"The Jewishness of Easter"

This essay by Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney, England, appeared in yesterday’s The Guardian. It makes several points that Jews have talked about and noticed for years, and I have Christian and Catholic friends who’ve noted many of the same ideas to me as well. Fraser puts it all together in a way that, I believe, is intended to compel action, change, and, at the very least, more thought.

For example, he opens with:

Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He was a Jew. The word Christian wasn’t known until years after his death. Which means that in order to appreciate Easter in its own terms, we must think of it as Jewish. The whole purpose for which Jesus went up to Jerusalem was to celebrate the festival of Passover. The last supper was a Passover meal. And it’s the symbolism of that meal that Christians must return to in order to understand the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Many if not most of us know these details. But he continues:

Even in Jesus’s time, the celebration of Passover was well over a thousand years old. Families gather together to rehearse the story of the liberation of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. Bitter herbs are dipped in saltwater to remind them of the tears of slavery. Lamb is roasted in remembrance of that first Passover night when lamb’s blood was daubed on the door frame of Jewish homes to ward off a terrible plague of death that would sweep through the darkness, destroying all first-born children. Freedom is toasted with wine. Moses saves his people from oppression and slavery under Ramses II.

This is the archetypal salvation story in the Bible. “Are you saved?” ask evangelicals, as if the question’s meaning is obvious. “God save the Queen” we sing. Yes, but save her from what? In fact, theologians have given multiple answers. Saved from death, from sin, from the devil, from meaninglessness, from error, from guilt, from hell, from God’s wrath – the list is endless. For Jews the answer is clear: saved from captivity.

According to the Wikipedia entry, the vicar is an expert on Nietzsche and he applies that knowledge next:

Nietzsche argued that Christianity gets going by first inventing a religious-type problem – like hell – and then offering itself as the solution; that it’s a fictional/metaphysical deliverance from a fictional/metaphysical affliction. In other words: a racket. This may be true of some versions of Christianity – particularly the nasty evangelical salvation story known as penal substitution. But Judaism is not like this at all. There is nothing worryingly abstract about slavery or exploitation or oppression. In crying out for freedom, Jews (unlike many Christians) do not get tied up in arcane metaphysical knots. Which is why the story of Passover is a salvation narrative with real bite.

In addition to being a wonkabee when it comes to politics, I’d say I’m the same when it comes to philosophy. I agree with the vicar on this point and it’s a source of great conflict for me in regard to all religions, Judaism included. But that’s another discussion.

Then, Fraser takes us back, to recap and re-apply:

Let me rewind. Jesus goes up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This is Roman-occupied Jerusalem. In such a context the Passover celebration is political dynamite. The Romans are inevitably read as Egyptians. God will lead his people out of occupation. Salvation means regime change. Little wonder the Romans were quick to silence anyone causing religious trouble and especially someone they believed was claiming the title King of the Jews. Jesus was crushed by empire.

And then he gives it to us, more powerfully than I’ve read in a long time:

Christians have been so blinded by generations of anti-semitism that they’ve failed to recognise the Jewishness of Easter. Jesus is the new Moses who will lead his people from captivity. Of course, Jews also want to discourage the idea that Easter has a Jewish significance precisely because Christianity is seen as a perversion of Jewish theology. All too often, Christianity has hijacked the Hebrew scriptures and twisted their meaning. The idea that Christians might have hermeneutic designs on their beloved Passover feels like one more insult in a succession of historic insults.

Yet, insult or not, the heart of all Catholic Christianity is the Eucharist, the commemoration of the last supper. As the Passover host, Jesus takes unleavened bread and breaks it. He offers wine. He calls his followers to do the same in remembrance of Him. During the Eucharist, Christians recreate a stylised Passover meal with unleavened bread and wine. It’s the means by which we relive and retell the story of Easter. We may not have a use for roast lamb. Instead, Jesus is the lamb of God.

And here’s the call to action (and what completes what is an excellent example of a poignant, coherent, universal op-ed-style column):

Not much of this is readily apparent on a Sunday morning. Which is a pity, because the message of freedom so powerfully announced by the celebration of Passover is one that contemporary Christianity badly needs to reclaim. For freedom is the lost virtue of the Christian church. Sure, it’s easy for Christians to join in the celebrations of Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade. It’s easy enough to be a radical 200 years after the event. But on many of the issues of the day, the church stands against human freedom. For evangelicals particularly, freedom means licence. From the freedom of the market to the freedom of gay people to marry and adopt children: for too many Christians, freedom is sin. That’s why the church has always been obsessed with control.

