Jayme R. Reaves



What is the relationship between the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament, where does Jesus fit in, and why do these questions even matter? In the context of the biblical studies classroom for Christian ministerial training, being able to answer these questions is an essential part of effective and responsible biblical interpretation that informs theological reflection, preaching, and ethical social engagement with a diverse world. Nevertheless, within the Christian ministerial training context, there appears to be a dearth of knowledge and understanding about how to approach the Hebrew Bible with integrity to its sources, function, and value within the Jewish tradition as well as the Christian tradition.   


Hebrew Bible; Antisemitism; New Testament; Hermeneutics; Critical Pedagogy; Reader-Response Criticism


As Christian ministers and lay leaders are often the first point of call for congregants encountering the Bible, it is common practice in theological training to be taught how to understand the various contexts of the scriptural canon: the original context of its composition, the contexts in which it has been read historically, and the context in which contemporary readers approach it. However, if ministers and lay leaders wish to represent the text in a meaningful, ethical way for their congregations and communities, it is essential that teaching also fosters an awareness of the baggage that each of these contexts carries.

This article will, therefore, seek to explore these issues and questions in the context of training future clergy to become more self-aware of their own hermeneutical practice, recognising that Christians are using reader-response criticism (as opposed to historical/critical or literary/textual criticism) when reading Jesus into the Hebrew Bible.  Additionally, this article will highlight common biases when Christians approach both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament texts, as well as drawing awareness in a classroom setting to latent and overt antisemitism in the New Testament and the ways in which New Testament authors utilised and/or exploited the Hebrew Bible for their own purposes.

The aim of this article is to illustrate a critical pedagogy[1] used to illuminate the biases and hermeneutical lenses Christians utilise to read and interpret the Hebrew Bible and the ways in which those have traditionally fed into antisemitism explicitly or implicitly.  Therefore, I wish to bring attention to these biases that are often ignored or simply unknown to many Christian readers, preventing them from understanding, seeing the value of, and taking seriously the Hebrew Bible on its own merit as a Jewish text first and foremost.

While I have taught this session in a variety of places, the majority of its delivery has been based in Sarum College, an academic institution in south-central England that provides both formal theological training for Christian ministers, lay leaders, and lay MA-level students, as well as non-formal theological education for a general public interested in learning more about the Bible and theology.  Sarum is an ecumenical institution that strives to be inclusive, oriented toward human flourishing, and innovative in its teaching and course programme, in order to meet the needs of a variety of students from different backgrounds and denominations. 

As this is an article in a volume focused on the practice of activism in the biblical studies classroom, it is important to acknowledge that my own activism is informed by a feminist, post-colonial, intercultural, and liberationist understanding of theology, which seeks to equip students to:

  • be aware of how identity shapes their religious practice
  • be able to identify and ask better questions, rather than to seek certainty
  • understand and take seriously the violence perpetrated under the banner of religion and in the name of God, and yet
  • also understand and take seriously the potential good that engaged, holistic, socially responsible religion can do for creating more cohesive, resilient communities.

It is also worth acknowledging an awareness that the approach to be presented here can be alarming for those steeped in a more conservative or fundamentalist approach to scripture. Even for students who identify themselves as more mainstream, it is clear to those teaching in more progressive biblical studies circles that students have still been heavily influenced by fundamentalist and literal readings of sacred texts, as well as, either explicitly or implicitly, by historical Christian attitudes of supremacy toward Judaism.  It has been my experience that both are mainstream and, unfortunately, in the water we all drink, as it were.  Unless the methods in this chapter have been taught in a local congregational setting, chances are it will be an approach that will be completely new to the student, and it can be an experience which may lead to a crisis of faith.

Further alarm may arise due to the understanding that this approach assumes Judaism is a legitimate means to relationship with God. In this work and in my teaching, I come from a pluralist/particularist point of view: that religious traditions  – in their myriad diversities as well as borrowing from and in dialogue with one another – “merely describe, rather than prescribe,” the different means by which to ask and answer questions related to ultimate truth in the best way they know how.[2] This has been, of course, a matter of debate for as long as Christians have encountered other religious traditions. But, for the purposes of this article, it is important to state that I am not in the least bit interested in a student’s conversion to another religious tradition, but, instead, to be more responsible in their own religious practice.

It is this concept of socially responsible biblical scholarship that serves as the foundation for the activism presented here. Liberation, feminist, and post-colonial approaches to the Bible are oriented toward “a process of liberation and decolonization … in search of other discourses heretofore bypassed and ignored.”[3]  Usually, these approaches to the Bible focus on white-, Euro- and andro-centric readings of the text. I think the same approaches can—and should—also be used to decolonise and liberate the Hebrew Bible from Christian imperialism. 

And why would we need to liberate the Hebrew Bible from Christian imperialism? Simply put, Christians need to be aware of the layers upon layers of appropriation, colonisation, and abuse that have been placed upon the Hebrew Bible – again, originally a Jewish text – with that awareness serving as a practice of acknowledging our legacy of wrongdoing through centuries of antisemitism as well as a corrective to keep Christians more honest in the future.

Moreover, this legacy of Christian imperialism toward the Hebrew Bible has not done Christian readers any favours. While I am aware there are those who wish to understand the Hebrew Bible as a body of scripture which foretells the coming of Jesus for Christians, I think this approach does the text and its readers a disservice, particularly when practised as the sole reading method by Christians. If our “Jesus lens” is rose-coloured, it hampers us from seeing so many other colours also present in the text. These colours become apparent when we consider the construction of the text, including providing details of the Jewish communities and the evolution of various schools of thought and ideas. They also become apparent when we consider our own unconscious, implicit, and confirmation biases of their own that we may have simply taken for granted as gospel in the past. Combining these considerations then enables a student to learn how to approach the text in a more integral, honest, and respectful way.

Definitions and Terminology

Perhaps here is where it would be useful to define a few terms that will be used going forward. First, the term antisemitism[4] needs to be defined, particularly given current events that make this terminology and topic pertinent. The Anti-Defamation League (aka ADL, a Jewish organisation) uses the following definition for antisemitism:

a belief or behaviour hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.[5]

In biblical scholarship, one might often see terms such as anti-Judaism or religious antisemitism, which are used to differentiate the racial bias from a religious/theological one that antisemitism often combines.  However, for simplicity’s sake, as well as for the power in calling something what it actually is (according to the ADL definition), the simple term of antisemitism will be used throughout.

Second, the specific theological issue here being addressed is supersessionism. According to Jewish New Testament scholars Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, supersessionism (sometimes referred to as “replacement theology”) is “the claim, expressed in its starkest form, that by rejecting Jesus and then killing him, the Jews have lost their role as a people in covenant with God, and that the promises made to Abraham now apply only to the followers of Jesus.” [6] In short, Levine and Brettler say, supersessionism hinges on the idea that “Jews and Judaism…[have] been superseded by or replaced with Christians and Christianity.”[7]

While there are some who are quite explicit in their supersessionist theology, my experience has been that most Christians perpetrate this theological malpractice unwittingly. They have been taught to read Jesus into the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Jesus as Immanuel in Isaiah 7 and as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 40–55) and to take Hebrews 8:13 at its literal word: that Jeremiah’s claim for a new covenant (Jer 31:31-34) supersedes – or makes obsolete – the old one. And therefore, implicitly, Christianity, according to New Testament scripture, has supremacy ordained by God – all without thinking of the consequences of such readings and interpretations.

Why It Matters

Given the readership of this volume, it may be safe to assume that teaching socially responsible biblical scholarship already matters to you. What may have brought you here is, perhaps, the question of how it is done, or what issues may be out there that you have not yet considered, or, the issues you encounter in your own practice and which you wish to reflect on.

