Mysticism and faith

Four voices

All world faiths have mystical experience at their root, and at least in their beginnings, at their heart. Mysticism ……. [definitions – explanations etc] ……

….. [Insert – Prophecy/Mysticism – dependency one to the other?] ……

Christianity along with all mature faiths recognises the need to discern. There are many claims from ‘prophets’ who are ‘saying what God is telling them’. The Christian scriptures recognise well the need to ‘test the spirits’ – 1 John 4:1 is one example of this. And Paul speaks of ‘discernment of spirits’ (1 Cor 12:10). In 1 Corinthians 14:29, he suggests that two or three members (of a meeting) should decide on the nature of a message that the speaker is claiming to be ‘of God’.

Controversy over what God is saying is right at the heart of all the disputes from the early days of Christianity, and one might say that there are still elements of this problem around in the church today. The church has long held that tradition needs to be taken into account alongside scripture and prophecy. Unhappily, the church as a whole cannot agree on what is and what is not valid tradition. It is this disagreement that has allowed, even encouraged, schism into the many traditions that claim to be a part of the ‘one holy catholic church’. The Eastern Orthodox traditions claim that all views on the authority of scripture must be tested against the teachings not only of the church, but especially of the early church fathers. Canon 19 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod is specific about this1. Vassilios Bakoyannis speaks also of three ‘interpreters’ [of scripture]. He names them as: The Devil, Our Passions, and the Holy Fathers. It is in a similar vein to this that I want to suggest that when the mystic ‘listens’ to God, he or she may in fact ‘hear’ four voices. These are: The Devil, His or Her Passions, His or Her Intellect, and Almighty God. Indeed, perhaps it is true to say that all ‘Words from God’ begin as a mixture of all four ‘voices’ with one or other being the dominant factor. Many years ago, I met a very humble and very holy Franciscan Catholic Friar. He was very much a part of the charismatic movement, and often felt moved to give a word of prophecy for discernment by the assembled church. He said with great humility that the first thousand or so words of prophecy that he had given were ‘probably 99% me, and 1% God’2.

Recently I read the first volume of Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch. This, and his two subsequent volumes became best sellers, and I believe rightly so. I found reading them to be a very moving experience which led me to a great deal of reflection and a great deal of though including listening to God’s voice in my own heart. It is out of that reflection that I begin to write now.

I have no wish to critique Walsch’s work. That is for others. I would certainly advise that it be widely read – I would also suggest that it needs to be read prayerfully and with discernment of the spirits (the Four Voices?) always in mind.

With the spread of the charismatic movement through the church in almost all of its denominations, the majority of Christians recognise that the gift of Prophecy is working in the church today along with other gifts of the Holy Spirit. These same Christians recognise that discernment of spirits is required alongside the gift of Prophecy, and that this is the task of the church; however, the definition of ‘church’ may vary from denomination to denomination. I imagine that the majority of Christians who accept ‘words of Prophecy’ would agree that testing against scripture must be a criterion for the validity of the ‘word’. Some would also want to test against the traditions of their denomination, and many would be happy to take into account the methods of scriptural interpretation laid down by the early church and the early church fathers. For the most part, this will lead to the majority of Christians being in agreement most of the time as to the validity of the ‘word of prophecy’.

1 One Lord, One Faith, p 23. (Archimandrite Vassilios Bakoyannis).

2 1982 Ratcliffe College Charismatic conference, Fr. Joseph di Mauro …..

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Who are the people of God?

Who are the people of God?

A discussion with reference to Isaiah 54 and Romans 9-11

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© The Revd Barry Drake M.A. May 2000

Introduction

The phrase “The People of God” can have many meanings. Taken at the beginning of the biblical creation story, the “People of God” means all the people – God created them, “…. and saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The meaning might become less clear in the Cain and Abel story, but in spite of his having killed his brother, God does not seem to reject Cain. Cain and his descendants are still among the people of God. In the story of Noah, we do appear to have people who are no longer the “People of God” because they have turned away from Him. We see here that Noah was a “righteous man” and found favour in God’s sight. At this point, Noah and his family alone are the people of God.

Before Israel, then, perhaps we could say that “The Righteous” are the “People of God”, and that the wicked are not His people – not that He has rejected them, but that they have rejected Him in their wickedness. Later, God’s covenant with Abraham is made, and from that time on, the bible speaks of the people of Israel as the people of God, living always among pagan nations who worship other gods. The distinction here is easy: Israel has accepted The Lord as God – the only God – and therefore Israel is the people of God. The nations have rejected God and turned aside to other gods. By that act, they have made themselves no longer His people.

With the coming of Christianity, a definition of “The People of God” becomes far more difficult. Neither Christians nor Jews were of one mind as to who the People of God were, and even in early Christian times, Christians were becoming divided on the same issue. By the present day, the notion of the “People of God” varies from Christian to Christian, and from one Jew to another according to their tradition and background. In this essay, we are looking at two brief passages: one from Isaiah in the Hebrew bible, and the other from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Both of these have been interpreted and re-interpreted many times, and have been used – perhaps even abused – in support of greatly differing views about who the people of God might be.

Today, definitions of “The People of God” would vary from “Those who love the Lord, or who would like to[i].” Through to narrow definitions stating categorically that “the only salvation is through Jesus Christ[ii].” In between these extremes there are a number of other possibilities[iii].

In this essay, I intend to look at Isaiah 54, and Romans 9 – 11, to discover as far as possible the people to whom they were written, and the circumstances that they address. It is my view that both passages have been read by Christians in a manner far from the writers’ original intentions. In my investigation, I will look at writings of the early church, as well as commentaries and exegetical texts from various periods in Christian history. I intend to look closely at a particular Christian viewpoint that sees the Church as having superseded The Jews as “The people of God”, and which is associated strongly with the passages concerned.

Isaiah’s People of God

The passage in chapter 54 of Isaiah deserves to be clear in the way in which it sees the people of God: it very clearly refers to Israel as a people, God’s people. It is written as a word of hope to a people in exile. It is written to the people of God, and if more evidence is required, the following chapter, Isaiah 55, speaks of the gentiles; the nations, and says that God will one day call them to be His people too. The entire chapter is full of comfort, encouragement and promise, and it reminds Israel of the promise from God that its “descendants will possess the nations” (54:3) and calls them “the servants of the Lord”, saying that their vindication will come from God. (54:17). Although the passage does not use the words “people of God”, it is perfectly clear to whom the passage is addressed, and it would be difficult to read anything into the passage as it stands, either in or out of context to suggest that the “People of God” might be understood as anything other than the scattered and downtrodden people of Israel.

It is commonly accepted[iv] that chapters 40 to 55 of Isaiah were written during the Babylonian exile – this would place its authorship in the sixth century BCE. A date between 520 – 516 BCE has been suggested. At that time, the Jews had been exiled from Jerusalem, firstly the nobles and the leading citizens in 597 BCE, and then the ordinary people in 586 BCE apart from some peasants. (See 2 Kings 24:14-16;25:11). The anguish of the exiled Jews is illustrated in Psalm 137. It is into this situation that the words of comfort – and hope – are written.

Chapter 54 begins by comparing Israel (here called “Jerusalem”) to a barren woman. There are echoes here of the sterility of Sarah (Gen 15:2) and of God’s promise fulfilled in Isaac. The promise to His people will be remembered and fulfilled; the Lord, who for a time seems to have abandoned his people, has not forgotten them. The now barren Jerusalem will be rebuilt and repopulated. Verse 6 uses tones reminiscent of the earlier prophet Hosea, when it speaks of Israel as a young wife deserted by her husband – “cast off” by him. Then God speaks – “for a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (54:7). In verse 9, the comparison is made with the Lord’s anger in the time of Noah, but as in the time of Noah, the promise is made, and will be kept.

The second half of the chapter speaks of the city of Jerusalem rebuilt – and rebuilt in far greater splendour than ever before. It ends with the promise that the Lord Himself will be Jerusalem’s protector and vindicator. The whole chapter is a prophetic statement that the promises, which God made to the fathers, are still valid: God keeps His promises, and will continue to do so. The election of Israel as the people of God is a reality, and is permanent. The prophet uses overtones of God’s earlier promises to His covenant-people to affirm, and to guarantee the everlasting covenant that is His promise to Israel – forever.

Most present day whole-bible Christian commentators seem to agree with the above analysis. How then, could there be any possibility of a different interpretation of this chapter, especially one that might show a different understanding of the “people of God”?

Potential problems for Jewish-Christian relations begin to show when the references to Isaiah 54 in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and in John’s Gospel are considered. John (6:45) has Jesus quoting Isaiah 54:13 “All your sons will be taught by the Lord” in a way that seems to mean that everyone who has listened to the Lord will come to Jesus. This in itself provides some difficulty, but Paul’s letter to the Galatians quotes Isaiah 54:1, and uses this reference to suggest that Israel (here called Jerusalem) is in slavery, and that Christians “are children of the promise”, “born according to the Spirit”, “not children of the slave, but of the free woman”. Whatever Paul actually meant by this, and we will look more closely at Paul and his thinking later on, that quotation, and others from the same letter have been used by Christians in anti-Jewish polemic through the ages.

Having stated that most present day commentators make no mention of specifically Christian interpretations for Isaiah 54, the same is not true of earlier scholars. The passage follows immediately after the “Servant Songs” which are well referenced both in the Gospels and the church fathers, who understand the Servant to be a “type” of Jesus, and they continue to follow the same typology in chapter 54, the passage in question. John Wesley, in his “Notes”[v] makes the following statement commenting on Isaiah 54:

“The prophet having largely discoursed of the sufferings of Christ, and of the blessed fruits thereof, and here foreseeing that glorious state of the church, he breaks forth into this song of triumph. And as the foregoing chapter literally speaks of Christ, so doth this of the church of Christ. This church, consisting at first of the Jews, and afterwards of the Gentiles, had been barren, ’till the coming of Christ. The desolate – The church of the Gentiles, which in the times of the Old Testament was desolate, does now bring forth to God a more numerous posterity than that of the Jews.”

Wesley goes on to say, referring to verse 10 of Isaiah 54:

“God will not cast off his Christian church, as he cast off the church of the Jews, the New Covenant is established upon better and surer promises than the Old.”

The understanding here is clearly one of supersession. That is to say, the Jews were the People of God only until the death of Jesus, after which the Christians have superseded the Jews. Christians are then seen as the “New People of God”. Only in commentaries of this century do we begin to find a different attitude taken towards Isaiah, and towards this passage, and it is only in some of the most recent commentaries that the People of Israel, to whom Isaiah is clearly speaking, are allowed to own this passage once more!

Having said that, the purpose of most modern general commentaries is to offer explanation rather than interpretation. It is simply not within the remit of these commentaries to offer the kind of comment that Wesley offered. The situation is not the same in up-to-date specialised commentaries on Isaiah. On the one hand, we see commentators such as Paul Hanson[vi] who are anxious to show both Jewish and Christian interpretative viewpoints. On the other hand, there is a school of commentators such as Alec Motyer[vii], who continue the traditional Christian treatment of the Bible in which the Jews are superseded by the new “People of God” – the church. In his introduction to Isa 54, Motyer says:

“The picture is that of the normative state of the community of the redeemed, the people of God, the church. They have been brought into being by supernatural birth, designed for growth and are secure in the loving care of the Lord.”

There is a view within both Jewish and Christian traditions that prophecy is a living thing: that is to say it has the same relevance in later situations that it had when first given. This view states that all prophecy is spoken by God, through the lips of the prophet, and is therefore a ‘word’ that stands outside time. Whatever their position with regard to the Jews, all Christians identify themselves as a part of the people of God. Taking the view that all prophecy is for the people of God for all time, then it follows that Isaiah 54 might be said to include Christians and modern-day Jews alongside the Jews to whom it was originally written.

It seems, then, that the answer to the question “Who are the people of God with reference to Isaiah 54?” is not a simple one. It depends entirely upon whom you ask!

Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 9-11

In the passages in question, Paul seems to be in the midst of a difficult personal struggle. Verse 2 of chapter 9 is explicit about this. Paul reminds the reader that he himself is a Jew. His letter tells us that he is writing to Jewish Christians as well as to Gentiles. Scholars vary in their opinions as to the background, but perhaps the most widely held opinion[viii] is that the church in Rome was originally composed of Jewish and Gentile Christians. In 49 CE, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. When they were allowed to return in 54 CE, it was to a church that had moved a long way from its previous tradition which was closer to that of the Palestinian Jews. The suggestion here is that Paul is aware that Paul, writing around 57 or 58 CE, is aware that he is addressing a church torn apart by the resulting tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Whatever the situation, and whatever subsequent commentators have made of Paul’s writings[ix], Paul is quite clear as to who the people of God are. At the beginning of Chapter 11, he says, speaking of the people of Israel: “Has God rejected His people“, and he goes on to declare that God has not rejected them. The people of Israel remain for Paul, the people of God. What then of the Gentiles? It is in this connection that Paul presents a well-developed view of how he sees Jew and Gentile together as God’s people.

Let us now turn back to Paul’s struggle at the beginning of Romans 9 in which he speaks of his great sorrow and anguish of heart. Paul’s anguish is about his own people, the Jews. It seems clear that Paul would far rather have the Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah than endure the situation in which he finds himself: effectively cut off from his own people who are rejecting Paul’s claim that Jesus is “The Messiah”. We can be sure that by this time, Paul is truly immersed in tension between Jews and Christians to the extent that he is aware of his own imminent rejection by the Jews. He could almost wish that the situation were reversed, and that he were “cut off from Christ” in order to remain at one with his own people (Rom 9:3). Paul then presents a great deal of difficult argument, and at times it is far from clear just what he is saying. This lack of clarity in some of Paul’s writing has been well noted from the very early days of the church. In the second letter of Peter, the writer seems to imply that Paul’s letters are not easy, and that his words were being used in some kind of undesirable polemic even at that time. The passage referred to says: “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures”. (2 Peter 3:15-16[x])

 

Paul uses the example of Isaac’s birth, reminding the reader that his birth came about only as the result of a promise from God. He uses this idea of Isaac as a gift from God to say that the children of Isaac, that is, “The children of Israel”, are children of grace, children of a promise, gifts from God, rather than natural children born of a purely human series of relationships. As James Dunn writes:

“That which he [Paul] describes as the covenanted status of the descendants of Abraham is their status before God. It is a status which the natural descendants of Abraham cannot assume for themselves by virtue of being the natural descendants of Abraham. The ground of filial relationship to God is not simply filial relationship to Abraham.[xi]

Paul continues his argument to attempt to show that God can call whomsoever He wishes to be “children of the promise” in whatever way He wills. The end of the argument states that God has called his people “not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles”. (Rom 9:24)

Paul’s argument in Romans 9 and 10 is difficult, tortuous and full of bible references with which the reader is expected to be familiar. Perhaps because it lacks clarity, and is therefore easy to “twist”, and perhaps also because of growing hostility between many Jews, especially Palestinian Jews, and the early church, we find Paul’s words referenced a great deal in anti-Jewish polemic. Much has been written about the tension that existed within the Judaism of Paul’s day between Jews from the land that we now call Israel, and Jews of the Diaspora, the Greek-speaking Jews. There was considerable pressure among the Hellenistic Jews for a more progressive form of Judaism, and many of the Levitical prohibitions were being brought into question. Rosemary Ruether[xii] holds that this tension – between the Greek Jew: the Jew of the diaspora, and the Palestinian Jew – plays a large part in the tensions between early church and synagogue. Whatever the cause of the use, or abuse of Paul’s words in polemical texts, it seems clear from the text itself that Paul holds the Gentile Christians to be part of the people of God, together with the Jews, whom God has not rejected.

In chapter 9, Paul refers to the Torah, here called the Law (Gk Nomos). “Israel, who pursued the righteousness which is based on the Law did not succeed in fulfilling that Law”. (Rom 9-31). James Dunn, in his “Theology of Paul[xiii]” is clear that Paul does not see Torah as an impossible burden – “Israel’s pursuit (of righteousness) …. Has failed not because the Law was the wrong goal but because they had pursued it in the wrong way”. Dunn sees the main thrust of Paul’s argument in chapters 9-11 as being to the effect that God can accept Gentiles as well as Jews. Dunn argues that Paul is seeking to claim a place for the Gentiles, alongside the Jews by faith, rather than the works of Torah. It is as though for the Gentiles, Torah is being “replaced” by faith in Jesus Christ, but it is also a question of election – of God’s choice. God can choose whomsoever He wishes – as illustrated by His choice of Jacob over Esau. Dunn tells us that Paul is calling on Israel to recognise the place of faith apart from, or alongside Torah. Paul believes the Jews to be wrong in their rejection of his message – but does not see them as being outside God’s plan because of this. He really longs for his people to be with him, accepting the Christian way as the new Judaism. He has realised though, that this is not happening, and in part is trying to understand the situation himself. It is Paul’s conclusion here that God must have His purpose, otherwise the Jews would hear the message, and would follow it. One part of the answer he finds by quoting Deuteronomy “I will provoke you to jealousy by a nation that is not a nation; by a nation of fools I will make my people angry.” Deut 32:21), suggesting that it is by Israel becoming jealous of the success of Christianity that it will itself turn to the teachings which he is offering. The second part of the answer, Paul sees as being the need to allow the Gentiles to become the people of God through the gospel. Here Dunn comments:

“As we might say, Israel’s early election had given historic Israel such an advantage in the pursuit of righteousness (9:30) that, had Israel smoothly taken to the new phase of the pursuit (through faith in Christ), Gentiles might have been wholly put off, and missed out”.

In other words, Paul sees God to be allowing His “stubborn” people to stay as they are – the people of Israel, the people of God, until the full number of the nations are given the opportunity to hear the gospel that Paul is preaching.

In chapter 11, Paul develops his argument further. He offers a vivid illustration. He compares Israel to a cultivated olive tree, and the Gentiles to a wild olive. He suggests that some of the branches of the cultivated olive have been broken off because of their unbelief. Paul suggests that God has allowed a branch of the wild olive to be “grafted in” to the cultivated olive in order that the Gentiles may share the same root. Of particular note for later consideration is the fact that Paul never suggests that all of the branches have been broken off, but only some. Paul goes on to challenge any pride that Gentile Christians might have in the “breaking off” of Jewish branches to make way for them. He assures them that they can just as easily be “broken off” themselves, and if God so wills, the Jewish branches grafted back in to the root that is Israel. The Gentiles are there by faith and by God’s mercy alone – but in a sense, so are the Jews.

Paul implies that his Messianic claim for Jesus has become a “Stumbling block” for the Jews (Rom 9:32-33), but in chapter 11, he goes on to assert that the “Stumbling” of the Jews has brought salvation to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11). An important point here is that the Jews only “stumble”, they do not fall. Once again, it is God’s providence that allows this to happen, in order to give the nations a fighting chance. The final point that Paul makes towards the end of chapter 11 clarifies his position a great deal, both with regard to the Jews and the Gentiles:

“So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” “And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”. (Rom 11:25-29)

This last passage seems to make it quite clear that the Jews are still the people of God because of God’s promise. God has “hardened their hearts” for a while[xiv], once again for the sake of the nations. Dunn points us to a fresh interpretation -a linguistic technicality – here. He says that the “hardening” should be correctly understood as a partial hardening, or blindness, rather than the accepted translation that suggests only “part of Israel” is hardened.

Beker makes three important points concerning Rom 11:25-28. They are:

“1) There will be no final eschatological deliverance for the world without the salvation of all of Israel. (Rom 11:25-26)

2) The church of the gentiles has no authenticity or identity unless it realises that it is “grafted contrary to nature onto a cultivated olive tree” ie into Israel, “beloved for the sake of the forefathers” (Rom 11:24,28

3) The promises of God for the Gentiles become null and void unless God’s promises to all Israel become realised.[xv]

Whether the Jews have, or have not rejected the Christian gospel, God has not rejected them, simply blinded them to the truth as Paul sees it.

Overall, it is clear that Paul was writing to a divided church, and was attempting to show a kind of middle way. Dunn sees him as walking a tightrope, and refusing an easy solution that would allow the two opposite errors that he sees the church (and the Jews) falling into. Precisely what each party to the argument was saying cannot now be seen clearly. Most scholars suggest that on the one hand, Gentile Christians are arguing that the church has superseded Israel as the people of God, and on the other hand, Jews and Jewish Christians are claiming that they alone are the true people of God – perhaps allowing that “Righteous Gentiles” may be included[xvi]. For this reason, Paul is attempting to show that God makes “no distinction between Jew and Greek” (Rom 10:12).

The above understanding of Romans 9-11 is well supported by the text itself, and by some of the modern commentators[xvii] and theologians. Krister Stendahl, for example, argues with great sensitivity that Paul never sees himself as being converted to Christianity, but rather obeys a call from God to preach the Christian message as a Jew, and to the Jews. When the majority of Jews reject his teaching, he continues his work among the gentiles, and is finally rejected by the Jews. Stendahl asserts that Paul never rejects his own Judaism[xviii], and continues to regard the Jews as being the people of God alongside Christians. He adds that: “The central issue claiming Paul’s attention is that of the inclusion both of Gentiles and Jews[xix].” Stendahl feels strongly that the text itself is not read today as it ought to be. There is a great deal of “handed down” interpretation – much of which he sees as being wrong. He says: “What has happened to Christianity is that instead of having free access to the original, we have lived in a sort of chain reaction – Augustine touching up Paul, and with Pelagius discussing and turning these things around, the medievalists pushing one way or another, and then further reactions, moving away from the original”

The view outlined above is not the only view that is held however. When looking at the Isaiah text earlier, we saw that there was a strongly held view that the Church had superseded the Jews as “the people of God”. In taking this view, John Wesley was among the orthodox of his day, and was reflecting a view that had existed since the church fathers. This view that the church has superseded Israel has been supported by texts from Paul – particularly from Galatians and Romans. How, then, has Romans 9-11 been understood?

In Romans 9:6, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”, and in 11:5, he speaks of the “faithful remnant” of Israel. The view has been taken that only Jews who convert to Christianity are part of this “remnant”. The rest of Israel is then understood to be outside the new people of God, which is the church, until the end times, when the full number of Gentiles have become Christian. After that, there will be a sudden conversion, in which all the Jews will become Christian. The old standard, “Ellicott’s Commentary” says: “The reconversion of the Jews will be a signal to inaugurate that reign of eternal life which will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead.” This understanding of Paul seems to be a very common one within Christianity

Taken out of context, and with scant reference to Romans 11:25-29, the texts at 9:6-7 and 11:4-10 could be read as references to Jews who converted to Christianity. Is this what Paul intended? Paul is speaking as a Pharisee. At the time he is writing, the Pharisees were deeply concerned that most of Israel had lost its commitment to the Torah. The more extreme sects among the Jews were claiming, according to Ruether, that: “the Judaism of the temple and of ordinary believers was to be ranked with the “nations” and counted among the hosts of Belial”[xx]. It is most likely that Paul the Pharisee is referring to lack of faith, lack of Torah observance, and general spiritual malaise among Jews when he declares that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”, and speaks of the faithful remnant of Israel that remains true in its observance, and its faith in God.

The kind of exegesis which claims to prove that the Church has superseded the Jews does not end there. It uses Paul’s illustration of the olive tree (Rom11:17) as though it is saying that all the branches had been broken off. It takes Paul’s statements about lack of faith among Jews to include all the Jews who have not converted to Christianity. Paul’s illustrations are regarded as absolutes that the text simply does not support. The one statement in Rom 11 – the one earlier referred to as making it quite clear that the Jews are still the people of God because of God’s promise, that is 11:28, ought to present a severe problem to the supersessionist. It is abundantly clear from the text that the Jews still remain the people of God because of election (the promise) and that they are still beloved by God. The text bears no other interpretation. The Greek is unambiguous – the phrase “κατα δε την εκλογην αγαπητοι δια τους πατερας

[xxi]” literally, “but concerning the election, they are loved through (or on account of) the fathers”, cannot be understood to mean anything other than that the Jews are still God’s chosen people because of God’s promise to the Patriarchs. In spite of this, Wesley, who, as we have seen was a convinced supersessionist, offers the following: “They are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election – That part of them who believe, they are beloved”. It is clear from the context that by “that part of them who believe”, Wesley means only those who have become Christian. This is hardly justified by the text itself. Many of the older commentaries

[xxii] follow a similar method, by reading into the text such an unsupported comment.

