Principal Crisis, Call, and Leadership in the Abrahamic Traditions
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Crisis, Call, and Leadership in the Abrahamic Traditions This page intentionally left blank Crisis, Call, and Leadership in the Abrahamic Traditions Edited by Peter Ochs and William Stacy Johnson CRISIS, CALL, AND LEADERSHIP IN THE ABRAHAMIC TRADITIONS Copyright © Peter Ochs and William Stacy Johnson, 2009. All rights reserved. First published in 2009 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the United States—a division of St. Martin’s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Where this book is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries. ISBN: 978–0–230–61825–1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Crisis, call, and leadership in the Abrahamic traditions / edited by Peter Ochs and Stacy Johnson. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-230-61825-1 (alk. paper) 1. Abrahamic religions. 2. Christianity and other religions. 3. Religions—Relations. 4. Abraham (Biblical patriarch) 5. Bible. O.T.—Criticism, interpretation, etc. I. Ochs, Peter, 1950– II. Johnson, William Stacy. BR127.C74 2009 201.5—dc22 2009014133 A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library. Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd., Chennai, India. First edition: November 2009 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America. This book is written in loving memory of Michael A. Signer who taught us to read the plain sense with the interpreted sense, the ancestors’ sense with our generation’s sense, the Jewish sense with the Christian sense with the Muslim sense, the divine sense with our human sense, the sense of this world with a sense of the ne; xt This page intentionally left blank CON T E N T S One Introduction: Crisis and the Call to Leadership in the Abrahamic Traditions William Stacy Johnson and Peter Ochs Part I Communal Identity and the Other Introduction: The Other Within and the Other Without William Stacy Johnson Two The Sign of Jonah: A Christian Perspective on the Relation of the Abrahamic Faiths R. Kendall Soulen Three Hagar and Esau: From Others to Sisters and Brothers Steven Kepnes Four Five Six 1 11 15 31 Qur’an and the Image of the “Other”: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly Mehdi Aminrazavi 47 “These Are the Generations”: Reasoning with Rabbi Samuel ben Meier Michael A. Signer 59 Three Voices, One Response: Here I Am: A Reformed Christian Perspective on Abraham’s Dilemma William Stacy Johnson 71 Part II Spirituality and Social Responsibility: Poverty and Charity Introduction: The Cry of the Poor Kevin L. Hughes 89 viii Contents Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve The Poor Are Always with You Kevin L. Hughes Hearing the Cry of the Poor Aryeh Cohen The Tests of Poverty: Qur’anic Perspectives Timothy J. Gianotti In the Bosom of Abraham: Saint Bonaventure, Lazarus, and the Houses of Hospitality Ann W. Astell Charity and the Good Life: On Islamic Prophetic Ethics Mohammad Azadpur Lawe, loue, and lewete: The Kenotic Vision of Traditional Christian Political Theology R.R. Reno Part III 93 109 123 139 153 169 Abrahamic Traditions and Modernity Introduction: The Scriptural Traditions and Modernity: The Unhappy Relations between Traditions and Modern Historical Consciousness Maria Massi Dakake Thirteen Human Contention and Divine Argument: Faith and Truth in the Qur’anic Story of Abraham Maria Massi Dakake Fourteen Abraham in the Image of Job: A Model for Postcritical Readings of Scripture Elizabeth Shanks Alexander Fifteen Moses and the Mountain of Knowledge Robert W. Jenson Sixteen Moses in the Sea: Reading Scripture as Liturgical Performance Peter Ochs Seventeen Transfigured Exegesis C. Clifton Black 209 Contributors 259 187 191 223 231 243 Contents ix Index of Scriptural Sources and Commentaries 263 Index of Modern Authors 271 Subject Index 273 This page intentionally left blank CH A P T E R ON E Introduction: Crisis and the Call to Leadership in the Abrahamic Traditions Wi lli am Stac y Johnson and Pete r O ch s All people were a single community, so Allah raised prophets as bearers of good news and warners and He revealed to them the Book with Truth that it might judge between people in that in which they differed. (Qur’an 2:213) Verily, Abraham himself was like a community who believed in the true Allah and was not one of the idolaters. (Qur’an 16:120) These verses from the Qur’an capture the energy and hope of this book: to celebrate each of the three Abrahamic traditions and to examine their capacity for mutually enriching dialogue. Each of these traditions has placed great responsibility on specially endowed leaders—prophets, priests, imams, pastors, rabbis—who are charged with leading the community into paths of righteousness and peace. Leaders of this sort do not arise in isolation. On the one hand, they draw spiritual life from the vitality and vision of their own communities. On the other hand, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders in today’s world also need the vitality and vision that can be sparked by dialogue with one another. Finding a hospitable space for productive dialogue is not so simple in the world we currently inhabit. We are living in a time of crisis. In many parts of the world, Jews, Christians, and Muslims dwell in profound 2 William Stacy Johnson and Peter Ochs tension with one another. As we know, these tensions sometimes break out into violence. Such hostilities are never purely religious in origin but are fueled by historical injustices, geopolitical disruptions, economic dislocations, and other complex situational factors. Nonetheless, the power of religion may add volatile fuel to already smouldering embers. As British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has wisely noted, religion “is a fire— and like fire, it warms but it also burns. . . . Religious leaders must take responsibility for being ‘guardians of the f lame.’ ”1 But how are religious leaders to exercise this responsibility in today’s world? How, in particular, are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders to engage one another in a time of such crisis? The authors of this book—Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars of scriptural commentary—joined together to respond to some aspects of this question. They agreed that each Abrahamic tradition turns to its scriptures to seek out the “fire” that warms them. They also agreed that each fire can burn as well as warm, and they decided to make this the theme of their three-year project of study: to see if and how their three scriptural traditions offer both the warmth of faith in God and also protection against faith’s burning fire. The authors agreed to work within the limits of their disciplines of study—scripture, interpretation, and commentary—while also stretching beyond these limits, at times, to entertain broad questions like these: Was there a basis for popular claims in the Western media that, at bottom, the three scriptures nurtured three conf licting paths of devotion, so the more piously a community observed its scriptural faith, the more intolerant it would become toward all other faiths? Did the three scriptures have to be “tamed,” therefore, by translating their separate claims into the universal terms of modern Western reason and ethics? Or, to the contrary, does each scripture offer its wisdoms in terms that could never be translated, so that peace is best achieved among the Abrahamic religions by providing each one its separate place: a peace of tolerance and distance, maintained by the separation of each church and each state? To address these questions fairly, the authors agreed they had to avoid two customary approaches to scriptural study. On the one hand, they could not presume that the modern academy defined the only path for interreligious study. If they did, they would have answered the first set of questions before their study even began: assuming that modern Western reason, alone, provided a basis for peaceful study across the borders of the three traditions. On the other hand, they could not presume that each scriptural tradition defined strictly separate methods for studying its founding canon. If they did, they would already have answered the second set of questions: assuming, before Introduction 3 they began their project, that these traditions can be studied only separately and in separate terms. But what other approach could they take than these two? The authors decided to take up and reframe a practice of interAbrahamic study called scriptural reasoning.2 This practice gathers Muslims, Christians, and Jews who are devoted to their own traditions of learning and practice but who are also graced with fellow-feeling and eager to engage in dialogue with members of the other traditions. This model offers an alternative to the dominant way of dealing with religious differences in the West since the Enlightenment. According to the Enlightenment model, the primary way to reduce conf lict is to eliminate or suppress religious difference. This has been sought either through the secularization of religious elites or through the assimilation of any two of the Abrahamic religions to the cultural and political hegemony of the other one. In scriptural reasoning, by contrast, the accent is on interpretive hospitality. Participants from all three traditions read, struggle over, challenge, and interpret texts from their own and the others’ traditions with a sense of openness and mutuality. There may arise argument, to be sure—debate, discussion, questioning— but this takes place in a spirit of mutual respect and of wonder—and, throughout, of love for God’s word as embodied in our respective scriptures. Previous scholarly groups have applied scriptural reasoning to the study of the scriptural canons by themselves. The authors of this book decided both to replicate such study and to add something new: studying medieval scriptural commentaries in the spirit of scriptural reasoning. In this way, the group could examine the “fire” of religious faith within the terms of each commentary tradition as well as from the group’s own readings and debates about the primary scriptural texts. The Study Plan The group’s three years of dialogue were hosted, graciously and courageously, by the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) in Princeton, New Jersey. We are grateful to William Storrar and Wallace Alston, the current and former directors of CTI respectively, for funding the project. As a center for Christian theological studies, CTI had never before sponsored a fellowship of Muslim-Jewish-Christian study. Like previous research groups hosted by CTI, this one engaged scholars twice a year for intense and lively sessions of study undertaken both for their own sake and for the sake of writing a collected work that would 4 William Stacy Johnson and Peter Ochs share the group’s insights with a broader reading community. Unlike previous groups, however, this one began each week of work (three to four days) with an initial day and a half of scriptural text study. The rest of each week was devoted to medieval commentaries on each scriptural canon. The use of medieval commentaries was emphasized for two reasons. First, the scriptural traditions have been mediated to us through a tradition of interpretation. In reading these sacred texts, it is illuminating to peer over the shoulders of the master interpreters who have preceded us. Second, the group recognized that the potential for profound religious dialogue had already been introduced and tested in the late medieval period in Muslim Spain and in several later contexts of scholarly exchange in late medieval France and Italy. In medieval Spain, for example, a society arose in which a certain measure of tolerance was practiced. Arab and Berber Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711, a conquest that spelled defeat for Christians, but deliverance for Jews. Yet out of this conquest emerged something positive for everyone—at least for a time. The Muslim policy of openness toward the People of the Book, the dhimmi, meant that Jews, Christians, and Muslims studied one another’s sacred texts and imbibed one another’s cultures. Eventually, the texts of Aristotle, which had been preserved in Arabic, were reintroduced to the West. An age of unprecedented interaction was born that f lowed over into Christian regions of Spain as well. Of