Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions(CISMOR)Doshisha University > Public Lectures > Jews and Christians, Jews and Muslims:The interactions of these religions in historical and cultural perspective

Public Lectures

The 4th Annual Conference on Jewish Studies

Jews and Christians, Jews and Muslims:The interactions of these religions in historical and cultural perspective

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Date: 2011/01/22 13:00 − 15:00
2011/01/23 13:30 − 15:30
Place: Divinity Hall Chapel, Imadegawa Campus, Doshisha University
Lecture: 1/22(Sat.) Ilan TROEN, Professor of Israel Studies at Brandeis University/U.S.A.
1/23(Sun.) Avigdor Shinan, Professor, Jewish Literature at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem/ Israel
Summary:
Professor Ilan Troen discussed religious and secular theories regarding the Israel/Palestine issue as held by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and compared the claims of legitimacy asserted respectively by these monotheistic peoples.
First, he addressed the Jewish religious theory, centering on the covenants and promises of God described in the Old Testament. Now that about 2,000 years have passed since the Jews left the land of Israel, the question remains by what means the Jews are to return to their ancestral land. Zionists have sought to accelerate the accomplishment of God’s promises by the power of man, while the ultra orthodox Jews - Neturei Karta are patiently awaiting the advent of the Messiah and maintain a stance that is opposed to the State of Israel, claiming that they should reside in a land called Palestine――still regarding it as a promised land, but not a Jewish state――until the coming of the Messiah. On the other hand, Rabbi Abraham Kook declared his support for secular Zionism and added a passage “The establishment of the State of Israel is the beginning of our redemption” in a prayer book. Since 1967, the notion that the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine should be rejected and no compromise made has garnered greater support, especially among religious Zionists. On the other hand, moderate religious Zionists believe that the promises of God will be accomplished in the far remote future, and they seek to achieve peace with Palestinian Arabs. Martin Buber, who had a huge influence on secular people, argued that it is a religious obligation to create a moral society and advocated “bi-nationalism,” an idea that the land of Palestine should be governed jointly by Arabs and Jews. As is clear from the above, views on the Promised Land held by modern Jews are mixed, though they all believe in the promises of God concerning the Holyland.
Generally, Christians are interested in the Holyland as associated with Jesus only, and are not interested in other holy Promised Lands. Liberation theology holds that the special relationships between the Jews and God are no longer existent and that the roles that Jews have assumed are gone from history on the grounds of the universality of God. Evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, argue that Jews are obliged to participate in Armageddon in the land of their ancestors. In between is the view shown in the Sacred Obligation, a statement issued by moderate Christians in 2002, which acknowledges both Palestinians and Israelis but does not admit the legitimacy of Israel in terms of the Arab-Israeli relationship. Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church has remained hesitant to admit the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish nation along with the validity of Jews regaining sovereignty and independence.
For Muslims, the Middle East is home to many holy places, and therefore, it is called “the House of Islam.” Despite its specificity, Palestine, as well, is one such holy place. Both Jews and Christians are allowed to live in the House of Islam as second-class protected groups, but they are not permitted to gain sovereignty and achieve independence. Jews purchased many lots of land between 1888, when Zionists began to settle in Palestine, and 1948, when Israel was established. Even the mufti, the supreme leader in Palestine, offered land to Jews for sale. As these cases indicate, the principles of Islamic theology were applied flexibly and in a realistic manner. Recently, however, the sale of land in Palestine is no longer permitted, and the Hamas Charter issued in 1988 claims that any part of the land of Palestine should not be ceded and that the land of Palestine itself is holy Muslim waqf (religiously endowed land). In this charter, Muslims, for the first time in history, assert that the entire land of Palestine is waqf.
In the latter half of the lecture, Professor Troen gave an account for the secular theory of Jews focusing on the modern democracy that originated in the Western world where the promises of God are left out of consideration. While the religious theory orients itself inwardly toward the believers of religion itself, the secular theory is directed outwardly to the world. Accordingly, if we are to find a solution by way of a compromise, we should engage in secular discussion to facilitate external communications, as a compromise is irrelevant to the religions. After the lecture, a workshop was held, in which the Declaration of Independence of Israel was compared with the Palestinian National Charter, with special emphasis placed on their secular/national interpretations and the influence of modernity on them.

