co-author (with William Dols) of
Jesus, Discovering Self:
Passages to Healing and Wholeness
their new book Finding Jesus, Discovering Self, co-authors
Caren Goldman and William Dols suggest a new way to read the Gospel
stories. It is a method, they readily admit, that would be considered
heresy by those convinced that human experience plays no part in
divining sacred truth.
In contrast, their book is all about living into the stories of
Jesus, using them as templates to which we apply our own experiences
and, in so doing, discover the connections between his story and
find the “eternal truths hidden in each of our psyches
and souls,” the authors ask that we move “the question ‘What
does this text mean?’ to one side of your plate to make
room for new questions that ask: ‘How do I experience
this story in my life, in this time, in this place? How is
this story an event
in my family, my community, in the world around me?'”
book was not written just for Christians. It is for those wishing
to learn new ways of looking at the world around them, and inside
them, using the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In the following interview,
Caren Goldman talks about her own experience with
these stories both as a Jewish woman and as someone who has written
about spirituality and healing for more than 30 years.
do you, a Jewish woman who was both raised Jewish and actively practices
her faith, choose to write about Jesus?
most direct answer is that Jesus of Nazareth
was a Jew. He was born a Jew, he lived his life as a Jew, and he
died a Jew. From what careful readings of ancient texts can tell
me about him today, I have come to believe that he had an extraordinary
and intimate relationship with his God and an authoritative sense
of self. Yet, today most Jews know almost nothing about Jesus despite
the fact that Jewish biblical scholars and authors such as Amy-Jill
Levine, Joseph Klausner, Samuel Sandmel, Geza Vermes, Paula Fredriksen,
and others have written about him.
of the problem in the Jewish community with the “J”
word or “that man” exists because many Holocaust survivors
and those born in the post Holocaust era were brought up not to
ever—under any circumstances—mention Jesus’ name.
In fact, it’s because of this mindset among many Orthodox
Jews and a significant number of Jews of all the other denominations,
I discuss my experience of the forbidden “J” word in
an Endpaper in my book.
say that my self-disclosure in Finding Jesus ends with
comments about my marriage to an Episcopal priest—someone
who has always encouraged me to live my questions about Jesus and
come to my own conclusions about who he was. Without such self-differentiation
I don’t think I would feel as comfortable as I do attending
services and functions at his church.
How do you approach biblical
stories to make them relevant to our lives today?
I think a few comments about my book may help
to answer your question. First, this book was written for “people
of all faiths” or “no faith,” and it really is
very different from other books about Jesus. That said, the way
we approach biblical texts and make them relevant to our lives today
will feel familiar to Jewish readers, because Jews have historically
been very intrigued by the multiple layers of meaning in every bible
reason that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans
as well as agnostics and atheists find this book about Jesus a fascinating
resource for their lives today is that Bill and I approach the stories
in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke differently. Our
goal is to let the text speak to each reader individually instead
of layering and possibly smothering it with biblical scholarship,
theology, and hackneyed answers about what it means.
other words, we do not focus on telling readers what the text says.
Instead, we allow each reader to draw his or her own conclusions
about the text as well as the unspoken and unwritten words that
might be hidden between the lines. Moreover, we also invite readers
to engage the text in imaginative ways by using quotes and contemporary
poetry and prose in order to help them to discover new paths leading
to healing and wholeness in their lives.
all, we lose something vital if we limit these stories to being
2000-year-old records of a man named Jesus of Nazareth, instead
of seeing them as events not only happening in the world, our country,
our communities and in our relationships to friends, co-workers,
families, but also within us—in our hearts, our guts, our
psyches, and our souls.
is one of your favorite stories about Jesus and what does it mean
That’s a hard question. Fifteen of my favorite
stories about Jesus are in Finding Jesus, Discovering Self
and 15 more favorite stories follow in a second volume that Bill
and I are writing now. Since you are asking me that question today,
I’ll respond that the story that pops up first is about the
woman with the flow of blood. Tomorrow I might respond with the
stories about the paralytic or the Samaritan.
second part of your question, which asks what does it mean to me,
is complex. Although the story is approximately 2000 years old and
it remains the same each time I encounter it, I’m
not the same each time. What the stories may or may not mean to
me changes according to what informs and drives my inner and outer
worldviews and the questions generated by the lens I use to filter
or magnify what I see and feel. In this story, two words—“whole
truth”—always arrest my attention, raise new questions,
and call me to ponder over and over again what it means for me to
uncover, discover, recover, and even attempt to acknowledge my “whole
you also approach the Hebrew scriptures, what Christians call the
Old Testament, as you have the Gospel stories in Finding Jesus,
This book only focuses on stories that appear
in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, which are known as the
synoptic gospels. However, Bill is the editor of Bible
Workbench and I am a senior editor. It’s a life-based
biblical resource designed for individuals, small groups and to
aid preachers. A lectionary text is chosen for each Sunday and many
of these are from the Jewish Bible.
Bible Workbench editors and writers, we approach these texts in
ways that are similar to the book. In other words, when groups meet
to discuss the questions and other readings, participants do not
have to explain or justify their responses and there is no need
for consensus. It’s about living the questions and coming
to one’s own conclusion. For obvious reasons, I love probing
and diving into passages about Moses, Ruth, the creation and other
stories from the Old Testament for Bible Workbench.
you surprised by the Jesus you found in the Gospels?
No past tense here. I am always surprised by the
Jesus I find in the gospels.
advice do you have for those who have a hard time connecting to
old tapes and the layers of other people’s answers to what
the text means on a shelf. It’s your shelf, so you can take
what is yours off of it any time you want to. But
before you do that, read some of these stories again and perhaps
again, as though you are reading them for the very first time. Read
them again with fresh eyes, open ears, and a curious heart and mind.
Read them silently and aloud and see where they resonate with the
world around and within.
example, when Katrina struck and sucked the life out of New Orleans,
who amongst us didn’t think literally and metaphorically about
Noah and the great flood? Who amongst us didn’t wonder about
such tragedies as Katrina in our own lives—those devastating
events that flood those we love as well as us with questions that
won’t go away. With questions that no one but us can live.
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