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi BY AMY-JILL LEVINE HARPERONE, 32O PAGES, $25.99

In a conversation with a Jewish friend about interpreting the common Bible stories that Jews and Christians share, shoe leather came up. Why did Moses have to take off his sandals before the burning bush?

Moses had been told to do so by the voice of God, which told him that "where you are standing is holy ground." I explained to my friend that this must be because sandals defiled the sacred space. "So," the friend replied, "you think bare feet are better?"

Perhaps it was simply a demand for humility and respect, but my friend suggested that God wanted to be so close to Moses that not even shoe leather was permitted to intervene. God wants to be that close to each of us; that's what made the ground holy and why Moses went barefoot into the Presence of the Almighty.

This interpretation of the story of God with Moses sent me to seek other interpretations of Hebrew Scripture, trawling the Internet for synagogue preaching and alternative ways of telling old stories. I agree with those Christians and Jews who say that synagogue and church must stay close to each other, so that we may prod one another's study.

Amy-Jill Levine, who is Jewish and a New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt Divinity School, noted as author of The Misunderstood Jew and as general editor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, not unreasonably points out in her new book Short Stories by Jesus that Jesus was telling stories to Jews, specifically lateTemple period, first-century Jews. She asks what that audience would have heard, originally, as Jesus told his tales. …

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