course, this achievement of toleration fell well short of full acceptance. The cities of this region remained divided into Jewish, Christian, and Muslim quarters. As the political landscape changed—including the preaching of the first Crusade—accommodation for the dhimmi eventually would be revoked, and non-Muslims would be forced to assent to Muslim ways. Although it took eight centuries to accomplish, Christians eventually reconquered Spain. In 1492 the last Muslim stronghold surrendered, and in the same year the Jews were brutally expelled from Spain. This experience, and many others like it, reminds us that while toleration is a great achievement, it is not enough. A grudging tolerance is something far less than the true openness and welcome to which we are called by the highest and best of our scriptural traditions. As easily as toleration can be extended, it can also be revoked. So then, how do Jews, Christians, and Muslims find the grace to move beyond mere toleration and somehow to welcome one another with open arms? After all, if God is sovereign, as the Abrahamic religions all assert, then we Introduction 5 must see in one another’s existence something that God has ordained. A famous passage from the Qur’an makes this clear: We have ordained a law and assigned a path to each of you. Had God pleased, He could have made you one nation, but it is His wish to prove you by that which He has bestowed upon you. Vie, then, with each other in good works, for to God you shall all be returned, and He shall declare to you what you have disagreed about. (Surah 5:48) An Experiment in Hospitality What would it look like, then, for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to outdo one another in extending hospitality? The group decided to engage in an experiment in such hospitality, paying special attention to the religious situation of the medieval period. Each week of work began with formational study: sustained periods of unfettered discussion of a few verses from each of the three scriptural canons. Before each meeting, each participant was responsible for preparing larger portions of scripture, reading for the plain sense as well as examining text-historical studies and traditional commentaries. After hearing an introduction to each selection by an appropriate text scholar, participants then broke into small groups of three to six scholars (comprised ideally of at least one member from each tradition) for hours of close textual study and dialogue. This study would be interspersed with one or two plenary sessions: occasions to discuss texts that proved particularly challenging and themes that proved particularly compelling. The group considered this initial work “formational” because it shaped the kind of fellowship that would unfold the rest of the week: how participants heard the plain sense of each scriptural text; how they experienced interrelations among the texts; how they spoke and listened to one another; and how they began to reason together. Participants also introduced new passages that might illuminate the group’s initial readings. Significant medieval commentators from the past were also invoked to enhance the group’s appreciation of the text. Over time, this collection of very different scholars became transformed into a community of care and of inquiry: directing its energies, at once, to friendship, to careful study of scriptures and commentaries, and to discovering the unexpected kinds of dialogue that emerge both within and across the borders of each religious tradition. 6 William Stacy Johnson and Peter Ochs The importance of friendship cannot be overemphasized. Participants discovered ways in which the scriptural traditions called them to fellowship as a dimension of study itself. They were instructed, for example, by the rabbinic tradition of chevruta, or “fellowships of study,” in which the scripture and commentary texts were discussed back-andforth by study partners.3 Here the texts functioned like cookbooks that we could not fully understand until we “cooked” with them—at least on the limited “stove” that was available to the participants: the stove of a table, with chairs seated around it, and small selections of each scriptural canon placed on top. The “cooking” included textual and historical analyses, plain sense study, comparative text reading and examination, several levels of interpretive activity, and the various rounds of argument, debate, storytelling, song, and play that rose up out of hours of reading and interpretation. To take another example, participants were instructed by the medieval Church traditions of lectio divina: giving voice to images that the scriptural texts brought to mind, and thereby, sharing personal religious ref lections alongside more academic analyses of the texts’ rhetorical forms and semantic force. The group was inspired, in this way, by the Qur’anic portrayal of God as a friend of Abraham (Q.4:125 “For God did take Abraham for a friend”). Participants sought to discover ways that scriptural study opened them, at once, to friendship with the God of Abraham and with each other who sat together bearing witness to God’s word. They were also inspired by each tradition’s witness to joy within God’s creation: “Raise a shout to the Lord of all the earth; worship the Lord in gladness; come into his presence with shouts of joy” (Ps. 100). Joy bubbled up in study and also around it. The participants’ study was often punctuated with laughter and, in the evenings after study, they were wont to play; there was guitar playing and song and word games and more laughter. Throughout, however, they were also driven by the sense of crisis that brought them together; and they were instructed by each scripture’s traditions about how to respond to crisis. These were instructions to turn toward the crisis; to observe it; to study scripture in order to understand how to respond; to hear, to examine, to discuss, and to act. Tradition and Modernity Shaped by this formational study of scripture, the group turned to its focal work: re-examining medieval scriptural commentaries in light of Introduction 7 today’s crisis of relations among the three Abrahamic traditions of faith. A year of preliminary study led the group to these working hypotheses: (1) That the crisis we observe is specific to modernity: that is, to the way that the three Abrahamic traditions interrelate in the context of their relations to modern Western civilization; (2) That we therefore have two crises to consider: the crisis of modernity (the troubled relation of each tradition to modern civilization) and the crisis of traditions (troubled relations among the traditions); (3) That these two crises are intimately related. In modern times, each tradition tends to adopt modern models of clarity, defining its identity more clearly and sharply than it did in premodern times. As a result, each tradition tends to define its “borders” more sharply and thus its differences from whatever lies outside its borders; (4) That these sharper differences also appear within each tradition as differences between true “insiders” and others. There are thus “others within” and “others without.” After a year of study, the group organized itself into three smaller fellowships, generating the three sections of this book. Each fellowship continued to focus on inter-Abrahamic study. Nonetheless, all participants agreed that each essay in this collection should be composed out of its author’s individual faith tradition. The participants agreed that scriptural reasoning is dialogue from out of the three scriptural traditions, rather than any amalgam. The group’s model of peace is dialogue among different voices and traditions, not a loss of individual voice. Its model of scholarship is not to replace the many with one, but to provide a context of sustained fellowship within which the many may be transformed from mere multiplicity to many-in-relationship. The essays therefore display a dialogue—sometimes explicit, at other times implicit—between the scholars’ modern text scholarship and this new voice of inter-Abrahamic scriptural reasoning. Many of the essays are preceded by a short statement of how the group’s ongoing interaction and dialogue shaped the work of the author. The participants hope that this dialogue may itself be a healing response to the crisis that has given rise to this book: a living illustration of how Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and modern academic thinkers can read and reason together in harmony rather than in conf lict. They hope, secondly, that the contents of these essays open a broader window into the classical sources of these three traditions and that through this window readers will see that these same sources may give rise to peace as well as provide distinct identities for each of the three communities. They hope, thirdly, that readers may see through this “window” another model for inter-Abrahamic peace. This is not the model of 8 William Stacy Johnson and Peter Ochs mere “agreement”: there is no “shared declaration of belief ” to offer. It is, instead, a model of shared space on which Jews, Muslims, and Christians inspired by the word of God may share, discuss, and debate their inspirations in the spirit of fellowship and love that each sacred text demands. Here is an overview of the themes and goals of each of the three parts of this book. Part I, “Communal Identity and the Other” opens with a set of ref lections offering a gateway to our study as a whole. Its essays examine each tradition’s sense of its own identity in relation to the “other”—both the “other within” and the “other without.” Part II, “Spirituality and Social Responsibility: Poverty and Charity” moves beyond the broad question of identity to explore how the three traditions treat the concrete social issue of poverty. Its goal is not to compare the traditions but to illustrate the various ways in which each tradition integrates questions of the spirit with questions of earthly life. Part III, “Abrahamic Traditions and Modernity” addresses the crisis of traditions and modernity that underlies the group’s project as a whole. Its essays ask: What kind of historical consciousness has entered each of these traditions as a result of their encounter with the modern West? Is there a way to honor both history and tradition in the study of scripture? In sum, the most significant findings of the authors’ three years of fellowship are that the three scriptures, indeed, offer resources for peace as well as occasions for potential conf lict and that to examine the sources of peace is at the same time to join the practices of peace these sources inspire. Within the realm of scriptural scholarship, this is the practice of face-to-face study and fellowship. Readers inspired by this book’s goal may conclude that the best way to read it is also face-to-face study and fellowship across the borders of different text traditions. Notes 1. Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, (London: Continuum Publishers, 2003) 11. 2. The Society for Scriptural Reasoning was established in 1994 to promote shared scriptural study among Muslim, Jewish, and Christian readers of the three scriptural traditions. See the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/ssr/) and its Forum (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/jsrforum/). 