Addressing Anti-Judaism in Holy Week Scripture Texts: A Guest Post from the Rev. Devon Anderson, Trinity Excelsior
In a recent interview with Christian Century, Amy-Jill Levine, a New Testament and Jewish Studies professor at Vanderbilt, said this: If to get a good message you need to make Judaism look bad, then you don’t have a good message. Levine pursues this compelling thought in her new book, “Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week,” which, like all of her books, is an excellent read.
It’s that time of year when many of us are designing our liturgical offerings for Holy Week. And it’s about this time every year when I re-engage the Johannine Passion narrative on Good Friday and, in parts, cringe. While the scripture designated by our lectionary for that day is set in a particular historical context, to the modern ear casting “the Jews” and “the rabbis” as the villians cuts deep and, left uncommented-upon, has the power to perpetuate “Jews killed Christ” hate speech. What are self-respecting worship communities to do?
The best resource is an article by Philip Cunningham, which does offer alternative options for the reading. Trinity Excelsior has used, with bishop permission, option #5 put forth in Cunningham’s article.
While Minnesota is blessed with a bishop that trusts local worship communities to make their own liturgical decisions, it still needs to be said that technically using any of the alternatives proposed in the article would require the permission of the bishop.
Additional recommended resources include:
- A few years ago, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s blog posted a lengthy article about Anti-Judaism issues in the scriptures of Holy Week: https://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/anti-judaism-issues-in-the-scriptures-for-holy-week-by-louis-weil/
- Frank Henderson, a Canadian liturgical scholar, has a downloadable article that’s also of interest: www.jfrankhenderson.com/pdf/goodfridaypassion.pdf
- Other than an alternative translation, or options offered in the above resources, another approach is to address issues of anti-Judaism by a note in the bulletin, or in preaching, or through an adult education offering. If you’re going the preaching option, Marilyn Salmon’s Preaching Without Contempt is a clear and helpful guide.