John C. Merkle, ed.
Christian Encounters with Jews and Judaism
(Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2003).
ISBN 0-8146-5117-8 pbk xii + 216 pp. $23.95
by John Clabeaux, St Ambrose University, Davenport , Iowa.
It is difficult to represent in a short review the actual contents and value of this collection of 11 articles on the important issue of the impact of Jewish Christian dialogue on the faith of Christians. The authors, selected from the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, represent an impressive array of many of the best-known scholars in that area of Biblical and Theological studies. John Merkle introduces the project and the articles follow by: Walter Harrelson, Alice Eckardt, Eva Fleischner, Franklin Sherman, Norman Beck, Clark Williamson, John Pawlikowski, Eugene Fisher, Michael McGarry, Mary Boys, and John Merkle. The document A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People, done by the Christian Scholars Group follows as a valuable appendix. Then comes a brief Afterword by Irwin Borowsky affirming the content of these articles and calling for better translation of the New Testament passages that are harmful to Jews. A good Index to the entire book completes the work.
Each author begins with autobiographical details of their encounters with Jews and Judaism. There was an interesting consistency to the group in that it seemed that nearly all the writers came from backgrounds that stressed religious tolerance. If the reader surmises from the title Faith Transformed that this is a series of conversion stories by former Nazis or Fundamentalists, he or she will be disappointed. The personal stories reveal that these scholars usually discovered the Anti-Jewish aspects of Christian culture at some point in their college or graduate studies, chiefly by exposure to Jewish teachers and Jewish writings. The things they discovered that seemed to have had the greatest impact were the sad history of Christian-Jewish relations that preceded and opened the way for the Holocaust, the Holocaust itself and the inadequate Christian response to it, the emergence of the State of Israel, and the fact that the Jewish people have not only survived but thrived in spite of millennia of persecution. But what seemed in several cases to have an even greater impact, was the discovery of the profundity and insight of great contemporary Jewish authors (especially Abraham Joshua Heschel), which shattered a vaguely held assumption that Jews were essentially legalistic or traditionalistic with little direct access to deep experiences of the divine.
I see this text as an important resource for courses in Jewish-Christian relations, but it will be difficult for students to read cover to cover, since so many of the articles rehearse the academic careers of the author, and cover similar ground in terms of the discoveries they made and the solutions they propose.
Its value as a teaching resource will be as a source from which to draw particular articles for particular parts of courses. For instance, I intend to use Eva Fleischners article when I teach on the Psalms, and Norman Becks article in courses like Introduction to the New Testament, when I deal with the problem of anti-Jewish passages. The inclusion of A Sacred Obligation significantly enhances the value of this text for such course work.
I attempt here to provide an overview of the harvest of insights in this book, which I have grouped under two headings: Discoveries, about the real nature of the Christian-Jewish relationship and Christian Agenda (What Ought to be done) to diminish the harmful effects of the Teaching of Contempt that has been so much a part of Christian culture. I cite the names of the authors who dealt most extensively with the particular issues listed. It is not an exhaustive list; I could not name every author who even mentioned an issue, as some issues were treated by nearly every author.
Jews remain chosen by God. Christians are in some sense chosen along with them. It is better to deal with the Jews as study partners rather than as adversaries. (Williamson, McGarry, Sherman, Boys, Merkle)
The physical world is far more important than Christian culture has often assumed. (Harrelson, Sherman, Pawlikowski, Merkle)
The Psalms, the Hebrew Bible in general, and the living Jewish spiritual tradition reflect powerful and important experience of God. (Fleischner, Merkle)
Redemption should be understood as communal rather than individual. (Harrelson, Pawlikowski, Merkle)
The history of Christian contempt for Judaism in both thought and action is far bigger than the vast majority of Christians imagine. (Pawlikowski, Boys)
The Logos Christology of the 2nd Century C.E. (according to which the Logos or Word, or True Reason could be found outside of Christianity) may be a resource for adjusting Christology. (McGarry)
Christian Agenda (What Ought to be Done)
Begin each bullet with Christians really should:
learn more about Judaism from Jews and appreciate it more deeply. (Williamson, Pawlikowski, Boys, Merkle)
more accurately present the Jewish context for the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. (Eckhardt, Pawlikowski, McGarry)
better articulate the continuity of the Jewish covenantal relationship with God. (Fleischner, McGarry)
show more humility in their truth claims about our understanding of God. (Eckhardt)
actually get rid of supersessionism as a Christian viewpoint. (Beck, McGarry)
re-examine the articulation of Christology in light of the new understanding of our relationship with the Jews. (Pawlikowski, McGarry, Boys)
bring out the religious significance of family life (with home rituals, Christian Sabbath observance, meal blessings etc. (Fisher, Boys, Merkle)
find more adequate means of understanding and acting upon the inter-relationship between Jews and Christians. (Pawlikowski)
deal with the Hebrew Bible more positively in homilies (Pawlikowski) religious education (Boys) and in general. (Beck)
find better ways of telling the story of Christianity. (Pawlikowski, Boys)
probe the theological implications of the continued survival and thriving of the Jews. (Fleischner, McGarry)
do a better job of informing Christians about the terrible history of Christian dealings with Jews. (Pawlikowski)
bring out the importance of human co-creatorship with God more effectively, and stop emphasizing Gods omnipotence in a way that contributes to human impotence. (Pawlikowski, McGarry)
bring results of New Testament scholarship on the Historical Jesus to bear on the discussions of Systematic Theology (Pawlikowski) and Religious Education. (Boys)