3. See, for example, Steven Fraade, “ ‘The Kisses of His Mouth’: Intimacy and Intermediacy as Performative Aspects of a Midrash Commentary,” in P. Ochs and N. Levene, eds., Textual Reasonings: Jewish Philosophy and Text Study at the End of the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 52–56. PA RT I Communal Identity and the Other This page intentionally left blank Introduction: The Other Within and the Other Without Wi l l i am Stac y Joh n s on Recent critiques of monotheism have alleged that maintaining allegiance to the one God can become an obsession that leads to problems; specifically it can lead—so the argument goes—to the desire to enforce conformity and eliminate all diversity. More specifically, the charge is that monotheism leads to the subjugation of the “other.” Yet what if the God to whom one is bound in monotheistic faith turns out to be the champion of the stranger, the alien, and the sojourner? Isn’t it the case that allegiance to this God would require one to live a life of hospitality and welcome? The six essays in Part I show that the relationship of the Abrahamic religions to each other is quite complex. The first two, by Kendall Soulen and Steven Kepnes, concentrate on ways of viewing the other outside of one’s own tradition. In “The Sign of Jonah: A Christian Perspective on the Relation of the Abrahamic Faiths,” Kendall Soulen rereads the story of Jonah in a way that makes it an invitation to adopt caring relations as an ethical norm among all three Abrahamic faiths. Soulen begins with the shrewd observation that the particularities of the Abrahamic faiths call into question any monolithic approach to their subject matter. Instead, what must emerge is “a Jewish theology of Judaism in relation to Christianity and Islam, a Christian theology of Christianity in relation to Judaism and Islam, a Muslim theology of Islam in relation to Judaism and Christianity.” This complex and ongoing trialogue, he insists, resists any premature conclusions about the meaning of Abrahamic monotheism—either by the Abrahamic religions themselves or their critics. Soulen then offers a Christian account 12 William Stacy Johnson of the three sibling faiths through a typological exploration of the prophetic book of Jonah. Three sets of characters (the sailors, the Ninevites, and Jonah himself ) provide three different ways of being converted to the God of Israel, and these three ways correspond typologically to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Continuing this focus on the other without, Steven Kepnes in his essay, “Hagar and Esau: From Others to Sisters and Brothers,” rereads the biblical stories of Hagar and Esau. In postbiblical traditions, Hagar and her son Ishmael have long been identified with Islam. Kepnes points out that through the special status in Hebrew scripture of Hagar and Ishmael, Islam already has a place within the narrative of Judaism. In addition, Kepnes sees the story figure of Esau as emblematic of Israel’s own sense of exclusion from the centers how all three traditions must deal with one another and with the specter of worldly power. In this way, he reads the story of Israel as interwoven with the stories of Islam and Christianity and vise versa. Mehdi Aminrazavi tackles the broad question of the “other without” in the Qur’an (“Qur’an and the Image of the ‘Other’: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly”). Unapologetically, Aminrazavi examines those particular verses in the Qu’ran that exclude the two People of the Book and other verses that welcome them; in between, he discerns paths of tolerance and paths of conversation. Michael Signer tackles his own tradition’s tendency to treat the “other within” as a stranger in her own community. He examines one conspicuous way in which the practice of scriptural commentary may overcome a tradition’s rigidity. In “ ‘These Are the Generations’: Reasoning with Rabbi Samuel ben Meier,” Signer examines the plain sense commentaries of the medieval scholar Rashi and his grandson, the Rashbam. The grandson both continues and criticizes his grandfather’s approach to commentary. The grandfather acquiesces, and Signer sees in that acquiescence a model for how two potentially antagonistic generations can treat each other with loving respect. The net result is a view of scriptural interpretation in which new meanings are being born everyday. William Stacy Johnson reexamines the Genesis account of the binding of Isaac (“Three Voices, One Response: Here I Am”). He interprets the text as an unfolding drama in which the “test” of Abraham is not so much a test of his own human faithfulness but a test of Abraham’s—and the reader’s—portrait of God. In his view, the pivotal thing about this text is not that Abraham was willing to kill but that God prevented him from doing so. Throughout the story, God and human beings appear to Part I: Introduction 13 one another as maximally other or strange. As Johnson rereads it, however, the narrative of Abraham discloses a model for overcoming this distance and turning back to fellowship with the other, both human and divine. A common denominator in all of these essays is that taking seriously the integrity of the other is a vital component of one’s own religious integrity. The question that Cain raised concerning his brother, Abel— “Am I my brother’s keeper?”—is answered with a resounding “yes.” This page intentionally left blank CH A P T E R T WO The Sign of Jonah: A Christian Perspective on the Relation of the Abrahamic Faiths R . Ke ndal l S oule n This essay got its start during a long coffee break, when several of us—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—got into a lively discussion about the relation of historical events and theological truth. Mehdi was expressing his puzzlement that Christians could not agree with him that the most important thing about any religion was its message, not the messenger who conveyed it. Kevin and I, the Christians in the group, were fumbling to respond. After a few false starts, I said something to the effect that the message of love must be embodied, or it is not credible. Mehdi was clearly unconvinced. “We Muslims know about love, too,” he said. By the time our conversation ended an hour or so later, we still did not agree about the relation of history and religious truth. But I remember feeling I understood the differences between Christianity and Islam better than I ever had before. The idea of using the book of Jonah came to me then. Previously, it had occurred to me to read it as a kind of allegory of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity. But the idea that the stories could be extended to include Islam was new to me. Mehdi helped me see the story’s depiction of the Ninevites in a completely new light. The Ninevites convert because of the message, not the messenger. In this respect, the Ninevites conversion is very “Muslim,” and very different from that of the sailors, for whom dramatic events play a decisive role. As I drafted and redrafted my essay, it was very important to me that my Jewish and Muslim colleagues recognize themselves in my portraits of their traditions. Every time I presented the paper, I tried to improve the portraits a little bit using the feedback I received. Still, I knew that Jews and Muslims would not be able to endorse everything I said. For example, Maria objected to my suggestion 16 R. Kendall Soulen that the king of Nineveh was dependent on Jonah, at least insofar as this implied Mohammed’s dependence on prior biblical tradition for receiving and communicating the Qur’an. I was grateful to Maria for her objection, because it helped to clarify where Muslim self-understanding could no longer assent to my parable. In the end, however, I decided to leave this detail unchanged. Doing so, it seemed to me, was truer to Jonah. Just as important, it helped preserved the essay’s character as an exercise in Christian theology. Undoubtedly, the experience of doing Christian theology, while learning from Jews and Muslims doing theology in their own traditions, was one of the most precious gifts of the three-year project. The Abrahamic Religions? Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are frequently spoken of as “Abrahamic religions.” This is certainly justified insofar as each tradition traces its origins back to Abraham, in one fashion or another. Yet it would be a mistake to think that Abraham therefore represents a simple common denominator among the three traditions, a ready point of convergence and common ground, as it were. Each tradition conceives of Abraham in its own image, making the patriarch it remembers and honors as irreducibly particular as the traditions themselves.1 The distinctiveness of the traditions asserts itself once again when one considers how each tradition conceives of its relationship to the other two “Abrahamic” faiths. Recently it has been proposed that the three religions are all instances of a common type of elective monotheism, with the consequence that the three religions all employ the same basic pattern to understand religions other than themselves.2 According to this view, it would seem that the relation of the three faiths could be plotted as a sequence of successive supersessions: Judaism purports to supersede paganism and idolatry, Christianity to supersede Judaism, and Islam to supersede both Christianity and Judaism. Yet even this picture remains too simple. For it suggests that the meaning of supersessionism is the same in each instance. It fails to reckon with the fact that “superseding” may take very different shapes in each instance, and may not in every instance represent an equally imperative feature of the tradition’s self-understanding. In reality, each of the three religions conceives of its relationship to the other two faiths in ways that are distinctive to it its own character and scriptural sources. For this reason, there cannot be “An Abrahamic theology of the Abrahamic faiths,” but only a more complicated reality: a Jewish theology of Judaism in relation to Christianity and Islam, a Christian theology of Christianity in relation to Judaism and Islam, a Muslim theology of Islam in relation to Judaism and Christianity. The Sign of Jonah 17 In the case of our common enterprise, what unites these three is not a common perspective, but a common practice of scriptural reasoning. Nevertheless, it seems safe to bet that a trialogue of this sort is also destined to be a trialogue that will test each tradition’s capacity to make scriptural and theological sense of the others. Christianity in Relation to Judaism and Islam In my essay I would like to sketch a Christian understanding of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism and Islam. (In the next two essays in this volume, the relationship of the three traditions will be examined from a Jewish and a Muslim perspective as well.) Immediately, however, I am faced with a fact that makes this task especially difficult for a Christian theologian: Christianity relates to the two other Abrahamic faiths in profoundly asymmetrical ways. The root of this asymmetry is not hard to see. Christianity shares with Judaism a body of sacred scripture; it does not do so with Islam.3 Christian self-understanding is inwardly—if also to be sure complexly and at times even torturously—linked to Judaism in a way that has no counterpart in its relationship to Islam. Christians are forced to reckon with how the Jewish people figure in God’s purposes (cf. Rom. 9–11, Rev.) in a way that they are not forced to reckon with Islam. To this first difficulty it is necessary to add another. While Christianity has developed over time a variety of categories for understanding competing religious movements, Islam does not seem to fit neatly into any of them. Here are a few such categories and why Islam does not seem to fit any of them. Paganism. Islam came into being as a proclamation of the one God against polytheism, hence it can hardly be classified as an instance of the kind of religion against which, for example, Isaiah and Paul polemicize. Heresy. John of Damascus classified Islam along with the rival forms of Christianity, which Christians considered to be heresies. Eventually, however, they concluded that Islam was something other than a heretical distortion of its own teaching. Preparatio evangelica (Preparation for the gospel). Christians have sometimes used this concept to accord some religious ideas a limited if subordinate and passing validity with the economy of salvation. Yet Islam emerged too late in history and too near Christian heartland to be grouped with archaic religions that may have been at least partially adequate in the pre-Christian era. 18 R. Kendall Soulen Non-Christian Religion. Vatican II employed this category as the major heading for its discussion of Christianity in relation to the world faiths, including Islam. Yet in fact the council’s decision to locate Judaism under this heading is problematic, since it takes no account of the uniquely intimate nature of the relation between Christianity and Judaism. Similarly, there is an important sense in which Islam is not a “non-Christian” religion in the same way as, for example, Hinduism, Buddhism. Unlike other non-Christian religions, Islam venerates Jesus of Nazareth, and indeed accords to him a unique prophetic dignity that in some respects seems to exceed even that of Mohammed himself. One might examine other categories, but I suspect the result would be much the same. Perhaps, however, this negative result provides a clue for the distinctive shape of a Christian