When it comes to setting the stage for students to understand the ways in which we consciously and unconsciously use biblical texts to support claims that are ideologically or theologically important to us, I find it useful to begin with the words of womanist biblical scholar Nyasha Junior:

Texts do not swim, slither, or run, and biblical scholars are not chasing them down wearing pith helmets and waving butterfly nets …. [F]ocus[ing] on what texts “do” suggests that texts themselves have agency without acknowledging the interpreters who press texts into service. … [T]exts “overrun boundaries,” [but] texts do not cross boundaries or “escape” to move on their own from one context to another. Instead, texts are repurposed, corralled, and coerced into new contexts. Asking “how has this text functioned” is a good question, but to ask “who has (re)used this text, how, and for what purpose” identifies more clearly the particular interpreters and agendas behind these reinterpretations. For instance, biblical texts such as Exodus 21 and Ephesians 6 were used to support pro-slavery positions in the U.S. These texts did not “escape” their ancient contexts. Those who supported slavery were very deliberate in their recycling of these biblical texts into new contexts to support chattel slavery. The movement of these texts is not a characteristic of the texts themselves but a choice made by particular interpreters in support of their unique interpretive aims.[8]

Junior’s words remind us that the text – even if claims to being the word of God are taken seriously – does not have a magical life of its own but that its power resides in the community’s use of it. Likewise, with that power comes authority: not only because of the divine word claims but also because any text claimed as authoritative carries with it power to build up and also to destroy. It is the wielding of this power that requires an understanding of this history of its usage as well as how to read and interpret the text in a socially responsible way.

Post-colonial biblical scholar Fernando Segovia reminds us that no matter the method of criticism we use in our study – be it historical, literary, or reader-response  – we must always remember that there is a “real reader – the flesh-and-blood reader, historically and culturally conditioned, with a field of vision fundamentally informed and circumscribed by … a social location.”[9] 

For Segovia, there is no such thing as a “neutral and disinterested reader” and what I am arguing here echoes his work in that it posits with regard to in the process of reading and interpreting a biblical text that “the flesh-and-blood reader [is] always positioned and interested; socially and historically conditioned and unable to transcend such conditions – to attain a sort of asocial and ahistorical nirvana”.[10]  For Segovia, raising one’s awareness and working to become more attuned to the lenses and baggage we are always bringing to a text is an “ongoing process of liberation and decolonization.”[11] This also includes unlearning the ways in which our socially and historically conditioned religious traditions have taught us to read the text: if reading the Hebrew Bible with a Jesus lens is how one has always been taught to read it, it comes as quite a shock to begin to see it from a different – and perhaps non-Jesus-centred – perspective. 

Yet, while Segovia concentrates on readership, the same is true for authorship. Flesh-and-blood people and communities had a hand in the formation of the biblical text as well as in the reading of it.  Feminist, liberation, and post-colonial biblical scholars have all  repeatedly reminded us to approach the text with a hermeneutic of suspicion, asking questions such as these:

  • In whose interest is this text written?
  • Whose voices are amplified and whose voices are silenced? 
  • Who holds the power in this text, and at whose expense?

These questions remind us that these texts were not produced in a vacuum. While more conservative Christian traditions have a theology of scripture which advocates the infallibility of the text as if it were dictated by God to scribal automatons, any intellectually honest survey of the text in its original languages quickly makes such a view problematic. Not only are there diverse claims within the text itself[12] but also there are a variety of ways – as indicated by Junior previously – that the “same text can be used for diametrically opposed contexts and theological positions.”[13]  Like the flesh-and-blood people who participated in its authorship and continue to read and interpret it, the text never says just one thing, and reading the whole Bible with integrity uncovers the various facets of a text that make for a much richer and socially responsible experience.

Both the readership and authorship questions highlighted here indicate that while we may aspire to be impartial, objective, and value-neutral, when it comes to understanding the composition as well as the reading and interpretation of biblical texts, such aspirations are, to use Segovia’s words, “quite naïve and dangerous.”[14]  It is naïve, because if we are honest, we know it is not possible; and it is dangerous, because any pretence that it is possible sets up a scenario whereby irresponsible and abusive readings are legitimised and other readings censored. This occurs under the guise of that same impartiality and objectivity with claims such as, “The Bible is clear” or “It’s not what I think; it’s what the Bible says.” In this vein, students learning how to read and interpret the Bible must be taught to identify and take seriously their biases: such as white, male, middle-class, Euro-centric, cis- or hetero-normative, British, Anglican, or (dare I say?) even Christian biases. Otherwise, those biases become normalised and mainstreamed to the exclusion of others.

When we cut the text from the humanity of both the author(s) and the reader(s), we “valorise the text”[15] in our own image and censor, in turn, other-centred readings.  Moreover, it is in the valourisation of the text that we become immune to “the fact that ideology is produced by a particular author, culturally constrained by historical time, place, gender, class, and bias, among other things.”[16]  As if it is a cryptic puzzle, we as readers construct codes with which to unpick the text, and it is in the use of these codes that we censor other meanings that also lie within the text that we have been blinded, restricted, and/or institutionalised from seeing because of our biases.[17] 

Additionally, this censorship of our reading fosters a sense of familiarity – or a “false sense of security,” as Yee puts it – that permits those same codes “to go unnoticed, smuggled in like contraband.”[18]  For example, by appropriating the Hebrew Bible with a “Jesus lens”, that lens also somehow serves to create a closeness and familiarity to the text that is at its best myopic but, at worst, untrue.  We think we know the text and what it says. We have certain expectations, and we have a crisis of faith when we encounter texts which are unfamiliar or that are opened up to us in a different way than what we are used to seeing. When I assert in the classroom that perhaps Jesus is not in the Hebrew Bible, after the initial shock wears off, suddenly the text becomes “othered” for the students. It becomes foreign, different, and they encounter it in an altered way. This dimension of alterity in studying the Hebrew Bible is invaluable for showing that the text “follow[s] principles and conventions of another time and culture,” and highlighting with immediacy to my students the reality that “reading and interpretation always involve construction on the part of the reader, and the reader proceeds to engage in such a construction knowing that it is in the end a construction” itself, written by and for another community rather than us.[19]

Therefore, Yee argues, it is imperative that we “exercise ethical supervision” over how we read, interpret, and use the Bible.[20] Related to the questions inherent in a hermeneutic of suspicion, Yee posits additional questions that serve as a litmus test for responsible biblical interpretation:

  • How does my reading of the Bible affect my relationships (e.g. with my spouse, my children, with others in my religious community, my social community, my national community, my global community)? 
  • Does my reading help in transforming society or does it (sub)consciously affirm the status quo and collude with its sexism, racism, antisemitism, classism, and imperialism?
  • Which power groups and interests does my reading serve or not serve? 
  • Which power groups have a say in determining the “veracity” of my reading?[21]

To put Yee’s questions into action, here I wish to tackle how antisemitism in the ways Christians read and interpret the Hebrew Bible must be addressed. The Hebrew Bible is a meaningful, worthy, and worthwhile collection of texts on its own without reading it through a Jesus lens. Judaism – a complex of diverse beliefs, practices and communities based in traditions predating Christianity and from which Christianity arose – finds authority without Jesus, and a socially responsible approach to reading and interpreting the Hebrew Bible must take this seriously. Harold Bloom is attributed to have uttered a pithy metaphor capturing aptly how many Jews feel in the face of how Christianity has appropriated the Hebrew Bible: “Christianity stole our watch and has spent 2,000 years telling us what time it is.”[22]

The fact that this has been going on since Christianity’s inception is important. John Dominic Crossan famously argued in his book Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (2009) that instead of history remembered, early Christians took an approach of “prophecy historicized” in relation to the Hebrew Bible. He points out that the prophets in the Hebrew Bible were less concerned with predicting decades or centuries into the future (or, with being fortune tellers) but with addressing their own time and place by speaking truth to those who did not wish to hear. As for “predictions”, the prophets only foretell an immediate, inevitable future related to consequences for actions. This comes across in an almost parental way, as in, “if you keep this up, this will be what will unavoidably happen.”

