Common Ground

Common Ground: A Priest and a Rabbi Read Scripture Together

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 354
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    Common Ground
    Book Description:

    Judaism and Christianity meet in scripture, which they share and about which they contend. In Common Ground Father Andrew Greeley and Rabbi Jacob Neusner present their characteristically candid - and often provocative - interpretations of the history, context, and meaning of scripture. Written in alternating chapters, Common Ground reveals how a rabbi understands Christ, Mary, and St Paul, and how a priest views creation, Abraham and Sarah, and the prophets. Neusner calls upon the ancient Rabbinic approach to scripture - the conversational dialogue of "Midrash" - while Greeley creatively renews the narrative tradition of Christianity. Together they show that differences in responses to scripture enrich the possibilities of biblical renewal.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7473-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Martin E. Marty

    Common Groundbrings together two uncommon commentators. The first two chapters identify Jacob Neusner as “a” rabbi and Andrew Greeley as “a” priest, but they are probablytherabbi andthepriest that all others in this country know.Books in Printcertainly lists more titles by Neusner and by Greeley than by any of their colleagues among scholars of religion.

    Such statistics by themselves are not likely to lure readers into this book, which is designed to lure them into reading the Bible. But they do suggest something of the experience these two writers bring to their common task....

  4. INTRODUCTION: Reading Scripture Together
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Andrew M. Greeley and Jacob Neusner

    Let us introduce ourselves and tell you how we know each other.

    The priest is Andrew Greeley, a priest of the Diocese of Chicago, a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and a research associate at the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago. Ordained in 1954 at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Father Greeley served for ten years as assistant pastor at Christ the King Church in the Beverly Hills district of Chicago and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1962. A sociologist of religion, Father Greeley...

  5. 1 NEUSNER: How a Rabbi Reads the Torah
    (pp. 1-5)

    Judaism reads not “the Bible” but the Torah. And the Torah and the Bible are not the same thing. The Bible comprises the Old Testament and the New Testament. Judaism receives what Christianity calls the Old Testament as “the Torah.” But the Torah encompasses not only the Scriptures, it also includes an oral component, which comes down from Sinai in oral formulation and oral tradition, only to be written down much later on in the Mishnah and Midrash compilations, and two Talmuds, of the first seven centuries A.D. Accordingly, I read “the Torah” whole and complete, the written part and...

  6. 2 GREELEY: How a Priest Reads the Bible
    (pp. 6-11)

    I read the Bible as a love story, an account of a passionate romance between God and God’s people.

    In subsequent chapters I’ll talk about the love aspect of the story. In this chapter I propose to explain why I read the Bible as a story. I do not suggest that it is the only way to read the Bible. Nor do I argue that it is the best way. I maintain only that the story approach is one of the necessary ways to read Scripture.

    It follows that there are a number of common ways in which the Bible...

  7. 3 NEUSNER: Is Not My Word like Fire?
    (pp. 12-20)

    I read the Torah in the light of the way Judaism reads the Torah, and that is the way called midrash.Midrashmeans “search, inquiry,” and it refers to the Judaic way of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures. You can understand what I see only when you look through my glasses. You can understand how Scripture comes to life for me only when you know how the method we call midrash brings Scripture to life and life to Scripture. So what is this way of reading Scripture that Judaism calls midrash? The answer to the question matters, because if you want...

  8. 4 NEUSNER: Beginning “In the Beginning”
    (pp. 21-29)

    The first thing I notice in the story of creation—and I think it is what the story wants me to notice—is that the seventh day, the Sabbath of creation, is the climax of the beginning of creation. Everything is aimed at that one thing, which commemorates and celebrates creation, all in a single sentence: “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.” That contains the entire message of “in the beginning”:

    1. God made the world.

    2. God declared the world...

  9. 5 GREELEY: The Lovers in the Song—Creation
    (pp. 30-43)

    The Bible is a love story, often a romance. It is a story of an intimate relation between God and his people and then a story of an intimate relation between God and the individual person.

    Often this intimacy is pictured as romantic love, a marriage, even a love affair between God and us. Love is not the dominant theme of the Bible in the sense that there are no other emotions in it. The books were not written or collected to fit any single theme. There are more than six thousand incidents of violence in the Scriptures. Love is...

