ZASLOW claims, with justification, that the exodus story is the most influential and inspiring liberation story ever told. It can be interpreted historically, allegorically, spiritually, and psychologically, the latter being of particular interest to the author. We all need to escape our personal Egypts.
For Zaslow, inquiry into the historical veracity of the events described in the exodus narrative is of little interest. The Pentateuch was never intended to be a history text only. Rather, it is a guide for life. Taking the story as told, he aims at using it to foster Jewish-Christian relations, both faiths being the twin children of pre-Rabbinic Judaism. They need to celebrate what they have in common and seek to make the world a better place.
As a result, he has no time for Christian supersessionism, seeing replacement theology by the Early Church as responsible, however unintentionally, for anti-Semitism in Christian theology. But he does not directly deal with the problem for Christians that anti-Semitism is present in their documents of title, namely the St Matthew’s and St John’s Gospels.
Zaslow emphasises the timelessness of the narrative. Each of us has the opportunity each day to enter our own promised land. He devotes a section of the book to meditating on the individual elements in the story, from the names of the midwives to the men sent by Moses to spy out the land. There is plenty of material here for sermons. The idea of contradiction, lack of consistency within God, could be explored further.
Naturally, the author draws on the parallels between the exodus and the Gospel narratives. Both for Jews and Christians the events of Passover and Easter become “present-tense events”. Both faiths understand the past as a living present; both are about death and life; both are to be experienced in the here and now.
Turning to the problem of suffering, the author holds that pain and death are built into the code of creation. For Jews, suffering is simply to be accepted. The innovation of Christianity is to ask its followers to participate in the suffering of Jesus. But Zaslow rightly concludes: “Shame on anyone who thinks they can know the mind of God and can declare why others suffer.”
The author then looks at ways in which the story of the exodus has been appropriated and misappropriated. Here, his discussion includes the Early Church, the Reformation, the shameful way in which the narrative was used against native Americans, the abolitionist and civil-rights movements, and liberation theology. Finally, Zaslow cites moving and inspiring personal stories involving Jewish-Christian collaboration, and providing ample food for thought.
Zaslow’s penetrating reimaging of the exodus narrative should encourage us both to free ourselves from all that enslaves us as well as free our enshackled societies, that all may know that liberty that is the birthright of all humankind, created in God’s image.
Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.
Reimagining Exodus: A story of freedom
Rabbi David Zaslow
Paraclete Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50