Reimagining Exodus

A Story of Freedom

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Rabbi David Zaslow, M.S.
  • Orleans, MA: 
    Paraclete Press, Inc.
    , March
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This is a timely volume for Christians and Jews. Not only for interfaith dialogue and points of meaningful contact for the seasons of Lent-Easter and Passover, but also for discerning underlying theologies that account for and sustain contemporary engagements on the meaning of faith, culture, and political life. This well researched and biblically astute book flows with concise and clear language in the service of comprehensive and compelling chapters linked by five overarching sections. These include: “Exodus—Away Out”; “Reimagining Exodus”; “A Matrix—Exodus and the Cross”; “Appropriation and Misappropriation”; and “Personal Stories.” This last section is worth the book’s purchase,. Zaslow shares challenges in a process in which he and his synagogue planned and implemented a shared service at a time when both Good Friday and Passover were on the same day and evening. The mutually sensitive work that this entailed was possible because he and the Presbyterian minister, Barbara Campbell, literally had each other’s backs and because of their confidence in their own traditions’ interpenetrating themes—and, of course, a trust that the risk taken could be mutually faithful. Via Reinhold Niebuhr’s frequent use of Martin Buber, one might recall that what once was deemed to be the perennial stumbling block between Jews and Christians—that for the Jews, Christians were heedless in professing that the Messiah had come via Jesus as the Christ, and that for Christians, the Jews remained stubborn in their reluctance to affirm this—has penetrated to a basic, shared core reality. Thus, “The Good Friday ritual of the Jewish community (of P’nai Or) coming together with the Christian community at St. Mark has continued every year since that first magical service we created and experienced together” (178).

The book also contains five valuable appendices: “Some Names of God”; “What’s in a Name”; “The Reason for the Season”; “Theodicy: Divine Providence and the Existence of Evil”; and “God’s Anthropology.” Furthermore, there are one hundred and forty footnotes and a supportive, even enticing bibliography.

At the level of focused detail, attention is given to the forty-two specific journeys of the unfolding Exodus story from the book of Numbers 33. Camps along the way are named with a chart denoting their metaphorical translations and accompanying meanings (46-47). Developmental models from Carl Jung to Erik Erikson to Gerald Heard (Five Ages of Man) are solicited and applied to the unfolding of Exodus story. The messianic era is affirmed for both faiths: ‘We can only hope that amidst all the bad news…there is also emerging the birth of a new consciousness of our mutual interdependence with each other and with our planet.” As in the Exodus story, “we pray to God that the catastrophes of our own era are merely preludes to an even greater redemption and the liberation of all humanity as well as the planet” (33).

The emphasis given to the Exodus event and its memory of reenactment for its existential meanings is a key thread to the book as a whole. “The event offers itself as an ongoing experience in human history” or an event capable of “eternal reoccurrence” (Zaslow citing Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Michael Walzer, 103). Yet, the event reads and is experienced as naturally and as rhythmically as the “transformation of winter’s sleep into the new life of spring” (109, 113). One could quarrel with this mixing of natural and revelatory spirituality as if the former domesticates and reduces the latter as less than a theophany and particularly unique revelatory event, otherwise inaccessible and unknown without God’s own gracious disclosure and involvement. And yet, once disclosed and partaken in, one is able to see with the eyes of faith the work of the Creator-Sustainer-Redeemer in the works of creation and, here, historical events. To the end of this ambitious work, there is, again, honorable (almost uncanny) respect for the crucifixion-resurrection motifs of the Christ event. It is as if one is reading an integrated testament from an actual Jewish-Christian theologian or at least an enduring student of these two rich, interrelated bodies of thought and practice.

To be sure, one could hope for some reflections on the significance of the Exodus and Christ events to present day conditions and enduring conditions in the Middle East and its long-suffering refugee situations. There are assertions that could be elaborated on this as “the final stage of the Exodus, the real battle that Joshua found at Jericho, is inside of us. The walls that ‘come tumblin’ down’ are the walls of ignorance, fear, and prejudice” (17). Or, drawing from the spiritual question to which each Jew is asked to respond, “’How do I get out my private Mitzrayim, my own Egypt, my own restricted narrow place?’” (21, cf. 4). A section on liberation theology also provides seminal insights but somehow short of this application (see 161 for a caveat on Palestinian liberation). One also wonders about the addition of an index for study groups and whether it was Moses who gave to his brother Aaron the succinct blessing oft employed in many a funeral (via Numbers 6: 22-26), and not Aaron alone, (176).

Nonetheless, the reader senses to the end a compassionate concern to provide a careful (and respectful) comparison of the Jewish and Christian stories with due regard to their respective scriptures as “sibling religions” (204)—helpfully noted and named as the “elder” and “younger” testaments. Hence: “Jews celebrate Passover in the spring, around the time that Christians celebrate Easter, and it is the dual aspects of slavery and freedom in Judaism, and death and resurrection in Christianity, that each faith tries to reconcile. In our emotional lives the dichotomy of opposite feelings actually enriches our lives… Our losses permit us to appreciate our gains. Our disappointments give us the ability to recognize our successes…so too does death enable us to love and appreciate life (112).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Barry K. Morris is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
April 11, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rabbi David Zaslow, M.S., is the author of the award- winning book Jesus: First–Century Rabbi (Paraclete Press). He is highly respected for his cutting-edge work bringing Jews and Christians closer together, and leads interfaith workshops through the United States. He has been interviewed by dozens of media outlests, including Fox News with Lauren Green, for his innovative perspectives, and is the spiritual leader of the Havurah Synagogue in Ashland, Oregon.



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