By prophecy historicized, Crossan means that “the direction of influence is reversed” and that early Christian writers went back to the prophetic texts “decades after Jesus’ death” in order to “draw on words, themes, and sequences from the Hebrew Bible” to make meaning of their experience and compose the Gospels.[23] Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah were situated in and spoke to their own social location, but Christian readings over the centuries have gone back over those texts and used them as proof for Jesus, his birth, and his death which, therefore, is how “prophecy became historicized.[24] Jill Hicks-Keeton, a literary historian, gives a fantastic contemporary example of what Christian readers have been doing to the Hebrew Bible since Christianity’s inception:

My favorite pop culture analogy I use … is the relationship of ‘70’s Swedish super-group Abba to the 1999 musical “Mamma Mia.” Many students easily grasp that Abba was not performing songs in deliberate anticipation of the later musical that stitched together a coherent narrative based on these songs.[25]

As we will see in the next section, we have prime examples of reader-response or ideological criticism employed by early Christians through their reading and re-interpretation of Hebrew scriptures in order to make sense of and give meaning to their experience of Jesus.

In the Classroom

In this section, I will give an overview of the topic, sharing both pedagogical method and content to illustrate how I teach this in my classroom. It may be condensed and edited into one single lecture, or it may be spread out over several lectures, but what is shared here is the master session which I adapt for various settings and contexts as time allows. 

If I have at least a couple hours to devote to this session, I will have assigned reading three articles by Craig Evans, Jon Levenson, and Pamela Eisenbaum.[26]  While there are plenty of other scholars who have done work on this topic, I find these three articles to be both accessible and provocative. They have worked for me in terms of effectively facilitating engagement in the classroom. Also, if time allows, I will have assigned a Self-Inventory for Bible Readers as homework and we start with a discussion as to their findings [27] The method for the Self-Inventory was developed by Norman K. Gottwald and colleagues at New York Theological Seminary in the context of teaching an Intro to the Hebrew Bible course, and he declares the objectives for the exercise as follows:

the praxis goal … is to equip students in knowledge of the contents of the Bible, in the exegesis of biblical texts, and in judgment and skills in uses of the Bible in the contemporary church. The theory goal … is to broaden and deepen understanding of alternative hermeneutical frames so that students will develop their own hermeneutics in a coherent and self-critical way.[28]

As discussed in the previous section, the objective of this master session is to demonstrate the imperative to become more aware of biases we carry with us into reading and interpreting biblical texts.  Moreover, in the context of the Hebrew Bible, finding effective means of highlighting the lenses at work – particularly supersessionist lenses, of which students may be unaware – is especially necessary. I am aware it can feel alarming for some, and therefore I find using attentive pedagogical tools such as frequent check-ins with students (e.g. “Is everyone with me?” or “Ok, how are we doing?”) and pastoral pauses for discussion and questions invaluable for both student comfort levels as well as helping me to ascertain if what I am presenting is effective. This also means that I must be flexible and be prepared for my session to be paused or significantly slowed in order to address concerns and to adapt according to the needs and prior knowledge of the students. 

By way of managing expectations, I emphasise that all readers come to the text with biases – including myself – and, by emphasising its inevitability, we are going to wrestle with the text as we go and see what we find along the way. I also tell the students that ultimately this lecture is informed by an interfaith perspective as I plan to take Judaism and its relationship to its sacred texts seriously. At the end of the day, this is both a lecture on biblical studies and interfaith hermeneutics. In no way do I wish the reader or the student to go away from the session feeling as if Judaism and Christianity are the same faith, or that the differences between the two are negligible. Instead, I express the hope that the student understands that because of their difference and because of their historical relationship, we need to be much more careful about how we read the Hebrew Bible and, in actual fact, it was Judaism’s text first.[29] Additionally, as is normal practice for me, I remind students that this session is not exhaustive and  will only be an introduction as there is much more we could do or say if time permitted.

I then introduce the session with two items – the Nyasha Junior quote above and then the “Three Worlds Framework” (i.e. the world behind the text, the world within the text, and the world in front of the text) – by way to Paul Ricouer.[30] The purpose of this is to set a framework for the rest of the lecture: to devise a way of reading and seeing that takes seriously the ways a text’s nature and meaning are constructed and interpreted, dependent upon contexts, objectives, and hermeneutical lenses. For an exploration into the “Three Worlds Framework” we then discuss the benefits and blindspots for each approach, emphasising that reading the Bible with integrity requires attention to all three worlds.  Specifically, however, I spend time on the third world: the world in front of the text. It is in this world that reader-response, ideological, and contextual criticisms reside and it is here where I make connections to the self-inventory and biases that we inevitably bring to a text, illustrating that when we approach the text with a particular agenda or our own particular context in mind, we often find that for which we are looking. Where responsible reading comes into play is making sure our reader-response or contextual approaches are checked and balanced by historical, source, and literary methods as well.

Reading the Bible With Integrity:  Context

We begin by talking about terminology and discuss the differences between using the terms “Hebrew Bible” versus “Old Testament”.  Inevitably, it emerges that usage of the term “old” brings to mind connotations of something that is obsolete and antiquated, whereas “new” (as in “New Testament”) connotes something shiny, better, or a replacement.  It is here where I give a brief definition of supersessionism as “replacement theology” and highlight that for the Jewish community, the Hebrew Bible is the Bible, not an older version.[31] 

Introducing the context at this stage is important, and I use a 2015 article titled “Why Did the New Testament Writers Appeal to the Old Testament?” by Craig Evans to illustrate two points related to the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. First, early followers of Jesus were Jewish and, as a result, their “religious claims had to be justified in one way or another by [using] Jewish sacred literature.”[32] Second, the gospels portray Jesus as someone who “grounded his preaching and mission in Jewish sacred literature.”[33]  To illustrate this, Evans points out Jesus “quotes or alludes to 23 of the 36 books of the Hebrew Bible (counting the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles as three books, not six),” and that he “quotes or alludes to all of the books of the Law, most of the Prophets, and some of the Writings” which makes clear that Jesus’ canon is reflective of “what it was for most religiously observant Jews of his time.”[34]

From there, it becomes clear the Hebrew Bible constitutes source material for Christian texts and traditions, and a foundation has been laid in order to consider texts in parallel to further illustrate this point.  I do this by progressively showing on a projected screen three biblical texts side by side: Isaiah 29:10-16; Romans 9:16-21 and 11:7-8; and Mark 7:1-9. I present them by date order in which most scholars think they were written, and I colour-code quotations and textual references to demonstrate the relationship between the three texts.[35]  The Isaiah 29 text is thought to be one of the best-preserved chapters from the Dead Sea Scrolls and is widely dated to 8th century BCE.  The Romans text is next, dated around 58 CE, and the latest text is the Mark text, which is usually dated 65-75 CE. 

What becomes immediately obvious is that the references that Paul chooses to refer to or quote from Isaiah 29 are not the same references Jesus is quoted as using. Moreover, the tone related to the Jewish tradition also varies significantly. Evans uses this comparison from Isaiah 29 to illustrate that the “early Christian interest…[is] not Jesus’ interest.”[36] Paul’s words in Romans have a distinct supersessionist tone; Jesus’ in Mark do not. Therefore, it becomes easy to surmise that what we see here are shifts in Christian theology and its relationship to Judaism in its early years, and/or a differentiation between contexts either via audiences or textual purposes. Nevertheless, there are questions: is the later Markan text reflective of the Jewish/Gentile conversation already happening at the time and chooses to emphasize Isaiah references from Jesus, or has the author of Mark inserted the Isaiah 29 text as Jesus’ words to provide commentary on the current conversation? 

Evans argues that Jesus quoting Isaiah 29 in the Markan text “is not simply to serve as a proof-text” by calling out Jewish leaders for their religious tradition but a warning “at coming judgment” that stands squarely in the Jewish prophetic tradition.[37] Evans reminds us that phrases used to condemn Judaism, such as Jeremiah’s “den of robbers” (Jer 7:11), were from Jewish texts; Jews would not have had many other texts except those from the Hebrew Bible to be self-critical. Judgment of Judaism is not an invention of Jesus or of the New Testament, but of Jews themselves.[38]  Also, Judaism itself over the centuries before Jesus and Paul had undergone significant change, and would continue to do so further after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Therefore, again, we must be very careful how we read and understand the source material and become sensitive to what is at work within it.

