by Amy-Jill Levine
As well as telling parables and stories, giving teachings on how to discern questions of ethics and human nature, and offering beatitudes for comfort and encouragement, Jesus also spoke words and flung insults that followers then and now have found difficult, to say the least.
He instructs disciples to hate members of their own families (Luke 14:26), warns that unending fire awaits some people, says body parts should be cut off if they offend. He calls a foreign woman a ‘dog’, the Jews ‘offspring of vipers’ and his closest disciple ‘Satan’.
Preachers often gloss over these or avoid them altogether as they are still so shocking. In The Difficult Words of Jesus, Amy-Jill Levine sheds vital light on understanding these by exploring how these sayings sounded to those who first heard them. She reveals Jewish modes of expression, humour and the long tradition of Jewish insults and what they mean, and how we might interpret these sayings today within a gospel of love and reconciliation.