It is not only the older commentators and theologians who offer supersessionist doctrines. A number of modern writers also take the traditional view. “The New Jerome Commentary” of 1989 follows this approach, and presents it as the current Catholic teaching of the time. “New Jerome” seems to take the traditional view that we have just seen concerning the place of Israel, even though Karl Barth, whose views do not entirely support supersessionism, is cited. Jerome’s stance seems surprising in the light of the Vatican declaration “Nostra Aetate” – 1965. This document offers the following:

“Although the Church is the new People of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechising or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ”.

In contrast to the way in which the writer in Jerome understands him, Barth seems to be struggling with the question of the Jews. He sees the “faithful remnant” in Romans 11:15 as Jewish Christians, but softens the implication of this by seeing the rest of Israel somehow as “secret Christians”. He says: “There is always – there was then and there is now – the Church from and in Israel too, and all Israel secretly lives – lived then and lives now – in her. The remnant of Israel, kept by the election of grace, however large or small it may be, is in God’s sight all Israel.

[xxiii]” Writers in the Tübingen school – represented here by Käsemann generally follow a supersessionist understanding. Commenting on Romans 11:28

[xxiv] he cites Schrank:

“Israel is simultaneously loved and rejected because it received a promise and did not accept the gospel. But it has the possibility of conversion so long as the word goes out to it”.

Surprisingly, Rosemary Ruether, who presents a great deal of information concerning Paul’s background, and a clear picture of the Judaism of his day, comes down heavily on the side of Paul being anti-Torah, and anti-Jew

[xxv]. In essence than, supersessionists are clear that Christians are seen as part of a new covenant, and that unconverted Jews are no longer the people of God, but remain in some sort of limbo until the parousia, whereupon they will all convert to Christianity by an act of God.

As we have already seen when considering Isaiah 54, the answer to the question “Who are the people of God?” is not a simple one. This is true also of in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The answer depends once again upon whom you ask.

Looking at the Problem

A major problem for Jewish-Christian relations is a brand of supersessionism that gives no place among the people of God to the Jews. This has been highlighted in the study of Isaiah 54, and Romans 9-11 above. Jacob Neusner

[xxvi] sees supersessionism as the major stumbling block in Jewish Christian relations today. The problem seems to begin in the very early church. We have seen already that it was precisely this kind of attitude that Paul sought to avoid in his letter to the Romans. Within a few years of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the church fathers were writing strongly supersessionist anti-Jewish polemic, and referring to the Jews as Christ Killers

[xxvii]. Dunn, when looking at this problem, states categorically that Paul’s attempt (to re-define Israel as “the called of God”, both Jew and Christian) has failed

[xxviii]. The idea that Jews are no longer the people of God strengthened during the first three or four centuries of Christianity and beyond. Neusner sees the problem as having intensified and taken on an even more serious character at the hands of the Christian reformers and today it represents not only the view of some modern theologians, but for the most part, the popular understanding among ordinary Christians. Following a recent trip to Israel, I sent a questionnaire to my fellow participants to obtain a list of their favourite and least favourite places. One response, to the question “Which site did you find the most moving?” reads as follows: “The Wailing Wall on the Jewish Sabbath. Praying and weeping …… for the Peace of Jerusalem that Jews and Gentiles will acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Messiah

[xxix]“. From what has been said to me by Christians from time to time I feel sure that this attitude – that Jews need to be “saved” by becoming Christians – is the majority Christian response.

I would like to extend this messianic notion just a little. Paul quotes Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26. “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”. Perhaps the most central area of common ground for both Jew and Christian is the expectation that the Messiah will come, and will usher in the eternal kingdom of God. Dunn suggests that Paul’s lack of identification in 11:26 of the Messiah with Jesus is a deliberate one. If Paul makes the identification in his own mind, in his writing, he leaves the question open, allowing both Christian and Jew to continue to expect Messiah’s coming each in his own way. We have much to learn from that simple point made by Paul, in Jewish Christian relations today.

Conclusion

In summary, it seems that not only has Christianity effectively hijacked large sections of the Hebrew Bible and claimed them as though they are Christian texts, but it has also abused some of them beyond reasonable bounds. The idea that the Church is the new Jerusalem, and that the Jews have been rejected is something that has permeated Christian teaching since the beginning, and as we have seen, this is contrary to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. The answer to the original question ought to be a simple one: in Isaiah 54, we ought to be able to say clearly that the people of God as seen in that passage are the people of Israel, and that by adoption, the prophecy may later be applied to Christians. In a similar way, referring to the passages from Paul, we ought to be able to say categorically that Paul sees the people of God as Jews and Christians together, and that this applies whether or not the Jews have become Christians. We can see from the above study that this is not the case. The waters have become very muddy indeed.

The conclusions reached in the above essay suggest that there is a great deal of work to be done. If Paul’s intention in his letter to the Romans has been correctly understood by Dunn, Stendahl and others, then the church has lived with a malignant error – one might say a heresy – since its earliest days

[xxx]. Rabbi Jonathan Magonet illustrates the fact that the way any of us reads the Bible is influenced strongly, often mindlessly, by the baggage that each of us brings to our reading of it

[xxxi]. This baggage is educational, cultural and religious, and the stark reality of it begins to be seen in the light of joint study by Jews and Christians together. Jews and Christians working together are each able to challenge, and sometimes to correct the other.

Dr. Edward Kessler sees one answer to problems in Jewish-Christian dialogue as an intense programme of education

[xxxii] – for both Christians and Jews. His assertion that the teaching must be made to filter right down through all levels is an evident, but challenging one; any misconception that has been supported and reinforced for two millennia, as has the ‘doctrine’ of supersession, will be a hard one to overturn. The work is urgent – and vitally important. Where is the witness to the rest of the world if God’s own people can’t be seen to live and work in harmony with one another? The sins of our forebears may be handed down through the generations – but there comes a time when, with the help of God, and end must be made. I fancy that this will be a glorious end indeed.

Bibliography

Barth, Karl – Shorter Commentary on Romans – SCM – 1959

Bettenson, Henry – Documents of the Christian Church – OUP – 1943 to 1954

Beker, J. Christiaan – The New Testament View of Judaism – an essay in “Jews and Christians”, edited by J. H. Charlesworth – Crossroads NY – 1990

Bultmann, Rudolf – Theology of the New Testament – SCM – 1952

Dunn, James D. G. – The Theology of Paul the Apostle – Clark (under license from Eerdmans) – 1998

Dunn, James D. G. – 38B Word Biblical Commentary – Word publishing – 1991

Dunn, James D. G. – The Parting of the Ways – SCM 1991

Ellicott, Chas. J. (Ed.) – A Bible Commentary for English readers – Cassell – Undated Ca. 1910

Hanson, Paul D – Interpretation – Isaiah 40-66 – John Knox press – 1995

Hunter, A. M. – The Epistle to the Romans (Torch series) – SCM – 1955

Käsemann, Ernst – Commentary on Romans – SCM 1973, 1980

Magonet, Jonathan – “A Rabbi’s Bible” – SCM – 1991

Motyer, Alec – The Prophecy of Isaiah – IVP – 1993

Moule, H. C. G – The Epistle to the Romans – Pickering and Inglis – 1928, 1975

Neusner, Jacob – Jews and Christians – The Myth of a Common Tradition – SCM – 1991

Roetzel, Calvin J. – The Letters of Paul – SCM – 1975, 1982

Ruether, Rosemary R. – Faith and Fratricide – Seabury (NY) – 1974

Stendahl, Krister – Paul among Jews and Gentiles – Fortress (Pa) – 1976 to 1979

General Commentaries and references:

Encyclopaedia Judaica

Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church – OUP

Peake’s Commentary on the Bible – Thomas Nelson – 1962

The Interpreter’s one volume Commentary on the Bible – Abingdon 1971,1992

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary – Geoffrey Chapman – 1989

CD ROMs:

Online Bible Deluxe Edition – published by Online Bible, Canada 1999 Use made of the Jamieson Fawcett Brown commentary

Wesleyan Heritage Library – published by Wesleyan Heritage, USA – 1997

Use made of John Wesley’s Sermons, and Notes on the Bible (Ca. 1740?)

From the internet:

Early Church Fathers – edition by Philip Schlaff downloaded from http://ccel.org/fathers2/

Nostra Aetate – downloaded from the Vatican web site

Kessler, Edward – Jewish Christian Relations – the next generation – downloaded from the CJCR web site

[i] A broad definition used to my knowledge by some of the more liberal members of the United Reformed Church, including myself. It may well be a definition worth pursuing in dialogue between Jews and Christians.

[ii] There are many Conservative Evangelical Christians today who insist that the only salvation is through Jesus Christ, and would take that to mean that the only people of God are those who have become Christians.

[iii] One possibility would include only those who have been through some kind of ritual initiation – some Cristians would cite baptism, others baptism by immersion, as believers. Perhaps there are Jews who would cite circumcision.

[iv] An increasing number of conservative Christian scholars assert that the whole of Isaiah dates from the eight century BCE. This is not the place to discuss that particular issue, but the dating will not, in any case affect my argument.

[v] Wesley, John – Notes on the Bible – Ca. 1740? (Computer edition, Wesleyan Heritage Publications 1998 – CD ROM)

[vi] Paul Hanson – Interpretation Isaiah 40-66

[vii] Alec Motyer – The prophecy of Isaiah

[viii] A number of the most recent commentators take this view, including Roetzel and the Pauline contributor to the New Jerome commentary.

[ix] Passages from Paul’s writings in the letter to the Romans are quoted as proof texts in early Christian anti-Jewish polemic. We can see some of this in the many references to Paul in ‘adversos Judaeos’ passages in the church fathers.

[x] This passage may be referring to Galatians. Certainly the writer seems to imply not only that Paul is difficult to understand, but also that there is already controversial teaching in the church, possibly anti-Jewish, that “twists Paul’s words”.

[xi] “38B Word Biblical Commentary” – JDG Dunn

[xii] She makes reference to this situation in “Faith and Fratricide”, and regards it as formative in the Jewish-Christian split.

[xiii] J D G Dunn – The theology of Paul the Apostle

[xiv] A comparison is used here from Exodus: God hardened the heart of the Pharaoh so that Israel might be saved.

[xv] Beker’s essay “The new testament view of Judaism” in “Jews and Christians”

[xvi] Rosemary Ruether writes: “The doctrine of the Noachian laws gave Judaism a rationale for accepting the “righteous pagan” as a child of God who had a place in the promised Kingdom”. She says that this was an accepted teaching among Hellenistic Jews well before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. “Faith and Fratricide”

[xvii] James Dunn is one of several commentators who are clear that Paul sees non-Christian Jews as a part of the people of God.

[xviii] In this, James Dunn agrees with Stendahl. Writing in “The Partings of the Ways”, Dunn states “Paul would by no means have regarded himself as outside Israel looking in. Outside Judaism perhaps; but Judaism as defined by his Pharisaic contemporaries; Paul an Israelite still”.

[xix] In his third chapter, “Justification rather than forgiveness”, Stendahl takes a refreshing look at Paul and his background and point of view. Krister Stendahl -“Paul among Jews and Gentiles”

[xx] Ruether produces much evidence to show that the Judaism of Paul’s day was degenerate, most of the people had lost faith in God, and especially among the Hellenistic Jews, the people were becoming more and more secular in their outlook. “Faith and Fratricide” – R. Ruether – 1974

[xxi] Technical note: I have transliterated the Greek here, as “kata de thn ekloghn agaphtoi dia touV pateraV” (Romans 11:28) may not transmit electronically to resemble the original. Greek computer fonts seem a bit variable in the way they work.

[xxii] The text is unavoidable here, but some commentators who are insisting on the supersession of the church get around the problem by suggesting that the Jews are still loved by God, even though being excluded from His people. From Jamieson Fawcett Brown commentary – Rom 11:28. As concerning the Gospel they are enemies for your sakes–that is, they are regarded and treated as enemies (in a state of exclusion through unbelief, from the family of God) for the benefit of you Gentiles; in the sense of #Ro 11:11,15. but as touching, the election–of Abraham and his seed — they are beloved–even in their state of exclusion for the fathers’ sakes.

[xxiii] Karl Barth’s Shorter Commentary on Romans. This book is especially interesting as Barth gave the work originally as a series of lectures during the Second World War. This work was not published until 1956, and I find it surprising that Barth did not feel a need to add some later thoughts from a post war situation – in the light of the destruction of six million Jews.