Nevertheless, Christians use this example as a model for how Jesus understood and read the Hebrew Bible. If Jesus quotes it and then self-referentially refers to its fulfilment, then reading Jesus back into the Hebrew scriptures is acceptable, right?[39] It is here where we enter into difficult territory. In the gospels, Jesus certainly models particular usage of the Hebrew Bible, but the claims Jesus makes for his own place and ministry are arguable because we do not actually know if Jesus makes those claims or if the writers of the gospels do. We do not have audio recordings of Jesus’ words; we have to take the word of the authors of the gospel texts as to what he said. Yet, we are also aware that each gospel has its own objectives and audiences. As Christians, we have (to varying degrees) placed our trust in the canonisation process and the tradition that has found the scriptures authoritative.  Nevertheless, we still have both the permission and obligation to think critically about what informed these texts, how and why they were put together, and for what purpose. 

Reading the Bible with Integrity:  Identity and Community
Considering Jewish Sources, Emergence of Christianity, and Antisemitism

It is no surprise that the New Testament writers appealed to the Hebrew Bible: it was what they knew best as they made sense of their new reality and developed an identity for their burgeoning community, and a way to communicate its story and meaning. Because of this, identity and community go hand-in-hand. In the biblical text as well as everywhere else, identity is formed in community, and, at the same time, community is formed through identity. And it is here, in this mix between identity and community, that we begin to see both the early Christian community begin to define and shape itself, as well as an emergence of antisemitism, neither of which can really be separated from the other.

It is at this juncture where I rely on scholarship from both Jon Levenson’s 1985 article “Is There a Counterpart in the Hebrew Bible to New Testament Anti-Semitism?” and Pamela Eisenbaum’s  1996 article “The Role of the Old Testament in Ancient Christianity and the Problem of Anti-Semitism” to introduce the concept of antisemitism in the New Testament. Levenson raises a provocative suggestion: “if the older religion [Judaism] had been adequate, then the suspicion arises that the younger [Christianity] need never have appeared.”[40]  Therefore, Christianity’s development must be based on Jewish inadequacy, right? When asked in those candid terms, I expect most Christians would squirm. And yet, this is how most approaches to the Hebrew Bible (and, indirectly, Judaism) are taught: that it is inadequate, antiquated, violent, rules-oriented, replaceable, and wrong in comparison to Christianity’s fuller, newer, love and grace-filled, fulfillment of the truth.

Levenson points out that Rudolf Bultmann,[41] one of the most significant and influential (Christian) New Testament scholars of the twentieth century, gives a very unflattering picture of Judaism, reflecting the view that its “God is no longer vital to the present moment.”[42] Levenson summarizes that Bultmann argues that Judaism “values ritual above ethics; it mandates an absurd amount of observances, which can only be a burden; the obedience it produces is ‘formal rather than radical’; it afflicts its practitioner with a ‘morbid sense of guilt’; and its legalism promotes self-righteousness.”[43] Given how Bultmann describes Judaism, why would anyone willingly devote themselves to such a life and faith? The picture that emerges of Judaism is dismissive, even damning and Levenson proposes that Bultmann seems to have believed in some kind of a “mass psychosis among Jewry”[44] to account for Judaism’s survival. Moreover, despite Bultmann’s public opposition to the Nazi regime, it is apparent, Levenson argues, that his approach to Jewish traditions and to the Hebrew Bible is marred by antisemitism.

Yet, one could argue that Bultmann came by his interpretation reasonably and honestly and by basing it on the New Testament to which he devoted his career. Levenson points out that in a survey of the New Testament, Jews who have not converted to Christianity as well as Jewish religion “which adheres to the Torah and not to Jesus, are always presented negatively,” and the only variance to this rule is the lexis and intensity by which the negativity is presented.[45]  Why might that be the case?

Pamela Eisenbaum, a Jewish New Testament scholar teaching in a Christian theological school, focuses on Pauline texts when she calls out the Christian tradition and scholarship that perpetuates antisemitism. Eisenbaum reminds us that for the early Christians, “the only scripture followers of Jesus knew was Jewish scripture” and that in these early days “there was no debate about the canon: the Christian canon was identical to the Jewish canon.”[46] Until the gospels and Paul’s letters came to be circulated and widely used by the early Christian community generations later (e.g. the Letter to the Romans was written in 58 CE), the texts the early Church used were those of the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, Eisenbaum argues, “Paul did not envision his letters having the status of scripture.”[47] 

So, what was happening that brought us to where the New Testament stands today in relation to how the Jewish tradition is presented? In essence, Eisenbaum argues that the early Christian community’s development had “[a]t least two fundamental hermeneutical perspectives … at work.”[48]  Eisenbaum identifies these as follows:

First, from the Gospel writers on, Christians argued that the Old Testament scriptures prophesied the coming of Christ, indeed, all the events concerning his life, death and resurrection… This prophetic understanding of biblical texts implied that the scriptures were incomplete. Second, the Mosaic law was [then] relativized. …Gentile Christians do not need to observe Jewish law even though they are worshipping the same God as the Jews, the God of the Hebrew Bible.[49]

There are elements at work here that bear significance for the development of the identity and community of early Christians. As the story of Jesus was spread by early missionaries in the first century, Eisenbaum points out, “the Gentile world had become the dominant context for Christianity,” and as such, “Gentiles would have had no natural inclination toward, or appreciation of, Jewish scripture.”[50] This is understandable: the Jewish community was relatively small and still relatively contained geographically. In the context of the Roman Empire, Judaism would have certainly been a minority beyond the confines of first-century Palestine.

Meanwhile, the early Christian community sought legitimacy. In the first two centuries of its formation, it was often perceived and sometimes persecuted as “a new cult” and, as a result, early Christians “had to defend themselves…[with the idea] that Christianity was not new; it went back to the beginning of time.”[51] At the time and even now, religious heritage and tradition carries authority, and the early Christian community had neither unless it could point to the Jewish tradition as its source. Therefore, reading the Hebrew Bible by essentially using forms we would now call reader-response or ideological criticism “allowed early Christians to claim an ancient heritage credibly,” and, in turn, the Hebrew Bible then “played a crucial role in legitimizing early Christianity,” while concurrently being presented by Christians as “incomplete, insufficient without the fulfillment of Christ.”[52] 

In the struggle for legitimacy, Eisenbaum argues, the story then came to be told by Christians that their tradition began “in a pristine early period, followed by disobedience and the giving of the law at Sinai out of necessity.”[53] The patriarchs such as Abraham and Moses, as well as the prophets, were “ancestors of the Christians” and other Hebrew Bible heroes and heroines were presented as “pre-Christ Christians,” whereas Jews were disobedient, wayward, and unruly, negating their inheritance by turning their back on the Messiah who had come and, as a result, were now “illegitimate offspring – people without a heritage.”[54]

It is here where an exploration of canon and textual authority must then be pursued in order to understand what has further shaped antisemitic approaches to the Bible. Eisenbaum identifies three influences worth noting: the Marcion heresy, Gnostic Christians, and Justin Martyr. The Marcion heresy set up a division between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, declaring that the God of the Jewish scriptures “was not the same God who is represented by Jesus Christ.”[55] Marcion declared the Jewish God as a violent God interested only in justice and punishment, and in his decision about which texts to include as scripture, declared only “an edited collection of Paul’s letters and an abridged version of the Gospel of Luke” as his canon in order to suit his theological preferences.[56] The Gnostic Christians had a view related to Marcion’s in that they declared “the God spoken of in the Old Testament was not the highest God” but was, instead, not just “inferior, but [also] evil.”[57] While Marcion and Gnostic Christianity were both declared heretical, what both advocated is not entirely removed from what we still commonly hear taught in contemporary Christian churches: the Old Testament God is a violent God, whereas the New Testament God is a God of love; the Old Testament is irrelevant; Jews and Christians must not be worshipping the same God. 

