Leviticus as the Center of Jewish-Christian Interfaith Dialogue

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Part of the assignment in Old Testament class is to write a response to ]]’s article (warning, PDF) on the above mentioned issue. How can I response to Zenger? But, this is my rough draft, which I thought I might share:


There is little doubt that Fr. Zenger is right that Christians rarely see anything more in Leviticus than a ‘what we are not’ view; however, I am unsure that we can so roundly disconnect ourselves from the holiness codes contained therein in our modern world. We know that Leviticus is absolute on its requirements to put to death homosexuals (Lev 20.13), patriots (Lev. 20.2-3, LXX), and unruly children (Lev. 20.9), and while Zenger makes good points that the idea of purity can and should be extended to ecological concerns, I am unsure as to the feasibility of taking one passage of a book as relevant and another passage of the same book as irrelevant.  Granted, while the whole notion of a canon-within-a-canon is reprehensible, it is easily enough seen that we make one for ourselves.  But, can Leviticus, the center of the Torah and ancient-Jewish cultic life draw Christians and modern Jews together?

While I think that the purity codes of Leviticus may serve to show a mutual connection to one another, especially in the area of stranger/foreigner and how we treat Creation, I think that the book serves to further the dialogue of just what our center pieces mean as well as our interpretation of Scripture. For my faith, I see Christ as the Incarnation of Torah and within Him the fleshing out, if you will, of the holiness codes which establish boundaries of righteousness and unrighteousness. Christ doesn’t remove those boundaries (Rev 22.11), but by His act of faithfulness creates a means to cleanse the unrighteousness not just maintain separation. By examining the cultic practices of Leviticus, I believe we see the central role which God played for the Jews, and more than that, the roll in which their active and ongoing daily responses to YWHW played. It was a grand liturgy with God as the leader and the congregation clearly marked and defined by their responses, which generally was physical instead of verbal. Zenger notes that many assume Christianity to be led ‘as a system of dogmas.’ Perhaps by examining Leviticus and understanding that for this community of Jews, the Law was not something to be examined one day a week, but lived daily. This might lead to a revolution for many Christians and encompass what a friend of mine once wrote, “Real Christianity is a life that is lived according to the doctrine of which our faith consists.” (Mike Radcliff, 2008). Christianity is not a set of dogmas, but a life to be lead daily as a response to the call of a holy God, just as Leviticus shows us.

Secondly, and maybe even more importantly, reading Leviticus with the Jews in our Scriptural community, or us with them, will help us in determining better interpretative methods for ‘hard words.’ As I noted before, there are calls for sanctions that we would find rather ruthless by modern standards and yet, Leviticus is every bit a part of our common canon. Further, the cultic sacrifices expressly applied to the Jews are simply not fulfilled and yet Judaism no longer wrestles with them. Further, for many Jews, Leviticus is less than literal but every bit as historical. For more conservative Christians, reading Leviticus in a community which included Jewish contributors might help us to understand better these portions of Scripture and those such as Genesis 1-9 (a section which Zenger notes several times as important to Leviticus). This inter-faith dialogue should prevent a closer communication between them and us, us and them, and more ecumenicalism, something I think that the late priest would have hoped we would take from his article.

While I disagree with some of Zenger conclusions, over all I do think that Leviticus can serve to draw the two communities together without sacrificing our own cultic practices.

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