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Each year at Miami University, incoming first-year students participate in the Freshman Summer Reading Program. The new students are asked to read a particular book before they arrive on campus in the fall, and the author of the book is invited to give a lecture to the university community on the day preceding the start of classes. After the lecture, the students meet in small groups with faculty volunteers to discuss the book.

Many of the Summer Reading Program titles have been provocative books about important current issues. This year's selection, Dr. Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, was no exception. For a Harper's Magazine assignment, Ehrenreich spent brief stints in 1999-2000 as a waitress in Florida, a housekeeper in Portland, Maine, and a Wal Mart associate in Minneapolis, seeking to understand what it is like to be one of the working poor in the affluent United States. She chronicled her experiences in Nickel and Dimed.

By some coincidence, the same book was used in 2003 for a similar program at the University of North Carolina, where discussions were held on the same afternoon as those at Miami. North Carolina's choice of Nickel and Dimed was very controversial. In fact, some conservative groups protested the choice of books, objecting to Ehrenreich's strong left-wing bias and self-professed atheism.

My political and religious convictions are much different from Ehrenreich's, and I seriously disagree with some of the points she makes in her book. Still, I think that Nicked and Dimed was very appropriate for our university Summer Reading Program. The purpose of such programs is to promote reflection and thoughtful discussion, not to indoctrinate students with an author's views. At Miami, this year's book sparked a great deal of interest that could easily translate into increased participation in local community service activities benefiting the poor.

An Important Reminder

Since the end of the Second World War, Americans have enjoyed an era of tremendous prosperity. But in the midst of plenty, it is easy to forget that many in the United States still live in poverty.

One serious problem faced by the poor in America is a lack of affordable housing. While the homes of the upper middle class have become larger and more expensive, the poor often have difficulty finding a place to live. Ehrenreich observed several ``levels of homelessness'' during her travels. Some who can't afford the down payment on an apartment share motel rooms, while those who can't afford to share motel rooms sometimes live in cars, staying in parking lots or public campgrounds. According to the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty, more than three million Americans were homeless over the past year, about thirty per cent of them chronically. 1

We should all be aware of the problems faced by the poor and do everything we can to help alleviate those problems. In doing so, we follow the teaching of the Bible (see e.g. Exod. 22:25-27; 23:6, 11; Deut. 15:7-11; 24:10-15, 17, 19, 21; Prov. 14:31; 17:5; 22:9, 22; 28:27; 29:7; Zech. 7:10; Matt. 25:31-46; James 1:27) and the example of God himself. The Bible states that God specifically watches out for those who are alone in the world, ignored or neglected (Exod. 22:22-23; Ps. 35:10; 72:12-13; 140:12).

This issue of Grace and Knowledge features several articles about important aspects of Judeo-Christian ethics. ``Bridging the Gap'' highlights our responsibility to make the world a better place and points out that carrying out this responsibility is an identifying characteristic of God's people. A second article, `` `And the Second Is Like Unto It': the Relationship of the Two Great Commandments'' explores Jesus' teaching that the law of God can be summarized in one word-``love.'' A third article investigates the moral teaching of James the Just, the leader of the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, as recorded in the Epistle of James. ``Applying the Law of God: The Teaching of James'' demonstrates that two leading sources for the instruction in James's epistle are the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus and the Sermon on the Mount.

Are the Gospels Antisemitic?

Some new films about Jesus have focused a great deal of recent publicity on the Gospels. One of these films, ``The Gospel of John,'' includes every word of the Fourth Gospel. Since John's Gospel often describes conflicts between Jesus and people referred to as ``the Jews,'' it has frequently been labeled by critics as antisemitic. In this issue of Grace and Knowledge we show that such criticisms are unfounded. The article ``Who are `the Jews' in John's Gospel?'' takes a close look at John's references to ``the Jews'' to determine what John meant by this phrase.

That the Gospels cannot accurately be described as antisemitic is evidenced by the fact that Jesus and his disciples were all Jews themselves. Unfortunately, however, a number of passages in the Gospels have often been interpreted in antijudaic ways. A case in point is Jesus' parable about old and new garments and new wine in old wineskins, which is frequently viewed as a statement of the obsolescence of Judaism and the inherent incompatibility of Christianity and Judaism. The article ``Identifyiing the `Garments' and `Wineskins' of Luke 5:36-39'' reports on three recent explanations of this parable that avoid the antijudaism of some of the traditional interpretations. I believe that one of the three is particularly promising, for reasons stated in the article. See what you think.

One goal of this publication is to promote a more accurate understanding of the New Testament by viewing it in its original Jewish setting. Another of our goals is to defend the consistency and accuracy of the Bible. In the article ``The Second Cainan,'' Jared Olar addresses an apparent discrepancy between the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 and earlier biblical genealogies. The key to resolving the matter can be summarized in words similar to that of a familiar proverb: ``In a multitude of manuscripts there is safety.''

The articles in Issue 15 touch upon themes associated with a wide range of dates in the Hebrew worship calendar, from Purim to Pentecost to the Day of Atonement. As always, we hope that you find this issue of Grace and Knowledge to be both stimulating and edifying.

Doug Ward

Issue 15



1``How a Regular Guy Gets Homeless,'' USA Today, September 22, 2003, page 3B.

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