[xxiv] Käsemann’s “Commentary on Romans”

[xxv] Ruether is demonstrating that anti-Semitism has deeply Christian roots. Maybe she feels that this view of Paul strengthens her argument. I feel strongly that the text itself does not support her argument here. . “Faith and Fratricide” – R. Ruether – 1974

[xxvi] Neusner – “Jews and Christians, the Myth of a Common Tradition”

[xxvii] One of the earliest of the fathers to write in this manner is St. Ignatius. By that time (late first century) it has become clear that the church, or at least part of the church, is strongly anti-Jew, classing Jews along with ‘the heathen’.

[xxviii] Chapter 6 of “The Theology of Paul the Apostle”

[xxix] I am sure that many people, Jew and Christian alike, are moved to pray at the Western Wall that the Messiah will come. It is the implication here that the Jews have been rejected by God and need to accept the Christian Messiah, Jesus, before he can come again as Messiah that I find problematical.

[xxx] One might also wonder as to what other errors are lurking, yet to be discovered, in our handed down theologies.

[xxxi] “How a donkey reads the Bible” – a chapter in “A Rabbi’s Bible”.

[xxxii] Hugo Gryn Memorial Lecture: “Jewish-Christian Relations – the next generation”.

Is Antisemitism Christian?

The development of teaching aimed at non-academic Christians to raise awareness of the Christian responsibility for antisemitism

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© The Revd Barry Drake M.A.

Why?

When one considers that James Parkes began working on the issue of Christian Antisemitism prior to the second World War, and had published a phenomenal amount of pioneering work before his death in 1981, one can begin to see something of the inertia of church. Given that there is little knowledge on the subject among church leaders at the present time, how much more ignorance must there be among ordinary Christians? It is this aspect that suggests the need to look at ways of addressing the issue at local level.

In this, it is also important to realise that the education process that is mentioned above as beginning in the churches is only so in the structured denominations within Christianity. For this reason, it is appropriate to look at the Church as it exists today.

The Christian Church today

Surveys of the Church in the United Kingdom carried out over the last few years by each of the mainstream denominations show a serious decline in membership. Many local churches are almost at the point of closure and the resulting difficulties would point towards the demise and complete extinction of Christianity in this country. One area of Christianity is, however, growing – and in some cases growing fast. This is the Conservative Evangelical end of the church – and in particular, what one might call the “New Churches”. While there are Conservative Evangelical local churches within most of the mainstream denominations, it seems likely that an even larger number of conservative Christians are represented in the “New Churches”

Much of the success of these conservative churches seems to be due to their rejection of a great deal of the modernist approach to biblical interpretation. All Conservative Evangelical Christians take what they would describe as a ‘high’ view of scripture. There are various shades of understanding of this position, but these vary from ‘Bible Inerrancy’, through more moderate positions in which absolute accuracy in a scientific sense is not claimed. Conservative Evangelicals claim, however, that the bible is “wholly inspired by God”. For this reason, they will reject any claim that any part of the bible has an antisemitic bias simply because of the time and the circumstances that it was written to address. It seems clear from this that any attempt to teach along with Rosemary Ruether and other theologians who share this view, that, for example, John’s gospel and Matthew’s gospel are antisemitic per se will be rejected by conservatives. We are, in their eyes talking about the “Word of God”, and if God Himself were telling us to be antisemitic, then so be it!

Other scholars put forward the view that no part of the New Testament is antisemitic – the antisemitism comes only from the interpretations of the Christian scriptures over the years – in particular by the early church Fathers. We will look at this as a possibility in a later section of this essay.

A very few years ago, one division of Christianity might have experienced a serious problem in the understanding of Jewish Christian relations at local church level. This is because of the high degree of importance given to the institutional teaching of churches at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum from the “New Churches”. Today, however, the

denominations which would take this view – in the main, Catholic and Anglican in the UK – have produced statements that substantially change their view from the historic position. How widely these are taught and understood at local church level is hard to say – but in the course of the teaching to be undertaken, these documents can be used to support all statements that antisemitism must be rooted out and removed from the Christian agenda.

The previous section of this essay stated that the process of education that is under way does not apply to the “NewChurches”. The reason for this is that for the most part, the leaders of these churches are self-taught. This is not to say that they are not up-to-date with their reading – many of them are – but there is no formal education for ministry as such that these leaders are obliged to attend.

In view of all of the above, the teaching that is being developed here will centre on the study of the bible – both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures – in those areas that can be useful to demonstrate that Christian Antisemitism is at best in error, and at worst contrary to the very essence of the teachings of Jesus.

Translations of the New Testament itself may well have a bias brought about by the antisemitic tradition within Christianity. As an example, I quote from Luke 20:46. The NIV (currently the most popular version among conservative evangelical Christians) has the wording: Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets”. This same passage may equally well be rendered: “Be on your guard against those scribes who like to walk about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts”. It is evident that the first translation is talking of “all Scribes”, whereas the second is only referring to “some”. In the latter rendering, the sense of this phrase is remarkably similar to two Talmudic illustrations – the first is the “showy” Pharisee in JT Berakhot 14b who carries his good deeds on his shoulder, and the second is the Judge who likes to walk about in his “long robes”. Moshe Weinfeld points to both of these. For this reason, it seems probable that the second translation of Luke 20:46 is a more likely rendition of the actual teaching that Jesus was giving.

This translation example is one illustration from the Christian Scriptures. A translator uses, in addition to his linguistic skills, knowledge of the attitude of the writer from other sources. In this instance, the ‘other sources’ have, historically been the early church Fathers. Their antisemitism is well known, and is the subject of later discussion in this essay.

Rationale

Currently, the Alpha course is becoming very popular within Christianity. It is being used and accepted right across the denominations, and is showing phenomenal success. Alpha begins with few preconceptions. It commences by looking at Christianity in its most basic form, and allows questions to be posed and fully discussed. Alpha is structured around a short talk appropriate to each session, followed by question and answer sessions in small groups. This pattern follows the widely accepted need for interactive learning in the process of adult education.  It is intended that this paper be used as a training resource for churches.

Generalisations, Stereotypes and Misunderstandings about Jews

During almost 2000 years of Christian development, there has been a move away from first hand knowledge of Jews and Judaism to a whole set of understandings and teachings about the subject which are not just inaccurate, but often the very opposite of the truth. In the setting of a training day, it will not be reasonable to examine these to the full, but it is intended to make a start in this important aspect of education. Working in small groups, the participants of such a study day will be asked to look first at verbal caricatures of “The Jew” which they know to be false, and also positive stereotypes that they may know, or have heard of. Recollections of Jewish and anti-Jewish jokes, and sayings from a past generation may be useful in discussion. Following a short time on that aspect, the group members will be asked to look at the lifestyle and culture of Jews, Jewish religion and the Jewish attitude towards “The Law” as they see it. One can expect that views of Judaism as a legalistic religion will be among those held. Questions such as “Who were the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus?” will lead naturally into discussion about Sadducees, Scribes and Pharisees – and the probable composition of the Sanhedrin at that time. A very common misconception among Christians is that at the time of Jesus, Pharisees were the Jewish leaders, and all Pharisees were harsh, legalistic and enemies of Jesus.

Bible study on the following passages will be used to illustrate that not all Pharisees are shown in a bad light in the New Testament. In Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus eating with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-43) and also Luke 11:37 shows that Jesus was well known to, and friendly with Pharisees. In Luke 13:31, Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod is going to kill him. In John’s gospel, the story of Nicodemus in John 3:1:21 is one example of a Pharisee with whom Jesus has a good relationship. The same idea may be further illustrated from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 10:34 tells of a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who is sympathetic towards the Christians after the death of Jesus. It is usually

assumed that this is the same Gamaliel who was the teacher of Paul. Acts 15:5 shows that Pharisees were among the early Christians (although it has to be admitted that the passage does not show them in a particulary good light). Also, in Acts 23:9 it appears to be the Pharisees who are on the side of Paul. Both these and passages that speak unfavourably of Pharisees will be introduced to suggest that of all Jews of his day, Jesus associated the most with Pharisees Rabbi Harvey Falk suggests that all of the differences of opinion between Jesus and various Pharisees in the gospels are due to Jesus teaching according to bet Hillel and his opponents belonging to bet Shammai. Perhaps the easiest way to introduce this aspect to participants of a study day will be to tell the well known Talmudic story in which Shammai and Hillel are each asked to teach a would-be convert the whole of the Law while he stood on one leg. This example will be used to illustrate that observing Jews understand Halakah as both liberating, and leading to a real relationship with God within what is today, a faith that is very much alive for the Jew. This is the very opposite of the Christian stereotype so often quoted, that “The Jew is in bondage to the Law”. The example will also serve as an illustration of the tradition within which Jesus taught. Hillel’s view that we should love the Lord with all of our heart, and never do to anyone what we wouldn’t want them to do to us is the whole of the law – and “the rest is commentary” has a very obvious parallel in the Christian gospels. Mark 12:28-31 offers: “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Views on Christian Antisemitism

A vast amount of work has been published in the last fewyears on the subject of antisemitism. In this, it is evident that the horror of the unprecedented magnitude and sheer brutality of the Shoah has triggered a great deal of profound thought. Without exception, scholars and theologians are in agreement that Christianity itself has presented an antisemitic message from the beginning of its history until the present day, and careful examination of this deeply worrying aspect has resulted in works by Jews and by Christian theologians alike.

Rosemary Radford Ruether has been widely accepted as a leading theologian on the subject. Briefly, she takes the view that the New Testament is antisemitic in all of its books, and that the degree of antisemitism increases as the time of the writing of a particular book grows later. Ruether takes the dating of the gospels as it is commonly accepted as a firm piece of evidence. It isn’t. It is not appropriate here to go into detail on this aspect. Suffice it to say that John Robinson’s “The Priority of John” may not in itself ‘prove’ anything, but it certainly suggests that placing too much reliance on specific dating of the gospel texts is unsafe.

Another area about which one might have doubt is Ruether’s acceptance that Paul, writing in his letter to the Romans, is offering an antisemitic viewpoint. In her argument for this, she accepts the traditional Christian understanding of Paul as found in the early church fathers and in most commentaries up until the last few years as representing Paul’s actual view. This view is that Paul is saying that God has rejected the Jews and removed them from the covenant except for those who converted to Christianity. It is difficult to see how the text itself justifies this view Paul presents an emphatic position that God has not rejected His people – or indeed denied the Covenant – this can safely be used as a platform for teaching that the church has misled Christians into a false position vis-à-vis Jews and Judaism over the many centuries of its existence. Currently, all of the mainstream Christian denominations are, through their various statements moving towards this position.

There are a few scholars who support the position that the New Testament, including the gospels, is not antisemitic – but that statements within the New Testament have been interpreted in an antisemitic way. Lloyd Gaston makes a case for Paul trying to develop a theology of a valid Judaism existing and developing alongside Christianity and this is detailed in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Personally I believe this to be the what Paul was intending in his letters, and for this reason a large portion of the study day will be devoted to a study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 9, 10 and 11.

Paul – writing to the Romans and to the Galatians

The foundation of the Christian attitude towards Jews, the Torah, and the place of the Gentiles in God’s sight come mainly from the letters of Paul. We have seen above that the Christian tradition has interpreted Paul as saying that Israel has been rejected and replaced by Christianity. Is this in fact what Paul intends us to understand?

A study of the text itself in Romans 9, 10 and 11 shows Paul struggling with the idea of Israel existing alongside Christianity. But he is emphatic. “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means” [Rom 3:31]; “Has God rejected his people? By no means”[Rom 11:1]. Gaston points out that Paul is speaking to Gentiles, not Jews – and that, at times, he is speaking not as a Jew, but as the Gentile Christian that Paul considers he has become. With regard to Paul’s frequent assertions in all his letters that the law is a state of bondage and brings death (see 1 Cor. 36 as an example), Gaston points us to the Talmud. He quotes R. Tanhuma writing

about the Torah in the Talmud. He offers this reference as one of many similar. “The word of the Lord went forth in two aspects, slaying the heathen who would not accept it, but giving life to Israel who accepted the Torah”. Exod Rab 5.9. Gaston continues: “For Gentiles, who do not have the Torah as covenant, Torah as law functions in an exclusively negative way”.