theology of Judaism and Islam. Both Judaism and Islam exact from Christianity a recognition of their uniqueness and irreducibility, although in very different ways. Judaism does so by virtue of being in some sense an integral dimension of Christian faith, in a way that differentiates it from all other religions, including Islam. Islam does so as a religion that in its distinctive mix of the familiar and strange resists interpretation within ready categories of Christian comprehension, whether positive or negative. Speaking in Parables So far in my essay I have tried to explain why I find it difficult to think scripturally about the relationship of Christianity to Judaism and Islam. Now, I want to propose one way in which I think it may be possible for Christians to do just this: by adopting a typological approach to the interpretation of scripture. Typology refers to the interpretation of persons, events, and relationships—including those that are not explicitly mentioned in scripture—in light of their resemblance or correspondence to persons, events, and relationships that are explicitly mentioned in scripture. The Christian canon does not address the issue of the church’s relationship to Judaism and Islam, at least not explicitly. Nevertheless, it may be possible for a typological approach to scriptural interpretation to illuminate this relationship by exploring how it resembles or corresponds to other, biblically attested relationships. For the purposes of this experiment (for that is all I wish to claim for this essay), I propose turning to the book of Jonah. Jonah is a natural and instructive choice for several reasons. The Sign of Jonah 19 In the scriptures of Judaism, the book of Jonah is found among the prophets, a location fully warranted by many features of the book, most notably perhaps its opening line, “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh . . . ” (1:1). In literary terms, however, the book is perhaps the canon’s purest example of an extended parable. The story invites the reader to understand it not only as the account of one wayward prophet’s misadventures but as a riddle/satire/commentary on Israel’s vocation as God’s people in the midst of the nations. The simple but enigmatic plot raises themes of enduring relevance, such as the relation of divine judgment and mercy, of insiders and outsiders, of repentance and obedience, and more. Yet to tap that relevance the story must be unriddled time and again and connected to new circumstances and problems. Typological interpretation is not the only way to do this, but it is, I believe, one legitimate way. In the New Testament, the Gospels record that Jesus used typological interpretation to apply the story of Jonah to himself and his ministry. Some of the priests and Pharisees, we read, demanded that Jesus perform a miracle in order to prove that he was acting with divine authority. In response to their demand, Jesus replied to them: An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! (Matt. 12:39–42, NRSV) The saying illustrates a general feature of typological interpretation. A correspondence is drawn between selected details of the scriptural story ( Jonah, the whale, and the repentance of the Ninevites) and contemporary reality ( Jesus, his death and resurrection, and “this generation”), with the result that the two sets of affairs are now understood in light of each other. At the same time, the saying illustrates something distinctive about Christian typological interpretation. In this example, Jesus does not treat the ancient canonical story as the “greater” or weightier pole of the interpretive relationship, as one might expect, but rather the reverse. Jesus presents himself, in all his novelty and immediacy, as the greater thing the story of Jonah foreshadows. In this Jesus sets the 20 R. Kendall Soulen pattern for all subsequent Christian interpretation. In time, of course, Christians come to regard this story and other early witnesses to Jesus as sacred writings on par with the Hebrew Bible, which thereby becomes the church’s Old Testament in relation to the New. Once this has happened, however, Christians do not then repeat the process by turning to contemporary events to discover still greater realities in relationship to which Jesus Christ becomes one more type alongside Jonah and the rest. Rather, they continue to ascribe to Jesus Christ a unique and unsurpassable role as the center of all typological interpretation. Jesus is for Christians not only King of Kings, but Clue of Clues. He is the bearer of signification whose inconceivable density allows every other state of affairs to come alive as types that bear intelligible witness to truth. On this Christological foundation, Christians cultivated the art of typological interpretation up until the modern era, not least with reference to the figure of Jonah. A first example comes from St. Irenaeus (c. 120–200). [God] patiently suffered Jonah to be swallowed by the whale, not that he should be swallowed up and perish altogether, but that, having been cast out again, he might be the more subject to God, and might glorify Him the more who had conferred upon him such an unhoped-for deliverance. . . . [S]o also, from the beginning, did God permit man to be swallowed up by the great whale, who was the author of transgression, not that he should perish altogether when so engulphed; but, arranging and preparing the plan of salvation, which was accomplished by the Word, through the sign of Jonah, . . . [so] that man, receiving an unhoped-for salvation from God, might rise from the dead, and glorify God, and repeat that word which was uttered in prophecy by Jonah: “I cried by reason of mine aff liction to the Lord my God, and He heard me out of the belly of hell.”4 With simple bold strokes, Irenaeus draws a correspondence between God’s conduct toward Jonah and God’s conduct toward all humankind from creation to consummation. Just as God permitted Jonah’s woes in order to bring him by way of “unhoped-for deliverance” to the glorification of God, so also God has permitted humankind’s. The consummate mastery of Irenaeus’s art is visible in how he combines literary invention (e.g., Jonah = humankind) with fidelity to both the details and the deep patterns of scripture. The Sign of Jonah 21 A second example comes from St. Augustine of Hippo. As to Jonah’s building for himself a booth, and sitting down over against Nineveh, waiting to see what would befall the city, the prophet was here in his own person the symbol of another fact. He prefigured the carnal people of Israel. For he also was grieved at the salvation of the Ninevites, that is, at the redemption and deliverance of the Gentiles, from among whom Christ came to call, not righteous men, but sinners to repentance.5 Augustine goes on to offer a detailed interpretation of the vine that grows up to shelter Jonah, only to be stricken by worm and die. The vine represents the earthly privileges that God gave to the Jewish nation during the Old Testament dispensation. The worm that devours the vine is Christ. With his mouth Christ openly proclaims the gospel that was formerly foreshadowed by Israel’s earthly benefits, but by doing so he causes these benefits to lose their significance and wither away. The Jewish nation is deprived of its former glories and cast into dispersion and captivity, so that she, like Jonah, has nothing to shelter it from the “grievous heat of tribulation.” Augustine concludes with a final typological gloss on the last verses of the book. “Nevertheless, the salvation of the Gentiles and of the penitent is of more importance in the sight of God than this sorrow of Israel and the ‘shadow’ of which the Jewish nation was so glad.” Augustine’s interpretation is brilliant and troubling. He proves beyond a doubt that typological interpretation, harnessed to the book of Jonah, provides Christians with an uncommonly powerful tool for making Christian sense of religious outsiders, in this case, Jews. But he also illustrates the dangers that come with that power. A book written to teach Jews that God is merciful to Gentiles becomes by the power of typology a book that teaches Gentiles that God has abandoned the Jews! A Christian theologian writing today may well wish to learn from Augustine’s skill as a typologist without accepting his belief that Christ’s coming makes God’s covenant with the Jews obsolete and God’s faithfulness toward them as a people null and void. He or she may take comfort from the fact that Augustine, with typical modesty, does not insist upon his own interpretation. He goes on to write: Any one is at liberty to open up with a different interpretation all the other particulars which are hidden in the symbolical history of the prophet Jonah, if only it be in harmony with the rule of faith.6 22 R. Kendall Soulen To that task I now turn. Jonah and Three Vectors of Conversion to the God of Abraham Despite its brevity, the book of Jonah is a marvel of literary and theological intricacy. Like other prophetic texts, the book is concerned with the meaning of conversion to the God of Abraham. But Jonah may be distinctive by setting forth at least three different models of what such conversion means. They are: ● ● ● The sailors’ conversion (chap. 1) The Ninevites’ conversion (chap. 3) Jonah’s conversion (chaps. 2 and 4) A careful reading of Jonah reveals that these three vectors of conversion differ significantly from one another. While they all entail a given character (or group of characters) undergoing transformation toward greater knowledge of and obedience toward God, the transformations are notably different in each case. One way the text signals these differences is by its careful use of different names for God, depending upon the theological perspective of the character in question. Jonah, for example, is closely associated with the name YHWH, the personal proper name of Israel’s God. The Ninevites, in contrast, are closely associated with the appellative name Elohim (“God”), while the sailors are associated with a plurality of deities (“gods”). As we shall see, the text signals what each character’s conversion entails (and does not entail) by the way each character learns (or does not learn) to combine these names. My typological experiment consists in exploring a simple set of correspondences. I propose that the sailors’ conversion corresponds principally to Christianity, the Ninevites’ principally to Islam, and Jonah’s principally to Judaism (although, as we shall see, secondarily to Christianity and perhaps also to Islam as well). Last but not least, the interconnection of the three conversions in a single plot corresponds to the interconnection of the three religions within the saving economy of God. Throughout the experiment, I am particularly interested in suggesting that the book of Jonah’s sophisticated “name theology” provides Christians with a fruitful way of thinking about Christianity’s relation to the other two Abrahamic faiths. But I happily admit that I The Sign of Jonah 23 am intrigued by how far the typological resemblances can be pushed in other respects as well. The Sailor’s Conversion: A Type of Christianity The first thing to note about the sailors’ conversion is that it results from their being caught up in somebody else’s drama. The story’s principals are YHWH and his servant Jonah. YHWH commissions Jonah to go to a distant city to prophesy its imminent destruction, but Jonah boards a ship and f lees in the opposite direction. Intent on getting Jonah to obey, YHWH engulfs Jonah’s ship in a violent storm, hapless sailors and all. Up to this point in the story, the deity has been exclusively identified by the name YHWH, the personal name revealed to the Israelites through Moses at the time of the Exodus (Exod. 3:15). This corresponds to the fact that the central actors in the story so far—YHWH and Jonah—are both privy to YHWH’s intimate covenantal bond with Israel. As soon as the sailors start to act as characters in their own right, however, a new term appears. “All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god (elohayw)” (1:5).7 The root word in question, elohim, is a common noun that refers to the general class of deities. It is also used commonly in the Bible as a name or title for God, the one true deity. In this respect, Elohim is similar to the English word “god,” which may also be used as a name for the deity (God), or to refer to the class of purported deities (the gods). In the case of the