Caravaggio’s ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’ (1603). Where was Issac’s mother, one of the participants in an interfaith seminar asked.


By Ezra Salkin

“I’m going to make an outrageous comment,” said Ivory Johnson, a thin and graying man, standing up
just as our class was about to join hands for our customary closing prayer.
When he said this, a barely perceptible nervousness seemed to take hold of the priest and the rabbi—two
men of ample shape and similar facial hair, sharing the head of a table at the front of a St. Thomas
Episcopal Church classroom.

“I’ve tried to understand the concept of the messiah,” Ivory said. “And we talked about God choosing
Abraham. Then we have Jesus. The only difference I can see between Jesus and Abraham is that
Abraham had a son. But both came from God and walked upon the earth.” He paused. “So I have a feeling
that both were one and the same.”

If the scene had taken place in a bar instead of a church, it could have been the start of a joke. But Rabbi
Merrill Shapiro and Rev. Robert Elfvin decided that an exploration of Ivory’s remarks would have to
wait for the following week, along with other comments that ranged somewhere between thoughtful and
off the wall. “Think about it,” Ivory said with a shrug, to a roomful of people interested in talking about
the Bible, whether they believe in its precepts or not. The group then linked hands and the priest led the
class in a prayer that was gracefully non-sectarian.

No comment is out of bounds in this interfaith class, held weekly at St. Thomas Church in Palm Coast
since December. Many of Shapiro’s observations might sound unconventional to the group, most of
whom embrace a Christian perspective—the class does take place in a church—when it comes to
understanding the Old Testament, or “the First Testament,” as the rabbi calls it.
One example: God actually wanted Adam and Eve to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

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