This is to say that all of Paul’s apparently negative assertions about the Torah are intended only for Gentile Judaizers, and not for Jews for whom Torah is life itself.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is about Judaizers. Both Gaston and Marcus Braybrook, along with others are certain that Paul is not talking to Jews but to Gentile Christians who are insisting upon circumcision as being required of other gentile converts to Christianity. His letter to the Romans is written a few years after his letter to the Galatians, and may well be an attempt to clear up misunderstandings that have arisen from the teachings he has been offering previously, of which the letter to the Galatians is the written example. In Romans, Paul goes a step further. He himself leaves the company of his fellow Jews and becomes apostate. He becomes a gentile by removing himself from Torah observance in order to demonstrate to gentiles that the Christian faith is enough. Gaston is clear that Paul never intends to teach Jews that they ought to do the same.

Another comment that has been made on the basis of Paul is that he points to Jesus as “The end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). In fact, the word Paul uses means ‘end’ only in the sense of object or goal. The example one might use here would be that of a building. The ‘topping out’ of a building signals its completion. It also represents the ‘end’ of the building works. It does not imply that the foundations, or, for that matter, the entire building below roof level no longer have a purpose. They are, in fact, the entire purpose. The ‘end’ in that instance means that nothing further need be added – and the building is ready for use. The Jewish response to that might well be that the Torah needed no completion. My reply would be that the purpose of the chosen people of God is to be “a light to the gentiles”. In using the passage from Isaiah, I am using it in the sense in which it was intended to be read when it was written – that is to say that salvation is to come to all the world through the Jews. If Christianity is to be regarded as a “conduit for the Torah” as Bayfeld suggests, when he tells us that the liberal Jew is well on the way to accepting “the most famous son of Israel” – not as saviour, messiah etc – but as “the conduit of the Torah” to the goyim, then one could argue that in Jesus, the Torah is indeed moving towards its goal; ‘being completed’. There is a parallel to this argument in Jacobus Schoneveld, who sees the Logos (in John’s gospel) as being synonymous with the oral Torah

CJCR Summer School 2001 – Poland – a case study

The 2001 Polish experience with CJCR provides a valuable place to begin to teach both the development of Christian Antisemitism and the dreadful consequence of this in the Shoah. It will be helpful to remind participants in a training day, of the way in which Jews were treated during the Second World War, and by way of introduction, I will briefly mention our experiences in Auschwitz and in the Jewish Cemeteries that we visited.

Two further illustrations taken from the Poland visit will be used to help underline the past attitude of the church towards Jews. During a visit to a church, the guide from that church was asked by a member of our party about the legend under one of the Stations of the Cross. There was a degree of antisemitism implied in the wording. The guide responded as follows: “It is known that the Jews crucified Jesus. That is what the Stations of the Cross depict. It is what the bible says, and that cannot be changed.”

There was a stunned silence. It was finally broken by a Catholic priest who was with our party. He pointed out that the bible did not say  anything of the kind. It was the Romans who crucified Jesus. Our host was unrepentant: “The Jews put the Romans up to it. It was they who were responsible for his death.” was the reply.

It was evident that his Christian education had not moved on in the years after the war.

The other illustration that will be offered is that of a piece of mediaeval church art. This depicts Jews carrying out ritual murder of a child. The painting is still hanging in a church in Poland in spite of much protest. But for the destruction of ecclesiastical art following the English Reformation, it is very likely that similar paintings would have existed in the UK.

In a study day, discussion concerning the social structure of Poland immediately prior to the Nazi occupation should be offered.

Jews in Europe before World War 2

During the Polish study trip, time was devoted to a brief outline of the social and economic interaction between Christians and Jews from the middle ages up to the inter-war period. By the time of the First World War, social interaction between Christians and Jews had reached a stable and soundly viable position. This had been heavily influenced by the restrictions that had been placed by all European countries on the life and influence that Jews were allowed to have. These restrictions were made during many periods up to at least the nineteenth century. The exact nature of the restrictions varied from country to country. In Poland, Jews had not been allowed to become land-owners. This fact meant that they could not be part of the agricultural sector of Polish communities. In addition, one common factor in Jewish development in every part of the world is the need for Jews to live within a short distance of their Synagogue. The result was that Jews lived in towns, and took up occupations as traders, craftsmen and financial professionals of various kinds. In parts of Europe in Mediaeval times, only Jews were allowed to lend money and receive interest. This led to the eventual establishment of Jewish owned banks. The situation has been simplified a great deal, but by the time of the first World War, Poland had a Jewish community associated with every town, with a population almost equal to that of the non-Jewish community. In each of these towns, Jews found themselves in positions of power and influence – more especially since emancipation of European Jews during the nineteenth
century.

During the Second World War, propaganda was used to suggest that all Jews were dishonest, and were working together to gain money and power at the expense of non-Jews. This kind of propaganda inflamed the already present undercurrents of antisemitism which had been laid down by the church over the centuries.

The Early Church Fathers

It is in the vehement antisemitism of a number of the early church fathers that we find a real turning point away from any hope of mutual understanding. The various doctrines and theologies that were developed during the time of the fathers has left us with a legacy that we have to face – and challenge – if Jewish Christian relations is to have any substance at all. When we consider that many foundational Christian doctrines come from the fathers, we begin to see the immensity of the overall task. The Trinity immediately springs to mind. For better or for worse, this doctrine is right at the heart of Christian teaching and thinking – and Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, who were the originators of this teaching, is noted also for his antisemitism!

There is a whole catalogue of antisemitic writings in many of the fathers. Of these, one in particular deserves special mention: John Chrysostom is notorious for the vicious and libellous way in which he treats Jews. Especially of note is his accusation that Jews are guilty of infanticide – they sacrifice their sons and daughters to demons”. It is this accusation that much later, led to the ‘Blood Libels’ mentioned below.

It is John Chrysostom too, who develops the charge of deicide: “If someone had killed your son, could you stand the sight of him or the sound of his greeting? Wouldn’t you try to get away from him as if he were an evil demon; as if he were the devil himself? The Jews killed the Son of your Master ….. Will you so dishonour Him as to respect and cultivate His murderers, the men who crucified Him?” The concept of deicide was made possible by the new Trinitarian thought, but it was Chrysostom who put it into words, and fashioned out of it a weapon that has been used to vilify, persecute, torture and murder Jews ever since his time.

It is these two libellous statements in Chrysostom that have led time and time again to persecution, torture and murder of Jews. As examples of such Christian antisemitism for the purposes of a study day, the treatment of Jews during the Crusades and during the Spanish Inquisition will be offered, together with a brief outline of the European “Blood Libels” – this last example is illustrated by the Polish antisemitic painting referred to in the section about the 2001 CJCR Summer School. The need for clarity and brevity suggest that it would be inappropriate to offer more that these examples. In particular, in addition to the blood libels, the example will be quoted of the torture and murder of many thousands of Jews who would not agree to be baptised as Christians – and this with the encouragement and full approval of the church.

Conclusion

From questions I have asked of a number of Christians from all the mainstream denominations, it seems that most have some small sense that Christianity has played its part in antisemitism. Most of these Christians have heard the libellous statement that “The Jews crucified Jesus” at some time in their lives. And there is an eagerness to know more. We have seen above that the current state of teaching Christian antisemitism in training for Christian ministry is not far advanced. Even if it were, it would be a generation or so before such teaching filtered down to grass roots level in the majority of churches.

We have seen above that Paul shows Israel as remaining within the covenant for ever. In view of this, it is surprising that Christians have not applied the test of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-40) to the Jews and Judaism. Christians who hold Scripture in high authority will accept the importance of these facts in determining the attitude that Christians ought to take towards Jews.

Because of this, I am proposing that a study day I was preparing as I wrote this, might be regarded as something of an experiment. It is my hope that it might now be developed further in the light of experience gained on the day itself, and perhaps move towards future presentations. If sufficient energy is put into work along these lines, I would expect it to
result in a greatly increased pace of awareness in Christian circles. As a secondary aim, it ought to be possible to develop awareness of modern-day Judaism, and encourage Christians to make contact with Jews through the CCJ. It is evident that we are only just at the beginnings of this kind of dialogue – there is much work to do. I suspect that as Jewish Christian dialogue reaches non-academic people at grass roots level, and from this comes a greater awareness of the Jewish roots of our Christian faith, there will be a profound change in our entire faith climate – a change for the better.

An Afterthought

To say that perseverance in Jewish Christian relations will bring a profound change in our faith climate is not enough. Some kind of vision for this change needs to be set out. In studying the Holocaust, Christians will inevitably be confronted with the “Suffering Servant” passages from Isaiah understood in a very different context from their old Christian teaching in which Jesus alone is seen as the suffering servant.

Perhaps it is time for Christians to begin to look at their best known scripture – John 3:16 – in Jewish light – perhaps we might think in terms of “God so loved the world that He gave His Firstborn son …” thus makingthe passage into a reference to Exodus 4:22. Taken as a possibility for Jewish Christian relations, this approach would be unacceptable to most Christians at the present time. Given perseverance, we might begin to move towards it. In another area, the vexed question of the Trinity has to be faced. If Christians begin to look more deeply at the various sayings in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the words of Jesus about the divinity of Humankind, we may find that this is an area in which Christians can begin to understand the divinity of Jesus in a marginally different way from their traditional approach. The issue of human divinity is one which is common to both Jews and Christians.There may be a possibility for further dialogue here.

Bibliography

Braybrooke, Marcus – “Christian Jewish Dialogue, the next step” – London, SCM – 2000

Braybrooke, Marchs – “Time to Meet” – London SCM – 1990

Brockway et al, “The theology of the churches and the Jewish people” – Geneva, WCC – 1988

Cohn-Sherbock, Dan – “Issues in Contemporary Judaism” – London, MacMillan – 1991

Everett, Robert A. – “Christianity without Antisemitism” – 1993 – Oxford – Pergamon

Falk, Harvey – “Jesus the Pharisee” – New York, Paulist – 1985

Freudmann, Lillian C. “Antisemitism in the New Testament” – Maryland and London, UPA – 1994

Fry, Helen P (1996) Christian-Jewish Dialogue – a reader – Exeter: University of Exeter Press

Gager, John – “The Origins of Anti-Semitism” – New York – Oxford University Press – 1983

Gaston, Lloyd – “Paul and the Torah” -Vancouver, UBC – 1987

Jones, Gareth Lloyd, “Hard Sayings – Difficult New Testament Texts for Jewish Christian Dialogue, London, CCJ

Klein, Charlotte – “Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology” – London SPCK 1978

Lowe, M (Ed) – “The New Testament in Christian Jewish Dialogue” – Jerusalem, Ecumenical Research Fraternity, 1990

Rausch, David A. – “Fundamentalist-Evangelicals and Anti-Semitism” – Philadelphia, Trinity – 1993

Richardson, Peter (Ed) – “Anti Judaism in Early Christianity” – Vancouver, Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion – 1986, 1998

Robinson, John A. T. – “The priority of John” – London: SCM, 1985

Rubenstein, Richard with J. K. Roth – “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London, SCM – 1987

Sandmel, Samuel – “We Jews, You Christians” – Philadelphia, Lippincott – 1967

Schweitzer, Frederick M. – “A Histroy of the Jews” – 1971 – New York – Macmillan

Sian Jones (Editor), “Cultures of Ambivalence and Contempt: Studies in Jewish – Non-Jewish Relations” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1998

Parkes, James – “Antisemitism” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1963

Ruether, Rosemary – “Faith and Fratricide” – New York Seabury Press 1974

Rubenstein, Richard L with Roth, John K “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London SCM – 1987

Wilson, Stephen G. – “Related Strangers” – Minneapolis – Fortress – 1995

Web Sites of interest:

http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Christian.html

http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/antisem.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/guidelines2.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/byrne.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/christjew.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/Christology.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston2.htm

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

http://www.adherents.com/,

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_deno.htm

http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010221e.shtml

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

Appendix a

Is Antisemitism Christian?

A day of reflection and study

The day should commence with a look at antisemitism in the many

forms it takes. Participants will look, in particular about the rôle of Christianity in inciting antisemitism, and its involvement in the persecution, torture and murder of Jews in many periods of history. They will also consider the attitude of different parts of the church before and during the Holocaust. An important part of the day will be spent studying the Bible. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters nine ten and eleven are of great importance in this study, and participants will need to be familiar with them beforehand.