sailors’ cries for divine help, it is this second usage that comes into play. The mariners, we are given to understand, are a typically international lot, each cultivating the worship of their own native deity. When their pleas prove useless, however, they awaken the sleeping Jonah and demand to know who he is. Jonah answers, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship YHWH, the God (elohe, also cognate to Elohim) of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (1:9, NIV). Jonah’s reply marks the first time in the book that the personal name YHWH is linked to the more general designation Elohim. This signals one of the book’s major concerns: YHWH is also Elohim, God of the whole earth. As we shall see a bit later, Jonah’s conversion consists in large part in learning to accept the full dimensions of the second half of this equation. As for the sailors, however, their discovery runs in the other direction. Having called fruitlessly upon their gods, they now come to the frightening realization that their fate is in the hands of a hitherto unknown deity, YHWH. After exhausting all other recourse, the sailors offer a moving appeal for understanding 24 R. Kendall Soulen and (with Jonah’s consent) throw him overboard. The raging seas grow calm. “At this the men greatly feared YHWH, and they offered a sacrifice to YHWH and made vows to him” (1:16). This story, I suggest, may be understood as a type of the distinctively Christian form of conversion to the God of Abraham. More exactly, it corresponds to a distinctively Gentile Christian form of conversion. Gentile Christians encounter the God of Israel in media res, after the plot of salvation history has been set into motion. The plot pivots on YHWH’s election of Israel for the sake of the blessing of the nations (Gen. 12:1–5). This plot comes to its climax in a dramatic act of divine deliverance, in which YHWH’s rescue of the Gentiles coincides with the obedient suffering of one Israelite, Jonah/Jesus, whom YHWH also vindicates by rescuing him from doom. Swept up into this drama of salvation, Gentile Christians learn to call upon God in a new way. They cease to call upon their native gods, even as they learn to call upon YHWH, the god of Israel, as the one God of heaven and earth. With only a slightly greater exercise of typological imagination, I think, the story may also be understood to foreshadow a danger-spot intrinsic to the character of Gentile Christianity that has continuously proven to be the occasion of its theological lapses. While the book of Jonah makes clear that the mariners learned to fear and worship YHWH as a great god of storm and sea, it gives no indication that they gave up the worship of their native deities. When Jonah said, “I worship YHWH, the God (Elohim) of heaven, who made the sea and the land,” it is quite possible that he meant one thing while the sailors heard another. Jonah was proclaiming YHWH to be the one God and creator of all things (Gen. 1:1), but the sailors, we may infer, simply ranged YHWH among the other gods they knew and worshipped as occasion required. The danger foreshadowed is clear. Christianity is a cosmopolitan faith, composed of many nations and united by no common tongue or culture, other than its experience of salvation through YHWH and his servant Jesus (whose name means YHWH saves). But precisely so, Gentile Christians from various lands have often sought to merge their faith in YHWH with that of their national deity, contrary to the clear testimony of the prophets and apostles. The results have proven disastrous more than once. The Ninevites’ Conversion: A Type of Islam In Nineveh at last, Jonah prophesized the city’s imminent destruction, just as he was commissioned. But the city repents and God spares it The Sign of Jonah 25 after all. Thus we have a second model of conversion to the God of Abraham. It differs from the first in several ways. Most strikingly, the object of the Ninevites’ belief and repentance is not identified by the personal name YHWH, but rather consistently by the appellative name Elohim. This is evident not in the reported content of Jonah’s preaching (which does not mention the deity at all, cf. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown”), but in the following verses: The Ninevites believed God (Elohim). They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (3:5) Then [the King] issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “Let everyone call urgently on God (Elohim). . . . Who knows? God (Elohim) may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (3:7–9) The name YHWH, it seems, does not figure in the Ninevites’ conversion at all. As if to underscore this surprising point, the narrator concludes the chapter very differently than he had begun it. The chapter began in classical prophetic fashion, “Then the word of YHWH came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you’ ” (3:1–2). The narrator thereby invites his audience to share in Jonah’s privileged knowledge that everything that will follow comes at the behest of YHWH, the God of Israel. But the narrator forces his readers to share in Jonah’s surprise by ending the chapter with the words, “When God (Elohim!) saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (3:10). For the first time since the beginning of the book, the narrator designates the deity as Elohim, not as YHWH! The narrator thereby instructs his audience that the deity is just as surely the second as he is the first. This story, I suggest, may be understood as a type of the distinctively Islamic form of conversion to the God of Abraham. The most basic Muslim creed, known as the Shahadah (the Confession), declares “There is no ‘god’ (la illaha) except God (ill-allah).” This, together with the profession that Muhammad is the envoy of Allah, is often said to form the core of the Muslim religion. In this creed, YHWH, the personal name of the God of Abraham, plays no role, nor indeed am I aware that the Tetragrammaton plays any role in Muslim faith whatsoever. For Muslims, Allah is the name that functions in piety and liturgy as 26 R. Kendall Soulen the deity’s personal name. Linguistically, however, the name is related to the Hebrew El (God) and Elohim.8 Of all the attributes commonly ascribed by Muslims to Allah, none are more common and central than, “the merciful, the compassionate,” and no duties are regarded as more binding on the Muslim than the practice of piety (“They declared a fast, and . . . put on sackcloth”) and the turning away from wickedness (cf. the king’s decree: “Let them give up their evil ways and their violence” [3:7]). Another point of typological correspondence: Soon after Jonah arrives in Nineveh, his role and his message are overshadowed by the religious initiative taken by the Ninevites themselves, and above all, by the king, who issues a binding religious proclamation of his own. Although occasioned by Jonah’s message, the theological content of the king’s proclamation is clearly different from Jonah’s, and even contradictory to it, at least at a surface level. Jonah had foretold doom, but the king reasons, “Who knows? God may yet relent.” Even though the reader understands that the king is not a prophet in the same fashion as Jonah himself, the story rates the value of the royal proclamation very high. For in the event, it is the king’s message rather than Jonah’s that is fulfilled according to the letter. Jonah is thereby exposed to the fate of being regarded as a false prophet, exactly the outcome, he later protests, that caused him to f lee to Tarshish in the first place. In a deeper sense, however, the word given to him by YHWH has had the effect that YHWH intended. YHWH’s aim was not to authenticate Jonah’s prophetic credentials but to call a great city from wickedness and save it from destruction. This point is key to the whole story and we will return to it later. Muslims regard the Qur’an as the clearest, most reliable, and most comprehensive revelation of God, which supersedes its predecessors, and they regard Muhammad as God’s final prophet. Christians cannot share these beliefs; if they did they would cease to be Christians and would become Muslims instead. But if Christians understand the details I’ve noted as types, they will nevertheless guard themselves against thinking meanly of the place of Muhammad and the Qur’an in God’s economy of salvation. The king responds to Jonah’s message by interposing himself—or more exactly, his proclamation—between the Hebrew prophet and the Ninevites. Similarly, Muhammad responded to the biblical traditions known to him by interposing himself—or more exactly, the Qur’an—between those same traditions and his audience. The result was a massive transposition of the biblical message into a new and markedly different key. But—if Christians can be guided by the story of Jonah and the typology I suggest—the sacred writing that results possesses a The Sign of Jonah 27 truth and validity of its own, a truth and validity that Christians will recognize above all in the way in which it names God, the honor that it accords not only to Muhammad but to Jesus and the prophets, and the fruits of piety to which it gives rise. Furthermore, Christians must guard against the assumption that when the Qur’an differs explicitly from the letter of biblical revelation, it is therefore false, for it may be congruent with the compassionate purpose of the author of scripture in a way that the letter of biblical condemnation is not. Finally, Christians may find it possible to interpret certain details of this story in a way that foreshadows what Christians may regard as a danger-spot intrinsic to the character of Islam that may prove to be the occasion of theological lapses. However true and fruitful the king’s proclamation may be, the king could not have issued it had not God persisted in calling Jonah as his prophet, and had not Jonah ultimately obeyed God. Yet it is only too much in the character of kings to minimize or even forget and deny such indebtedness. Perhaps Islam, too, is at times prone to overestimate its self-sufficiency and to minimize what it owes to biblical revelation generally and to Judaism in particular. Such a diagnosis, I must repeat, emerges from a distinctively Christian reading of the story. Its primary purpose is to illuminate the limits or boundaries that even a sympathetic Christian theology of Islam must recognize, lest it forfeit its character as Christian. Nevertheless, it may be that this “outsider’s” perspective is not wholly without value even for Muslims. It may provide an occasion for Muslims to explore the extent to which Muslim self-understanding allows for the Qur’an to be interpreted with reference to and in light of biblical revelation as contained in the Old and New Testaments. Jonah’s Conversion: A Type of Judaism Jonah’s conversion is the book’s main theme in relation to which the other two are episodes. The book begins by YHWH adopting a personal intimacy toward Jonah that outstrips anything that the sailors or the Ninevites ever enjoy, an intimacy that has only been intensified by the book’s end. The intimacy is reciprocated from Jonah’s side. At the beginning of the book Jonah can truthfully say that he worships “YHWH, the God (Elohim) of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (1:9). At the end of the book, he can truthfully say that “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God (Elohim), slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (4:2; cf. Exod. 34:6–8). Where then is there room for Jonah to undergo any experience of conversion, of transformation toward God? 28 R. Kendall Soulen There is room with respect to Jonah’s obedience. Along this vector, Jonah’s conversion is complete by the end of the book. At first Jonah is unwilling to accept YHWH’s commission, but by the book’s end he has not only accepted but fulfilled it. But there is room for Jonah to experience transformation toward God in another way as well. And that is with respect to Jonah’s capacity to understand and to internalize—rather than merely to profess—what it means that YHWH is the God of heaven and earth, not only with respect to its implications for his own reputation, but with respect to its implications for the well-being of others. This vector of conversion is still open at the book’s end, at least so far as Jonah himself is concerned. But the author of the book finds a subtle way to invite his audience to absorb the point that Jonah finds so