From time to time I write in my own field, and I thought the return post after my longest ever hiatus ought to be a bit more conclusive than my usual wildly speculative interdisciplinarity. Rather than posing unanswerables, I come to you today with AN OPINION*. Yes, indeed, fully formed, well-matured, and ripe for your consumption, and it is this: You presume too much.
At least, you do if am correct in my suspicions concerning your wanton application of a certain phrase, a certain, all-too-common catch-all that you bring to bear when you don’t want to invoke the chauvinism of “our beliefs” but can’t be troubled to come up with a more accurate, detailed, purpose-built rephrasing of the creed you know you share with the majority of your audience. You do (presume too much) if you, like I and many others, thoughtlessly tip the self-referential “Judeo-Christian” into discussions about what you believe. In so doing, you go, as they say, too far.
There. I have levelled my accusation. If you feel it does not apply to you, you are excused. For the rest of you, you know who you are. It is for your, or, perhaps I should say, our, benefit that I write this piece, that we may never again, at least in blithe inconsideration, perpetrate the gross historical and ethnic conflations implicit in the term “Judeo-Christian.”
Shall I be explicit? Why not. The point is this: Christians and Jews aren’t the same people. The brief moment during which they might have been termed the same people was one of violent, cruciform disagreement, and their histories have since diverged quite conclusively. Can we imagine that Rome’s eventual adoption of Christianity helped put Jews (whose long insurgency against the Romans required a near-permanent stationing of an entire legion in Judea) and Christians back on even terms? Can Christendom’s many and varied butcherings and expulsions of its Jewish inhabitants allow for any meaning to cohere in the Judeo-Christian adjective? How many Jews truly were Judeo-Christian in Jesus’ time anyway? The first two questions in this series you may answer for yourselves, but the answer to the third is numerical – probably less than 2,000 out of several millions. In other words, the term Judeo-Christian might be reasonably applied to at most a few tenths of a percent of gospel-era Jews. Have things changed since then? A bit. Messianic Jews now account for about two to three percent of the worldwide Jewish population, but even this tenfold relative increase hardly yields a significant figure.
Thus, point: Jews and Christians have never been (in any significant proportion) the same people. Their "shared" history is largely one of conflict and oppression. One might just as well speak of Arabio-Christian values and philosophy, plastering a (not inconsiderable) textual overlap over the outrages of a millennium of geopolitical and religious strife, and commit no more egregious rhetorical inaccuracy.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter – textual overlap. Christians and Jews do share a great deal of writing. It must not be denied. However, I suspect it would not do for me to trumpet my “Old-testament” values and philosophy to the world as the first step in a campaign to unite the sundered Abrahamic faiths. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, I have heard the term, “Old-testament,” used quite recently as a flag for the sort of vicious, medieval fundamentalism that is anathema to our modern liberal democracies. Not, of course, that anachronistic brandishing of the Jewish scripture as evidence of Semitic villainy is new ground for Christians, but doesn’t that very fact somewhat undermine the argument from textual commonality?
Furthermore, even taking the Pentateuch as a jumping off point, we cannot but admit that Jewish and Christian interpretations of scripture do exhibit some slight points of disagreement. And those points over which no exegetical sweat need be shed (do I blaspheme here?), points such as “keep yer dirty paws off yer neighbor’s woman” and “no killin’s” are so obviously human commonplaces that I feel no compunction in terming them trivial intersections of the Judeo and the Christian sets.
To sum up, please take some care to consider your audience when you next feel the urge to modify an impending theosophical noun phrase with “Judeo-Christian.” If you are speaking with another of your socio-religio-political caste, and simply want to affirm a vague affection for the Patriarchs, an allegiance to the God of gods, and a satisfaction with Israel as a convenient military and economic partner in the contemporary hemi-demi-semi crusade against resurgent Wahabbism, go ahead. But if you find yourself speaking to someone who might know something**, anything, about Judaism and Jewish history, you might do well to reconsider, and rephrase.
* I should note here that I borrow generously (almost criminally) from the cogent and persuasive tirade of just such a person, and decline to cite him only in the interest of preserving his much-valued anonymity.
** See: *