Faith Transformed cover

John C. Merkle, ed.

Faith Transformed: 

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 Fleischner’s article when I teach on the Psalms, and Norman Beck’s 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.


Christian Agenda (What Ought to be Done) 

Begin each bullet with “Christians really should”:

The collection of articles by this group of scholars needs little promotion by a reviewer.  They are all prominent scholars who have thought long and hard about these issues.  The bibliographic references in the notes are a rich resource not only for beginners in this field but also for veterans.