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2015 Goodman Lecture features national scholar Amy-Jill Levine

This year's Goodman lecturer Amy-Jill Levine takes a renewed look at Jesus’ parables.
This year's Goodman lecturer Amy-Jill Levine takes a renewed look at Jesus’ parables.
Photo supplied.

It’s a message Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament and Jewish studies for Vanderbilt University, repeatedly hears from students and churchgoers alike: The Bible’s parables are “boring.”

“Ugh, it’s the Good Samaritan again, or it’s the Prodigal Son again. They took the parables to be children’s stories with simplistic lessons,” says Levine of the impetus that led her to write her latest book, Short Stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi.

While part of her motivation was to “show people how fascinating Jesus actually is,” Levine also wanted to shine a light on what she calls unhelpful and even obscene readings of the parables. “I found a lot of incorrect information about Judaism, and even some anti-Jewish readings popping up among a good deal of parable interpretation, both by historians and people who preach.”

Levine delivers the annual Goodman Lecture on Thursday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in The O’Shaughnessy. Her lecture title, Short Stories by Jesus: Hearing the Parables through Jewish Ears, is a riff on her book.

Her talk focuses on the parables, and how she hopes we might hear them anew by imagining what they sounded like to Jesus’ first audience. By the time the parables are shared in the Bible, Levine explains that they’ve been through a layer of interpretation. Add to that, centuries of translations.

“So then what happens when you peel back 2,000 years of interpretation and listen to Jesus as a Jew, talking to other Jews? What do you hear?” asks Levine. “Viewing the history can add to meanings that followers of Jesus might find in the New Testament. Even people who are not followers of Jesus can find wisdom from which everyone can benefit.”

A self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist” who teaches in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Levine has devoted most of her career to Christian-Jewish understanding — religions that share, for the most part, common text in the Old Testament and the Tanakh.

“Judaism is what it is, and Christianity is what it is, in part because of dialogue and debate between the two movements,” Levine says.

The annual Goodman Lecture is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved through The O’Shaughnessy website.

About Amy-Jill Levine

Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences in Nashville, Tenn.

Levine combines historical-critical rigor, literary-critical sensitivity, and a frequent dash of humor with a commitment to eliminating anti-Jewish, sexist, and homophobic theologies. An internationally respected scholar, Levine has served in leadership positions in the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association and the Association for Jewish Studies. 

An author and editor, her most recent book, Short Stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, was the February selection by America Magazine for its Catholic Book Club.

About the Goodman Lecture

The Goodman Lecture was endowed in 1979 by Arthur and Konstance Goodman, founders of Goodman Jewelers and parents of Mary Ann Goodman Reilly ’61 and Stephanie Goodman ’83 and grandparents of Kristin Reilly ’91 MSW’01.

The elder Goodmans were an interfaith couple who experienced anti-Semitism and wished to create a forum to advance the cause of Jewish-Christian understanding.

April 22, 2015 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Catholic Identity, Faculty, Leadership, Liberal Arts, Social Justice