Rabbi, imam, priest discuss their "painful verses"
Thu 5 Jun 2008, 14:54 GMT
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS, June 5 (Reuters Life!) - A rabbi, an imam and a priest sat down to discuss the most sensitive parts of their sacred scriptures, the verses that offend or anger other faiths.
But instead of the Catholic criticising Koran quotes or the Jew complaining about a Gospel, each took objectionable passages from his own holy book and tried to explain them to the others.
"Les Versets douloureux" (The Painful Verses), the result of their work, is an unusual book that aims to move interfaith dialogue beyond polite meetings to discuss issues that create tensions among Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Rabbi David Meyer, the driving force behind the project, said his frustration with routine interfaith meetings that avoided tough issues prompted him to seek a different kind of dialogue with Sohaib Bencheikh and Rev. Yves Simoens S.J.
"For a real dialogue, we have to have the courage to confront difficult things," the rabbi of the International Jewish Center in Brussels said at a presentation of the French-language book in Paris on Thursday.
The book marked a new approach in interfaith dialogue. While religious leaders have been meeting for decades, an upswing in contacts in recent years reflects a feeling they need to work even more closely to foster better understanding.
Bensheikh, head of the Higher Institute of Islamic Sciences in Marseille, stressed the book was "not a dialogue between institutions. It's the work of three believers, that's all."
DON'T STOP AT BANALITIES
Meyer said he got the idea when members of his congregation asked how he could dialogue with Muslims when they had passages hostile to Jews in the Koran. "I knew I could find passages in Jewish texts that would make them shudder," he said.
Simoens, professor of scripture at the Centre Sevres faculty of philosophy and Catholic theology in Paris, said there was a growing realisation among religions "that the dialogue should be true and not stop just at banalities."
One of Islam's "painful verses," Bencheikh said, was the hadith "Kill him who changes his religion." This saying of the Prophet Mohammed is used to outlaw apostasy in some Muslim states and, in a very few, to threaten ex-Muslims with death.
"This is an aberration," he said. Apostasy was seen as treason during the turbulent early years when Islam was expanding and faith was equivalent to citizenship in the new empire. This no longer applied in the modern era, he said.
Among Meyer's examples was the command in the Torah to the Israelites to wipe out the rival Amalekite tribe, which amounted to asking Jews to commit genocide.
Two other "painful verses" were God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which seemed to justify killing in the name of religion, and a Talmudic text allowing Jews to steal from non-Jews, he said.
"There is no text without interpretation," said Meyer, who in the book cited several other Jewish writings to provide a wider context that weakened their impact.
ISLAM'S TUNNEL PERIOD
Simoens argued the Gospel of John, the Evangelist accused of being a source of Christian anti-Semitism, was not anti-Jewish and closely examined many of his verses to illustrate his point.
"There are the effects of a vulgarisation of exegesis," he said. He called the view of John as anti-Semitic "an ideology."
Asked how widely his liberal views were shared in the Islamic world, Bencheikh said many Muslim states kept tight control over religion and blocked reforms.
But he said rigid readings of Islamic texts would give way to deeper interpretations. Islam was in a "tunnel period," he said: "Our generation has lost the erudition of old without replacing it with modern thought."
Meyer said the trio hoped the book would be translated into other languages to help dialogue elsewhere in Europe. "It's important to get beyond the French-speaking world," he said.
Asked if they planned another book, Meyer was wary of tackling a new project or hitting the usual conference trail.
"If we're invited for conferences with dialogue groups, we'll just be preaching to the converted," he said.
"The problem is to transmit this message in one's own community," he explained. "We need to communicate this to people who need to hear it. We're thinking how to do this now."
© Reuters 2008.
This article is from:
Another take on the situation from:
The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California
I find it most interesting how both the Jew and Muslim are willing to denounce the outdated verses in their scriptures, but the Christian is quick to justify his own by calling it "an ideology."