Justin Martyr, however, was “more sophisticated,” according to Eisenbaum, in that he approaches the Hebrew Bible with a hermeneutical foundation that resembles Crossan’s “prophecies historicised” model presented earlier, rather than discounting it completely. Justin Martyr believed that since “everything foretold about Christ in scripture came true,” the Hebrew Bible “must be the essential witness to the divine plan.”[58] Nevertheless, Eisenbaum notes, this still asserts that even while the Old Testament has the status of scripture, it is viewed as “old” and in need of a “supplement”[59] in order to maintain its authority and relevance. Essentially, Eisenbaum argues, it was imperative for Christians “to undermine the Jewish understanding of the Bible in order to establish their interpretation as legitimate.”[60] Justin Martyr then went further by explaining the “peculiarly Jewish parts of the Bible – circumcision, the food laws, the Sabbath: i.e. ceremonial law” were “a kind of ad hoc necessity because of the disobedience of the Jews.”[61] Again, we see how Jewish prophets writing Jewish scripture with the aim internally to critique Jewish theology and religious practice, which is then used against Jews by Christians –  as if Christians are always obedient and Jews are inherently disobedient, or as if Jews (because they do not believe in Jesus) need more law than Christians.

The time and process for canonization is also important here. What most people in the pews do not know is that at least a millennium of discussion, engagement, religious practice, and debate went into the composition, editing, and canonization of the Hebrew Bible, whereas the books in the New Testament were written within less than a hundred years.[62] The Hebrew Bible canon is generally thought to contain literature composed between the span of the thirteenth century BCE to the Second Temple Period, and to have been finalized around 90-100 CE, after the time of Jesus and arguably because of, or in response to, the formation of early Christianity. In terms of the New Testament, the Pauline letters were written first and are usually dated between the late 50s-early 60s CE, then, in chronological order, the synoptic gospels, Gospel of John, Revelation, and other letters were written, with II Peter arguably the last to be written in 120-140 CE. All of this is not to say that the New Testament is less than the Hebrew Bible, but it is important to consider the time and process that has gone into the texts themselves and to give them their due. Demoting at least a thousand years’ worth of rich writing, religious thought, and debate in the Hebrew Bible to become secondary to the books of the New Testament that took less than a tenth of the time to compose seems, at best, unfair and short-sighted.

It is, however, critical also to point out that while antisemitism is rife in both the New Testament and in early Christian thought, texts in the Hebrew Bible indicate that Judaism is guilty of its own supremacy pursuits. While Judaism’s supremacism does not even come close to equaling the scale and power of Christianity’s, once it had the might of empire on its side, it cannot go unnoticed and unmentioned in the context of socially responsible biblical scholarship that the continued denigration and advocation of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites, Moabites, Amalekites, Ammonites, and Edomites is problematic. When declaring one’s tribe as God’s chosen people excludes others, supremacy exists, whether we like it or not. Although Christians can (and do) get on their high horse and say the Hebrew Bible provides a replicable model for supremacy, the entirety of the Hebrew Bible must be taken into account as it is in conversation with itself about this issue. Primarily, the Israelites were not attempting to supersede the religious traditions of others – that is, to build on and declare itself an improvement or replacement – as Christians have done. Furthermore, because of the thousand or more years the Hebrew Bible took to develop, we see a process of developing thought with inter-textual arguments, exceptions, and subversions that argue this very supremacy issue: Moabites are generally wicked, but Ruth was a good one; Canaanites are generally wicked, but both Tamar (Gen 38) and Rahab (Josh 2 & 6) were Canaanite women who risked everything to ensure the survival of the Israelites and are celebrated for it. While there are supremacist texts in the Hebrew Bible, there are accompanying subversion-narratives[63] written elsewhere that serve as a means of both countering and softening hard-line exclusivism, and the Jewish approach to scripture values the inclusion and preservation (rather than eradication) of this inter-textual conversation as witness to the tradition.[64]

While I may have already done it several times previously, I always stop here for a pastoral pause, asking the students how they are feeling, if they have any burning questions, and any comments they may have at this time, as well as to indicate that we are about to shift gears toward a more practical, text-reading part of the session. There are usually clarifying questions, but if I have been teaching effectively to this point, I will have a good read on where they are and addressed any concerns from students who have given indication they have been in the high discomfort/alarm zones. When I feel they have had sufficient space for reflection and questions, we then continue into the next section.

Textual Case Study: Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 52-53 & 65, and Romans 10 & 15

Similar to what we did previously, I begin this session by progressively showing on a projected screen three biblical texts side by side. I again present them by date order in which most scholars think they were written, and, in this case, we read them aloud. I then give brief expositions for each text, as well as colour-coded quotations and textual references, to demonstrate the relationship between the three texts, as done previously.[65] 

We begin with Deuteronomy 32:19-22, a text from the Song of Moses, which is part of a larger unit thought to have been inserted later (during or immediately after the Babylonian exilic period), because it is very different in style and vocabulary from the rest of the book of Deuteronomy. It is structed as a lawsuit brought against Israel and foreign nations for their infidelity, foolishness and/or wanton violence, which is a prophetic and wisdom literature device we see in the Isaiah text we will consider next. By inserting this text as a poem or song of Moses, it becomes “his last words, giving Moses’ life a fitting end,” and when the people read and remembered the song while in exile, they would also remember Moses’ and the Israelites’ communal experience in the wilderness as “an extra-territorial, monarchy-less nation” being warned against apostasy.[66]

Second, we read Isaiah 52:13–53:2; 65:1-2, which are from the Deutero- & Trito-Isaiah bodies of text,[67] and thought to have been written during a similar period as the Deuteronomy text.  The Isaiah text will undoubtedly be familiar to most Christians, as they will identify it as part of the Suffering Servant passages used as “prophecy historicized” in relation to Jesus. But given what has been discussed in the session previously, it is important to reiterate that for those who read it in the days it was written and for Jews today, this text is not about Jesus.  From the Jewish perspective, the Suffering Servant was/is thought to be either Moses, who suffered in the wilderness and died without seeing the Promised Land, or it was the people of Israel and other nations who had worked over the generations – wittingly or unwittingly – for Israel’s redemption. It reflects the final chapters of Deuteronomy, where a fundamental shift is happening between a generation who received the Torah, and a new generation proceeding into the Promised Land under new leadership.

These Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah were written in such a way as to acknowledge that the work of the servant does not end. It is not a one-off event; it is not final, but is the work of generations to come, including those who wish to read Jesus into the text as another one from the Jewish prophetic tradition who carries on this mission. As a result, there is a way we can read Jesus into this text with integrity if we consider the work of the servant as in progress – as in the kingdom of God is both here already and not yet here – but we must remember that the author(s) did not have Jesus in mind when they wrote these texts; they knew what they were saying to their contemporary audience and were not mindless automatons scribing something they did not understand for the enlightenment of only future generations.

It is worth bearing in mind that these texts in Isaiah and Deuteronomy are so similar that some scholars now think they came out of the same school of scribes in Jerusalem in or just after the exilic period. Isaiah 65 closes out the book of Isaiah in the same way that Deuteronomy 32 closes out Deuteronomy. The purpose of both texts appears to be to provide the people who have experienced exile a way of maintaining and asserting their identity, to evoke social memory and remind them of the things God does in order to bring God’s people into the Promised Land, either literally or figuratively. 

The third and final text we look at are two passages from Romans 10:16-21 and 15:20-21. In these parts of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we find several quotations from both the Deuteronomy and Isaiah passages.  Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 32 three times in Romans,[68] indicating that a text designed to re-construct an identity for the people following exile is now being used by Paul to construct an identity for a new people. These new people – followers of Jesus – are, according to Paul, standing on a prior tradition, and are able to recognise something in that earlier tradition that the original folks do not (or cannot) see.  For Paul, Gentiles are now part of the promise; non-Jews are now chosen too.

