Listen: Dr. Michael Trainor in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
Catholic theologian, Rev Dr Michael Trainor, warns Christians should understand the context of New Testament writings and that the antisemitic “Jews killed Jesus” tone arose from tensions between the Church and Synagogue when the stories were written down generations after the time of Jesus.
Dr. Michael Trainor is a Catholic priest and theologian. He is a senior lecturer in Biblical studies at the Australian Catholic University in Adelaide and adjunct lecturer in the Department of Theology, Flinders University, South Australia.
It’s tragic. A gunman invaded their religious setting and took their lives
“It’s tragic. A gunman not only invaded their religious setting on the Shabbat, the Saturday. He completely invaded their space and took their lives. Sadly, there is a rise in antisemitism in all corners of the world” said Dr Trainor
According to the Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide, Europe’s largest Jewish communities are experiencing a normalisation and main-streaming of antisemitism not seen since the Second World War.
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Rev Dr Trainor has a deep understanding of relations between Christians and Jews. He is an executive board member of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), chair of the theological committee of the ICCJ, a contributor to the ICCJ project, ‘Promise, Land and Hope’, Chair of the Australian Council of Christians and Jews, and co-chair of the South Australian Council of Christians and Jews.
Michael also is a member of the Australian Roman Catholic Bishops’ Council for Interfaith and Inter-religious Relationships in which he advises the Catholic Bishops on Jewish-Christian matters. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 2007 for his contribution to the work of the ICCj at international, national and local levels.
Christian heritage is Jewish
Dr Trainor explained the historical context of antisemitic tone of Bible passages from the New Testament. He says we need to bear in mind that these Bible passages are “…not like a closed circuit television directly into the life of Jesus.” and were written a long time after the events referred to.
He says an example of the antisemitic tone is the criticism of the Pharisees in the New Testament which reflects, not Christ’s opinion, but rather developments within the early church.
“For us as Christians, of course, it is import for us to to name it [antisemitism]. Our heritage as Christians is of course, Jewish. Jesus was Jewish, the first followers of Jesus were Jewish. But, as time went on gradual antisemitic flavours developed within the Christian movement. That is unfortunate and we need to to keep identifying this historically as well.”
Passages written long after events
“As time moves out of the first Century or the first generation of Jesus followers (who were Jewish) there comes a point where there is a slow separation between the synagogue and the church. This happens in the third century and it is accompanied at the same time by what has been called deicide which is the killing of God [a deity]. There would be some who name themselves Christian (and we know this also from writing we have in the third and fourth centuries) that believe, “The Jews were responsible for killing Christ, who was God.” Dr Trainor explained on ‘Open House’
“This gets fed into the scriptures. So the Pharisees, for example, are seen to be hypocrites and they are criticized by the Gospel writers. What the reader doesn’t realise is that these texts were written two to three generations after the event that they are reflecting on, at a time when the leaders of the Jesus movement were in tension with the leaders of the Rabbinic movement that had established itself after the debacle of the 70’s [A.D. 70’s] when the Temple was destroyed .”
“So in this tension of claiming authority and independence, the Jesus movement leaders looked upon those that enabled Judaism to survive beyond the Temple destruction, namely the Pharisees, and saw them as evil. That gets written into the text and of course if we take the text literally as a kind of closed circuit television of the life of Jesus, then people today would think ‘Well the Pharisees are bad people’. But, in fact, historically Jesus was very close to the Pharisee movement, which was a movement of renewal.”
“All this is to say that this kind of antisemitic, anti-Pharisaic tendency that is incorporated into the Gospels becomes therefore, factual and then the religious imagination draws on ths and begins to portray the Jews as evil, crying out for the death of Jesus.
Many spread their point through violence
Bias spills over – perhaps unwittingly
“This is a very nuanced discussion. I believe the Bible is true and reveals to us God and God’s revelation in Jesus. To me that is unalterable. What I’m very aware of is that these texts were written at a particular time.” he said.
“I’m suggesting we need to be a little bit more nuanced in the way we understand the development of the Gospels and see that these stories were written in another period when the was tension with the Jewish community as so those writing these text have that kind of bias spill over – perhaps unwittingly, into the text. I’m suggesting we need to be careful in the way we read the text.”
Christian Jewish dialogue
Dr Trainor says the ICCJ is an umbrella body for 60 to 70 groups meeting locally seeking to encourage open dialogue between Christians and Jews.
“This is an important theme in a world where the tendency is to move away from dialogue and create tension without encouraging open conversation about the issues we face.
We need to be working toward a world of peace
Groundswell of Violence
He says it is essential for all of us to address antisemitism because we live at a time when “… violence seems to be the only way of dealing with difference and in a culture of violence which is not only in the United States and in Australia; in Australia perhaps less so. But it is one of the tactics that people who are quite adamant in their point of view. Many want to have their point spread through violent tactics”
” I don’t know what was behind the person who killed those eleven people in Pittsburg, but the culture of violence and this inability to talk about things of difference is the the groundswell that’s created what we’ve seen in Pittsburg, quite tragically.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum produced the video below.
Commonality moves us into friendship
“I was invited here in Adelaide on Sunday evening [the day after the attack] to go the the Synagogue. I was there with other Christians and with a Muslim. Each of us offered our own prayer for reflection; our statement about working toward a world of peace.”
The heart of this is ‘What do we have in common? What is our common belief we have in our God? How does that move us into friendship?’
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