hard to swallow, once again through the sophisticated use of divine names. Throughout the book, as we have seen, the narrator has referred to the deity either as YHWH or as Elohim, depending on context. Occasionally, the two names are placed in apposition, as in Jonah’s cry from the whale, “you brought my life up from the pit, O YHWH my God (Elohim)” (2:6). But toward the close of the book, the author brings these two names into an even more intimate connection, for the first and only time in the story. Then YHWH God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. (4:6) The odd double-barreled name YHWH God (YHWH Elohim) is something of a rarity in the Bible. In fact, there is only one extended passage where it is used consistently as the deity’s primary designation, and that is in the Bible’s first two chapters, which tell of God’s dealings with humankind in the garden of Eden (Gen 2–3). There, for example, we find the following verse: Now YHWH God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. (Gen. 2:8) The name YHWH God, with its evocation of God’s bountiful care for the whole human family, contains everything that Jonah has yet to learn in order to complete his conversion. As I noted, the end of the book portrays Jonah’s conversion toward “YHWH God” as incomplete, if not stalled. Yet I do not think we are therefore entitled to assume that The Sign of Jonah 29 the story means to imply Jonah’s ultimate incorrigibility. After all, Jonah “came around” once before. Rather, I believe we should interpret the ending of the story as a sign that YHWH God’s history with Jonah is not yet finished. This story, I suggest, may be understood as a type of the distinctively Jewish form of conversion to the God of Abraham. Of the three Abraham faiths, Judaism stands in a uniquely intimate relationship with YHWH God. But it is has been called to this position not for its own sake but to serve YHWH God’s love and care for the whole world. This is not an especially easy role to accept and to play, certainly not in all of its dimensions. Perhaps this very difficulty is part of what the book signals by leaving Jonah’s conversion still open at the end of the book. But while I propose that Jonah’s conversion is primarily a type of Judaism, I think Christians can and should apply it to themselves too, especially as a guide for thinking about their relationship to the other two religions. There is an obvious danger in finding oneself typologically represented in the book of Jonah by everyone except Jonah himself (Augustine’s typology illustrates that danger). Jonah is neither a coward nor a cad. The lesson he has to learn is in many ways the most difficult lesson of all, theologically and existentially. God does not call his prophets for the purpose of authenticating their prophetic credentials (even when they are authentic), but rather to save others from destruction, if need be at great cost to the persons and to the credentials of the prophets themselves. With that in mind, in place of a conclusion I cite again the one whom Christians confess to be Clue of Clues: “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt. 12:39). Notes 1. On this point, see Jon Levenson, “The Conversion of Abraham to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” in Hindi Najman and Judith H. Newman, eds., The Idea of Biblical Interpretation: Essays in Honor of James L. Kugel (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 3–40. 2. See Martin S. Jaffee, “One God, One Revelation,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69:4 (December 2001), 753–775. 3. Although the Qur’an explicitly speaks of the Torah and the Gospel as divine revelations, Muslims generally do not consider the Old and New Testaments in their current form as sacred writings. 4. Irenaeus, Against Heresies Bk. III c.20, in Philip Schaff, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, 449. 5. Augustine, Letters 102.37, in Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, vol. 1, 425. 30 R. Kendall Soulen 6. Translation altered slightly for clarity. 7. Quotations come from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated. I have substituted YHWH in place of LORD to make Jonah’s name theology more evident. 8. The Arabic word for a “god” is ilah, and is related to the Hebrew el, from which Elohim is also derived. The name Allah is probably the word ilah combined with the definite article, meaning “the God,” that is, “the one and only God.” CH A P T E R T H R E E Hagar and Esau: From Others to Sisters and Brothers Steve n Ke p ne s When I wrote the first draft of this essay I wanted to find a biblical basis for Jewish-Islamic dialogue. I was struck by the complex nature of the portraits of Hagar and Ishmael in the Torah. The fact that Hagar was wife to Abraham and Ishmael his first son provided a common ancestry to the people of the Bible and the people of the Qur’an. Given that God spoke directly to Hagar—and even allowed her to provide him with a name—made her much more than just a handmaid to Sarah. And the fact that Ishmael returned with his brother to bury Abraham revealed not only Ishmael’s filial piety but also his sense of continuing brotherhood with Isaac. But when I presented my paper in our Scriptural Reasoning session at the Center of Theological Institute (CTI) in Princeton, the obvious question from my Christian colleagues was: Is there no equal warrant in the Torah for Jewish dialogue with Christians? Like another somewhat outcast bother, the Christians asked, “Is there no blessing for me?” (Gen.27:36). Of course the brother that asked that question was Esau, after Jacob stole the blessing of the firstborn from him. And it was to Esau that my Jewish colleagues in the CTI sessions asked me to look for a warrant for Christian-Jewish dialogue. At first I hesitated in looking to Esau for a warrant for Christian-Jewish dialogue. I hesitated because I knew just how much Esau was demonized in rabbinic commentaries. This set me off on a journey to other resources in Jewish texts and tradition to justify Jewish-Christian dialogue on Jewish terms. The first place I looked was to the very fact that Christians share the Tanakh as their holy scriptures. That Christians regard the Torah as revelation is certainly the major warrant for why Christians want and need to be in dialogue with Jews. 32 Steven Kepnes However, from a Jewish perspective, there is an obvious imbalance in the relation. For where Christians see the Jews and their scriptures as holy, Jews do not see Christians as the rightful heir to the promises of the Torah nor do they see the New Testament as holy scriptures or revelatory for them. Thus, at the urging of my scriptural reasoning colleagues, I returned again to Esau and, to my surprise, I found that I could work with this figure as a warrant for Jewish Christian dialogue. Despite the negatives the rabbinic tradition assigns to Esau, he represents material strength and power that Jacob-Israel lacks and needs. As Jacob’s twin brother, it is easy to see the two as opposite sides of one more complex personality. And the struggle that Jacob has with his brother, his father, and with the angels and God, represents a struggle to incorporate the strength and power of his brother Esau within him so that Jacob becomes worthy of the name, “Israel” and is able to take on the mission of spiritual leadership of the people Israel. Islam, as the third monotheistic religion, shares a dual identity as both other and same to Judaism, to Christianity and to Western civilization. This ambiguous position calls forth the ambiguous emotions of sibling rivalry but also promises the possibility of brotherly and sisterly love. From the point of view of scripture, which I will take as my starting point, Islam shares with Judaism and Christianity not only a devotion to the one God, to the goodness of creation, and the dream of a future time of judgment and peace, but also the very basic principle that revelation is given in scripture. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all people of the book in this sense and though their books are different, they share common narratives, common prophets, and common hermeneutical principles to guide them in the interpretation of scripture. And this gives them, despite all differences, a common starting ground for discussion of the issues that both divide and unite them. In this essay I will argue that, in the figures of Hagar and Ishmael that lie in the Torah of the Jews and the Old Testament of Christians, we find a scriptural warrant for dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I also argue that in the double figure of Jacob/Esau there is a biblical warrant for Jewish and Christian dialogue. I try to read Ishmael and Esau then as both others to be feared and brothers to be loved. And in love, I try to ground Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dialogue. Hagar and Ishmael as Other and Same For my ref lections on the simultaneous otherness and sameness of Islam to Judaism and Christianity, I have chosen to take you through an exercise in scriptural exegesis or what I call scriptural reasoning on the Hagar and Esau 33 figures of Hagar and Ishmael. I choose these figures because they both appear as important figures in Hebrew and Muslim sacred texts. Hagar is the second wife of the patriarch Abraham and mother of Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. According to The Tales of the Prophets, the first part of the biography of Muhammad, Ishmael is the father of the Arab and larger Ummah of the Muslim people. Hagar is also a central figure in the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, as pilgrims walk back and forth in an effort to retrace Hagar’s steps when she was forced by Sarah into the wilderness. I must admit that I began my scriptural reasoning on Hagar and Ishmael with a worry that it may not be the appropriate place to start, since the Jewish tradition is fairly negative about these figures. Yet as I reread the stories I recalled a point made by the modern Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, which I take to be most instructive in doing scriptural reasoning. Buber argues that the Hebrew scriptures should be viewed, not as an objective history of world creation and redemption, but as a story of the relation of God to Israel that is told primarily from the perspective of the people of Israel.1 Hebrew scripture certainly moves out from Israel to attempt to embrace the entire world, but its starting point is a small family that wanders from somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan and comes to see itself as bearing a world historic message. This means that the Hebrew scriptures or Torah is at once a particularistic and universal document. I could put this somewhat differently and say that the Torah is both an ethnocentric and theocentric document. From the ethnocentric perspective of Israel, Hagar may be a mere slave girl and Ishmael a wild ass of a man and thorn in the side of Israel; but from the perspective of the larger narrative of the Bible and from the perspective of God, Hagar and Ishmael have a unique role in God’s design. Also, although some might be put off by Hagar’s status as a lowly slave girl in the Hebrew scriptures, this fact actually unites her to Jewish and Christian origins. For the children of Israel trace their origins to their status as Egyptian slaves who were freed by God, and Christians find their origins in the death of a lowly carpenter who suffered the criminal’s death of crucifixion. Yet in addition to these rough analogies to overarching concepts, the use of scripture, and lowly origins, the stronger point I wish to make is that the presence of the figures of Hagar and Ishmael in scripture embeds the Muslim people in the Torah of the Jews and the Old Testament of the Christians. Hagar is at once the “other” who comes from Egypt, the land of exile and slavery, and the wife of the patriarch Abraham through whom all the peoples of the world are blessed. Hagar is at once the 34 Steven Kepnes surrogate womb for Sarah to exploit and the second wife of Abraham and mother of his first son. The most obvious implication of this is that although Islam is often presented as the other to Judaism and Christianity and to the strange fiction called the “Judeo-Christian tradition,” Hagar and Ishmael’s presence in the scriptures of that tradition provides a scriptural warrant for Jews and Christians to take Islam