Given what we have talked about thus far, Paul’s antisemitism is problematic, including on account of his own Jewish heritage. Quite a bit has been written about Paul’s ethnico-cultural heritage, and arguments made for and against what is perceived to be antisemitism (conscious or unconscious) in his writing.[69] Nevertheless, regardless of Paul’s own intentions (about which we can really only speculate), his writings and usage of the Hebrew Bible sets a precedent for how Christians approach the Hebrew Bible that is unhelpful, if not harmful.  According to Romans 2:25-29, “the true Jew is not such by descent or by observance of mitsvot (commandments from God), but by the heart, by the spirit.”[70] This argument in itself is not problematic: the Hebrew Bible’s prophets attest to a similar idea. However, Romans refers to these Deuteronomy and Isaiah texts to assert that Jews who do not follow Jesus “are not Israel at all,” but instead “have been in a state of blindness and disobedience to God” since the coming of Jesus and their refusal of him is what “makes possible the inclusion of Gentiles in the ‘new Israel’.”[71] While this argument may be recovered in some ways by stating that their offense will eventually be absorbed/forgiven in his eschatological vision in Romans 11:11-32, Paul’s argument in Romans eventually demonstrates an instrumentalization of Jews who do not follow Jesus. Levenson argues that even while Paul demonstrates a belief in, or affinity for, Judaism (being or having been a Jew himself), “he does so only within a theological framework in which the Jews [who do not follow Jesus] play a negative role,” depicting them repeatedly as “hypocrites” who “act only for show.”[72]

It is here where I prompt classroom discussion, asking the question: “If you were sitting here today and you were Jewish (as in, not following Jesus), how would you feel about how these passages in Romans speak of you and of your community?” There is usually discussion about the difference in tone between the Hebrew Bible texts and Romans, and about how it may feel to have your own texts used against you. We usually discuss Paul’s own Judaism, his obvious desire to bring Gentiles into the fold, but also how there is a divide between what we can speculate Paul’s intentions were and how these texts have been historically read to support antisemitism.[73] In that vein, we usually explore the language of Isaiah 52:15 regarding the “seeing” and “hearing” that “evokes the tragedy of Israel’s spiritual insensibility.”[74]  Regardless of who says it, the implication is that they are blind and deaf. As internal discussions go it is harsh but it is an allegation levelled repeatedly by the prophets against their own people. Taken externally, as non-Jews reading this as sacred text, it is easy to see how it can take on an antisemitic flavour. While Paul is an insider – a Jew – he is writing to a Gentile community primarily populated with persecuted exiles; and Paul assumes a similar persecuted identity himself, as persecuted by both representatives of the Roman Empire and of Jewish religious leadership. From that perspective, it reads that Jews who do not follow Jesus are too stupid or stubborn to understand the truth that he and this Gentile community knows. Levenson points out that when an individual or community is trying to rebel against or to reform their own tradition (as Paul is in this case), the negative factors that necessitate rebellion and reform become “even more pronounced, since in many instances the writers are attacking their former selves – or their former selves as they would like to remember them.”[75] Again, this highlights that flesh-and-blood authors as well as readers are at work here.

I usually point out that if I or any other contemporary scholar did what Paul does to Isaiah in Romans 10:20-21, I would be accused of prooftexting and my scholarship would be justly accused of being irresponsible, even harmful. And yet, rarely do we feel as if we have permission to read Paul in the same light. Pauline scholar Ross Wagner points out how Paul takes “Isaiah’s words of reproof in 65:1-2 – all of which are clearly addressed to Israel – and bold[ly] bisects the quotation so that the first verse speaks of Gentiles, while only the second verse refers to Israel.”[76] At the same time, Paul shifts the focus of Isaiah 65:1 “from a declaration of condemnation for Israel into a proclamation of salvation for Gentiles, all the while continuing to read 65:2 as a severe censure of Israel’s constant rebelliousness.”[77]  Wagner argues that it is here, in Romans 10:20-21, where we see just how far Paul is willing to go in his interpretation of Isaiah, which has been deeply influenced by his missiology and his calling “as apostle to the Gentiles.”[78] Wagner goes on to say:

The apostle’s deep conviction that God is calling Gentiles as well as Jews to be his redeemed people in Christ becomes a hermeneutical lens that allows (dare I say, constrains?) him to find Gentiles in the midst of divine oracles to or about Israel… Paul’s most common interpretive strategy…[is] his penchant for locating Gentiles in negatively-phrased descriptions of people (often Israelites!) who are estranged from God. Accordingly, as Paul trolled the scriptures for insight into God’s purpose for his ministry, Isaiah’s phrases, “Those not seeking me….those not inquiring of me,” would have set Paul’s hermeneutical “Gentile-finder” ringing.[79] 

Furthermore, Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 32:21 in Romans 10:19 illustrates his conviction that “God has embraced Gentiles and lavished on them Israel’s rightful inheritance” in order to rouse Jews “to jealousy and to renewed zeal for their God.”[80] Therefore, according to Paul, God has not rejected Israel’s inheritance but their obstinacy, blindness, and deafness to the gospel keep them from participating. 

To conclude the session, I pause again for questions or comments, and then zoom out to help students identify the meta-contexts as a means of summing up what we have covered in a “big picture” way. 

First, we have one original context of Hebrew Bible texts: exilic settings interpreting both the distant wilderness experience and the recent socio-political crisis. Second, we have the contexts in which these Hebrew Bible texts have been read and referred to long after their composition, both within the Jewish tradition post-exile, as well as during the late period of Second Temple Judaism when Paul was active. Third, we have the contexts of Jesus-following communities – both Jewish and Gentile – who read them now through a different lens, seeking to make sense of and to find meaning in their religious experience. And finally, we have the contexts in which we, as contemporary readers, now interpret these texts while trying to pay attention to the layers upon layers of other contexts.

There is so much to uncover here if we have the means and inclination to see these layers, and this is just a taste of it. Nevertheless, it is my hope that this introduction provides an awareness and instills a curiosity and willingness to dig a bit deeper into the contexts, identity, and community formation present in the biblical texts we read in order to spur us on toward more socially responsible interpretations.[81]


In this article I have sought to highlight the value of reading the Hebrew Bible with integrity to its sources and functions within Jewish as well as Christian traditions. I also explored some of the ways in which Christians have approached and interpreted the Hebrew Bible, both historically and in contemporary times, including ways harmful to our Jewish sisters and brothers with whom we share the text. I have centred my context in a biblical studies classroom for Christian ministerial training, with a view to assisting students in their formation toward effective and responsible biblical interpretation. This will, I hope, in turn, inform theological reflection, preaching, and ethical-social engagement with a diverse world. 

As part of their role in this diverse world, I have made clear the reasons why it is essential for ministers in training –  or any reader of the Bible, for that matter – to have a greater self-awareness as to the biases they bring with them to the text, as well as the various biases resultant from the contexts in which the texts were both written and historically used. 

As all of the students in ministerial training are most likely approaching the text from a Christian confessional standpoint, it has been acknowledged that this topic can be unsettling, provoking questions related to the theology of scripture. The intention here has been to highlight the ways in which particular biases and hermeneutical approaches have been normalised and how this is not conducive to socially responsible and intellectually honest biblical scholarship. I seek to help my students see that the New Testament does not encapsulate the full meaning of the Hebrew Bible, and that the Hebrew Bible is a worthy, worthwhile, and meaningful text on its own – without reading Jesus into it.  Ultimately, I seek to instil in my students an awareness of supersessionism and how to prevent its perpetuation in their congregations and communities going forward.

Works Cited

DeYoung, Curtiss Paul, Frank Yamada, Wilda Gafney, et. al. The People’s Companion to the Bible. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010).

Eisenbaum, Pamela. “The Role of the Old Testament in Ancient Christianity and the Problem of Anti-Semitism.” American Theological Library Association Summary of Proceedings. (50: 1996), 210-223.

Evans, Craig A. “Why Did the New Testament Writers Appeal to the Old Testament?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament (38:1:2015), 36-48.

Goodacre, Mark. “Prophecy Historicized or Tradition Scripturalized? Reflections on the Origin of the Passion Narratives.” In John Barton and Peter Groves, eds. New Testament and the Church. (London: T & T Clark, 2015), 37-51.

