MY SKIN COLOR is Premium Saltine Cracker.
It is the color my dermatologist recommends.
I am of European heritage. A little Brit and a little German, as best my cousin Sandy can tell, based on her genealogical quest for our beginnings.
If I worked really hard at it, I might be able to make a one-Bible-verse case for showing love and compassion to people within only my race.
Not that I would.
Who’s a Jew to love?
“Love your neighbor as yourself” shows up first in Bible history roughly 1,200-1,400 years before Jesus—Bible experts can’t seem to agree on which century Moses said he got that law from God above (Leviticus 19:18).
It might surprise you how that verse reads in my Jewish Study Bible, featuring the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh Translation (1999 edition):
“Love your fellow as yourself.”
Who’s your fellow?
Look for context clues in the paragraph where we trip over this commandment. And then try selling the idea that Jesus did in the New Testament – that “your fellow” meant something more than just Jews.
Here’s the paragraph in my Jewish Study Bible:
“You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:17-18).
Doesn’t it sound like God was talking about Jews showing love and respect to each other? It sure does to some Jewish and Christian Bible experts.
If Moses was accurately reporting a law from God, and not making it up, then God himself was talking to the Jews. And he was telling Jews not to:
- Hate their kinsfolk. That’s a really old man’s word for “relatives.”
- Hold grudges against their countrymen. Jew country, still on the road at that point: the Exodus out of Egypt.
Are you beginning to get a feel for why some Jewish and Christian scholars argue that the original Old Testament law was limited to the Jews? That God was telling the Jews to love their fellow Jews? Which today, might sound a bit like God telling
- whites to love their fellow whites
- Arabs to love their fellow Arabs
- and University of Kansas basketball fans to scatter abroad without stopping at PepperJax for a Philly cheesesteak and fries.
There’s a five-page article about this Bible verse in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review: “Love Your Neighbor, Only Israelites or Everyone?”
It’s written by Richard Elliott Friedman, a professor of Jewish studies and civilization at the University of Georgia and at the University of California, San Diego.
Relax. He’s not a racist.
He’s not even someone who argues that the original law was limited to the Jews. He argues the opposite.
Beyond the Parable of the Good Cracker
Remember how Jesus got on to this topic of loving your neighbor as yourself? An expert in Jewish religion asked him to explain the law.
“Who is my neighbor?” the scholar asked (Luke 10:29).
Jesus answered with perhaps the most famous parable in the Bible, the story of the Good Samaritan.
The point of his story was that the Jew’s neighbor wasn’t a fellow Jew. It was the man who helped him, a man from the Samaritan race.
Those two races – Jews and Samaritans – churned up the kind of animosity toward one another that Israelis and Palestinians do today.
They were so not best buds.
The argument Friedman makes – supporting Jesus – is that the original Hebrew word for neighbor is re’a. Then Friedman spends time identifying people in the Bible who are not Jews but who are described by that word.
For example: “Tell all the Israelite men and women to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold” (Exodus 11:2).
Yep, even the Egyptians who enslaved the Jews were described by that Hebrew word for “neighbor.”
Who knows? Maybe Friedman is right. Maybe Jesus was being true to the original meaning behind the Jewish law.
Or maybe the other scholars are right, and Jesus was stretching the law to fit a bigger crowd.
Here’s what I do know.
“Love your fellow cracker as yourself” would choke me. I’d need a lot of wine to swallow that.