Yet what’s promised through Easter is that condition described by St Paul as “the glorious liberty of the children of God”. Sure enough, this is not a commitment to outright libertarianism – for the freedom of some can be the bondage of others. Even so, a church that fails to proclaim human freedom is one that has lost sight of the good news of Easter.

And so the vicar synthesizes the essentials without padding or fabricating or fanaticizing either side, yet being honest about the pitfalls each side often encounters and sometimes embraces. This column represents the thoughts of someone living in the real world and a world that allows people to believe without disparaging or negating what others believe.

Now, I’m off to make yet more kosher for Passover food today (yesterday it was matzah balls, rocky road brownies, Passover popovers and Passover-ized eggplant parmagianno; today it’s apple farfal kugel and potato kugel – that last one can kill you if you eat too much though).

And eggs. Everything has at least four eggs in it.

I am sorry people’s Easter bonnets won’t glitter so well today, but I do wish you a very happy holiday.

Hattip to Yid with Lid although I’m pretty sure that I would not provide quite the same editorial as he does

19 thoughts on “"The Jewishness of Easter"

  1. King, I will not take the time unless I have your word to respond rationally and not with categorical generalizations and speculation based on assumptions that reality will not support (specifically in regard to what you think I think or who you think I am – I will tell you what I think if you want to know, so you don’t have to guess, but I’m not going to do that in response to what I see by you as being assertions about me and other huge groups based on I don’t even know what).Otherwise – I will not engage.

  2. Jill, my response is respectful. Though, I did respond to your comment, that I found highly offensive.Show me where it is disrespectful. I don’t think that is it though.King

  3. King – we’ve been through this before. When you converse with respect, I’ll engage. Otherwise, no dice. We’ve been over this before, you’ve noted the rightness in that call for respect before and for some reason, you’re not interested in it anymore. That’s up to you. Spin it anyway you want. No one is stopping you.When you present as sincere inquiry, I’ll be here to discuss.

  4. What’s wrong Jill? Don’t ;ike having it thrown back at you?Just as I expected!Why do you refuse to answer?You opened the discussion on religion on my site with your cheap shot on Christianity, so what’s wrong?Show everyone how accepting of other religions you REALLY are and respond. You can’t because you are a bigot!Calling you a bigot is not from me. I had several jewish buddies of mine look over your site, and your comment on my site. They remarked that you act & write like your were Super Jew, boy we got a good laugh at that one.They labeled you the bigot. Even people of your own faith felt you were out of line with that question on Easter. They saw right through you.After it was explained to me, I have a better understanding of what they meant and find it quite comical.Sort of suprised you won’t respond, usually you falsely label things rhetorical when you have no answers. This is your excuse for not answering.As you note several times you agree with the Vicar’s essay, you are unable to repsond yourself?Still waiting on the responses about the failure sof the local democraps you refuse to talk about. I will be waiting.Have a great day,King