  10. 6 NEUSNER: God and Israel—the Lovers
    (pp. 44-47)

    Father Greeley’s understanding of Scripture runs parallel to the reading of the Song of Songs by the great sages of the Torah, who read every verse as a metaphor for a relationship, either of God’s love for Israel or of Israel’s love for God. In a great compilation, Song of Songs Rabbah, they read the Song of Songs as a metaphor, which is to say a picture of an “is” concerning an “as if”; this is like that,as ifit were that. We understand the “that” better because we can envisage it through the “this is.” The is of...

  11. 7 NEUSNER: Let Us Make Man
    (pp. 48-55)

    Humanity in our image? Is the Bible joking? Father Andy, you and I share the single faith in humankind that this stunning passage sets forth: we are in God’s image, after God’s likeness. You find in Jesus Christ what it means to be in God’s image, after God’s likeness: God in the flesh. And I find in the picture of what it means to live a holy life, to be a holy human being, the image and the likeness. And you and I both find God in the face of the other—at least, we try. But then you and...

  12. 8 NEUSNER: Adam, Where Are You?
    (pp. 56-66)

    What went wrong in Eden? It is a simple thing: the one thing God did not choose to shape “in our image, after our likeness” was the will of humanity. Notice, after all, the odd omission of incarnation: the sages never say we are like God in our hearts. The angels can’t tell us apart from God, because we look alike. But that means only we are like God in form.

    But what should make us like God is not only our form bur our inner being. God is free to choose, and so are we. Like a parent who...

  13. 9 GREELEY: Adam
    (pp. 67-76)

    All religions have creation myths, but the stories in the myths are different. The important fact about the stories of Adam and Eve contained in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis is not that there is some similarity between them and the other creation myths one can find in the ancient Middle East, but rather the striking differences between the Adam and Eve story and the other stories. It’s not the humans of Genesis who are different, but the God of Genesis.

    Before I can discuss the story of a different kind of God, I must create a...

  14. 10 NEUSNER: “I Regret That I Made Them,” but Noah Found Favor
    (pp. 77-85)

    No century proves the truth of God’s judgment of humanity more powerfully than our own. Rivers of blood, oceans of tears, a million dead at the Somme, six million here, five million there, three million somewhere else, half the population of a whole country murdered by its own government—does anybody have reason these days to doubt that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”? And would anybody blame God for saying, “I regret I made them”? But what does that say about God, in whose image, after whose likeness, we are made? These questions draw us...

  15. 11 GREELEY: Noah
    (pp. 86-91)

    Almost as many traditions have flood myths as creation myths. The flood myth of Genesis differs from other flood stories not because it is a story of wrath, destruction, and survival, but because it is a story of a renewed promise, now one signed by the rainbow. One might even say that the whole story is about the rainbow metaphor.

    I’m always taken aback when I encounter a flood story similar to the Noah story in a culture one could not reasonably think has been influenced by the Hebrew religious tradition.

    I find myself speculating that maybe sometime, long, long...

  16. 12 NEUSNER: And Abram Put His Faith in the Lord
    (pp. 92-101)

    What makes Abraham so appealing that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace themselves back to him: all part of his family and Sarah’s descendants? If I only knew the story and not the history that begins there, would I predict that the man and wife portrayed here would so enchant so much of humanity? Well, yes, I think I would. The reason is that, with Abraham and Sarah, people we can believe really lived and breathed enter the story. Adam and Eve, Noah—these stand for beliefs, but they are not really believable as flesh-and-blood people. They don’t say much; they...

  17. 13 GREELEY: Abraham
    (pp. 102-107)

    The architectonic theme of God’s unconditional promise—and hence unconditional love—explodes in the Genesis story of Abraham. Humans continue to engage in behavior that puts God’s promise in jeopardy. God continues to fend off humans’ stupidity and weakness to sustain his promise. The promise becomes more explicit and detailed and hence more subject to human resistance and recalcitrance. God, however, continues to stand by his commitments.

    The redactor of Genesis reads his own theology back into the accounts available to him in his remote sources. Yet the theme of promise is already available in the sources, early records of...

  18. 14 NEUSNER: The Abraham of the Bible and the Abraham of the Torah
    (pp. 108-109)

    The one thing I read when I read the Torah that Father Greeley does not read when he reads the Bible is the story of my family. Our sages read the Torah as genealogy, family history, and Abraham is “our father, Abraham,” Sarah, “our mother, Sarah.” That way of reading Scripture as Torah, our Torah, God’s personal letter to us, Israel, about us and our family, is so profound that at every turning in life we reread that letter and find in it sentences written as though this morning.

