Theological Exchange Presents Catholicism, Judaism as ‘Siblings’
Why should Jews read the New Testament?
Two Biblical scholars — one Catholic, one Jewish — discussed that question during the spring program in Providence College’s Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews.
Sponsored by the Department of Theology and the Graduate Program in Theology, the exchange featured Dr. Adam Gregerman, Jewish scholar at the Institute for Jewish & Christian Studies in Baltimore, and Dr. Michael Peppard, assistant professor of theology at Fordham University.
They spoke at an evening lecture open to the public, then gave a morning colloquium for faculty and students.
Their topic was prompted by the publication of the Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2011), the first major work by Jewish scholars to address the Jewish background of the New Testament. It includes a contribution from Gregerman, who wrote a commentary on Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians.
Gregerman is a former visiting assistant professor of religion at Connecticut College. He has taught at Columbia University, Barnard College, and Union Theological Seminary. He has a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in religion from Columbia University.
Peppard has a master’s degree in religion from Yale Divinity School and a doctorate in religion from Yale University.
In the joint lecture, Gregerman suggested two reasons to read the New Testament: “To become a better Jew, especially because of the intimacy of the two tracks, born at the same time,” and for dialogue — “to remind my Christian friends that Jews are not just abstract figures. The presence of Jews in dialogue helps Christians understand their own texts and even become better Christians.”
Facing similar challenges
While history has portrayed a “parent-child” relationship between Judaism and Catholicism, with Catholicism deriving from the Jewish tradition, both faiths are “siblings,” born together in the first three centuries of the Common Era, Gregerman said.
And both “face similar challenges: how to take an ancient revered text and make it relevant to new circumstances,” Gregerman said.
Gregerman said he was impressed by “the real commitment to balanced scholarship” of Christians who study ancient Judaism and the early days of Christianity.
Peppard remembered a graduate school seminar in which his fellow students included an American Catholic, a British Catholic, a Methodist, a person who no longer believed in God, and a Reform rabbi.
“I thought, I’m living in a unique moment in history,” Peppard said.
Studying ancient Judaism is a chance to learn what is unique about Christianity, Peppard said. When Christians discover that early Jewish writings include stories about virgin births, resurrection, and teaching in parables, they feel shaken, he said. Further study “sharpens the uniqueness,” revealing what is truly special about Christianity, he said.
“When Jews become good at the New Testament, it forces you to learn more about it, too,” said Peppard. “It keeps Christians from becoming singularly focused.”
After their presentations, Gregerman and Peppard took turns questioning one another, then took questions from the audience.
Theological exchange earns praise
The theological exchange began in 2009 as a forum to explore issues affecting Jewish-Christian relations. Each fall, a scholar lectures on campus. In the spring, two experts discuss a topic, and a colloquium is presented for faculty and students.
Gregerman said PC “has done a really wonderful job in interfaith relations and outreach to the Jewish community.” He said he appreciated the opportunity to meet with students and faculty, which demonstrates “a serious and deep commitment to this type of study” by the College.
Edward D. Feldstein ’64, a lawyer in Providence who frequently attends the exchange, said the spring program was a highlight and called the two scholars “outstanding.”
“As a graduate of Providence College, I find it very significant that Jewish-Christian dialogue has reached a point that there can be respectful, serious academic dialogue by Jews and Christians on topics of common interest,” said Feldstein. “Dr. Arthur Urbano (PC assistant professor of theology) is to be congratulated for his hard work in making this series a successful reality.”
Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer, rabbi emeritus at Temple Emanu-El in Providence, said he enjoyed “the dialogue of the two perspectives.”
“I appreciated their general, sweeping view of the field as they see it today, of basically interfaith dialogue focusing on New Testament studies,” said Rabbi Kaunfer. “It differs very much from the non-conversation, or even the more antagonistic kinds of conversation, in past history.
“I appreciate how much studying the other’s view helped Jews and Christians to refine their own views,” said Rabbi Kaunfer. “I think both of them made that point — that the perspective of the other helped them refine their own perspective on their own religion.
“Obviously, these two scholars were friends as well as scholars. To have that kind of open dialogue and relationship is encouraging.”
— Vicki-Ann Downing
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