Gottwald, Norman K. “Framing Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary: A Student Self-Inventory on Biblical Hermeneutics.” In Reading from this Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States. Vol. 1. Fernando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 251-261.

Gregg, Carl. “Is the Bible ‘History Remembered or Prophecy Historicized’?” Carl Gregg (blog). (20 April 2017). https://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2017/04/bible-history-remembered-prophecy-historicized/. Accessed on 3 January 2020.

Hedges, Paul. “Interreligious Engagement and Identity Theory: Assessing the Theology of Religions Typology as a Model for Dialogue and Encounter.” Journal for the Academic Study of Religion. (27:2, 2014), 198-221.

Hicks-Keeton, Jill. “On Pedagogy and Playing with Fire: How (and Why) to Eat a Candle in Class!” Ancient Jew Review. (16 August 2017). https://www.ancientjewreview.com/articles/2017/7/31/on-pedagogy-and-playing-with-fire-how-and-why-to-eat-a-candle-in-class. Accessed on 3 January 2020.

Junior, Nyasha. “Re/Use of Texts,” At This Point: Theological Investigations in Church and Culture. (10:1, Winter 2015), http://www.atthispoint.net/professional-responses/reuse-of-texts/265/. Accessed on 3 January 2020.

Levenson, Jon D. “Is There a Counterpart in the Hebrew Bible To New Testament Anti-Semitism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 22:2 (Spring 1985), 242-260.

Levine, Amy-Jill and Marc Zvi Brettler. “The Editor’s Preface to the First Edition.” The Jewish Annotated New Testament. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Nilsen, Tina Dykesteen. “Did Moses Sing? Perspectives on Deuteronomy 32.” The Bible and Interpretation. (January 2019), https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/did-moses-sing-perspectives-deuteronomy-32. Accessed on 3 January 2020.

Ricoeur, Paul. Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning. (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University, 1976).

Segovia, Fernando. “’And They Began to Speak in Other Tongues’: Competing Modes of Discourse in Contemporary Biblical Criticism.” In Reading from this Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States.  Vol. 1, Ferndando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 1-32.

Wagner, J. Ross. Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill: 2000).

Yee, Gale A. “The Author/Text/Reader and Power: Suggestions for a Critical Framework for Biblical Studies.” In Reading from this Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States. Vol. 1. Ferndando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 109-118.


Appendix 1: A Self Inventory for Bible Readers[82]

There are no right or wrong answers to these 20 questions. The point is to be as honest as you can, both in answering these questions, and in considering how others may also have answered them with the understanding that we will all answer these questions differently.  Pay attention to which questions are more difficult for you, and to the questions for which you don’t have an answer.  If a question seems unimportant or irrelevant, try to ask, “Why do I feel this is unimportant or irrelevant?” and then try to imagine for whom this question might feel important or relevant to their own reading of scripture.

  1. Religious Background: How do you describe your religious background? How would you describe yourself now? Have you grown closer to or farther from a religious community?
  2. Family Religious History: What was the characteristic view of the Bible in your childhood home? Have you stayed in touch with that point of view, or changed?  If there have been major changes in the way you see the Bible, how did this happen?
  3. Life Experience: Have you experienced a crisis in your life in which the Bible played a role?  Did you come to a deeper or different understanding of the Bible through that crisis? How do you describe the lasting effect that crisis has had on how you read the Bible?
  4. Spirituality: What has been your experience of the role of the Bible in your own spiritual awareness, your sense of a spiritual path, or your spiritual practice? Have particular themes or images in the Bible been important for your spiritual awareness?
  5. Religious Community: How would you describe the way the Bible is understood and read (if it is) in the religious community you’re a part of? What is the cultural or racial makeup of that community? Is diversity an important value to that community?
  6. Authoritative Standards: In your religious community, what are the ‘norms’ or standards outside the Bible that are recognized as bearing authority on the way the Bible is heard or read? Is there a ‘founder’, creed, authoritative organisation or individual, customs, type of experience, etc. that dictates how scripture is understood?
  7. Exposure to the Bible: Describe the ways you have been or now are ordinarily exposed to the Bible. Is it in worship? Group Bible studies? Personal study? In classes or with friends or family? TV/Internet/Radio? How do these exposures influence how you read or hear the Bible?
  8. Personal Philosophy of the Bible:  What do you honestly think about the Bible?  Is it different from the way your religious community or the authoritative standards (discussed above) regard it?
  9. Ethnicity and/or Race: How do you identify yourself ethnically or racially?  How does your own ethnic history, racial group, culture, and identity influence the way you read or hear the Bible?
  10. Gender: How do your gender and the way your culture perceives your gender influence the way you read or hear the Bible?
  11. Economic Class: How do you describe yourself in relation to economic class? How does your economic class location or background influence the way you read or hear the Bible?
  12. Education & Professional Aspirations: How do your education so far and your education and professional aspirations influence the way you read or hear the Bible? If you have some specific education or training, how does that influence your perception of the Bible?
  13. Community Priorities: How do the values, welfare, and survival needs of your community influence the way you read or hear the Bible?
  14. Explicit Political Position: How does your avowed political position (political party, political views, etc.) influence the way you read or hear the Bible?
  15. Implicit Political Position: Even if you do not think of yourself as political, how does your being not political influence the way you read or hear the Bible?  Does your religious community claim to be ‘not political’? How does that influence how the Bible is read and heard in your community?
  16. Media Exposure: Which books (if any) have influenced how you think about the Bible?  What moves, plays, or other cultural media come to mind when you think about the Bible?
  17. Influential People: Are there particular individuals who are influential in your interpretation of the Bible (clergy, scholars, teachers, etc.)? How do they regard the Bible?  How does their perception influence the way you read or hear the Bible?  Do you perceive a difference between influential people in your life in their approach to reading or hearing the Bible?
  18. Ranking Factors: How would you rank the factors above in order of importance in how you read or hear the Bible?  Which are the most important?  Which are less important?  Are there other factors important to the way you read the Bible that haven’t been mentioned here?
  19. Self-Reflection:  What have you learned about yourself in this inventory?  Are you surprised by any of the factors you described?  Have you identified influences on the way you read or hear the Bible that you hadn’t considered before now?
  20. What Next?  Do you have a different sense of yourself as a Bible reader now that you’ve taken this inventory?  Are there some factors you’ve discovered here that influence the way you perceive the Bible about which you want to learn more?  Are there factors you would like to change?
Appendix 2: Isaiah 29; Romans 9 & 11; Mark 7 parallel table
Appendix 3: Deuteronomy 32; Isaiah 52-53 & 65; Romans 10 & 15 parallel table

[1] Critical pedagogy is based on the work of Paulo Freire and the ideas that knowledge is never neutral, and all teaching is inherently political. Freire believed that freedom from oppression and the development of social justice require a pedagogical method which enables the awakening of a critical consciousness he called “conscientisation”. See Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th anniversary edition, translated by Myra Bergman Ramos, (London: Continuum, 2001).

[2] Paul Hedges, “Interreligious Engagement and Identity Theory: Assessing the Theology of Religions Typology as a Model for Dialogue and Encounter,” Journal for the Academic Study of Religion,(27:2, 2014), 200.

[3] Fernando Segovia, “’And They Began to Speak in Other Tongues’: Competing Modes of Discourse in Contemporary Biblical Criticism,” in Reading from this Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States, vol. 1, Fernando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds., (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 5.

[4] Throughout this article, unless found in quotes or titles, the author has chosen to use antisemitism rather than anti-Semitism. Not just a stylistic choice, many scholars use this spelling, because the hyphenation and capitalisation of “Semite” creates space for the “possibility of something called ‘Semitism’, which not only legitimizes a form of pseudo-scientific racial classification that was thoroughly discredited by association with Nazi ideology, but also divides the term, stripping it from its meaning of opposition and hatred toward Jews.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, “Spelling Antisemitism,” https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/antisemitism/spelling-antisemitism. Accessed on 21 May 2020.

[5] Anti-Defamation League, “Antisemitism,” https://www.adl.org/anti-semitism. Accessed on 3 January 2020.

