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Arts & Culture New Documentary Probes Links, History of Christianity, Judaism

November 22, 2001
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Interfaith dialogue between Christians and Jews has become a feel-good cliche among the well-meaning and a target of satire among cynics.

For those in either category, the two-hour documentary “Jews and Christians: A Journey of Faith” provides a history lesson and an antidote against oversimplification and stereotyping.

The documentary will air on U.S. public television stations before the end of the year.

Some 40 academics and clerics appear in the film but it is much more than 120 minutes of talking heads. Producers Gerald Krell and Meyer Odze — both Jewish — illustrate the evolution of Christianity and Judaism, their similarities and divergences, with close-ups of religious ceremonies, exchange visits between synagogues and churches, focus groups discussing stereotypes of the “other,” and trips to Jerusalem and the Vatican.

The film is based on the book “Our Father Abraham: The Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith” by Marvin Wilson, an evangelical Christian.

Particularly intriguing are the parallels between biblical events and Jewish celebrations, and their replication in different forms among Christians.

A seder scene, with the breaking of matzah and blessing of wine, is followed by a depiction of Holy Communion, with its consecration of the wafer and the wine.

Purification through baptism is based on cleansing at the mikvah, with one Christian scholar referring to John the Baptist as “John the mikvah man.”

The baptism of Jesus and his 40-day fast in the desert is linked to the Israelites’ passage through the Red Sea and their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

The singing of the Yigdal by a cantor at the end of Shabbat is followed by a church choir using exactly the same melody for “God of Abraham Praised.”

Perhaps most striking is the common theme of a loving father sacrificing his son, expressed in the Torah through Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac and in the New Testament through God allowing the crucifixion of Jesus.

However, there is no attempt to gloss over the differences between the two faiths or the history of Christian persecution of Jews.

“You cannot get from the New Testament to Auschwitz directly,” Jewish scholar Stephen Katz notes. “On the other hand, you could not have Auschwitz had you not had the long pre-history made possible by Christian anti-Judaism.”

From the Jewish perspective, a rabbi laments that the only tie between an observant and a secular Jew may be a common suspicion of Christianity.

One of the obvious differences between the two faiths is that Christians believe that Jesus is the messiah, while the Jews are still waiting for God’s chosen one.

In a humorous “resolution” of the theological debate, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, a popular Orthodox theologian, visualizes the arrival of the messiah.

At his first press conference, the messiah is asked, “Is this your first or second coming?” The messiah responds, “No comment.”

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