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Resurrecting Passover?

on 35 Comments
Charlton Heston as Moses

Charlton Heston as Moses

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Does Passover have an afterlife – life after permanently oppressing another people?

I doubt it.

If we aren’t play acting Passover – fried artichoke hearts, gefilte fish, vintage wine and alike – and if the Passover inversion as a biting indictment of Israeli empowerment and Jewish enablement of injustice is simply too much for Passover gatherers to bear, perhaps its best to simply abandon Passover. Why not eat leavened bread galore and enjoy the fruits of Israeli and American power with a clear conscience?

Like everyone else Jews want our power and our innocence, too. Thus our glossy invites to the endless and empty interfaith gatherings that offer mutual self-congratulation as the hors d’oeuvres. The main course that follows is equally self-congratulatory.

Isn’t it swell that Christians finally learned that Jesus’ love offers a mutual embrace rather enslavement and ethnic cleansing! Congratulations Christians!

No doubt when the permanent ghettoization of the Palestinians is signed and delivered, Jews will likewise relish the innocence that other conquerors find so pleasing to claim. Congratulations Jews!

I doubt it will be so easy for Jews in the long run. Christians rest easy in their salvation – at least that is their public claim. Christians solved the instability Jews – and the Jewish God – represent. Salvation (conveniently) ends the prophetic. Justice becomes an item on the Christian bucket-list.

With Easter on the Passover horizon, I know the dispute within the Christian community via liberation theology continues. But as some Christians have noticed, liberation theology is based on the Exodus story, the primordial prophetic stirrings of ancient Israel. If Christians adopt the Passover as their origins, fine and good. Whatever the Christian spin, welcome back to the (Jewish) fold.

Here’s the irony: Jews need Passover today like Christians need salvation – to be diverted from the injustice we are enabling. Has Passover become our (Christian) salvation? A faux prophetic trope to banish the unstable Jewish prophetic?

Using Passover as our salvation doesn’t work. Too many Jews work through the hypocrisy represented in the slave narratives as we raise our wine glasses when others are being enslaved by us – at this very moment!

The Passover Seder as we know it was formulated when Jews were the down-and-outs of Christian empire. It’s only in the post-Holocaust era that Jews, as a collective, have been empowered as we recall the Exodus story. Getting tipsy at Passover is supposed to be struggling for liberation. It isn’t about forgetting who we have become.

Like the difference of Christians believing in salvation when they were being persecuted and when they are empire leaders, the Passover power-equation means everything. Maybe we Jews no longer deserve the Passover story. Or do we simply need to learn its real meaning again – from others?

The prospects of resurrecting Passover seem dim. Mostly Passover will continue to exist in the Constantinian Jewish halls of economic and political power, in our Holocaust sanctuaries and in our narrow-minded Hillel’s. For Jews of Conscience only Passover fragments will remain.

To be found alongside the Eucharistic fragments that were born in Occupied Palestine so long ago?

Passover afterlife. Even an Easter resurrection won’t do.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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35 Responses

  1. W.Jones
    W.Jones on April 17, 2014, 10:37 am

    Isn’t it swell that Christians finally learned that Jesus’ love offers a mutual embrace rather enslavement and ethnic cleansing! Congratulations Christians!
    That’s nice, except that I don’t remember Christians generally learning that Jesus’ love offers ethnic cleansing.

    I don’t even think the Puritans who ethnically cleansed the Indians thought that Jesus’ love offered ethnic cleansing, but maybe I am wrong about that. Fortunately, that was not a belief of the Church Fathers.

    • JeffB
      JeffB on April 17, 2014, 11:02 am


      You can’t group all the pilgrims together temporally. The pilgrims of the 1630s tended to be moderate in their views towards the Indians. They believed they would convert and become Christian. They respected their land rights mostly and sought good neighbor relations. Relations started to deteriorate as Indian populations started to recover from the plagues that had come over with the colonists. There was a major war 1675-8 ('s_War ) and after the colonist victory the attitude change to one where genocide or extreme violence was seen as reasonable. Behavior changes belief. The idea developed during and after the King Philip’s war to the notion that if heathens would not regenerate (become Christian) then it was their Christian duty to redeem the land from them.