[6] Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Editors’ Preface to the First Edition,” The Jewish Annotated New Testament, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), xiv.

[7] Levine & Brettler, xiv.

[8] Nyasha Junior, “Re/Use of Texts,” At This Point: Theological Investigations in Church and Culture, 10/1, Winter 2015, http://www.atthispoint.net/professional-responses/reuse-of-texts/265/. Accessed on 3 January 2020.

[9] Segovia, 20.

[10] Segovia, 28-29. 

[11] Segovia, 28-29.

[12] For example, there are different creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2 and different schools of thought related to the issue of generational punishment of sin in Exodus 20:5-6 (see also Exod. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:8-10) versus Deut. 7:9-10; Ezek. 18:2-4, 19-20 versus Jer. 31:27-30.  Similarly, the textual conversation around inclusion/exclusion – namely in the question of “Is God for us and ours, or is God for everyone?” – is debated in the Torah’s various depictions of Canaanites and then between the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Ruth, and Jonah.

[13] Gale A. Yee, “The Author/Text/Reader and Power: Suggestions for a Critical Framework for Biblical Studies,” in in Reading from this Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States, vol. 1, Fernando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds., (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 112.

[14] Segovia, 29.

[15] Yee, 112.

[16] Yee, 112.

[17] Mieke Bal, Murder and Difference: Gender, Genre, and Scholarship on Sisera’s Death, (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1988), 9 in Yee, 116. On the same page, Yee also notes that the code constructed “paradoxically discloses by way of exclusion the interests, biases, and ideologies of those who utilize them” and that what one reader deems “important to study in a particular investigation automatically reveals what is not important to look at.” Therefore, deconstructing and de-coding these codes are worthwhile exegetical exercises particularly in the context of this research.

[18] Bal, 136 in Yee, 116.

[19] Segovia, 9.  The alterity of the New Testament is also worth pursuing, and this approach helps lay the groundwork for such an approach. 

[20] Yee, 117.

[21] Yee, 117.

[22] Attributed to Harold Bloom in Jonathan Rosen’s “So Who is King of the Jews?” New York Times, 27 Nov 2005, https://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/27/books/review/so-who-is-king-of-the-jews.html

[23] John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus, (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 4 in Carl Gregg, “Is the Bible ‘History Remembered or Prophecy Historicized’?”, Carl Gregg (blog), 20 April 2017, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2017/04/bible-history-remembered-prophecy-historicized/. Accessed on 3 January 2020. Crossan’s work is in the context of the Historical Jesus research and the passion narratives in particular, but nonetheless important for the purposes of this article.

[24] Gregg.

[25] Jill Hicks-Keeton, “On Pedagogy and Playing with Fire: How (and Why) to Eat a Candle in Class!,” Ancient Jew Review, (16 August 2017), https://www.ancientjewreview.com/articles/2017/7/31/on-pedagogy-and-playing-with-fire-how-and-why-to-eat-a-candle-in-class.

[26] See the bibliography for details.

[27] See Appendix 1. I am currently still trialing using the Self-Inventory for Bible Readers but find it an invaluable tool. I think debriefing and discussion are essential to its use, so I only use it if time allows for meaningful conversation to accompany it.  I am currently using it as a tool over an entire term, where we do the inventory at the beginning of the term and then return to it at the end of term to see if they notice any changes.

[28] Norman K. Gottwald, “Framing Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary: A Student Self-Inventory on Biblical Hermeneutics,” in Reading from this Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States, vol. 1, Ferndando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 251.

[29] Of course, there is more to be said about the borrowing from other traditions such as Egyptian poetic form, Sumerian and Ancient Mesopotamian legal codes, etc. that the Jewish tradition used in the composition of the Hebrew Bible, but that is beyond the scope of this research.

[30] Paul Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University, 1976), 87-94.

[31] If time allows, I may expand on the differences in terms of ordering of books in Christian and Jewish traditions, as well as on wider Jewish perspectives on the biblical text.

[32] Craig A. Evans, “Why Did the New Testament Writers Appeal to the Old Testament?,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 38:1 (2015), 36.

[33] Evans, 36.

[34] Evans, 37.

[35] See Appendix 2.

[36] Evans, 40

[37] Evans, 41

[38] Evans, 42

[39] R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, (London: Tyndale Press, 1971), 226, in Evans 46.

[40] Jon D. Levenson, “Is There a Counterpart in the Hebrew Bible To New Testament Anti-Semitism,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 22:2 (Spring 1985), 242.

[41] Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) was a German Lutheran theologian. He was particularly influential in the areas of form criticism and existential hermeneutics.

[42] Levenson 243.

[43] Levenson, 243

[44] Levenson, 244

[45] Levenson, 245

[46] Pamela Eisenbaum, “The Role of the Old Testament in Ancient Christianity and the Problem of Anti-Semitism,” American Theological Library Association Summary of Proceedings, 50 (1996), 210-211.

[47] Eisenbaum, 211.

[48] Eisenbaum, 211.

[49] Eisenbaum, 211.

[50] Eisenbaum, 214.

[51] Eisenbaum 216.

[52] Eisenbaum 216. 

[53] Eisenbaum, 218-219.

[54] Eisenbaum, 218-219.

[55] Eisenbaum, 212.

[56] Eisenbaum, 212.

[57] Eisenbaum, 212.

[58] Eisenbaum, 217. 

[59] Eisenbaum, 220.

[60] Eisenbaum, 220.

[61] Eisenbaum, 218

[62] The existing New Testament canon was officially accepted in the 4th century, but all of its included books were most likely written by 120-140 CE.

[63] See, for example, André LaCocque, The Feminine Unconventional: Four Subversive Figures in Israel’s Tradition, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990).

[64] Levenson, 251.

[65] See Appendix 3.

[66] Tina Dykesteen Nilsen, “Did Moses Sing? Perspectives on Deuteronomy 32,” The Bible and Interpretation, January 2019, https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/did-moses-sing-perspectives-deuteronomy-32. Accessed on 3 January 2020.

[67] Scholars generally agree that the Book of Isaiah is a collection of writings from at least three different periods, with Proto-Isaiah (chapters 1–39) written pre-Babylonian exile, Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40–55) written during the Babylonian exile, and Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56–66) written immediately after the return from exile.

[68] Romans 10:19 quotes 32:21; Romans 12:9 quotes 32:35; Romans 15:10 quotes 32:43.

[69] See works such as Lillian C. Freudmann, Antisemitism in the New Testament, (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1993); Amy-Jill Levine, “Is the New Testament Anti-Jewish?,” Bible Odyssey, (http://bibleodyssey.org/tools/bible-basics/is-the-new-testament-anti-jewish; accessed on 21 May 2020); Judith Shulevitz, “Was Paul a Jew?”, Tablet Magazine, 11 Nov 2009 (https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/arts-letters/articles/who-was-paul; accessed on 21 May 2020); and John G. Gager, Who Made Early Christianity? The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017) as examples of a range of approaches that have been taken over the last twenty-five years.

[70] Levenson, 244.

[71] Levenson, 244.

[72] Levenson, 244.

[73] Not least, the influence Martin Luther’s own interpretation of Paul’s writings in relation to Jews and Judaism had on his own antisemitism and on antisemitism inherent in theological constructions that were then widely adopted within Protestantism. See “Luther, Martin” in Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, vol. 1, (Oxford: ABC Clio, 2005), 437-439.

[74] J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000), 336.

[75] Levenson, 245.

[76] Wagner, 211.

[77] Wagner, 211.

[78] Wagner, 211-212.

[79] Wagner, 211-212.

[80] Wagner, 356. 

[81] Other texts worth exploring on the topic of religious antisemitism and supersessionism would be I Thessalonians 2:14-16, the Gospel of John, and I & II Peter.

[82] Adapted from Norman K. Gottwald, “Framing Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary: A Student Self-Inventory on Biblical Hermeneutics,” in Reading from this Place: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States, vol. 1, Ferndando Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 251-261 and Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Frank Yamada, Wilda Gafney, et. al, The People’s Companion to the Bible, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010).