    And while Father Greeley and with him the church that formed...

  19. 15 NEUSNER: “Take Your Son, Your Favored One, Isaac”
    (pp. 110-123)

    Abraham belongs to everybody. But Isaac is ours, because Isaac is us, Israel in particular. Isaac is the victim, who dies—or is supposed to die—to prove someone else’s point. We Jews identify with Isaac, because we see ourselves as the ever-dying people, always on the verge of extinction. So to us life is a gift: “Lehaim[to life]” is what we say when we drink. Not (merely) to health, but to life. Isaac had it all: son of a famous, rich man, favorite son at that. He stayed home (our sages say he was studying the Torah) with...

  20. 16 NEUSNER: “Then Jacob Made a Vow”
    (pp. 124-134)

    The Torah speaks of humble people, full of doubt. Here comes Jacob, the third generation from Abraham, as skeptical and uncertain as his grandfather, still making deals. But if anything, he is the most human of them all, and being Jacob, I like this Jacob most of all. For I can identify with him. He should have come first, but he didn’t. He should have been a real man, like his big brother, Esau: hunter and warrior, ravisher of women. But he wasn’t. He was a mama’s boy. And Isaac does not come to us as a strong father. And...

  21. 17 NEUSNER: “I the Lord Am Your God Who Brought You Out of the Land of Egypt”
    (pp. 135-146)

    The Passover celebration, which commemorates the exodus of Israel from Egypt, is the single most widely practiced rite of Judaism. What do people do? Well, what happens is that family and friends sit down for supper. That is what Jesus did with his disciples, formed into a surrogate family, at the Last Supper, and that is what Jews do, nearly universally, at the same season at which Christians celebrate Easter.

    How so secular an act as a supper party is turned into a highly charged occasion, rich in deeply felt meanings, we shall not find out if we simply review...

  22. 18 NEUSNER: The Ten Commandments
    (pp. 147-158)

    The Torah makes Israel Israel, so the entire message of Scripture insists, and at the centerpiece of the covenant stand the Ten Commandments. When I was growing up, in a Reform Jewish temple in West Hartford, we were required to memorize the Ten Commandments (in English, of course; who in those dim days imagined Hebrew lived?) and recite them. But they seemed remote. After all, we Reform Jews did not remember the Sabbath day, except for a few of us who attended Friday evening services. But then the day was just an hour and a half, not twenty-four holy hours,...

  23. 19 GREELEY: Moses, Our Rabbi
    (pp. 159-166)

    Just as we are forced to view Adam, Moses, and Abraham through the lens of postprophetic and postexilic Israelite religion, so we must view the work and the person of Moses, our rabbi, through the same lens.

    The process can, perhaps, be compared to the phenomenon that we Americans tend to view George Washington, the founder of our country, through the lens of our view of the American history two centuries later. We know roughly the character and times of the man (less roughly than the Israelites who formulated the final redaction of the Torah knew Moses), but we are...

  24. 20 GREELEY: The Faithless Bride—Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel
    (pp. 167-176)

    The condemned woman was stripped naked in front of her children. She was cast out of the house, and her children with her, because her guilt was their guilt too. Then she was to be stoned to death and they became outcasts.

    Not a pleasant event. But thus was adultery punished in Israel. The crime was not so much one of sexual “impurity” as we would think of it. Rather, the faithless woman had sinned against the basic social structure of her people because she risked producing a child who might inherit the family property though not, in fact, of...

  25. 21 GREELEY: Who Is Lady Wisdom?
    (pp. 177-185)

    The Bible is a “tissue of metaphors.” So speaks Australian scholar Mark Coleridge. At one level the statement is unassailable: one can only describe God through metaphors, since God cannot be known directly and immediately in this world. The Bible is about God and therefore it depends on comparisons to tell us what God is like.

    But there is another and richer meaning to the insight that the Bible is a tissue of metaphors. Since metaphor is an attempt on the part of the imagination of the one who makes it to leap to the imagination of the one who...

  26. 22 NEUSNER: The Prophets
    (pp. 186-194)

    The prophets present us with the most difficult pages of the Torah, because they seem to be telling us that God rejects what in the five books of Moses God commands. In the books of Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy God tells Moses that God wants us to celebrate festivals, hold solemn assemblies, kill cattle and burn them up as burnt offerings, and throw grain on the altar fire as a meal offering. Now God speaks through Amos and says that these are not only inappropriate, but offensive. Instead—instead, let justice well up like water. What has justice to...