      OTOH many of the puritans did believe the plagues of the 1620-30s were God’s wrath for heathenism of the Indians On the other hand many also believed that the wickedness of the whites had been a morally corrupting influence. A 1640 sermon with Indian themes sounds nothing like a 1680 sermon.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 17, 2014, 11:36 am

        Thanks for sharing, JeffB, that Puritans’ ideas were not always genocidal about Indians. I am not very surprised to hear Puritans’ ideas about the plague being “wrath” for Indians, since they also brutally executed almost 20 “witches”, Lord have mercy. Nonetheless, I question whether they equated Jesus’ love with ethnic cleansing, and unaware whether they thought God was instructing them to kill Indians.

        I actually find that some Zionists like yourself can be more tolerant toward Christian religious beliefs than some anti-Zionists. Granted, discrimination against Christians is not uncommon among the Israeli right. I think the more liberal and open-minded someone is, the more tolerant he is going to be of people with other religious beliefs.

        The Puritans and Israeli right are an example of the opposite, unfortunately.

      • JeffB
        JeffB on April 17, 2014, 2:08 pm


        Nonetheless, I question whether they equated Jesus’ love with ethnic cleansing,

        I’d agree. I can’t think of any sermons that have that theme. They might have equated it with God’s wrath but never with his love.

        I actually find that some Zionists like yourself can be more tolerant toward Christian religious beliefs than some anti-Zionists. Granted, discrimination against Christians is not uncommon among the Israeli right.

        Well yes I think Zionism more and more tends to be pro-American Christianity. The Israeli right discriminates against most American forms of Judaism as well. One of the few things all American Jews agree on is disliking the chief rabbinate system in Israel. IMHO this isn’t really a left vs. right issue. Even leftwing Israelis consider mainstream American Judaism to be what Christians would call a heresy. So I think Israel needs to be considered in the context of having a semi-strong state church. Israeli Christians who are assimilating expect their grandchildren to be Jewish. There is some legal discrimination but not much. Jewish converts to Christianity are mostly a tiny fringe. There tends to be a decontexualization in most of the discussion about Israel around here which is very distorting.

        If we are talking Palestinian Christians that’s an entirely different issue than just religious discrimination. The problem isn’t that they are Christian but that they are generally politically Ba’athist. With the rise of Hamas Israel may be able to break them away from Ba’ath ideology and things might improve, hopefully.

        In terms of the right and American Christians I think the right is forming an alliance with evangelical Christianity. American Evangelical Christianity mostly didn’t exist in the Eastern Europe prior to the 1990s nor the Muslim Countries so Israelis don’t have much problem seeing it as a total different faith that is strangely pro-semetic. Obviously this is American but the Israelis are pursuing a warm relationship with American evangelicals. The ultra-orthodox because they are close with American orthodoxy which is republican is developing a social relationship with conservative Christianity over social issues. The nationalist right on issues like war of civilizations.

        So for example Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventists. Mormons are expanding rapidly in Israel. They get shown a lot of tolerance.

        The Israeli left is having a harder time in the last two decades. The European churches are really cruel in the things they say. The pro-Palestinian movement’s success in recruiting the NCC/WCC means that leftwing Israelis have had their feelings hurt badly by the mainstream Christian groups. I don’t know what that means for the goal of the world peace movement and the ecumenical movement, but there is a lot more hostility on both sides this generations than the last. Most Israelis both left and right agree that leftwing Christianity has become apologists for Arab rejectionism. I think this shift is more harmful for the Israeli left because they had hoped for acceptance of Judaism based on human dignity while the Israeli right hadn’t really had that hope and instead sees the acceptance of Israel coming from military prowess.