It will also be helpful to have read some of the passages in which God makes His covenant with the Jews, and perhaps also Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Commentaries vary greatly on how they treat Paul and his attitude towards Jews – it might be more helpful to read the text prayerfully and let it speak for itself than to spend time with commentaries.

Practical arrangements:

Tea or coffee should be provided at lunchtime. Expect to finish around 4.30 pm with a short act of worship.

Outline of the work:

After a brief introductory talk, form small discussion groups to look at their knowledge of Jews and Judaism, what they have heard about them and stereotypes (good and bad) that they might have come across. They should also discuss what they understand Jews believe, and how they understand the expression of their faith.

The second talk should be on the antisemitic side of early church history. This will be followed by more group work to discuss examples of the way in which early Christian teaching has adversely affected the Christian attitude towards Jews in the modern world. After lunch, they should dip briefly into the part the church played in the persecution of the Jews from medieval times up to the present day. Each talk should be followed by group discussion work. The day will end with a short act of worship.

Appendix b

A Sermon for Holocaust Memorial Day

Is Antisemitism Christian?

 “And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord. “

These are the words at the end of chapter two of Mein Kampf. Some of you would want to say that Adolf Hitler was mad – others that he was possessed. But I ask, what was the Christian climate of his day that allowed him to say that he was doing God’s work in taking antisemitism to the unbelievable extremes of Auschwitz? What was the climate that encouraged mechanised murder on such an unprecedented scale?

 

Let me offer two more quotations – the first was something said to a Jewish leader in 1942: “You will not die there of hunger or disease. They will slaughter all of you there, old and young alike; women and children – it is the punishment that you deserve for the death of our Lord and redeemer, Jesus Christ[56]”. This was no fanatic – this was not the German Führer at his worst – these were the words of an archbishop of the church.

One more quotation: “The Jewish minority within the Polish government cannot be tolerated, because the nation fears it”. Later, challenged about what he had said, the speaker affirmed his statement: “I said aloud what the Polish nation is thinking. Not by mistake, but out of conviction[57]. A politician? A fanatic from the extreme right? Another wartime example? No – this was a statement by a Christian priest made in 1997. Is antisemitism Christian? That is the question I ask. And the answer is ‘Yes’. Christianity has incited the world to antisemitism throughout its long and iniquitous history. And I say now that it is time for it to stop. It is time for us to listen to our Lord and Saviour Jesus – to Jesus the Jew – and to root out all the lies, the propaganda and the wicked, wicked seeds of hate that have blighted our Christian history from the very beginning. You will, no doubt, point out to me Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a handful of other remarkable and brave Christian saints from the last war. Believe me, they are a tiny minority. Most of the church was either solidly behind Hitler, or was just carried along with his policies without so much as a word. And there are more than six million dead Jews who will one day testify to that!

We’ve heard in the first of our readings tonight that God made a covenant with the sons and daughters of Israel[58]. This was to be a lasting covenant. It will not end this side of eternity. We have heard in the words of the Apostle Paul that God has in no way rejected His people, or for that matter, the law that He gave them on mount Sinai. And we have heard in the gospel reading that Jesus came not for us gentiles, but for the Children of Israel. How then can we go along with the antisemitism with which our church has soiled itself until recently?

I could give you quote after quote after quote – from the early church fathers, from the church in the middle ages, and from the reformers. And all of those quotes would be violently, obscenely antisemitic. I can distill them all into one sharp sentence. “The Jews killed God – they crucified Him – and they all deserve to die – every last one of them!” None of us can look at another denomination than our own, and place the blame on it – this is something in which we all share.

And it is not even true. It’s a lie. A fabrication. A piece of really malicious propaganda. The Jews didn’t kill Jesus – our bible tells us that the Romans did. And if you want to say that the Jews put them up to it, look again. Some Jews – and only some Jews – took part. And they – all of them – have been dead for many a century. You might want to point to that dreadful blood oath in Matthew’s gospel – I quote: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” How many generations have there been in which we have condemned the children of Israel? Where would be the loving, forgiving God that Jesus came to show us if those words have brought condemnation on Jews for nearly two thousand years. And did not that wonderful saying from the agonised, crucified Jesus: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” cover all those who were involved?

This is the faith which we have inherited. A faith bloodied with the lives of millions of Jews – a faith contaminated – a faith a million miles away from the teachings of our beloved Saviour Jesus. We have seen the awful conclusion to the distortion of that faith – we have seen the awful horror – we have seen the destruction of six million of God’s own chosen people. And it could happen again. It could happen tomorrow unless we are prepared to read our bibles and understand – and be prepared to purge our Christian faith of antisemitism for once and for all.

It is we – we of this present generation – who have to face up to the errors of the past. It is we who have to change. But the benefit to us when we do take a long hard look at our elder brother, the Jew, is going to be pure gold. You may have been taught – as I was – that present day Judaism – the religious faith of the Jews – is nothing more than a barren legalism. That teaching couldn’t be further from the truth. When we meet the Jews and listen to them, we soon begin to see that many of them have a depth of faith in Almighty God that surpasses that of a great many Christians. We find that present day Judaism is alive, and deeply spiritual. And when we listen to the rabbis, and read the wisdom that is handed down to us in the Mishnah and the Talmud, light begins to dawn on much of our bible that never was there before. And it is not only the Jewish bible that comes alive – we begin to read the gospels and the letters of our Christian scriptures in a different way too. Paul takes on a new light when we read him as Paul the Jew; when we soak ourselves in the traditions of his people. And the teachings of our Master himself take on an even greater authority than they had before when we see them through the lens of the Jewish Torah.

Even our most treasured translations of Holy Scripture will need to be questioned when we carry out further reading and meet with Jews in discussion. I want to give just one tiny example: Open your bible at Luke Chapter 20 and verse 46. You probably have something similar to: “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets”[59]. This same passage may equally well be rendered: “Be on your guard against those scribes who like to walk about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts [60]“. Can you see the difference? Why do I suggest that the second translation is more probably what Jesus had in mind? Because it is very similar to two passages in the Talmud that condemn hypocrites. And these are very likely to be sayings that were current at the time of Jesus. And why, in that case, is the first translation more commonly offered? Because the antisemitic tradition deeply embedded in our own Christian teachings suggests that all Jews were (and are) bad – but especially so when they were Scribes and Pharisees. And the bible just does not bear this out. Look how many Pharisees we see in our bible who were good men, and friends of Jesus.

So – where do we begin? I have issued a challenge here – one which may strike deeply at a part of our Christian foundations. We might want to begin by joining the Council for Christians and Jews – but if we do that, let us not fall into the trap of regarding the Jews we might meet as fodder for our weapons of conversion. Be prepared for dialogue. Be prepared to listen, and to learn. They have much to teach all of us. We might, if we are at all academically inclined, want to pick up a few books. I will be happy to point you in the right direction. But above all, be very wary of what you tell people about Jews, and especially Scribes and Pharisees at the time of our Lord. When you have read a few books by Jews about their history; when you have spoken to a few Jews and listened to what they have to say about their own problems – their own experience of persecution – then you might want to change your position.

Let me end with a brief fantasy[61]. I told you that the holocaust could happen again tomorrow if we don’t take steps to prevent it. In July, I was privileged to attend a Summer School in Jewish-Christian relations in Poland. During that time, we visited several Jewish cemeteries from before world war two, and we also visited Auschwitz. One might expect that the experience of Auschwitz was shattering. It was. No one can possibly describe the horror of actually going to that awful place. No amount of reading, or even viewing pictorial evidence can prepare you. But Auschwitz was not the only profoundly emotive experience.

The second of the Jewish cemeteries that we visited had been subjected to little by way of restoration. Many smashed and prone gravestones are there to be seen. The knowledge that the Nazis destroyed Jewish cemeteries is one thing. The terrible reality of a vandalised graveyard is quite another. It was in that cemetery that I experienced a kind of fantasy, a sort of waking dream. We had been told that several hundred Jews had been shot dead in that place. Murdered by the Nazi military under orders and buried in a mass grave. In my fantasy, I was there as a young soldier. How did it feel? I was feeling a great satisfaction in having assisted in purging Europe from the evil of the Jews. There was a sense of having done well for the Fatherland, and having (yes, even this) of having done God’s work.

The fantasy took seconds: the after effects of that fantasy will take a lifetime to review. How much does that brief fantasy reflect thousands of young German soldiers in they way they behaved? How much does the knowledge – and yes – it is knowledge – that any of us could have been caught up in the awful horror that is the Holocaust in that selfsame way? Jesus, the most famous Jew that ever lived, said of his persecutors “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. In the light of my fantasy, I have to see that statement again – and in a different light. I can’t even thank God that I was not there – that I was not of that generation – the reality is that had I been, I would have acted just as they had!

As we continue with our worship – as we move into a time of penitence – let all of us make up, our minds that we will take up this challenge, and change the church. Let us be determined to destroy forever the antisemitic legacy that we have in our midst.

Bibliography

Braybrooke, Marcus – “Christian Jewish Dialogue, the next step” – London, SCM – 2000

Braybrooke, Marcus – “Time to Meet” – London SCM – 1990 Brockway et al, “The theology of the churches and the Jewish people” – Geneva, WCC – 1988 Cohn-Sherbock, Dan – “Issues in Contemporary Judaism” – London, MacMillan – 1991 Everett, Robert A. – “Christianity without Antisemitism” – 1993 – Oxford – Pergamon

Falk, Harvey – “Jesus the Pharisee” – New York, Paulist – 1985

Freudmann, Lillian C. “Antisemitism in the New Testament” – Maryland and London, UPA – 1994

Fry, Helen P (1996) Christian-Jewish Dialogue – a reader – Exeter: University of Exeter Press

Gager, John – “The Origins of Anti-Semitism” – New York – Oxford University Press – 1983

Gaston, Lloyd – “Paul and the Torah” -Vancouver, UBC – 1987

Jones, Gareth Lloyd, “Hard Sayings – Difficult New Testament Texts for Jewish Christian Dialogue, London, CCJ

Klein, Charlotte – “Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology” – London SPCK 1978

Lowe, M (Ed) – “The New Testament in Christian Jewish Dialogue” – Jerusalem, Ecumenical Research Fraternity, 1990

Rausch, David A. – “Fundamentalist-Evangelicals and Anti-Semitism” – Philadelphia, Trinity – 1993

Richardson, Peter (Ed) – “Anti Judaism in Early Christianity” – Vancouver, Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion – 1986, 1998

Robinson, John A. T. – “The priority of John” – London: SCM, 1985

Rubenstein, Richard with J. K. Roth – “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London, SCM – 1987

Sandmel, Samuel – “We Jews, You Christians” – Philadelphia,
Lippincott – 1967

Schweitzer, Frederick M. – “A Histroy of the Jews” – 1971 – New York – Macmillan

Sian Jones (Editor), “Cultures of Ambivalence and Contempt: Studies in Jewish – Non-Jewish Relations” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1998

Parkes, James – “Antisemitism” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1963

Ruether, Rosemary – “Faith and Fratricide” – New York Seabury Press 1974

Rubenstein, Richard L with Roth, John K “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London SCM – 1987

Wilson, Stephen G. – “Related Strangers” – Minneapolis – Fortress – 1995

Web Sites of interest:

http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Christian.html

http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/antisem.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/guidelines2.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/byrne.htm

Israel and Torah are not two separable entities. Israel is Torah and Torah is Israel. http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/christjew.html

“What are some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions Jews have of Christians and Christians have of Jews?” http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/Christology.html

As James Parkes, the pioneer in twentieth-century Christian appreciation of Jews and Judaism who has curiously been all but ignored by most the- ologians, wrote, “belief in a Messiah was not an invention of Christians; it was a wholly Jewish belief, which Pharisees shared with other Jews. They would have had no ground for opposing a Jew simply on the basis that he claimed to be Messiah.” Instead, “The split would appear to have
developed not because of Jesus, nor even because of Easter; the issue turned on Jewish fidelity to Torah: when Gentile Christians began telling Jews who believed in Jesus that Torah was no more to be followed by them, then all faithful Jews had to say No.”

