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I’ve been at an interreligious discussion between Christians and Jews on the topic of whether we (Christians and Jews) read the same bible, and I’d like to present some of the discussion points here. Probably most people would say that of course we don’t. The Christians have the New Testament (NT) which Jews don’t have. But the discussion focussed on the texts both Jews and Christians read, the books of the Jewish Tanach or the Christian Old Testament (OT). The two representatives did not claim to speak for their religion as a whole, rather they gave personal statements which they said were rooted in their representative traditions.

The Christian representative (CR) noted that the OT is an integral part of the Christian sacred texts and is regularly read in church. He first presented the classical Christian approach to a text from the OT. According to this approach, the main point of these texts is pointing towards Jesus and the NT. OT texts describe G-d and they contain prophesies that were fulfilled by Jesus. The laws of the OT are perceived as a negative contrast to the unversalist love of the NT. "Israel" is re-interpreted as referring to the church. But this classical approach seems to have gone out of style at the end of last century, when interreligious dialogue became a thing. Christians "discovered" that they read the same texts as Jews, they recognized that Jews have different legitimate readings of the same texts and they started to be interested in their interpretations.

The Jewish representative (JR) started with the (obvious) statement that Jesus is irrelevant for Judaism. She said she reads the Tanach as the record of the history of her ancestors with G-d. She sees herself as part of a community, a family, descendants of the people who experienced these events. Which makes it not only some ancient history, but her history. Also, she sees the texts as describing an utopia, a "constitution", laws to form a good society. So it is important to learn and keep the laws as G-d’s guidelines for mankind. The texts have to be interpreted and this interpretation is also based on history, centuries of great rabbis who passed on their insights. There are always multiple interpretations of one and the same text, but not all interpretations are valid.

In the following discussion, CR remarked that Christians also see themselves as part of the chain of tradition reaching from Abraham to Mose to David to Jesus and to today. JR countered that most of today’s Christians have pagan origins and cannot claim any family connections to Jesus or any of the other figures, while Jews see themselves as the direct descendants of the forefathers. JR mentioned that for Christians the people/nation of Israel and the land of Israel is largely irrelevant, while it is still central in Judaism. CR and JR agreed that some Christian interpretations can also be valid Jewish interpretations, especially if they are old, before the split of the two sister religions. Following this was a lot of slightly off-topic discussion on whether Christians are included in the same covenant with G-d as Jews, the Christian covenant has replaced the Jewish one (official position of the church for a long time, but not anymore) or whether each religion has its own covenant and what the implications of each option are.

So do we read the same texts? The same words maybe (even that is doubtful because translations are always interpretations, but that is a topic for another day). But with different approaches for their interpretation, different backgrounds, different assumptions and also different goals. Which does not mean we cannot learn from each other, but it is important to recognize the differences in the starting points.