Is there an Abrahamic solution to the travails of Israel-Palestine?
Yesterday, my old friend Guy Stroumsa suggested as much in his Advent Sunday sermon at the Oxford University Cathedral. Guy is Oxford's first professor of the study of the Abrahamic religions, a position he assumed a few years ago after a career studying religion in Late Antiquity as the Martin Buber Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He sees the idea of an Abrahamic tradition as more than a coat of happy talk applied to an edifice of hostility among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
There is, he told the solemn assembly of dons, an Abrahamic ecosystem that makes it impossible to understand each of these faiths in isolation: "The complex hermeneutics developed in Late Antiquity and in the Middle Ages by the competing communities perceiving themselves to be the true heirs of Abraham remain our inheritance."
Those hermeneutics resulted in, among other things, each community laying its own exclusive claim to the Holy Land. But, Guy reminded his audience, Genesis 17 makes Abraham the ancestor of a multitude of nations. What's needed is a recasting of traditional religious language in terms of cultural memory, such that age-old Jewish, Christian, and Muslim conceptions can be broadened into mutual understanding and acceptance.
That is, of course, a tall order--one that seems positively utopian given the current situation in Israel-Palestine, and the determination of much of the religious leadership there to do nothing but harden the walls of separation.
But perhaps we take heart in Guy Stroumsa's own situation as an Israeli Jew occupying a chair funded by a Saudi businessman and welcomed by Oxford's Anglican establishment. The Abrahamic ecosystem holds many surprises.