by Cindy Novak—
Jews and Christians have a unique bond—and are even described as being “siblings” and “next of kin” in Evangelical Lutheran Church in America resources.
Since the 1960s, the ELCA and its predecessor church bodies have striven to nurture that bond by combatting common misinterpretations of Judaism, identifying areas of potential cooperation and fostering Lutheran-Jewish dialogue.
Jews and Christians have another connection as well.
They share the Scriptures of Israel: the Old Testament within Christianity and the Tanakh within Judaism.
“It is understandable if Christians think the Old Testament and the Tanakh are one and the same thing, but a closer look reveals important distinctions,” said Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar. She is the University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies and Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the (Vanderbilt University) College of Arts and Science.
In an interview with Gather magazine, Levine explained the differences between the Old Testament and Tanakh and the distinct ways Christians and Jews understand Scripture.
Q: What are some of the differences between the Tanakh and Old Testament?
AJL: The Tanakh is the Scripture of Judaism. Tanakh is an acronym composed of the first letters of the three divisions: Torah, which means “instruction,” Nevi’im or “Prophets,” and Ketuvim or “Writings.”
The Protestant Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh are distinct from each other in terms of canonical order, language, use in liturgical contexts, definitions of terms, emphases and reception over the centuries.
In addition, Jews and Christians have different interpretive approaches to Scripture. Jewish tradition will look for multiple meanings of the same text. Since the Hebrew texts lacks vowels, Jews will sometimes derive new insights from the multiple meanings those letters can have.
In worship contexts, Jews read the entire Torah either on an annual or a triennial cycle; Torah passages are matched with a reading from the Prophets. Books from the Ketuvim, such as Esther and Ruth, are read fully on specific holidays.
Within Reformation traditions, Protestants typically regard the Old Testament primarily as preparation for the New Testament, and the concern is often to get the one right interpretation. Lectionaries tend to emphasize the Prophets and Psalms rather than the Torah.
Amy-Jill Levine teaches New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the (Vanderbilt University) College of Arts and Science.
Cindy Novak is a freelance writer and a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois.
This article is excerpted from the January/February 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.