From The Oxford Study Bible, page 6: “both [the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament] relate the continuing story of God’s involvement with the Jewish people and the surrounding Gentile world.”
The continuing story of God’s involvement with the Jewish people. What does that have to do with me? I’m not Jewish, and since the word “Gentile” only has meaning from a Jewish viewpoint, I’m not Gentile either. So why are these the scriptures on which I’ve grown up?
I suppose there are both form and content at play here: the cultural clothing of a religion, and the truth that it clothes. Human beings all over the world have interactions with God, and they discover truths that are bigger than themselves. Whatever is universal, is available. The clothing — the cultural heritage — certainly does belong to one group or another, but the truth inside that clothing isn’t something that can be owned. It doesn’t belong to anyone. Instead, if we choose to, we belong to it.
It so happened that the Jewish stories introduced me to the God I know. They will always be somewhere in the foundation for me.
What I don’t understand is why I don’t have an indigenous faith tradition of my own, specific to my own people. I can’t get past the idea that Christianity took someone’s holy book, added a bunch of other stuff, then reintroduced it as its own property.* It’s not to say the religion is illegitimate; Christianity has a rich, complex identity, and history proves it capable of maintaining a meaningful role alongside the world’s other major religions, but to me the fact that it originally commandeered another people’s tradition makes it something of an impostor.
* I’m referring to that early era of formalized Christianity which was fiercely anti-semitic, despite the fact that it’s founded on a semitic text. Cognitive dissonance, racism, cultural appropriation: that’s not the whole story of Christianity, but it was an important step in its establishment.
Then again — we all have a lineage. No lineage is pure. The lines change over time, and new identities emerge from blending ancestors who end up having nothing in common with their descendants.
Once there was a Jew who revolutionized his faith. Gentiles gathered around him too, and his Jewish followers chose not to require the newcomers to convert to the formal tradition, so between them a new formal tradition emerged.
Long before that, there was a Hebrew who had two sons, one who called God Jehovah and one, Allah. Even longer ago, there were people and myths and gods, and the stories they told formed and reformed the people that emerged during the telling, until Abraham was born and Genesis was taught. This happened in the cradle of what’s called civilization. It happened in the land where the first humans were made.
The stories that belong to the land in which I now live are important, and I’m learning them; yet I’m not native here and must admit a foreign lineage. I am a third-generation European transplant. My people were immigrants and Christians.
From time to time, a tradition begs for reform, yet when reform comes, the result is not a changed original but a new invention. Martin Luther didn’t reform Catholicism; he invented Protestantism. Jesus didn’t reform Judaism; he invented Christianity.
This is the tangle I’ve inherited. All I know to do is go back to the root. Catholicism, Orthodoxy, the paganism they replaced, the Judaism that preceded them, Hebrew mythology and the stories that came before. I will seek to reconcile the problems I find. I will seek a truth to which I can belong, one that has relevance to the land where I live, to myself and my own — and perhaps in the end, I’ll find that something new has been invented.
In so doing, I must acknowledge the debt I owe the Hebrew Bible and its writers. Still, while that debt may explain why I grew up reading the Bible, it doesn’t explain why I read it now. When I read it, it’s because I love it. Even when it says things I can’t accept, I love it, the way you love someone at the table whose views you can’t bring into focus with your own.
But if the Bible introduced me to God, it must also be said that the Bible has nothing to do with the God I know. Everything is intertwined; everything is unmixable. When I walk outside, I remember the importance of direct experience.