Judaism, Christianity, and the Crucifixion: Coexistence vs. Antisemitism on Medieval Parchment

Rabbi Dr. Michael Cook

Thursday, March 19, 2009, 7:30-9:00 p.m.

Haub Executive Center, Maguire Room – 5th floor of McShain Hall

Medieval and some Renaissance art routinely showed icons of the Synagogue and the Church under the figure of Jesus on the cross, accompanied by all sorts of symbols whose powerful messages were understood then but are commonly unknown now (goats’ heads, oil lamps, staffs [broken or whole], banners, chalices, crowns, the 10 Commandments and others).  Scriptural characters, too, were often displayed either under the cross or in proximate settings (Jacob’s wives [Leah and Rachel], Mary, St. John, John the Baptist, Judas, etc.).  Properly interpreted, all these symbol-laden works of art were heavily influential on the attitudes adopted toward Jews by the Christian masses, conditioning the mind set of millions in Europe, and possibly playing some role in allowing Europe to be caught unawares by the Holocaust.

Michael Cook is Professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literatures, and holds the Sol and Arlene Bronstein Professorship in Judaeo-Christian Studies, HUC-JIR / Cincinnati. He studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was ordained at HUC-JIR in New York, and earned his doctorate at HUC-JIR Cincinnati. Dr. Cook’s specialty is the New Testament. He is possibly the only rabbi in the U.S. with a professorial Chair in New Testament, and has extensive expertise in the field of Jewish-Christian relations. In his latest book, Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-being in a Christian Environment, Rabbi Cook helps Jews and Christians alike to understand the issues involved in the portrayal of Jews throughout Christian history, and why for centuries the Christianity’s “good news” has been a source of fear and mistrust among Jews. His presentation will show how the medieval depictions of crucial New Testament episodes helped shape deep-seated attitudes.