        To take an example. Jews are active in the United Bible Society standard texts that are used as the Hebrew / Greek originals (as well as translator assists) for almost all bible translations. The New Jewish Publication Society is officially a member for the UBS Hebrew. That is a huge ecumenical success. But I can’t see how churches much more important to UBS like the PCUSA or United Methodists can have a policy of supporting a boycott of Jews/Israel while having one of the few institutions they can control retain that sort of close relationship. Either the rhetoric or the reality is going to have to give. And just to waive off the comments about conflating anti-israel with anti-Jewish there is no way that NJPS is going to remain a member if Israelis can’t serve as scholars. A break with Israel is a break with Judaism.

        In the large scheme of things it doesn’t really matter much. The Hebrew bible isn’t going to change much over the next few decades but it is part of growing collapse of ecumenicalism.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 18, 2014, 10:51 pm

        In my reply to Jeff I expressed surprise that secular Israelis consider Reform Judaism a religious mistake, and skepticism over whether the WCC was cruel, as it is based in Switzerland like the Red Cross and comes from the standpoint of other such humanitarian organizations. I also suggested that the PCUSA’s relationship with the NJPS is not so contradictory as the unfortunate situation in the Holy Land, where the State proclaims democracy but very many Palestinians lack its benefits. It is this contradiction that confronts the PCUSA, which does not have some inherent interest in a conflict with the NJPS.

        May I ask if this comment is incorrect, or perhaps the way I expressed it was incorrect? That would help me to better comment in the future. Thanks, and Happy Passover / Paschal Season, as the case may be.

      • Walid
        Walid on April 18, 2014, 4:14 am

        W. Jones, what the Puritans did to the Indians was chickenshit compared to what they had done to the Irish and the Scots when they were still riding high over everyone. So if you want to compare them to the Israelis, do it during the time they were being tyrants and not when they had become meek and fled to America. Mass killings and deportations that they attributed to “the wrath of God” had been the Puritans’ MO, just like the Israelis’ with the hapless Palestinians.

        Don’t get tricked by someone that appears tolerant of Christians while he is persecuting Palestinians.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 18, 2014, 11:37 pm

        Dear Walid,

        Out of curiosity, can I ask what is your religion? You don’t have to answer.

        I would not be surprised if Puritans committed genocide and ascribed it to “wrath”, granted, I am not sure they would associate it with Jesus’ love.

  2. JeffB
    JeffB on April 17, 2014, 10:51 am

    I had similar feelings at this year’s passover (though I generally do). It seemed completely stupid to repeat lines like “next year in Jerusalem”. We got Jerusalem back, mission accomplished. If it is any consolation the Haggadah we used had a big disclaimer about the prayer where we ask God to pour out his wrath on the nations who won’t do his will as inapplicable now that we aren’t victims anymore.

    As for your analogy with Christians your history could use some work. The imagery of Jesus as King standing over his vice regent (the emperor and/or pope depending) came from this period. Look at the change in Christian art between the 3rd and 5th century in how Jesus is depicted. The focus shifted from the crucifixion as a symbol of hope to the resurrection as a symbol of triumph over satan. I suspect the same thing will happen to passover. Just add a lot of Joshua into the mix and the story becomes one of God freeing us from bondage and identifying with slavery to one of the slaves being freed and doing his will in subjugated Canaan.

    The ethical tradition shifts a bit “remember you too were once a slave and treat your slaves well”… Sort of like how Thomas Jefferson struggled with the morality of slavery while working out ways to make the Virginia slavery system more profitable for masters and thus helping to institutionalize it before freeing his slaves. Lots of grey, lots of moral hypocrisy.