seriously, not only as the third monotheism, but also as a tradition that is rooted in Genesis and whose origin and destiny is intertwined with Israel. With this as an introduction I will move now to scripture: GENESIS 16 7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.”10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.”11 And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your aff liction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin.” 13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.2 The first thing to note in these verses is that we have the first appearance of an angel in biblical literature and the first time that God speaks to a woman. Thus, though a slave girl, Hagar merits particular interest on the part of God. God sends a messenger to her, the messenger finds her in the middle of a journey back to Egypt (as Shur is close to Egypt [Gen. 25:13]), and he finds her by a well. Well-scenes are replete throughout the Genesis narrative and I would remind you of the visits of Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, and even Joseph to wells at crucial points in their lives. The angel asks a highly loaded question, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” Clearly the angel knows where Hagar comes from. So this question must be asked more for Hagar’s sake then for the angel’s. This is the type of question that is only asked Hagar and Esau 35 of biblical characters of significance, Adam, Cain, Abraham, Elijah, Jonah. It is an existential question that seeks out a person’s integrity and ability to respond and to take responsibility. It is a kind of trick question or question of testing that biblical figures often fail. Hagar’s answer however, is straight forward, honest, unequivocal: “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” Apparently, Hagar passes the test, but this leads to a seemingly cruel command that she return and submit, or literally “place herself under her mistress’s hand.” Given that biblical law demands that one help a runaway slave escape, this is, indeed, a strange command. We can either view it as an expression of the cruelty of slavery, of abusive patriarchy and divine tyranny, or search in it for another level of meaning. If, indeed, I am correct, that the first question, “where have you come from . . . ” is a test, then the command that follows may be interpreted as a deeper more difficult test. Hagar must return to Sarah and submit to her. Although the Hebrew, hitani, appears to have no relation to the Arabic word to submit, am I stretching too far to find an intimation to the command all Muslims, indeed all Jews and Christians, have to submit to the will of God? The supposition however, that God wishes Hagar no ill and, indeed, has a special mission for her, is born out in the next lines. “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” Nahum Sarna notes that the messenger uses a rhetorical form that signifies “the birth and destiny of one who is given a special role in God’s design of history (cf. Gen. 25:23 and Judg. 13:3).”3 It is easy to see connections between Hagar and the first woman, Eve. The Hebrew harbah arbeh (“I will greatly multiply . . . ”) is the same phrase that God uses in the curse of Eve, in greatly multiplying Eve’s pain in childbirth. Yet, the consequence of Hagar’s suffering is that she will be abundantly rewarded with multitudes of descendents. Thus, unlike Eve, Hagar is blessed and not cursed. Since Hagar f lees Sarah’s home in Canaan, heads for Egypt and then returns to Canaan, her journey reminds us of Abraham’s journeys. Like Abraham, Hagar is a wanderer who comes to hear the word of call and fulfill a divine mission. The feminist Bible scholar, Tikvah Frymer–Kensky, reminds us that the verses that describe Hagar f leeing the home of Sarah and traveling toward Egypt occur right after God has told Abraham in 15:13 that his offspring will be enslaved in Egypt.4 Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be strangers [ger yiyeh zarakha] in a land that is not theirs and they shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years, but I will bring 36 Steven Kepnes judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. It is startling when we realize that the word used to describe Israel in Egypt is Ger. Ger yiyeh zarakha, “strangers shall your offspring be.” Thus, God tells Abraham in chapter 15, that his offspring will literally be Gerim. And in the next chapter we meet Hagar, Ha-Ger, the Egyptian stranger. Frymer-Kensky makes the point obvious, Hagar the stranger, Hagar the servant, Hagar, wife of Abraham and mother of Ishmael is Israel! She presages, she prefigures, Israel’s suffering in Egypt. And in her deep connection to God, and in the fact that God sees and listens to her suffering and rewards her with a multitude of offspring, Hagar also prefigures Israel’s ultimate redemption! But now we must pause to ref lect on Ishmael and who he is. First, we have his wonderful name, which means “God hears.” Our verses connect the hearing to God’s attending to Hagar’s suffering, “for the Lord has given heed to your aff liction.” But later in verse 21:17, a connection is made to God’s hearing the voice of Ishmael. “And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is’ (21:17).” In 16:15, Abraham gives Hagar’s son the name Ishmael, fulfilling the divine directive and also legitimizing Ishmael as his son.5 Ishmael clearly has a name that suggests that God hears and will attend to his voice; and thus the Torah seems to recognize and underscore that Ishmael and his offspring will maintain a special relationship to God and that God will continue to hear the voice of Ishmael wherever he is! In this context, it is somewhat difficult to understand the second part of the description of Ishmael in verse 12. “He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin.” It is easy to describe this as the view of Ishmael from the perspective of Israel, which highlights the tension between the descendents of Ishmael and the descendents of Isaac. It is noteworthy, however, that the recent Jewish Publication Society version of the last part of verse “al penai khal echav ishkan” translates it not as “he shall live at odds with” but, “he shall dwell alongside all his kinsmen.” This stresses the intricate relationship between the descendents of Ishmael and the descendents of Isaac without the eternal state of conf lict. It is further interesting that the description of Ishmael in the later chapter 21 describes him in less contentious terms. “God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became Hagar and Esau 37 an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt (21:20–21).6 If we leave Ishmael and return to the fascinating figure of Hagar, we have to comment on the facts that she names God and, furthermore, is the only figure, male or female, in the Bible to do this! “So she named the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi’; for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?’ ” (16:13). This expression seems to give witness not only to God’s seeing into the very soul of Hagar and her passing this test, but also to Hagar’s own ability to see God! It is remarkable that after God names Ishmael, Hagar names God, and the Hebrew expression used in both these occasions are similar. Thus “korat shmo yishmael,” “you shall call him Ishmael” is followed by “v’tikrah shem adonai,” “And she called God. . . . ” The Hebrew expression v’tikrah shem Adonai also calls to mind a different use of the phrase by Abraham in Gen. 13:13. Here we also have v-yikrah bshem adonai. This is generally rendered in English “and Abraham called on or called out the name of God.” However, the Talmud interprets this to mean that Abraham was fulfilling his prophetic role and publicizing the revelation of the oneness of God throughout the world. Aside from her presence as archetype of God’s messenger, Hagar lives on in the Hebrew scriptures through her name. Thus, we see countless references to Ha-ger, to “the stranger,” and how Israel is to treat the stranger. The notion of the ger occurs no less than 36 times in the Torah and is connected with the commandment to treat the stranger as one of Israel. The nineteenth-century German Jewish philosopher, Hermann Cohen, argues that the development of the notion of the ger in the Torah represents one of the most significant events in the history of all Western thought. Cohen tells us that the ger is a “great step with which humanitarianism begins.” 7 The power of this notion can be clearly seen in two texts of the Torah. “One law shall be unto him that is home-born and unto the Ger, the stranger that lives among you” (Exod. 12:49; cf. Num. 15:15, Lev, 24:22, Deut. 1:16). “Thou shall love the ger, the stranger, as yourself ” (Lev. 19:33). In the holiness code of Leviticus, the principle of the ger as fellowman is intensified to the commandment of love. “You shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:33). One of the wonders of scripture is that scripture is not beholden to modern secular standards of narrative, historical and philosophic coherence. These standards might demand that Hagar and Ishmael, as minor figures in the story of Israel, be painted in wholly negative terms 38 Steven Kepnes or be excised from the narrative after they have filled their functions as foils to Sarah and Isaac. Yet, we see that after these figures are introduced in Gen. 16 and 21, they are not erased, but they appear again. Thus, seemingly out of the blue, Ishmael appears in chapter 25:9 to bury his father Abraham alongside Isaac. We may say that this treatment of the other as both different and same, foe and friend, is unique to the Hebrew scriptures. But if we move to the New Testament, we see an equally ambivalent portrait of the most clear and obvious other to the Christian, the Jew. On the one hand, we have the portrait of the Jews as hypocrites, Christ killers, stubborn sinners doomed to Hell, and on the other hand the Jews carry the law that Christ fulfills without abrogating. The Jews represent the trunk of the tree onto which Christians are grafted. And most importantly, the scriptures of the Jews, despite many attempts to sever their connection to Christianity, are tenaciously maintained, preserved, and even revered as part of Christian scriptures, as the Old Testament. Holding on to the Jewish scriptures as Christian scripture simply put, is not easy. Certainly, from the standpoint of narrative and logical coherence it doesn’t really work. To pull it off, Christianity must develop a complex, self-contradictory hermeneutic which says at once that Jewish scripture is revealed and wrong. Its way of Torah, its way of the law, is both necessary and superseded. Its promise to the children of Abraham both nullified and fulfilled. Muslims may look over the shoulders at Christians and see this as strange, but they must admit that they have a similar ambivalence about their older monotheistic brothers and sisters. On the one hand, Muhammad is the final seal, the last prophet, the one who corrects what was wrong in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. On the other hand, the Qur’an, in its infinite mercy and openness, recognizes Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and many others as prophets. And the Qur’an preserves many of the narratives of the Jewish and Christian scripture and it praises the people of the book as righteous children of Abraham. There is no question that there are highly negative statements about the Jews and the Christians in the Qur’an, but if we remember Buber’s insight that scripture is at least partially written from the perspective of one people in an attempt to understand their unique relation to God, we can understand why non-Muslims are presented, at times, in a negative light. However, if I may return to my original point about scripture, one of its truly wondrous aspects is that it neither thoroughly demonizes the other nor does it leave her narratives out. On the Hagar and Esau 39 contrary, it preserves the memories and stories of the others and says, in fundamental ways, that these others are related to us. These others, indeed, are us! Thus we read in the Qur’an Surah 2:62: The believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians—whoever believes in Allah and the last day and does what is good shall receive their reward from their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear and they shall not grieve. And