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My Chapter on Justin Martyr for the Volume “The Bible, Zionism, and Palestine”

Relegere Academic Press has posted Michael Sandford’s edited volume The Bible, Zionism, and Palestine: The Bible’s Role in Conflict and Liberation in Israel-Palestine. My chapter “Christian Claims on the Inheritance of Israel: Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” has been uploaded online. This was based on a conference hosted by the Biblical Studies Department at the University of Sheffield back in 2012. Obviously, a controversial topic draws a range of perspectives and I do not endorse all the contributions contained therein. Let me also state at the outset that my expertise is not in the contemporary history and politics of the region, but I contributed to the conference as a biblical scholar and historian of ancient Jewish/Christian communities.

Despite the literature produced by some Patristic writers wanting to enforce rigid social boundaries between Christians and Jews, this did not mirror the actual reality on the ground where there were extensive social interactions between the Christian minority and the much larger Jewish majority in the first few centuries. What began as efforts to construct a distinctive “Christian” identity, often at the expense of negatively representing the Jewish people in opposing terms, had tragic consequences under Christendom when Christians became the majority in power. Christian anti-Judaism was unfortunately one of the streams feeding into racial anti-Semitism. Although Justin Martyr has some tolerance for a diversity of social practices among the Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Christian community, Justin was the first to label Christians as the “new Israel” who replaced the old and, in effect, tried to completely appropriate the scriptures, covenant, ancestry, and land from the Jewish people for his own community.

The belief in a people who have been elected by God as a witness to the world in both Judaism and Christianity can be seen as a positive call to live up to certain ethical ideals and social responsibilities enshrined in the Torah or Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. But there is always a danger that some will interpret the belief in divine election as the license to persecute ethnic and religious minorities. Thus, I try to conclude my study with some ethical reflections about how different communities, each valuing their own communal identities and heritage, can learn to live together. We ought to both repudiate the ever-present evil of anti-Semitism, including when it is cloaked behind the denials of Israel’s right to exist, and be concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. How can we better work towards a peaceful two-state solution that recognizes Israel and Palestine and protects the rights of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other minority groups? Political scientists may be in a more informed position to answer the last question; my study is only a limited case study of how religious worldviews may either positively or negatively effect how people view those outside their community.

 

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