  3. Keith
    Keith on April 17, 2014, 10:59 am

    MARC ELLIS- I feel the need to comment, but am unsure of what to say or how to say it. Is it your fate to now feel the need to drive the money lenders from the temple? Is that even possible? You have a fierce moral clarity and my respect, yet I fear that your verbal bludgeon will win you no friends. Take care.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones on April 17, 2014, 11:40 am

      I have heard different theories about what Jesus objected to.

      He referred to it as a “Den of Thieves”, so I take it that he was objecting to financial exploitation of people. A thief takes someone’s money against their will, so perhaps the lenders were in a position where religion required them to buy things and the lenders were charging excessive rates for what everyday people had to do?

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976 on April 17, 2014, 1:05 pm

        ‘Cave full of terrorists’, perhaps, rather than ‘house of prayer for all nations’. In Mark Jesus seems to be accusing the Temple of being too narrowly Jewish and perhaps complaining that it was being transformed into an armed camp, since the word that King James translates as ‘vessel’ could refer to military equipment and a revolutionary could easily be called (rather as Josephus portrays the Masada militants) a brigand or a thief. Matthew and Luke omit ‘for all nations’, so the complaint against brigand-like rapacity is evolving towards what it is in John, where the objection does indeed seem to be against excessive charges and using religion to make money. In John the demonstration becomes more violent and a potentially lethal weapon, a whip of knotted cord, is used. We see part of the evolution of Christian attitudes to the Temple here. I could understand that non-Christian readers might find these passages too hostile to Jewish practice and to people who were only trying to make a living. Christian readers should note that it is very hard to regard it as a Christian hope that a Jewish rather than all-nation ‘house of prayer’ should be re-established.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 17, 2014, 2:14 pm

        Hmmm… This brings up an interesting point. The ancient Israelite scriptures prophecy that the Temple would become a house of “all nations”. Yet in Jerusalem’s time entrance into the inner courtyard was restricted only to Jews. Christian Zionists portray the Temple as something also restricted. Yet here in the ancient texts we find a prophecy of universalism carried into Christianity.

      • Feathers
        Feathers on April 17, 2014, 3:50 pm

        Christians AND Jews reflect on what they call history as if the events that involved, i.e. Jews, and i.e. the historic era of Jesus, were the only things going on at the time.

        Jews and, even moreso, Christians were very minor players in the world of the Roman empire 100 BC to 400 AD; the actions of Pompey, Cataline, Cicero, Caesar, and the writing of Virgil were of far more salience, and should be mastered by those who claim to be scholars of religion.

        And yet Judaism & Christianity think their little movement from that specific moment in history is the central point of all “western” civilization (permit me to drive the point home, for all you Orientalists: the “west” locates the central point of its culture in the East).

        At the same time, the Judaic & Christian revisionists of history tend to write out of history of that era the profound impact and influence of the Persians, (with whom very many Jews were allied since the time of Cyrus and persisting, in very large numbers, well into the 20th century), over the 700-year long span of Roman-Persian wars and cultural contact along the long, shared borders of the waning Persian empire and the waxing Roman empire.

        Notions of the prophetic that reach back half-a-millenium before the time of Jesus, are veiled in interpretive fog; the history of the time of Jesus is more readily able to be discerned based on facts and evidence, but “facts and evidence” and the full context of the era have been shrouded in just as much fog as the more mystical notions that Ellis discusses.

        If you don’t get the facts of history right, no structure, no policy, no human interactions atop it can be right: it’s the same as trying to build a house that is plumb, square and level on a foundation that is skewed, distorted, and fundamentally false.

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976 on April 17, 2014, 4:28 pm

        Warwick Ball’s ‘Towards One World: Ancient Persia and the West’ is quite good on that side of things.

    • Feathers
      Feathers on April 17, 2014, 11:48 am

      re “fierce moral clarity,”

      it would be helpful if Ellis provided a definition of “prophetic”.

      also helpful if he stopped bashing Christians.