  5. Jill, When I saw your comment, I expected it to be something like this before I clicked the link. I was hoping you would be better than to participate in the annual Easter attack on Christianity. But should have known better in light of your Jesus Peeps post. Knowing how you, as Hickman pointed out, have the ability to twist and turn the most miniscule of subjects back to being jewish. Sorry Jill, but even as hard as you try, everything in this world is NOT about being jewish. Yes, each person should be proud of their faith, but the way you attempt to “force” yours on everyone, is no better than the far right Evangelicals that do the same. So, you are no better than the ones you criticize.Personally, I do not believe it is my place to say anything about how anyone comes to terms with how they accept or do not accept God, Jesus, Allah, or any other divine entity. I have many long time friends and have no idea what religion they are, and really don’t care. They do not force theirs on me and nor do I on them.Maybe it is along the lines, they go to their heaven and I go to mine, how we get there is each persons own journey. Each person, alone, needs to choose their path.As I have said before, maybe your attacks on Christianity stem from you searching for the truth. The truth Jesus, along with the wholeness and acceptance, Christianity will bring you. You can come back anytime; there is always a place for anyone who accepts Jesus into their life.What do I think?As a whole, I think the article is garbage, as is pretty much most of the subtle anti-Christian stuff you post.As for Jesus being crushed by an empire, this is only half true. The jews, offended by someone claiming to be the Son of God, were the instrumental cause of the Roman Empire crucifying Jesus. The Pharisees waged a campaign against Jesus, much like the way many today still attack Christianity.Why did they have, the money hungry Judas, betray Jesus? Because they believed his teaching to be blasphemous, when in fact they were hypocrites. Pilate, the Roman Emperor did not want to kill Jesus, in fact he turned to Christianity, asked for and received forgiveness. Pilate also ended up going crazy, many believe this is because of his action against Jesus. You may be forgiven, but there are consequences for your actions.The Feast of Easter was actually a Pagan Roman Holiday. The Romans then used it to appease the anger among the Christians at the time.The Gospel of Mark Chapter 15 bears this as true -Pilate again asked them, “What then should I do to him whom you call the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they cried out exceedingly, “Crucify him!” Pilate, wishing to please the multitude, released Barabbas to them, and handed over Jesus, when he had flogged him, to be crucified.Had the jews, who were not brave enough to do it themselves, not used the Romans to crucify Jesus for them, he would have had to met his fate in some other horrible way. Jesus was sent by God to suffer for us and take on the sins of the world.So guided by the Hand of God, Jesus used the jews as tools to accomplish his task. Even with being used, you guys still think you are the chosen ones – Hah! This article from the Vicar, which obviously you agree, is in correct on many terms. His reference – Jews also want to discourage the idea that Easter has a Jewish significance precisely because Christianity is seen as a perversion of Jewish theology. All too often, Christianity has hijacked the Hebrew Scriptures and twisted their meaning. The idea that Christians might have hermeneutic designs on their beloved Passover feels like one more insult in a succession of historic insults.It would be more accurate to say that the jews, have taken on their own perversion of jewish theology. To get your facts straight, you may want to read the Book of Daniel or the 53rd chapter in the Book of Isaiah both from the Old Testament.Oh wait, many in the Jewish religion have BANNED the reading the Book of Isaiah Chapter 53 and the Book of Daniel. Why Jill? Why would pieces and parts of the Old Testament, which is God’s Word, be banned? Correct me if I am wrong, but does not the jewish faith view the Old Testament as accurate.Would this be maybe because in the Book of Daniel it is accurately predicted when Jesus would come? And because the Book of Isaiah states you will deny him?So once again Jill, you “murmur” your intellectually vacuous and bigoted opinions on Christianity. Which are nothing more than a backhanded slap at Christianity under the guise of “what if” or “what do you think about this”? Jesus, who gave forgiveness to the very people that led him to be killed and those that killed him shows Christianity, is a religion of love, peace and acceptance.Whereas the actions of the jews, with views like yours, could lead one to believe judaism is a religion of hate, anger, revenge and non acceptance. My friends of jewish heritage, have showed me, through their actions and words it is not, obviously they are not like you.Anyone can become Christian, only those with the right blood can be true jews. I have been told by my friends of jewish ancestory, that someone can convert but without jewish blood, they will never be accepted as truly jewish.I am sure you agree, don’t you?Do you believe the jews led Jesus to be crucified by the Romans in acts of vengeance and hate? Moses Maimonides, recognized as Judaism’s most esteemed halachic (legal) authority, in his “Letter to Yemen”, felt crucifying Jesus was just punishment for his teachings.I do find it amusing how you portray yourself to be so accepting, yet it appears you are only accepting of those with the same beliefs or ideology as you.What are your feelings on, I Thessalonians 2: 14-16, which reads; For ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men…Any feelings on how the jews mocked Jesus as he was hanging on the cross?From Matthew 27:35-44 -Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.I would love to know what you think about the articles at these links -http://www.slate.com/id/2088417/http://www.landoverbaptist.org/news1299/han.htmlRegarding the missing post – you were answered before. I will repeat it again for you. After learning it was incorrect, I removed it. I know, as usual, you want to try and “create” something and sensationalize this. But a mistake was made, and it was removed. Damn, you guys got me on April Fool’s – you guys are slick.Here is a thought, since I have twice answered about this “missing” post to you, why don’t you give legitimate answers, instead of dodging, to the series of questions I have asked you about local democrats.Or is it easier to take pot shots at Christianity?KING