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston.htm

it is the very name “Old Testament” which is problematical from a very early period the church was guilty of legicide

Paul’s questions:
“Has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1) and “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?”
(Romans 3:31)……. Paul answers both with an indignant “No,” ……but the Synoptic Gospels and Acts ……. say Yes

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston2.htm

those responsible for the crucifixion and calls them “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:8; 1 Thes 2:15 is not by Paul).

Jesus “was one of the rare Jews of his day who believed in love, mercy, grace repentance, and the forgiveness of sin,” while on the other hand, “Jews in general, and Pharisees in particular, would kill people who believed in such things” (Sanders, Jesus, 326f).

Gaston demonstrates that the Pharisees were NOT those who were responsible for the death of Jesus

I want to remove all anti-Judaism not only from traditional interpretation but also from the text itself.

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

The Chicago declaration of Bible Inerrancy

http://www.adherents.com/, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_deno.htm and http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010221e.shtml

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

Endnotes:

[1] On a personal note, I was offered little or nothing of this subject during my own training for ordination between 1992 and 1996. The subject was mentioned by the tutor for John’s gospel – briefly. He pointed out that John speaks of “The Jews” in a somewhat pejorative sense. It was also mentioned that Rosemary Radford Ruether had carried out work on the subject. At that time, she was one theologian with whom I could not identify. Her work was not compulsory study. I chose not to look at it. I suspect that the majority of my fellow students did likewise. Enquiries suggest that the situation has not changed a great deal since that time.

[2] Robert Everett gives a full list of the works of Parkes both under his own name, and under the nom-de-plume “John Hadham” in “Christianity without Antisemitism”

[3] The situation varies considerably in the rest of the world. As a generalisation, Christianity is alive and flourishing in some third world countries to an extent that UK church leaders are looking at what we might learn from this.

[4] Twenty or thirty years ago saw the beginnings of what were then called ‘House Churches’ – small groups of Christians meeting together in each other’s homes for worship. These have since formed a number of independent groupings of local churches which network together. Two examples that exist in the part of the UK where I live and work are the “New Frontiers International” fellowships and the “New Wine” fellowships.

[5] The above information is gathered from a number of internet sites:

http://www.adherents.com/, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_deno.htm and http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010221e.shtml were among those searched for statistics.

[6] The Bible Inerrancist holds that every word of the bible – both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures, is inspired by God, and are literally accurate in every way – even in scientific terms. This position can often lead to unfortunate extremes of viewpoint.

See http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt for the The Chicago Statement on Bible Inerrancy. Paragraph 2 of the summary statement reads: “Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all

matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.”

[7] Most would allow that the different authors bring differing viewpoints to the events and teachings that are portrayed. They would also accept that the different groups of readers to whom they are addressed have different needs, and would therefore require a different approach.

[8] Statements such as “By mythologizing the theological division ….   … John gives the ultimate theological form to that diabolising of “the Jews” which is the root of anti-Semitism in the Christian tradition” (Ruether, p116) assume a modernist approach to New Testament interpretation. There is little point in pursuing this approach with a group which includes conservative Christians.

[9] Lillian Freudmann writes with a fresh view of the New Testament. She came to it as a Jewish scholar carrying out bible studies, first of the Hebrew Tanach, then the apocrypha, and finally the Christian books. Her first perception – that all the books of the New Testament are antisemitic – came simply from reading the texts as a modernday Jew with no Christian baggage. We Christians have become desensitised by continual exposure to antisemitic passages in our texts, and this is a factor that we need to take into account.

[10] The word ‘fundamentalist’ is in the main used in a pejorative sense today. I prefer the description ‘conservative-evangelical’ which is better understood in Christian circles.

[11] Rausch, p22

[12] Modern literary criticism presents a problem to the conservative. As “God’s Word” it must be understood literally, with no thought of bias on the part of the author being allowed to influence our understanding. Gaston’s statement that ” .. the interpreter ought to be suspicious of all received wisdom concerning Christian views of Judaism … ” (from his article ‘Legicide and the Problem of the Christian Old Testament’) would encourage the reader to go back to the biblical source. This is precisely what the conservative Christian will do.

[13] An example of the way in which the older commentaries read supersession into Romans 11 is given in the endnote below concerning Rosemary Ruether’s view of Paul.

[14] To the Christian, the various church statements which include Nostra Aetate, 1965, Jews Christians and Muslims: the way of dialogue, 1988, The Theology of the Churches and the Jewish People, 1988, are a real and exciting breakthrough in Jewish Christian relations, but some Jewish writers feel that the process is little more than a token – “…. even the much vaunted Vatican statement on Jewish innocence for the crucifixion is mild and was only achieved after much argument”. – Cohn Sherbok – p96.

[15] In a discussion with Dr. James K. Aitken, AHRB Greek Bible Project, Dept. of Classics, University of Reading it was made clear that either translation would be met equally well by the Greek text.

[16] From “The New Testament in Jewish Christian Dalogue” edited by Malcolm Lowe. The essay referred to is entitled “The charge of hypocrisy in Matthew 23 and in Jewish sources”

[17] The entire handout is included here as appendix a

[18] In my own childhood in the 1940’s, antisemitism was still common in the UK – I have memories of antisemitic slogans and talk. I also have a fond memory of a stage play from the ’40’s called “The Same Sky”. It opened with a young lad shouting “dirty Jew” down the street. The play was set in wartime London, and spoke out against antisemitism in a very refreshing way.

[19] There will be neither time nor necessity for detail at this point, but it is likely to come as something of a revelation to the participants to discover that the Temple was governed by Sadducee priests along with a few (token) Pharisees.

[20] The need to focus on a few significant aspects of Jewish Christian relations because of the very limited time that a study day offers means that the significance of the Pharisees as the founders of present day Judaism will not be able to be explored. I intend simply to show that the common perception of Pharisees and Pharisaism is biased and inaccurate.

[21] “Jesus the Pharisee”, p114ff

[22] This is a controversial view that does not seem to have found widespread support, nevertheless it seems very probable that arguments between bet Hillel and bet Shammai did form a part of the background to the gospel stories.

[23] Everett (p162) tells of James Parkes’ initial encounter with Judaism. Parkes discovered it to be meaningful, alive and spiritual – this was in complete contrast to his Oxford training, which presented it as “an arid and meaningless legalism”.

[24] This saying, is quoted on the internet at http://web.wt.net/~cbenton/Texas1.htm as “On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon Shammai repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel,

Hillel said to the proselyte, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole of the Torah, the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ -Shabbath 31a

This story is to be found in a great many books on Judaism and is now on a number of internet sites apart from the above. Two of these are: http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/hillel.html and http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/hillel.htm

[25] John Gager speaks of the way in which he “abandoned his earlier position” after reading Ruether. Also, the sheer number of references to her work in studies of antisemitism and Jewish Christian relations serve to demonstrate the great influence she has.

[26] John Robinson was writing in 1985, and his work on this subject never met with wide acceptance. He was, however, a very thorough scholar, and perhaps we should look again at what he has to say – if only to show that gospel dating is not as safe as some have been led to believe.

[27] This comment does not apply to the dating of Paul’s letters. There is sufficient evidence in their content to be able to date all of them to within a few years.

[28] As an example, I would give the old commentaries on Romans. The following, from the Matthew Henry’s commentary on the beginning of Romans 11 is typical: “That, though some of the Jews were cast off, yet they were not all so. That, though the body of the Jews were cast off, yet the Gentiles were taken in. And, that, though the Jews were cast off at present, yet in God’s due time they should be taken into his church again. The Jews, it is true, were many of them cast off, but not all”. In this, the commentator is saying that only Jews who became Christians were, and are, not “rejected”. This does not seem to be what Paul is saying in the text. In a similar way, John Wesley offers the following: “They are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election – That part of them who believe, they are beloved”. It is clear from the context that by “that part of them who believe”, Wesley means only those who have become Christian. Again, this is hardly justified by the text itself.

[29] Nostra Aetate, 1965, Jews Christians and Muslims: the way of dialogue, 1988, The Theology of the Churches and the Jewish People, 1988 are mentioned in footnote xiii above. These and a number of others are an attempt to put right the ancient wrong of Christian antisemitism. See Brockway et al, “The theology of the churches and the Jewish people” for the collected statements.

[30] “Paul and the Torah”, chapter 8

[31] Freudmann points out that this issue is one on which Christians are deeply divided. I suspect though, that the antisemitic interpretation that some scholars are willing to give to Romans 9-11 comes more from antisemitic Christian tradition than from the actual words of Paul.

[32] Gaston (Paul and the Torah – p17) states that Paul is not saying that Jesus has come to overthrow the law: “.. Paul specifically denies these charges (“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means” [Rom 3:31]; “Has God rejected his people? By no means” [Rom 11:1] …….

[33] See endnote 36 below.

[34] Gaston – “Paul and the Torah” p28ff

[35] http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/byrne.htm tells us that Israel and Torah are not two separable entities. Israel is Torah and Torah is Israel.

[36] Gaston p76ff – seesPaul as becoming apostate – deliberately leaving Torah behind – not for his own salvation, but in order to become like the gentiles – to become gentile, in fact for the sake of bringing the gospel message to gentiles. He sees this as a move from “salvation by election to salvation in Christ”.

[37] Gaston p77 – He believes that Paul was falsely accused of inciting other Jews to that same apostasy in Acts 21:21

[38] The RSV has: “For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.” A small number of versions use ‘completion’ or ‘fulfillment’ in place of ‘end’, see the New Jerusalem Bible for example, which has: “But the Law has found its fulfilment in Christ so that all who have faith will be justified.”

[39] This example is one which I shall be using when teaching Christian antisemitism, and when preaching on this particular passage.

[40] In the chapter “Response”, Rabbi Tony Bayfield (Braybrooke, p124) says: “Christianity as coming to complete Judaism is arrogant – Judaism need no such completion”.

[41] After Isaiah 42:6 “I, the LORD, have called you and given you power to see that justice is done on earth. Through you I will make a covenant with all peoples; through you I will bring light to the nations.”, and Isaiah 49:6 “The LORD said to me, “I have a greater task for you, my servant. Not only will you restore to greatness the people of Israel who have survived, but I will also make you a light to the nations– so that all the world may be saved.”

[42] Braybrooke p101

[43] Schoneveld, in his essay “Torah in the Flesh” from “The New Testament in Christian Jewish Dialogue”.

[44] CJCR Summer Programme. July 3rd to July 18th 2001. “Jewish Christian Relations in Contemporary Europe – Case Study, Poland”.

[45] On my return from Poland, I wrote the following: “One might expect that the experience of Auschwitz was shattering: it was. No one can possibly describe the horror of actually going to that awful place. No amount of reading, or even viewing pictorial evidence can prepare you. But Auschwitz was not the only profoundly emotive experience.

The second of the Jewish cemeteries that we visited had been subjected to little by way of restoration. Many smashed and prone gravestones are to be seen. The knowledge that the Nazis destroyed Jewish cemeteries is one thing. The terrible reality of a vandalised graveyard is quite another. It was in that cemetery that I experienced a kind of fantasy, a sort of waking dream. We had been told that several hundred Jews had been shot dead in that place. Murdered by the Nazi military under orders and buried in a mass grave. In my fantasy, I was there as a young soldier. How did it feel? I was feeling a great satisfaction in having assisted in purging Europe from the evil of the Jews. There was a sense of having done well for the Fatherland, and having (yes, even this) having done God’s work.

The fantasy took seconds: the after effects of that fantasy will take a lifetime to review.”

I quote the above verbatim in a sermon – see appendix b

[46] See more on this in endnote 50

[47] I am indebted to George Wilkes and Prof. Sladomir Kapralski for their concise introduction to this area of study.

[48] George Wilkes has pointed out that by the time of the Second World War, a number of Jewish establishments – including banks – were in non-Jewish hands. The Jewish names of these establishments meant that they were nonetheless used in antisemitic propaganda to ‘prove’ that Jews had too great an influence in non-Jewish affairs.

[49] Freudmann quotes Littell as saying: “Without centuries of antisemitic preaching, Hitler could never have mobilized passionate Jew haters, and immobilized dispassionate spectators”.

[50] Gregory of Nyssa speaks against the Jews in many of his writings. The newly propounded doctrine of the Trinity was, and is offensive to Jews.   For this reason, Gregory finds himself in controversy with them; Jews on the one hand reminding Gregory that the bible tells us that the Lord our God is one, and Gregory angrily responding with the accusation that the Jews are idolaters. He makes this accusation saying that as they will not accept the Trinity, they must be worshipping a God other than the one true God.

