This fall, in a new effort to foster interfaith understanding, a Fordham theology professor will go downtown to teach a course in the New Testament—at a synagogue.
Michael Peppard, Ph.D., will begin teaching the nine-week class in October at Town and Village Synagogue, near Stuyvesant Town and the East Village, to help its members to understand Christianity, and to better understand their own faith as well.
The course is a rarity, he said: a multiweek course in the New Testament, featuring in-depth readings in the style of a college seminar, that is taught at a synagogue by a Christian.
“It’s not something you hear about very often,” said Peppard, an assistant professor whose scholarly focus is the New Testament and the story of early Christianity.
The course is the latest in a series of interfaith connections that have been growing downtown since the Sept. 11 attacks, said Rabbi Larry Sebert of Town and Village Synagogue. He took part in many of these efforts—such as Our Better Angels, a commemoration of the attacks that brought Jews, Christians and Muslims together—and said he was thrilled at the idea of Peppard’s course.
The synagogue’s co-chair of adult education, Nina Lehman, proposed the course as part of a series of classes examining the classic texts of major faiths. The course, beginning after the High Holidays, will run for 90 minutes, one night per week for nine weeks. The congregation has been told about the class, and word will be spread to members of the synagogue’s local interfaith consortium as well.
“People are very excited,” Lehman said.
Amy-Jill Levine, co-editor of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, spoke at the synagogue and mentioned Peppard’s name when asked who might teach the course, Peppard said.
“I feel a great responsibility to do it well,” Peppard said. For many of the congregants, he will be the first one to present the New Testament and shape their views of it, he said.
He said he expects the publication of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, with its annotations by Jewish scholars, to make Christian texts more inviting to Jews.
“It’s going to enable other synagogues to approach Christian texts not out of fear … but out of interest, and as a way to understand Judaism better,” he said.
While it may seem paradoxical, he said, “many Jewish scholars now say that one of the best sources for understanding Judaism in the first century is the New Testament.”
“It’s not like we have dozens of texts from first-century Judaism besides the New Testament,” he said. “We just don’t. It’s a pretty sparse era. And so Jews are now able to come to the New Testament and use it as a resource—not just to learn about the Christian tradition, but maybe to learn about their own tradition without being afraid.”