      My intensely Catholic upbringing emphasized the “mystical body of Christ,” explained this way: When One member suffers, the whole body suffers; when one member rejoices, the whole body rejoices.

      This concept seems to have been displaced, even among many Catholics, by notions of choseness and particularist advantage: now, we celebrate inflicting punishments and measure their effectiveness in terms of increasing pain experienced .

      We will have truly arrived at what I suspect — or hope — Ellis means by “prophetic” when we can recognize that Egyptian suffering in the events of Passover far exceeded those of the Hebrews.

    • wondering jew
      wondering jew on April 18, 2014, 2:06 am

      keith- which translation do you read? I never heard of money lenders in the temple, it’s money changers.

    • Walid
      Walid on April 18, 2014, 4:35 am

      “You have a fierce moral clarity and my respect,”

      Keith, there is no doubt about that; I feel likewise respect although while his moral clarity is crystal clear, his language is very cryptic and has to be read over and over to get what he’s driving that and even at that, I doubt many actually succeed at grasping what he really intends.

      In today’s piece, to touch on the Palestinians’ despairing situation, he’s doing somersaults in creating parallels between Pesach and Easter. While one is about the annual re-assertion of the old covenant, the other with the crucifixion and the resurrection is about the start of a new covenant that seeks to distance itself from the old one. Trying to marry the two is a contradiction.

      • JeffB
        JeffB on April 18, 2014, 8:43 am


        Its not that much of a stretch:

        1Cor 5:7 …For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed…
        John 19:36 For these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled, “Not a bone of his will be broken.” which is a reference to Exodus 12:36, where bones of the passover lamb are not to be broken.

        I’d say Christianity pretty clearly makes the identification. You want to argue that Christian symbolism is confused you want get any argument from me but that isn’t unique to passover.

      • Keith
        Keith on April 18, 2014, 11:03 am

        WALID- “…his language is very cryptic….”

        I agree completely. He appears to me to be aiming for overarching moral truths, whereas some of the commenters are getting caught up in the petty details of religious ideology. Fundamentally, it all comes down to a question of right and wrong, and of the hypocrisy of spouting verbal righteousness while participating in immoral acts, whether it be Israeli depredations or imperial aggression. One cannot criticize Israel and turn a blind eye to empire, and Marc, bless his soul, is no hypocrite.

  4. pabelmont
    pabelmont on April 17, 2014, 11:29 am

    Passovers, like birthday parties, are a good time to get together with friends. But, as to Passovers, don’t read the minutiae of the (food) label too closely. Agri-poisons, over-used antibiotics, palm kernel oil, all disguised with “natural” labels. Feel-good while doing ill.

    The overall sense of your essay is correct.

    Feel good while doing evil (for those who do evil in Palestine). Feel good while enabling evil (for those who actively support Zionism from afar). Feel good while ignoring evil (for those who refuse to know, refuse to hear, demand to be left to old dreams).

    The Ultimate Disastrous Feel-Good

    BTW, I’d say that I/P and the “Fate of the Jews”, the truths and falsities of Christianity and Judaism, and almost any other traditional concerns are of minuscule importance in the greater scheme of things wherein all of daily life, when carried on without active concern and action to divert climate change (the on-rushing whole-earth holocaust), is like a feel-good Passover Seder. But the angel of the lord is not going to pass over the earth or its inhabitants if we don’t divert that angel. The signs are not good.

    • lysias
      lysias on April 17, 2014, 3:19 pm

      Speaking of Passover, doing evil, and the angel of the Lord, I’ve always felt that what happened to the Egyptians was very wrong.

