Jeremiah Unterman—Justice for All

Episode: What role has the Hebrew Bible played in shaping our modern views on ethics? Many Christians have casually believed that the radical ethics of the New Testament provide the moral foundation of the West. Remarkably, Christians are often unaware of the deep roots of Western morality in Hebrew Bible. Many are often surprised to find out that Jesus did not invent the ideal of loving our neighbor as ourselves, rather he is quoting Leviticus from the Torah. Moreover, what we often understand to be modern and civil about Western morality—caring for the poor and orphans, inclusion of the immigrant, weekend rest and labor laws, offering forgiveness, and more—actually comes directly out of the scrolls of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament).

Dru Johnson interviews Jeremiah Unterman about his new book—Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics  (JPS 2017). Unterman has offered a work that not only presents us with the Hebraic roots of our morality, but demonstrates that this ethical framework is found only in the Hebrew Bible and not in the literature of ancient Israel’s neighbors: the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and more.

Guest: Jeremiah Unterman was the Director of the Association of Modern Orthodox Day Schools in North America before becoming a Resident Scholar at the Herzl Institute.  He is the author of a T&T Clark monograph on Jeremiah, From Repentance to Redemption: Jeremiah’s Thought in Transition as well as numerous scholarly articles.

He has taught at Dartmouth College, Northwestern University, University of California – Irvine, and other universities. He received a B.A. in Hebraic Studies from Rutgers University, an M.A. in Bible from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a Ph.D. in the Judaica Program of the Near Eastern Studies Department at U.C., Berkeley, where he studied with the renowned scholar: Jacob Milgrom.

Book: From the publisher:
Justice for All demonstrates that the Jewish Bible, by radically changing the course of ethical thought, came to exercise enormous influence on Jewish thought and law and also laid the basis for Christian ethics and the broader development of modern Western civilization. Jeremiah Unterman shows us persuasively that the ethics of the Jewish Bible represent a significant moral advance over Ancient Near East cultures. Moreover, he elucidates how the Bible’s unique conception of ethical monotheism, innovative understanding of covenantal law, and revolutionary messages from the prophets form the foundation of many Western civilization ideals. Justice for All connects these timeless biblical texts to the persistent themes of our times: immigration policy, forgiveness and reconciliation, care for the less privileged, and attaining hope for the future despite destruction and exile in this world.”

The OnScript Quip (our review): I have both read this book in early drafts and used it teaching freshmen in a Christian context at The King’s College. I have been convinced of its merits by the content, but also by how it has helped young college students reassess the bible’s position in the world of ancient literature. This book not only offers fresh insights into the ethical matrix of the Hebrew Bible, but also acts as a primer for folks not intimately familiar with the literature of the bible or the ancient Near East. I would dare say that many Christians might be surprised by the ethical teaching of the Torah and prophets, from which the New Testament texts derive most all of their ethics. – Dru Johnson, The OnScript Podcast

Street interviews by Sabrina Sanchez.

[“Blind Love Dub” from this episode by Jeris © 2017, Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: Kara Square (mindmapthat)]

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