As some of my regular readers–(do I have any?)–know, I am burrowing through Jewish, Christian and Muslim writings to learn about Abraham. Today I read Karl-Josef Kuschel’s Abraham: Sign of Hope up to page 25 or so. I read Jon Levenson’s Inheriting Abraham and Bruce Feiler’s Abraham: A Journey into the Heart of three Faiths. They are kind of “bookends” each one coming to opposing conclusions to the simple question: Can Abraham be a healing rather than a dividing feature of the three religions who claim him as their founder? While digging into the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I got out a book of near canonical writings of the Catholic Church: Early Christian Writings. I found some relative portions, dealing with both anti-Semitism and the Christian claims on Abraham. Truthfully, I knew–Jewishly–what to expect. Yet I did find one surprise in the book. It had nothing to do with Abraham or Judaism. It was a document called the Didache. Though heavily influenced by the teachings of Jesus, I found some of it moving and decided to quote it here:
The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord thy Creator, and secondly thy neighbor as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to you. What you may learn from these words is to bless them that curse you, to pray for your enemies, and to fast for your persecutors. For where is the merit in loving only those who return your love? Even the heathens do as much as that. But if you love those who hate you, you will have nobody to be your enemy.
Beware of the carnal appetites of the body. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him as well, and perfection will be yours. Should anyone compel you to go a mile, go another with him. If someone take away your coat, let him have your shirt too. If someone seizes anything belonging to you, do not ask for it back again (you could not get it anyway). Give to everyone that asks, without looking for any repayment, for it is the Father’s pleasure that we should share His gracious bounty with all men. A giver who gives freely, as the commandment directs, is blessed; no fault can be found with him. But woe to the taker; for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not, an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about his action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny. The old saying is the point here: “Let your alms grow damp with sweat in your hand, until you know who is you are giving them to.”
This is a rather simple piety; but it expressed perfectly what the New Testament’s Jesus did when you clean away the anti-Semitism and prejudice against other religion. I think even its emphasis on “purity” and worshipping the “Creator” have a few echoes of Judaism in them. Gandhi supposedly enjoyed reading the New Testament; I guess a Jewish person is allowed to enjoy the Didache, so long as they do not neglect the Ten Commandments or Kosher.