in Surah 2:135–136: We follow the religion of Abraham who was no polytheist. We believe in Allah, in what has been revealed to us, what was revealed to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and in what was imparted to Moses, Jesus, making no distinction between any of them. The Jewish philosopher Peter Ochs likes to say that if we look at the logical pattern of modern Western philosophy and the modern culture that it ref lects, we are offered a way of thinking that follows a logic of dichotomies. On the one hand we have secularists, on the other religious fundamentalists, and then we have the progressive West and the other, backward Islam. Light/dark, spirit/matter, male/female, same/other, us/them, yes/no, 0/1, these are the binaries that define our thinking and our world. However, in the face of this logic, scripture offers us another way of thinking. Ochs calls it, following Charles Sanders Peirce, a logic of relations. In this logic the binary pairs are placed in dialogue. Scripture offers us concepts of connectedness: creation, revelation, covenant, redemption. It offers us figures of mediation, Adam, Abraham, Hagar, Jesus, Muhammad. These figures are given to fill the gap between us and them, between God and human and between human and human. This is not to say that scripture is innocent and pure, divorced from dichotomies of spirit and matter, saved and damned, us and them. But, the point is that scripture cannot be adequately and fully defined by these dichotomies. Because of the fundamental vagueness of scripture, the reader is called upon, indeed, required to interpret the text. Unlike a mathematical formula, or a simple sign like a traffic light, scripture does not yield clear, distinct, univocal meanings. Scripture, instead, is an opaque semiotic system whose meaning is fulfilled in its interpretation by us. 40 Steven Kepnes Esau = Rome “The voice is the voice of Jacob, the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen. 27:22)[refers to the people of Israel and Rome], for Jacob rules only through his voice, but Esau [Rome] rules only through his hands. (Genesis Rabba 65:19) Although there is no exact parallel to the Hagar-Israel, Ishmael-Isaac doubles, the rabbinic tradition sees in the figure of Isaac’s son, Esau, the progenitor of the people of Edom and then Rome and Christianity. Despite the fact that Esau is the son of Isaac and Rebecca and the twin brother of Jacob, the tradition stresses the negatives in the character of Esau and uses these to project a kind of anti-Jacob or anti-Israel that plagues Israel in the attacks of the people of Edom and in the persecutions of Hadrian and the subsequent periods of Roman Imperial and then medieval Christianity.8 If Hagar is seen as the weak enslaved “other,” Esau represents the crude, brutal, and strong “other” who dominates Israel with his strength. Yet I would argue that in the same way that Hagar presages Israel’s slavery and eventual liberation in the Exodus, Esau represents material strength and power that Jacob-Israel lacks and needs to forge and solidify its identity as a people charged with a mission to proclaim the truths of monotheism. As Jacob’s twin brother, it is easy to see the two as opposite sides of one more complex personality. And the struggle that Jacob has with his brother, his father, and with the angels and God, represents a struggle to incorporate the strength and power of his brother, Esau. Yet, if the Jewish tradition sees Esau as the crude and physical one, what is fascinating is that Christianity sees Jews and Judaism in the same way. It seeks to supplant Jacob and present itself as the rightful heir to Abraham and Isaac. In Christian scripture, theology, and iconography, Jacob prefigures Jesus9 and the Jew becomes the crude, excessively material and unspiritual Esau! Thus, neither Judaism nor Christianity are content to wear the clothes of Esau; and perhaps the tension between them can be mediated only when they both resolve to embrace Esau as their repressed half and forgotten brother. The Man of the Field versus the Man of Tents As Gen. 25 makes clear, Jacob is the quiet man of the tents and Esau the ruddy hunter and man of the field. The Torah uses four verbs of action to describe Esau when he “disdains” his birthright: “And he ate Hagar and Esau 41 and drank and got up and went” (25:34). This suggests the impetuous, active, and physical nature of the man, Esau. Yet if Esau is a man of action and physicality, Jacob is passive, excessively pensive, and even self-doubting. After all, it is not his idea to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, it is his mother’s. And Jacob only does it after being assured that Rebecca will take the responsibility for his trickery (27:13). Rather than facing his brother after the theft of the blessing, he f lees to Haran. On the way, God appears to him in a dream or night-vision to assure him “I am with you, and I will watch over you everywhere that you go” (28:15). But Jacob’s response is tepid, hesitant, conditional, almost insulting to the Lord, God of the universe. “If God will be with me and watch over me in this way I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear and I come back in peace to my father’s house, then YHWH will become my God . . . and everything that you will give me I will tithe to you” (28:21–22). In contrast to Esau, who took his meal from Jacob and unthinkingly ate and drank and got up and went, Jacob hesitates and thinks and barters with God, suggesting that he will only give God his allegiance and tithe after God fulfills all his promises. When, after 20 years, Jacob returns to meet his brother, the Torah suggests that he is only now able to “face up” to all that Esau represents. It is significant that Jacob initiates this meeting and that he starts with neither a request nor a condition but with a gift. In the gift-bestowing instructions Jacob gives to his servants (32:21), the root of the word “face,” panim appears four times. Everett Fox attempts to preserve the Hebrew root in his translation. “I will wipe the anger from his face with the gift that goes ahead of my face; afterward, when I see his face, perhaps he will lift up my face.”10 Richard Elliott Friedman interprets the verse: The repetition conveys the force of this juncture in Jacob’s life. He must face his past. He must face his brother, whom he wronged. And in the middle of the account of his facing his brother will come the account of his most immediate contact with God in his life, his struggle after which he will say, “I have seen God face-to-face” (32:31). . . . And these two encounters . . . will then be brought together as he says to Esau, “I’ve seen your face—like seeing God’s face.” (33:10)11 Friedman makes our point clear. It is Esau, the physical and clumsy other, that holds the key to Jacob/Israel’s spiritual search to meet God. Jacob’s long night wrestling match with the “man” before he meets his 42 Steven Kepnes brother may easily be seen as a struggle between Jacob and a figure with Esau’s physical attributes. The fact that Jacob wins the battle suggests that he has finally gained the strength and confidence of Esau that he needs to face his brother, his self, his God, and his divine mission in the world. Therefore, Jacob emerges from the encounter with a new name. Again, I use the Fox translation. “Not as \yaakov, ‘Heel-Sneak’ shall your name be henceforth uttered, but rather as yisrael, ‘God-Fighter’, for you have fought with God and men and have prevailed” (32:29). Despite the portrait of Esau as a crude man, a hunter and a killer that is stressed in rabbinic literature, the plain sense of the Hebrew text shows Esau to be a forgiving and kind man. “Esau ran to him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (33:4). After the brother’s exchange greetings, Esau says, “Let’s travel and let’s go and let me go alongside you” (33:12). Jacob (and the text still uses his old name despite the new one he received) demurs. He still does not fully trust his brother to keep peace between them, but perhaps this is Jacob and not Esau’s fault. However, despite the parting of the ways, these brothers, like Isaac and Ishmael, get back together again at their father’s death. “And Isaac expired and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And Esau and Jacob buried him” (35:29). From Edom to Christian Rome In the biblical geography, the people of Edom and the land of Seir lie to the East of the Salt or Dead Sea. Yet despite this location, Edom seems to follow Israel wherever she goes. In the wanderings after the Exodus, the people of Edom make the trip to Canaan more difficult by not allowing the Israelites to pass through their country (Num. 20:18). Once established in the land, Edom continues to plague Israel. Although David manages to destroy the Edomites in battle, they never go away, and the prophets seem to have a special place for Edom among the other enemy pagan nations like Ammon and Moab.12 All of this may simply go back to God’s prophetic words to Rebecca when the twins, Jacob and Esau, were born. Two Nations in your womb, Two peoples from your loins shall issue People over People shall prevail, The elder, the younger’s slave. (Gen. 25:23 Alter Trans.)13 Hagar and Esau 43 This wonderful translation of Gen. 25:23 by Robert Alter provides us with a good sense of the ambiguity of the Hebrew, l’om mi’l’om y’ematz, v’rav y’avod tza’ir. Given Hebrew syntax (in which the subject can precede or follow the verb) the last sentence could either be translated as the elder will serve the younger or (as Elliott Friedman has it), “the older, the younger will serve.” Friedman suggests that we take God’s words, like a Delphic oracle, to have two opposite meanings, “And thus the person who receives it—Rebecca—[today’s reader] can hear whatever she wants.”14 “People over people will prevail” suggests that the struggle between Jacob and Esau is a long lasting one. Certainly the rabbis saw it this way. The Talmud interprets the phrase, l’um mi’l’om y’emotz: “The two of them will never be strong at the same time; when one fails the other will succeed [BT Megillah 6a].” By interpreting the Hebrew in this way, the rabbis could say what becomes obvious, that although Jacob appeared to win the first battle—for he as the younger and weaker son, came to prevail over Esau—Jacob as Israel came to be ruled by his elder son in the form of Rome and Christendom. Of course, the rabbis also sought to see the Esau/Jacob Israel/Rome/Christendom relationship in more extended temporal and even messianic terms. Thus, Jacob would finally triumph over Esau with the coming of the Messiah at the end of time.15 The issue of which people, which religion, Judaism or Christianity is the more physical and which is more spiritual has a significant place in the New Testament and in Christian theology from early to modern times. Christian interpreters tried to see in Jacob, the quiet man of tents, the prefiguation of Jesus, the humble servant of God, and the Jews then became the earthly, worldly, crude, and stubborn Esau. Jesus, himself, associated the Jews with the guilt of Cain and all those who killed the righteous prophets (Matt. 23:33–37). Paul polemically associated the Jews with the f lesh that was weak and opposed this to the spirit that was eternal (Rom.: 5–7). In his City of God, Augustine further elaborates the connection of the Jews to the material world. For him, the synagogue represents the corrupt temporal and earthly city and the church becomes the heavenly city of God, spirit, heaven, and eternity. Therefore, where the rabbis paint Christianity in the guise of the powerful and materially strong and crude Esau, in the Christian imagination, a switch occurs, where Israel becomes the excessively physical Esau figure who squanders his birthright and Christianity becomes the second younger son, the rightful heir to Jacob and then David, and the messianic prophecies. 44 Steven Kepnes The Esau-Jacob Dichotomy: From Modern Theology to 9/11 I have focused so far on biblical and early rabbinic and Christian thought, but the Esau-Jacob dichotomy has had surprising staying power as a simple cipher to define Jewish-Christian relations. In modern Jewish theology, the German Jewish theologian, Franz Rosenzweig labored to once again switch the poles and make the Jews into the “eternal people” that eschews material power and a place in time and history. For Rosenzweig, as for the rabbis, the Church is the rel