These essays were part of a panel at the Society of Biblical Literature 2018 Annual Meeting reviewing Robin Jensen’s The Cross: History, Art and Controversy (2018) and Steven Fine’s The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (2016).
Independently, the units Early Jewish Christian Relations (co-chaired by Eric Smith and Shira Lander), and Arts and Religions of Antiquity (co-chaired by Lee Jefferson and Felicity Harley-McGowan) engage scholarship that brings Judaism and Christianity into dialogue with each other, and with other religious practices in the Greco-Roman world. The publication of the two books, giving wide-ranging treatment of the central image of Christianity on the one hand, and the most ancient of all Jewish symbols on the other, presented a unique and important opportunity for the units to collaborate.
With these two very learned and very accessible books Harvard University Press might seem to be embarking on a series on core religious symbols. Steve Fine assures us that they are not doing so, but the whole idea of matching Cross and Menorah volumes invites an immediate question: is there anything uniquely or especially valuable in focusing on such symbols?
Both Steven Fine’s The Menorah and Robin Jensen’s The Cross are impressive works of scholarship that provide well-informed, thoughtful consideration of the tremendously varied compendia of textual and visual artifacts relating to the Christian cross and Jewish menorah. The authors trace the development and transformation of these two symbols chronologically from their origins to the twentieth century.
by Robin Jensen
Given that my subject, the cross, is one that just about everyone has some feelings about, whether positive or negative, I expected to get even more than usual of these suggestions, critiques, and corrections. My expectations have been fulfilled. I have a folder of letters and email messages from folks who cannot believe that I overlooked some crucial aspect of my topic, strongly disagree with my treatment of one detail or another, or just want to ask why I thought one thing or another worthy for discussion. I am mostly grateful for these missives, because they tell me that the effort of pulling this together must have been worth it. People are interested enough to write – which I find slightly amazing.
by Steven Fine
My own research neither focuses upon text nor artifact, but on the humans who made and lived with both. The prerequisite to this work is the ability to read texts as a philologist and see things with the visual complexity of an art historian. My hope is to come close to the people I find so fascinating by standing in the places where they may have stood, by touching the kinds of “stuff” that they touched, deploying the newest technology when necessary and listening closely to their words— even when those are preserved on scraps of parchment or in texts that are both cultural and physical palimpsests.