Bridegroom and Bride
Book Pick: Jesus the Bridegroom
JESUS THE BRIDEGROOM
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
By Brant Pitre
Image Catholic Books, 2014
208 pages, $23 (hardcover)
Modern Christians are at a disadvantage when it comes to reading the Scriptures and appreciating the nuances therein. Once again — as in his previous book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist — Brant Pitre, professor of sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, bridges this gap of time and culture by presenting fascinating scholarly information in a way that’s accessible to modern readers in Jesus the Bridegroom.
The ancient Jews always thought of God as the Bridegroom and the people of Israel as his Bride. Jews await a Messianic age in which God, the Husband, betrayed by the spiritual adultery of sin, will ultimately establish a new marriage covenant with his Bride, and salvation will mean not just the forgiveness of sins but eternal union with God.
Most modern Christians are familiar with this imagery — and also with the fact that the Church is called “the Bride of Christ.” For many of us, our appreciation of this “great mystery” ends there. But by careful explication of the Scriptures, Pitre demonstrates that Jesus was clearly aware of his own identity as the Bridegroom-God of Israel, come in the flesh, and that the Jews of the day would have made no mistake in interpreting his words and actions as pointing directly to that identity.
“The key to unlocking the deeper meaning of many … familiar passages in the Gospels can be found by trying to understand them in their original, first-century Jewish context,” writes Pitre.
For example, in those days, the bridegroom was responsible for providing the wine at a wedding banquet. This is why it’s so significant that Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding: as a glimpse and a sign of his true identity. When the wine ran out, Jesus assumed the role of the bridegroom and provided more — and not just any wine, but the finest wine and a superabundance of it, both of which Jews would have recognized as signs of the coming Messianic age.
Even at the crucifixion of Jesus, wedding imagery was prominent. At Jewish weddings in the first century, the bridegroom wore a crown. He became “king for a day.” At his crucifixion, Jesus wore a crown, too, not only as a symbol of his divine kingship, but as a revelation of his identity as the Bridegroom. A Jewish bridegroom also wore a special tunic modeled after the tunics worn by Jewish high priests, which was constructed in such a way that it was seamless and could not be torn. John the Evangelist takes great pains to point out that this is the kind of tunic Jesus wore at his crucifixion, pointing to his role as Eternal High Priest and as Bridegroom. The Bride, then, is “the entire people of God.” Pitre establishes this concept, but expands it exponentially with an astounding interpretation of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well.
Pitre’s scholarship is a true blessing to Christians everywhere. By reading the Scriptures “through ancient Jewish eyes,” our eyes can be opened to see and savor one of the richest teachings of the Church. Highly recommended.
Clare Walker writes from
- March 22-April 4, 2015