  27. 23 GREELEY: Jesus—What He Said
    (pp. 195-203)

    Jesus was elusive. He still is.

    When we finally think we understand him, when we have at last arrived at an adequate explanation of him, when we have eventually defined him precisely, when we have, after great effort, identified him with our cause, then we discover that he’s not there anymore.

    We can take it as axiomatic: when we have captured Jesus for our own side, then, whether we be curialists or liberationists, liberals or fundamentalists, whoever we have won to our cause and persuaded to bash our enemies, it isn’t Jesus.

    The early Christians piled up titles as they...

  28. 24 GREELEY: Jesus—What He Did
    (pp. 204-212)

    I have this wonderful idea for a science fiction story. A group of young people invent a time machine. They plan to return to the Rome of Julius Caesar so that they can write the best term paper ever on the Rome of Julius Caesar. But they make a mistake in setting the controls and end up in Jerusalem on the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan in the year 30 C.E. (though of course that’s not how it was being counted then).

    Being good, solid Chicago Irish Catholics (the only kind of people I know well enough to...

  29. 25 GREELEY: Jesus—Who He Was
    (pp. 213-219)

    We must start with the basic data:

    The followers of Jesus had felt themselves to be sick and in need of healing; Jesus healed them. They felt themselves chained and in need of liberation; Jesus freed them. They felt themselves scattered and in need of reunion; Jesus reunited them. They felt themselves weary and despondent; Jesus renewed them.

    Who was he, they then asked themselves. Who was this man who had the power and the will to heal us, who had the strength to free us and the love to do so? Who was this generous, graceful storyteller who lived...

  30. 26 GREELEY: Women and Jesus
    (pp. 220-227)

    In the summer of 1988 outrage exploded around the land over Martin Scorsese’s brilliant and breathtaking filmThe Last Temptation of Christ.Scorsese had dared to raise the question of the relationship of Jesus to women and therefore the question of the sexuality of Jesus.

    It is a question that has lurked off the record for many years. For a long time, under the influence of the pessimism of Saint Augustine and the body-rejecting spirituality of Plato, Christians were afraid to ask it, even afraid to think it. In the era after Sigmund Freud, men and women were willing to...

  31. 27 NEUSNER: Jesus
    (pp. 228-239)

    And behold, one came up to him saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and your mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed, what...

  32. 28 GREELEY: Saint Peter
    (pp. 240-248)

    The day after Pope John Paul II had been elected, rumors swept Rome that he had been married as a young man. His wife, the story said, had died during the war, before the young Karol Wojtyla entered the seminary.

    The ineffable Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia rose at the English-language press conference and denounced this rumor as a vile communist plot to discredit the pope. A Roman cynic, more cynical than whom no one is, whispered in my ear, “It would be nice for a change to have a pope that you could be confident was capable of marriage.”...

  33. 29 GREELEY: Saint Paul and the Gentiles
    (pp. 249-256)

    Saint Paul, I think, gets too many bum raps.

    Many people, educated in the conventional wisdom of thirty years ago, assert that Jesus did not start the Christian church but Paul did.

    Many, particularly women, would persuade us that Saint Paul was a chauvinist. Or antisex.

    Still others are convinced that Paul was a rigid, sectarian fanatic.

    All three positions, according to contemporary scholars, are dead wrong.

    Paul has been unfairly stereotyped by those who have a grudge against Christianity.

    That the Jesus movement would ever depart from the cultural matrix of Judaism was unthinkable to Paul. It was, in...

  34. 30 NEUSNER: Paul
    (pp. 257-265)

    The apostle Paul would do well in today’s Israeli parliament, the Knesset, because he understood the full weight and meaning of the wordIsrael,whether state of . . . , land of . . . , people of . . . , or God of . . . And because of that fact, Paul will have put forth ferocious arguments in the angry debate, perennially at the head of the political agenda, concerning who is a Jew, which is to say who is Israel. That issue comes to the fore whenever the Israelis have to organize a new Knesset,...

  35. 31 GREELEY: Mary, Jesus’ Mother and Ours
    (pp. 266-276)

    Mary, the mother of Jesus, defines the Catholic religious sensibility. She represents all that Catholics find attractive in their heritage and all that many Protestants find repellent. Despite the attempts of some naive Catholic ecumenicists to deemphasize Mary, Catholicism without Mary would no longer be Catholicism.