      • Walid
        Walid on April 17, 2014, 5:05 pm

        What happened to the Egyptians was mild in comparison to what happened to the Canaanites and others after the cross-over.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew on April 18, 2014, 2:00 am

        The history depicted in the Bible, or the myth depicted in the Bible, is a poor example about how the Jewish people should proceed into the future. But the exodus from Egypt much moreso than the book of Joshua (however true or false) is much more at the core of the Jewish religion. And certainly moving into the future with the death of the Egyptians and blood and gore are negative images. But freedom is a wild and wonderful thing and name a story about freedom that has inspired more people than the book of Exodus. Would not Doctor King have quoted exodus? So give the bible and the specifically the story of the exodus its due. It’s a great story. Too bloody, true. Taken too tribally- trouble to the planet. But a great story and the people who read the story in the Hebrew. Why they’re great too.

      • Walid
        Walid on April 18, 2014, 3:29 am

        Yonah, I was taking about what came after they entered Palestine and genocide of the Canaanites. They did a repeat performance on the Canaanites’ descendants starting at Deir Yassin, Tantura and so on. Those were not myths and nothing for you to be proud of.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew on April 18, 2014, 3:55 am

        Walid- I am not proud of Deir Yassin and Tantura. But I think that if all you’re going to do is cite holidays and history of the Jews that is bad, then you have set yourself up as my enemy and I wish you could figure out some way around that. If you wish to set yourself up as my enemy, that is your right.

      • Walid
        Walid on April 18, 2014, 12:11 pm

        Don’t get upset or of feeling targeted over that, yonah, I’m even more critical of Arabs and Muslims and their own checkered history. I’m only an enemy of your Zionism, not of you. See my Allahu-Akbar comment below.

  5. lysias
    lysias on April 17, 2014, 5:30 pm

    True enough. But causing the deaths of all the first-born sons was a serious enough matter.

    In any case, Passover is the current festival.

    Both stories serve to justify abominable treatment of people that do not happen to enjoy the favor of God.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on April 17, 2014, 5:53 pm

      It’s all horribly and tremendously stupid. It all stems from anybody saying they are acting in the name of God. Why anybody would believe this tripe is well beyond human reason.

    • Walid
      Walid on April 18, 2014, 3:35 am

      Is Purim that much milder? Reminds me of Muslim sickos that yell out “Allahu-Akbar” while slaughtering people that don’t agree with their ideology. Jews don’t have exclusivity on this stuff.

      • adele
        adele on April 18, 2014, 6:03 pm

        Unfortunately no religion does Walid. Case in point, the history of Christianity. Brutal stuff all around. This God Disease is lethal stuff. May we find the cure one day.

      • jon s
        jon s on April 19, 2014, 2:51 am

        As I’ve pointed out in previous comments, there is no slaughter of innocents in the Purim story.
        In the Passover story the Israelites don’t kill anyone, except for the cruel overseer whom Moses “smote”.

  6. Citizen
    Citizen on April 18, 2014, 3:48 am

    Well, what to do, beyond pouring out a few sips of wine as you dig in to the (some say) delicious food on holiday? Passover reminds me vaguely of Thanksgiving Day.

  7. jon s
    jon s on April 18, 2014, 4:33 pm

    Thanks to Citizen for providing the link to Rabbi Brenner’s essay, above.

    Let’s not lose sight of the central theme of Passover, which is to remember : that we were slaves in Egypt , and were liberated, and the memory should be very up-close and personal – we should all consider ourselves as having been liberated from bondage. In the Bible we are told repeatedly to remember the oppression in Egypt for a purpose- so as not to do the same to others. In Exodus (22:20): And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
    And again: (Exodus 23:9): And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Also in Deuteronomy (10:19): You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

    • talknic
      talknic on April 19, 2014, 6:22 am

      @ jon s “Let’s not lose sight of the central theme of Passover, which is to remember …”

      Seems you’ve forgotten already Israel’s brutal and un-necessary occupation of other folk

    • eljay
      eljay on April 19, 2014, 7:16 am

      >> In the Bible we are told repeatedly to remember the oppression in Egypt for a purpose- so as not to do the same to others.

      Well, then, that is one massive fail for Zio-supremacists, Zio-supremacism and the supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel.

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