Q&A with Professor Amy-Jill Levine

eConference Image LargeInterview by Amelia Morris in advance of the 2015 eConference organised in partnership between the ACBC and Broken Bay Institute. The 2015 eConference, will tap into interfaith issues surrounding the three Abrahamic traditions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Religion: Catalyst for Violence or Peace? Probing the Abrahamic Traditions for Answers

For some, the idea of one person being both a Professor of the New Testament and Professor of Jewish Studies seems extraordinary but for Professor Amy-Jill Levine from Vanderbilt University (USA), her two positions are intrinsically tied.

On June 23 Professor Levine will join (via video conferencing technology) with three other diverse panelists to present at the BBI-ACBC 11th National eConference, titled ‘Religion: Catalyst for Violence or Peace? Probing the Abrahamic Traditions for Answers’. Her talk will be focused on the topic ‘Jewish Dialogue with Christians and Muslims: Neighbours or Strangers, Reconciliation or Respect?’

We caught up with Professor Levine to find out a little bit more about her specialised areas of study and how the upcoming eConference relates to the Jewish tradition.

You are both professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt, how do these two areas complement each other?

The New Testament is part of Jewish studies, for several reasons: the majority of its major figures – Jesus, Mary and Joseph, James and John, Peter and Paul, Mary and Martha, etc. – are all Jews; the text speaks directly about ‘Jews’; Jewish history has been substantially impacted by select, and often negative, Christian interpretation of the New Testament’s references to Jews.

To ignore the New Testament is to leave a gap in Jewish history. Similarly, to ignore Jewish history – the historical context in which the materials in the New Testament took shape – risks misunderstanding of what the New Testament says.

What does the Jewish tradition share with the other two Abrahamic traditions?

While Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all speak of Abraham, we understand the

patriarch through such different lenses –Rabbinic literature, the New Testament, the Qu’ran – that even the term ‘Abrahamic traditions’ may be at best less an historically and theologically accurate term than a rhetorical effort at inter-religious cooperation.

We have had a number of years of speaking about our similarities; the more difficult conversation is to address our differences. Dialogue should not require the sacrificing of our particular traditions on the altar of interfaith sensitivity.

Your profile states that you have a commitment to eliminating anti-Jewish, sexist, and homophobic theologies. How do you achieve this mission?

I begin by recognising that all people are in the image and likeness of the divine, and that most of the people who express hurtful statements are either ignorant of the harm their words cause, or they are not fully informed about issues concerning religion, gender, and sexuality, or they are trying to be faithful to their own understandings of their Scripture and tradition. Then we have conversations about what the texts say, and how they have been interpreted over time. My focus is on not just historical information, but also on personal and pastoral concerns.

For further information about the BBI and ACBC eConference, please contact Amelia Morris on 02 9847 0578.