March 19, 2012

WINNIPEG – The Bible contains "troubling texts" that are sometimes distorted so that they seem to condone violence, hostility and inhumane treatment, says a Catholic scholar.

Those distortions have fuelled centuries of anti-Semitism, says Sister Mary Boys.

"The Bible is complicated, it's old and it's not too easy to decipher sometimes," said Boys, a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. "The problem is how the text is interpreted."

"Not only in churches, but there are a lot of people in society who use these texts to demonize others," she said Feb. 24 at Holy Eucharist Parish Centre.

As an example, she cited Matthew 27.25, which describes the Passion of Christ and the crowd shouting, "'Let his blood be on us and on our children.'

"This mob of Jews is saying 'We're accountable for this for generation after generation.' Because of this passage there are still a lot of Christians who believe the Jews killed God."

However, said Boys, the Romans crucified thousands of Jews "as a brutally torturous death to deter rebellion. We have to understand the violence of the Roman Empire and how Judaea was ruled by Pilate. That violence is the back story by which we have to understand the crucifixion."

In the Mel Gibson film The Passion of The Christ, Pilate is portrayed as being terrified by the mob. "No, it was the other way around," she said.

Boys has been at the forefront of Jewish-Christian relations for many years. Since 1994 she has been the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

She was in Winnipeg as the guest of the Bat Kol Tri-Diocesan Committee, of the Winnipeg and St. Boniface archdioceses and Winnipeg Ukrainian Eparchy.


Bat Kol is a training program for Christians to study the Bible within its Jewish milieu, using Jewish sources.

Prior to the evening presentation, Boys led a program for clergy and the next morning led a public workshop.

The Gospel of John, she said, differs from the others in many ways, especially in the Passion.

"It's a generalization of all Jews. John keeps repeating 'the Jews, the Jews,' and it makes the problem even worse."

Boys described the Gospels as "interpretations" written long after the events of Christ's life took place.

"The crusaders wore the cross and on their way to get the Holy Land back, they slaughtered Jews along the Rhine River. Why go all the way to Jerusalem to kill Muslims when you can kill Jews right there?" Boys asked.

To what extent was Christian teaching a cause of the Holocaust?

"If our teaching helped spread Nazi ideology, we have to face what we see in the mirror," she said. "Pope Benedict talks about the Holocaust and the Nazi's pagan ideology. But the seed was formed in the hearts of Christians."

She said passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy warning of sorcerers would be used for centuries as the basis to put women to death as supposed witches.

Peter's advice that servants be submissive to their masters has been "very useful" to slave owners over the centuries, she said. "They thought it meant 'We have God's approval.'"