    Mary illustrates the universalism experienced in the risen Jesus and articulated by Saint Paul, radically applied to the new creation, a creation that is now seen as a metaphor for God.

    Grace is now everywhere.

    Mary represents quintessential Catholicism as a religion of incarnational universalism—a religion that simultaneously asserts the value of that...

  36. 32 NEUSNER: Mary—Can She Be Jewish Too?
    (pp. 277-283)

    Jews have trouble enough dealing with Jesus, not in the Christian reading life and teachings, with which we can identify, but in the claim that, in a unique way, he is God’s only begotten son. What, then, are we to make of Mary? Mary, after all, is called Mother of God and revered and loved by Roman Catholics; she is bearer of profound religious sentiments indeed. But if we cannot grasp how any one man is more God’s son than any other, then how can we make sense of how any one woman is more God’s mother than any other?...

  37. 33 NEUSNER: Is God Male or Female?
    (pp. 284-293)

    How does Scripture propose to settle the question of God’s gender? Israel achieves its authentic relationship to God when Israel is feminine to God’s masculine role; its proper virtue when it conforms to those traits of emotion and attitude that the system assigns to women. In chapter 7 I raised that question, but in the years since then, I have learned more about the subject. The main point that I have found out is simple: the Torah in fact portrays God as androgynous. Because our traits correspond to God’s, God too turns out to share in and value the gender...

  38. 34 GREELEY: The Womanliness of God
    (pp. 294-298)

    “Make him stop saying that!” Bryant Gumbel, my one-time altar boy, commanded the rabbi.

    “I won’t!” the rabbi responded firmly. “I agree with him.”

    Gumbel threw up his hands in despair. Here were two very proper clerics—the rabbi more proper than the priest—both insisting that God could be imagined as womanly.

    “See!” I said, unable as always to resist the temptation of the last word.

    It was a great session taped for theTodayshow, one of the best and most lively of such TV programs in which I have ever participated—a proper rabbi (well, not too...

  39. 35 NEUSNER: What Judaism Can Teach Christianity about Reading Scripture
    (pp. 299-305)

    The rabbi has tried to offer through his priest one lesson to faithful Christians. It is that the Bible of Judaism—that is, Scriptures as read and interpreted by the rabbis who flourished in the early centuries of the Common Era—can make a contribution to Christian faith. Specifically, these rabbis show us how to read Scripture so that Scripture forms a commentary on everyday life as much as everyday life brings with it fresh understanding of Scripture. When we follow the sages’ efforts to give concrete meaning to that belief, we find for the faithful Jew and Christian today...

  40. 36 NEUSNER: Thinking About “the Other” in Religion—It Is Necessary, but Is It Possible?
    (pp. 306-312)

    Now we come to the nub of the matter. Religions can teach one another. These pages have shown that fact. But can they communicate with one another? That is another question, and it defines the single most important problem facing religion for the next hundred years, as for the last, as an intellectual one: how to think through difference, how to account, within one’s own faith and framework, for the outsider, indeed, for many outsiders.

    The power of religion is shown by its power to disrupt civilization, as in Ireland, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, Asia, and North...

  41. 37 NEUSNER: Can Christianity and Judaism Conduct Dialogue? Yes, Says the Rabbi—Six Years Later
    (pp. 313-319)

    So Greeley was right and I was wrong—nothing new about that. We argue all the time, as good friends should, and on this issue as on others, he scored. Anyhow, that does not surprise me; I’ve always considered Greeley, if not a terribly productive scholar, a luminary, always with something important and compelling to say. And here, I’ve always been right.

    Previously, I said I thought religious people could communicate, since the capacity to convey feeling and thought to another person marks us as human. But I did not think religious systems can communicate. That is because a religious...

  42. 38 GREELEY: This Time the Rabbi Is Right!
    (pp. 320-324)

    It is not good for my humility to hear the rabbi say that I was right all along. Nonetheless I welcome his agreement, which I think is nothing more than the result of recognizing what he always held implicitly and was able to perceive more clearly once he was able to escape the narrowness of the Ivy League. Yes, of course we have the same stories, the same God, the same images, the same celebrations.

    To answer the question he asks at the end of the last chapter: Yes, the Torah, Jesus, and the Qu’ran speak to the same humanity....

  43. General Index
    (pp. 325-332)
  44. Index to Biblical and Talmudic References
    (pp. 333-335)