  6. Jill:Good post.I’ve had the opportunity to take college-level Biblical study classes, and have continued to be a student of religion throughout my life. These days, one of the things I enjoy is a chance to have discussions with my daughter, who is a senior at OSU, and has taken a number of higher-level classes on Biblical/Jewish history. We both find that our faith has been strengthed by gaining understanding of the roots and history of Christianity, which of course is deeply connected to Jewish history.Sadly, few Christians have put that kind of effort into understanding the historical and literary underpinnings of the Bible. Most hear only the sound bites of sermons and children’s lessons, and think they understand.As Jeff points out, the Bible has examples of inconsistency. The four cannonical Gospels have differing stories and chronologies. Most Christians don’t know that these Gospels were put to paper 40 to 100 years after the death of Jesus. They aren’t meant to be eyewitness accounts so much as a sermons that had been shaped and adapted to make sense to the audience who heard them. Some were Jews who understood the prophecies and expected to hear evidence that those prophecies had been satisfied. Other were Gentiles who knew little about Jewish history, and needed to hear the stories in a different manner.In the same way, the historical books of what we Christians call the Old Testament can seem to have some inconsistencies as well. One set of books came from writers enjoying the majesty of the Davidic Kingdom, and others came from writers who were part of the the Jewish community who had been conquered and deported. The two sets of stories are similar, but factually different because they were writen to speak to audiences in different situations. Today, we have the benefit of reading and learning from both perspectives. Both talk about a relationship with the same God.I try not to get hung up on such inconsistencies. A story does not need to be factual to convey truth. Christians who are convinced that the Bible is a factual account of history are immature in their faith.Likewise, those who would say Christianity is invalid because the Bible has inconsistencies need to seek a deeper understanding of faith.A wise old pastor of mine was once asked if it was true that faith in Jesus was the only path to God. He said, “yes it is — for Christians.” His perspective was much like that of Joseph Campbell, the mythologist who when asked if there was one true religion answered: “It seems to me that religion is like computer software,” (eg PC vs Mac, another religious discussion). “Once you become competent with one, you should stick with it and not mix things up.”Interesting idea.

  7. I obviously can’t take a lot of the credit, but it is really an interesting essay, don’t you think??You have a great holiday, Dawno of the Sparkly Ears. 🙂

  8. Daniel – do you suppose that he’s just saying that in his experience of what is out there right now, he doesn’t feel that the emphasis or teaching of deliverance from bondage is enough?

  9. YWL – thanks for that – I actually didn’t quite get that from what I’d read on your post. No offense intended on my part – you are much “closer” to a lot of this material than I am and sometimes I know I’m not getting what you’ve written simply because I lack some of the knowledge. I hope your Passover is going well.

  10. Jeff – thanks for reminding me about that – I wrote about that a little last year re: not knowing the date of Easter. And last year was the first time I’d ever heard of that problem. Fascinating.

  11. I disagree with the broad-brush statement that Christianity places limits on human freedom. Perhaps the author had particular denominations in mind when presenting that view, but deliverance from bondage is an important theme in the Christianity that I’ve been learning about.

  12. Jill just to be clear, what may take was not how I view Easter, but how our ancient Rabbis used passover as a way to keep the Jews together during the anti-semitic pogroms that would happen during the Easter/Passover Period

  13. Shalom Jill,The Passover story in the Christian scriptures also points to one of the more interesting disparities in the text. Matthew and Mark can’t decide when the crucifixion took place.One wants it to be the day after Passover (the last supper as seder concept) and the other wants it to be the day before Passover (the crucifixion/Jesus as Passover sacrifice/lamb).Then there’s the whole, the Sanhedrin would not have met during Passover problem.This is really why Christians don’t want to look too closely at their Easter through a Passover lens; it raises too many questions.B’shalom,Jeff

  14. Thanks, Jill. Great post. (Watch out for those eggs!)I didn’t read anything that doesn’t square with what I believe – but then again, I’m not a rw evangelical either.Have a glorious day.

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