The Hebrew Bible’s Place in the Dialogue Between Christians and Jews with Professor Israel Knohl

On Wednesday May 5th, the current Cohort of Russell Berrie Fellows had the opportunity to participate in an online webinar with visiting Professor Israel Knohl in which they explored the complications of using the Hebrew Bible as a text for doing interreligious dialogue.

Professor Knohl explained that sharing these texts has the potential to form a strong foundation for building bridges between people of different traditions. He said that in Muslim-Jewish dialogue, they have similar stories and figures but the text itself is different, whereas the Hebrew scripture is one link that people from both the Jewish and Christian traditions share.

Knohl said that the complication comes because there are different ways of reading these stories and the light they are seen with by each person changes the story. Knohl uses himself as an example as a Biblical scholar coming at stories with the historical method; in search of context and historical background of Jerusalem within the time. He then juxtaposes this lense to Christian interpretation of the same passage as proof of Jesus as the coming Messiah.

In Judaism every Prophet speaks to their time,” said Knohl, pointing to the book of Isiah, written in the 8th century as a response to the Assyrian Occupation of Israel, as a hope for Assyrian defeat and the coming of redemption. Knohl also said “It is absolutely legitimate to read any scripture as future development,” as Christians understand texts speak to their own time as well and prophesying the coming of Christ but one has to be aware of this difference in interpretation.

This is why the shared scripture is problematic; each claiming the scriptures for his Messiah but we are relating to the same text.” Knohl explains that the difference is that this is no longer a cause for murder, because dialogue is the answer. He admits that we carry a heavy load of bitter history but he wants to establish a different relationship between Jews and Christians in this time.

Knohl spoke about The Shalom Hartman Institute and their use of traditional Chavruta (meaning friendship) learning methodology; it uses paired-scripture study to help participants learn from each other, and expose those from different traditions to the religious sensitivities of others through building intimate informal relationships. Knohl said that the Bible contains a symphony of different voices and that we need to respect the voice heard by other communities. Watch the full webinar here: