Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What Do We Call This?!: Thoughts on renaming the Hebrew and Christian scriptures

This is a paper i wrote from my OT112 class. I have since edited it and clarified some spots... hope you enjoy!

There are too many Bibles in the world. If we look at just the arrangement of the books there are at least four different Bibles. The Jewish Canon, the Roman Catholic Canon, the Orthodox Canon, and the Protestant Canon all include books arranged differently to further certain agendas. There are also translation issues that multiply these four canons to an uncountable number of Bibles.

There are as many Bible translations as there are languages. There are also specific translations in these Bibles as to the exact wording, Kings James or New International Bible or Everett Fox translations for example. In all of these translations the Bible never gives itself a name (Williamson 106).

Other book collections do not have this problem. One would simply title their work “The Collected Works of So-and-So,” or one could logically put the overarching theme as the title. The problem is that no two groups can agree on what exactly the Bible’s theme is. To the Jews, everything points toward the Torah. For Christians, everything points to the cross. These two groups are theologically at odds with each other. To make matters worse, the Christian faith groups cannot agree on a theme, hence the various denominations of Catholic and Protestant.

People attach a great deal of political and emotional weight to these books. We cannot just name the first collection the “Great Escape,” nor can we name the second one “The Empire Strikes Back.” There is too much religious sentiment riding on the Bible, so using a catchy title will not do for this sacred text.

So how can we pick a title that everyone will agree on? How can we pick a title that people do not judge? How can these groups with different agendas co-exist with the same texts? Christian struggle internally with these questions to come to terms with the role of the Jews and Judaism in Christian theology (Schramm par. 4).
Christians must work to avoid the theology of adversus Judaeos. In the book Has God Rejected His People?, Clark M. Williamson states that “against the Jews’ theology is an apologetic argument in the support of the claim that Christianity has superseded Judaism” (90). Against the Jews’ theology is defined in two ways:

1. Rejection/Election theology—Gods reject Jews and therefore “elects” Christians as the new people of the covenant
2. Inferiority/Fulfillment theology—Jews are inferior to God’s plan and through Jesus, Christians fulfill God’s plan (90).

Jews are very aware of the “New Testament.” This book is Christianity’s claim that the ritual demands of the Scripture are abolished (Schramm par. 8). Christianity’s founding fathers have cited the New Testament many times to attack Judaic theology (Williamson 90). With the way that Christians have arranged both testaments, the New Testament is dependent on the Hebrew Scriptures. William Johnson Everett states in his article “Renaming scripture - Old Testament or Hebrew Bible?” that “Judaism can no longer be understood apart from Christianity, not only because Christian oppression so deeply shaped the development of Judaism, but because through the expansion of Christianity the whole world has come to know the peculiar witness of the people of the ‘Old Testament’” (73).

The traditions are so intertwined it is impossible to separate the two without harming the other. Judaic and Christian theologies are like conjoined twins who violently disagree on many issues. One twin argues that there are three major parts of the body: the Torah, Nevi’im, and the Ketubim (and the latter supports the former). The other twin not only disagrees but suffers from schizophrenia and reorders the first’s order of organs while adding a few other organs. So in the end there is one big confused mess. We have one schizo twin that is dragging the other half around claiming the same origins. But the situation is not as hopeless as it seems. I feel that acknowledging the individual twins’ agendas and motivations would be defining factors as to what to call the Scriptures.

My solution would be to give each separate grouping of a particular religion’s Scriptures a name. The overall name for both Jewish and Christian Bibles simply would be The Bible or more politically correct, The Scriptures. The Jews could call their Scriptures the TaNaK or Jewish Bible or something similar. The Christians will then acknowledge their own rearrangement of the Jewish order of the books, since they are indeed arranged to fit a certain agenda. The name I would use for the Protestant Old Testament would be the Protestant Agenda Scriptures or P.A.S., and the New Testament would be the Protestant Agenda Testament or P.A.T. The Catholics in turn have C.A.S. and C.A.T. and the Orthodox O.A.S. and O.A.T. This fulfills the Christian embrace of acronyms and manages to pay proper respect to the Judaic tradition without belittling it. To argue for the Protestant names specifically, pas in Spanish means peace and to pat someone is usually a sign of respect and to show affection. It is perfect for my Protestant tradition because peace is love and love brings peace.

Realistically this would never work. For religions to gain members they must argue that it is God’s agenda they are following and promoting, not their own. Some might also say that this phrasing paints Christianity in a bad light compared to Judaism. The reality here is that we cannot afford to continue the use of “Old” and “New” Testaments due to the history of Judaic abuse at the hands of Christians. These types of characterizations of the testaments have led to many abuses like supersessionism and claims of inferiority that were manifested in the Holocaust (Williamson 105). We do not have the vocabulary yet to get across the ideas and histories that these Scriptures contain, but we must work to get it.

We must be accurate and give each separate Bible a different name. We must recognize that there is not one from of Christianity and that even our selection of Bibles differ. We also must recognize Christianity's dependence and history of disreguard for the Jewish religion. We must strive for a vocabulary that can do all of this and I know i'm not the one to do it.

Works Cited

Everett, William Johnson "Renaming scripture - Old Testament or Hebrew Bible? - Column". Christian Century. Oct 29, 1997. FindArticles.com. 02 Oct. 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_n30_v114/ai_20013860

Schramm, Brooks. “Uncertain Terms: the Title of the First Volume of the Christian Bible”. Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, Autum 2000. Moodle. Lancaster Theological Seminary, Philip Schaff Lib. 2, Oct. 2007. http://online.lancasterseminary.edu/moodle/course/view.php?id=6

Williamson, Clark M. Has God Rejected His People? Anti-Judaism in the Christian Church. Nashville, Tennisee: Abington Press, 1982; 89-105

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