Marianne Ivany’s The Jewish Background of Christianity in God’s Plan for Salvation
Marianne Ivany, D. Min. has been facilitating Catholic adult faith formation and bible study programs at both the parish level and Catholic institutes for higher learning for several years. She has the ability to explain complex theological concepts and scriptural themes in a clear, intriguing, and inspiring manner. Dr. Ivany currently resides in Aurora, Ohio. This is her first book.
Modern Catholics may be dissuaded from reading or studying the Old Testament simply because the stories seem unusual or implausible and the language, foreign and confusing. Still, we must not neglect the inestimable value of God’s self-disclosure and the wealth of wisdom within the Hebrew scriptures, nor the Jewish prayers and traditions contained within, as many of them lie at the core of our faith and worship.
In a simple yet enlightening approach to scripture interpretation, Marianne Ivany provides a simplified overview of the major narratives that comprise the story of salvation history while offering appreciation for the role of Israel as God’s chosen nation. Throughout her study, Dr. Ivany invites spiritual seekers to explore the Old Testament, comprehend its continuum within the message of the New Testament, and reflect on its implications for understanding the life and teachings of Christ. By engaging with the text, Catholics will gain a new outlook on the depth of scripture as God’s personal revelation to humanity, enriched by the timelessness and wisdom of His word.
In this Catholic study, believers will gain a new appreciation for the Hebrew scriptures of Jesus and the way they serve as the background for the Catholic faith.
How and why is it important for Catholics, or anyone, to read the Old Testament as well as the New Testament? How does the Old Testament inform the New?
The main reason to study the Old Testament in conjunction with the New Testament is to find the answer to our most basic question — the reason for our existence and the part we play in God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
The first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis provide the theology of creation and describe our role as God’s stewards, created in God’s image and likeness. These chapters also explain how the misuse of human free leads to a disruption in our relationship with God producing a rift which needs to be overcome in order to ensure our salvation.
The rest of the first five books of the Old Testament which, along with Geneses, are known as the Pentateuch — Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — describe the way in which God selects Abraham and the nation of Israel, who he liberates from slavery, to become the chosen people to bring the plan of salvation to the rest of the world.
The subsequent Historical Books of the Old Testament describe the way in which the chosen people acquire the Promised Land with God’s help, but subsequently lose their land and freedom to the Assyrians and, later, the Babylonians in conquests which lead to the destruction of their nation and their exile into captivity. Through these events the Jewish people begin to look expectantly toward the coming of an anointed one, or messiah, from the line of the King David to liberate them and restore them to the great nation they once were.
It is from the covenants made between God and Israel and the prophetic writings of the Old Testament that the followers of Jesus and the evangelists who wrote the gospels come to identify Jesus as this messiah promised to Israel. Without an understanding of the Old Testament one cannot possibly understand the way in which Jesus fulfills this role as our savior in God’s plan of salvation.
In addition, because Jesus was Jewish, everything he did and taught was based on his Jewish traditions, upbringing and Hebrew Scriptures. As a result, one of the most enlightening reasons for Catholics to study the Old Testament is to discover the Jewish roots of Christianity and gain an appreciation for how much commonality in faith we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
What would you say to someone who says that the Old Testament God is harsh and violent while the New Testament God is forgiving and peaceful?
This is a common misconception which often dissuades people from reading the Old Testament, the idea that the God of the Old Testament is angry and vindictive, while the God of the New Testament, the Father of Jesus, is loving and merciful.
In order to understand the vicious acts of warfare depicted in the Old Testament and God’s relation to them, it is helpful to consider the cultural context of the day and the Hebrew practice known as “the ban” or hērem, defined as something devoted to destruction. The ban, when referring to the spoils of war, meant everything is set aside for God, including precious artifacts, animals, men, women and children. The intent would have been to avoid contamination with the cultural and religious practices of the Canaanites in order to preserve the identity and holiness of Israel, particularly through intermarriage.
Scholars speculate that the ban may have also served to exterminate the diseases of the indigenous people and their animals against which the Israelites would not have had immunity. Like some other laws of ancient civilizations, the ban was a brutal custom that was abandoned with the growth of a more progressive morality.
One must also keep in mind that the primitive culture of this day was based solely on violence. Thus, everything was interpreted with a violent mindset. For a warring people the best depiction of their God as superior to all others is One who could eliminate entire tribes of people at will as a great warrior God. Also, such a God would be swift to offer punishment for wrongdoing, as any great king. Thus, those who were pegged as rebellious, those who did not follow the commandments of God, were often threatened with swift reprisals.
Yet if one looks closely at the Prophetic Literature and some of the Wisdom Literature, particularly the Psalms, one can get an alternate portrait of God as One who is merciful, loving, compassionate, and ever forgiving. This is the God of the Old Testament who is recognized in the New Testament through Jesus. Note that vestiges of the misperceived God of the Old Testament also remain in many passages in the New Testament where condemnation is threatened to those witnesses of Jesus who do not repent.
How is the Catholic perspective on the Old Testament different from that of other traditions’ teachings?
One way in which the Catholic Old Testament is different from the non-Catholic is the inclusion of seven Deutero-canonical books (Greek for “belonging to the second canon”), not found within the Jewish or Protestant canons of the Old Testament.
Also, the interpretation of the Old Testament by Catholics differs in some respects from other traditions. We hold to a non-literal translation of scripture which pays attention to the use of allegorical and metaphorical language in the various writings of the Bible. We are also conscious of genres of literature within the Old Testament and thus recognize the difference in interpretation between certain writings based on their genre, whether it be mythological, historical, historical fiction, prophetic, or apocalyptic, etc. We also believe that scripture must be interpreted within the living tradition of the Church and the benefit of thousands of years of guidance from the work of the Holy Spirit.
While your book is written for Catholics, could anyone, of a different faith background or none at all, learn from it?
People from all faith backgrounds, or none at all, could definitely benefit from the book. I have had several family members, friends, and colleagues of all different persuasions who have read the book and remarked how informative and enlightening it was for them.
Do matters of theology such as what you discuss in your book affect how we live and see the world? Do they matter for practical living?
Absolutely! Each chapter includes a short prayer from the Book of Psalms, appropriate to the theme or historical time period being discussed, as well as a short reflection and list of discussion questions on particular aspects of the material. These areas are intended to give the reader a chance to reflect on the material and gain insight on how to apply it to their own personal faith lives and the way in which they relate to others.
As stated in the introduction to the book: “My ultimate goal is the enhancement of the faith lives of others, to the extent that they come to consider the writings of the Old Testament indispensable for proper Christian living as the revered scriptures of God’s chosen people, inherited through our Savior, Jesus Christ.”