On the second day, Professor Avigdor Shinan gave a lecture, in which he shed light on how the life of the man Abraham is depicted in the canonical scriptures of the three monotheistic religions: the New Testament of Christianity, the Mishnah and Talmud of Judaism, and the Qur’an of Islam.
He started his lecture by outlining the story of the life of Abraham from the Hebrew Bible as completed in by the 2nd to the 3rd centuries B.C., and he identified the following events as basic topics of discussion as held since the days of the Bible: Abraham’s departure from Haran, his travel to Canaan, the fights with the aggressive kings, the ritual of circumcision under the covenant with God, the birth and disposal of Ishmael, and the offering of Isaac.
The New Testament, according to Shinan, was established as a written canonical text earlier than the canonical scriptures of the other two monotheistic religions. As its name indicates, the New Testament was a new addition to the Hebrew Bible, and it was originally intended for Jews. For this reason, the New Testament places emphasis on biblical narratives and figures, and interprets the religious revolutions described in it not as actual revolutions, but as natural consequences stemming from the events described in the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament refers to Abraham as one of the patriarchs, the father of the people, a righteous man, and a pious man. The Christian texts contain less information about the events of the life of Abraham. Instead, it emphasizes his theological image and religious philosophy by describing him as a great man of faith and mentioning his role in the next life. Still, we can find some descriptions about Abraham and his life in the New Testament. As Professor Shinan interestingly points out, the most important text in these descriptions is in the sermon of Stephen (Acts 7), which emphasizes the covenant of circumcision between God and Abraham. However, in the view of Paul, who placed the focus of faith not on action but on heart, Abraham was a righteous and pious man even before his circumcision. This story was inserted in order to indicate that the covenant of circumcision was not considered as a primary means to guide men nearer to God.
The Mishnah, Judaism’s canonical document that began to gain currency around the same time as the New Testament, presents a totally different view. According to the Mishnah, Abraham was not called intact until he was circumcised (Nedarim 3.1), which collides with the view of the New Testament. In the first place, the Mishnah was compiled based on great many Jewish oral traditions at the beginning of the 3rd century. Later, the Talmud was added as a commentary and interpretation on the Mishnah and was thus documented. The focus of the Mishnah is ethics, philosophy, and various Jewish laws governing everyday life (e.g., festival, family, society, and temple), while it pays little heed to biblical narratives and figures. This is probably because the readers of the Mishnah were assumed to have read the Hebrew Bible, and thus the compilers of the Mishnah avoided being repetitive. Interestingly, the Mishnah refers to Abraham as a man of action who fulfilled all the laws of the Torah, not merely as a great man of faith.
Meanwhile, a significant difference between the Qur’an of Islam and the New Testament lies in the understanding of the canonical scripture of the pre-Muhammad days. In the Muslim view, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament contain certain errors, whether willful or unwitting, and the Qur’an was designed to correct such errors and present the truth. Abraham is “Ibrahim” in Arabic. According to the Qur’an, Ibrahim was one of prophets and the only monotheistic believer in the pre-Islamic days. He was the father of the Islamic faith and of Ishmael from whom the Arabs are descended. The Qur’an even added new stories to the life of Abraham described in the Hebrew Bible, which is not the case in the New Testament. The stories not found in the Bible include: the childhood of Abraham; the establishment of Islam and Abraham’s role in it; the discovery of the one true God; the destruction of the statues by Abraham; and the association of Abraham with Mecca, the holiest place of Islam. Apparently, the Qur’an exploits Abraham for religious purposes.
In concluding the lecture, Professor Shinan discussed his experience of participating in an academic meeting organized by the Palestinian Authority, where representatives of the three monotheistic religions were present to discuss Abraham. In the opinion of Professor Shinan, we can create a solid foundation of dialogue by emphasizing the aspect of Abraham as the common father of all these religions. He also argued that the following passage from the Old Testament needs to be understood in a contemporary context.
Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? (Malachi 2:10)
In the workshop that followed the lecture, a discussion was held on the fact that each religion relies upon the Hebrew Bible in its attempt to justify its own beliefs, an issue which creates a difficulty for those who try to establish dialogue between the religions. Professor Shinan summed up by pointing out that the human endeavors of the three monotheistic religions to understand the Bible are of equal significance.
Kotaro Hiraoka
(Graduate Student of School of Theology, Doshisha University)
1/22 "The Right to the Holyland: Contending Jewish and Arab Claims of Legitimacy" By Prof. IIan Troen
*This lecture will be given in English.

1/23 "The Life of the Man Abraham as Reflected in Ancient Jewish, Christian and Moslem Literature" By Prof. Avigdor Shinan
*This lecture will be given in Hebrew and Japanese.

Co-hosted by: School of Theology, Doshisha University
1/22 Lecture Program (Japanese)
1/23 Lecture Program (Japanese)

1/22 Moive

1/23 Movie