[51] Chrysostom – Or. C. Jud, cited in Ruether, p130

[52] The “Blood Libels” were a deliberate attack on Jews by the church. The story was told that Jews murder children and use their blood to make matzos for Pesach . In various parts of Europe, including the UK, the unexplained death of a child resulted in widespread persecution and murder of Jews. The first recorded example was in Norwich, England in 1144.

[53] A full treatment of these atrocities is given in Schweitzer’s “A history of the Jews”, and a digest of them is given in the “Jewish Timeline Encyclopaedia”

[54] The Greek μονογενη is frequently translated ‘only’. Another New Testament incidence of this word – in the letter to the Hebrews, speaking of Isaac as the onlybegotten son of Abraham – Heb. 11:17 – makes translation as ‘only’ questionable – however, to translate the word ‘firstborn’ would be very controversial, though in my opinion possible.

[55] Hebrews 11:17   καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ
καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ  KJV: offered up his only begotten [son]  Isaac was no his only son, there was his half brother, Ishmael.

It is my thinking, based on Hebrew thought in the Hebrew Bible, that here ‘My son, my son, my one an only’, is used to describe a favoured son.  Joseph was the favoured son of Jacob, and he would have thought of him in this way.  Jesus quotes the psalmist ‘You are Gods, all of you, and sons of the most high’.  We are all God’s sons, made, as we are, in His image.  Luke, in his genealogy, ends by saying: ‘son of Adam, son of Seth, son of God.  We are all ‘sons of Adam, and daughters of Eve’ as CS Lewis puts it in ‘he Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’.

[56] Archbishop Kametko of Nietra, Slovakia, Quoted by Marcus Braybrooke, “Time to Meet”, SCM 1990

[57] Fr. Henryk Jankowsky, quoted by Stanislaw Musial, S.J. in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, Nov 16, 1997

[58] Suggested readings are:   Genesis 17:1-7, Psalm 89:1-8, Romans 11:1-5 and Matthew 15:21-28

[59] British NIV translation.

[60] It is evident that the first translation is talking of “all Scribes”, whereas the second is only referring to “some”. In the latter rendering, the sense of this phrase is remarkably similar to two Talmudic illustrations – the first is the “showy” Pharisee in JT Berakhot 14b who ‘carries his good deeds on his shoulder’, and the second is the Judge who likes to walk about in his ‘long robes’. Moshe Weinfeld points to both of these. For this reason, it seems probable that the second translation of Luke 20:46 is a more likely rendition of the actual teaching that Jesus was giving. The validity of the second rendition was verified with Dr. James Aitken, of AHRB Greek bible Project at the University of Reading,

[61] This is quoted from an article I wrote immediately on my return from Poland. It was first published on an internet conference for students and staff of the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations in Cambridge, and later appeared in print in one or two places including the magazine of the church to which I belong.

A Sermon for Holocaust Memorial Day

Is Antisemitism Christian?

“And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord. “

These are the words at the end of chapter two of Mein Kampf. Some of you would want to say that Adolf Hitler was mad – others that he was possessed. But I ask, what was the Christian climate of his day that allowed him to say that he was doing God’s work in taking antisemitism to the unbelievable extremes of Auschwitz? What was the climate that encouraged mechanised murder on such an unprecedented scale?

Let me offer two more quotations – the first was something said to a Jewish leader in 1942: “You will not die there of hunger or disease. They will slaughter all of you there, old and young alike; women and children – it is the punishment that you deserve for the death of our Lord and redeemer, Jesus Christ1“.
This was no fanatic – this was not the German Führer at his worst – these were the words of an archbishop of the church.

One more quotation: “The Jewish minority within the Polish government cannot be tolerated, because the nation fears it”. Later, challenged about what he had said, the speaker affirmed his statement: “I said aloud what the Polish nation is thinking. Not by mistake, but out of conviction 2. A politician? A fanatic from the extreme right? Another wartime example? No – this was a statement by a Christian priest made in 1997. Is antisemitism Christian? That is the question I ask. And the answer is ‘Yes’. Christianity has incited the world to antisemitism throughout its long and iniquitous history. And I say now that it is time for it to stop. It is time for us to listen to our Lord and Saviour Jesus – to Jesus the Jew – and to root out all the lies, the propaganda and the wicked, wicked seeds of hate that have blighted our Christian history from the very beginning. You will, no doubt, point out to me Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a handful of other remarkable and brave Christian saints from the last war. Believe me, they are a tiny minority. Most of the church was either solidly behind Hitler, or was just carried along with his policies without so much as a word. And there are more than six million dead Jews who will one day testify to that!

We’ve heard in the first of our readings tonight that God made a covenant with the sons and daughters of Israel 3. This was to be a lasting covenant. It will not end this side of eternity. We have heard in the words of the Apostle Paul that God has in no way rejected His people, or for that matter, the law that He gave them on mount Sinai. And we have heard in the gospel reading that Jesus came not for us gentiles, but for the Children of Israel. How then can we go along with the antisemitism with which our church has soiled itself until recently?

I could give you quote after quote after quote – from the early church fathers, from the church in the middle ages, and from the reformers. And all of those quotes would be violently, obscenely antisemitic.
I can distil them all into one sharp sentence. “The Jews killed God – they crucified Him – and they all deserve to die – every last one of them!” None of us can look at another denomination than our own, and place the blame on it – this is something in which we all share.

And it is not even true. It’s a lie. A fabrication. A piece of really malicious propaganda. The Jews didn’t kill Jesus – our bible tells us that the Romans did. And if you want to say that the Jews put them up to it, look again. Some Jews – and only some Jews – took part. And they – all of them – have been dead for many a century. You might want to point to that dreadful blood oath in Matthew’s gospel – I quote: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!'” How many generations have there been in which we have condemned the children of Israel? Where would be the loving, forgiving God that Jesus came to show us if those words have brought condemnation on Jews for nearly two thousand years. And did not that wonderful saying from the agonised, crucified Jesus: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” cover all those who were involved?

This is the faith which we have inherited. A faith bloodied with the lives of millions of Jews – a faith contaminated – a faith a million miles away from the teachings of our beloved Saviour Jesus. We have seen the awful conclusion to the distortion of that faith – we have seen the awful horror – we have seen the destruction of six million of God’s own chosen people. And it could happen again. It could happen tomorrow unless we are prepared to read our bibles and understand – and be prepared to purge our Christian faith of antisemitism for once and for all.

It is we – we of this present generation – who have to face up to the errors of the past. It is we who have to change. But the benefit to us when we do take a long hard look at our elder brother, the Jew, is going to be pure gold. You may have been taught – as I was – that present day Judaism – the religious faith of the Jews – is nothing more than a barren legalism. That teaching couldn’t be further from the truth. When we meet the Jews and listen to them, we soon begin to see that many of them have a depth of faith in Almighty God that surpasses that of a great many Christians. We find that present day Judaism is alive, and deeply spiritual. And when we listen to the rabbis, and read the wisdom that is handed down to us in the Mishnah and the Talmud, light begins to dawn on much of our bible that never was there before. And it is not only the Jewish bible that comes alive – we begin to read the gospels and the letters of our Christian scriptures in a different way too. Paul takes on a new light when we read him as Paul the Jew; when we soak ourselves in the traditions of his people. And the teachings of our Master himself take on an even greater authority than they had before when we see them through the lens of the Jewish Torah.

Even our most treasured translations of Holy Scripture will need to be questioned when we carry out further reading and meet with Jews in discussion. I want to give just one tiny example: Open your bible at Luke Chapter 20 and verse 46. You probably have something similar to: “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets” 4. This same passage may equally well be rendered: “Be on your guard against those scribes who like to walk about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places
of honour at feasts
5“. Can you see the difference? Why do I suggest that the second translation is
more probably what Jesus had in mind? Because it is very similar to two passages in the Talmud that condemn hypocrites. And these are very likely to be sayings that were current at the time of Jesus. And why, in that case, is the first translation more commonly offered? Because the antisemitic tradition deeply embedded in our own Christian teachings suggests that all Jews were (and are) bad – but especially so when they were Scribes and Pharisees. And the bible just does not bear this out. Look how many Pharisees we see in our bible who were good men, and friends of Jesus.

So – where do we begin? I have issued a challenge here – one which may strike deeply at a part of our Christian foundations. We might want to begin by joining the Council for Christians and Jews – but if we do that, let us not fall into the trap of regarding the Jews we might meet as fodder for our weapons of conversion. Be prepared for dialogue. Be prepared to listen, and to learn. They have much to teach all of us. We might, if we are at all academically inclined, want to pick up a few books. I will be happy to point you in the right direction. But above all, be very wary of what you tell people about Jews, and especially
Scribes and Pharisees at the time of our Lord. When you have read a few books by Jews about their history; when you have spoken to a few Jews and listened to what they have to say about their own problems – their own experience of persecution – then you might want to change your position.

Let me end with a brief fantasy 6. I told you that the holocaust could happen again tomorrow if we don’t take steps to prevent it. In July, I was privileged to attend a Summer School in Jewish-Christian relations in Poland. During that time, we visited several Jewish cemeteries from before world war two, and we also visited Auschwitz. One might expect that the experience of Auschwitz was shattering. It was. No one can possibly describe the horror of actually going to that awful place. No amount of reading, or even viewing pictorial evidence can prepare you. But Auschwitz was not the only profoundly emotive experience.

The second of the Jewish cemeteries that we visited had been subjected to little by way of restoration. Many smashed and prone gravestones are there to be seen. The knowledge that the Nazis destroyed
Jewish cemeteries is one thing. The terrible reality of a vandalised graveyard is quite another. It was in that cemetery that I experienced a kind of fantasy, a sort of waking dream. We had been told that several hundred Jews had been shot dead in that place. Murdered by the Nazi military under orders and buried in a mass grave. In my fantasy, I was there as a young soldier. How did it feel? I was feeling a great satisfaction in having assisted in purging Europe from the evil of the Jews. There was a sense of having done well for the Fatherland, and having (yes, even this) of having done God’s work.

The fantasy took seconds: the after effects of that fantasy will take a lifetime to review. How much does that brief fantasy reflect thousands of young German soldiers in they way they behaved? How much does the knowledge – and yes – it is knowledge – that any of us could have been caught up in the awful horror that is the Holocaust in that selfsame way? Jesus, the most famous Jew that ever lived, said of his persecutors “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. In the light of my fantasy, I have to see that statement again – and in a different light. I can’t even thank God that I was not there – that I was not of that generation – the reality is that had I been, I would have acted just as they had!

As we continue with our worship – as we move into a time of penitence – let all of us make up, our minds that we will take up this challenge, and change the church. Let us be determined to destroy forever the antisemitic legacy that we have in our midst.

© Barry Drake – 2001 barry@minister.fsnet.co.uk

1 Archbishop Kametko of Nietra, Slovakia, Quoted by Marcus Braybrooke, “Time to Meet”, SCM 1990

2 Fr. Henryk Jankowsky, quoted by Stanislaw Musial, S.J. in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, Nov 16, 1997

3 Suggested readings are: Genesis 17:1-7, Psalm 89:1-8, Romans 11:1-5 and Matthew 15:21-28

4 British NIV translation.

5 It is evident that the first translation is talking of “all Scribes”, whereas the second is only referring to “some”. In the latter rendering, the sense of this phrase is remarkably similar to two Talmudic illustrations – the first is the “showy” Pharisee in JT Berakhot 14b who ‘carries his good deeds on his shoulder’, and the second is the Judge who likes to walk about in his ‘long robes’. Moshe Weinfeld points to both of these. For this reason, it seems probable that the second translation of Luke 20:46 is a more likely  rendition of the actual teaching that Jesus was giving. The validity of the second rendition was verified with Dr. James Aitken, of AHRB Greek bible Project at the University of Reading,

6 This is quoted from an article I wrote immediately on my return from Poland. It was first published on an internet conference for students and staff of the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations in Cambridge, and later appeared in print in one or two places including the magazine of the church to which I belong.

The Holocaust and Genocide Now?

Theology rising out of the Holocaust September 2000

Some thoughts on Franklin Littell’s assertion that “Christians need the Jewish people as a “model” of peoplehood in God’s work in history, and they need the living interaction with the people of the Torah”

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©The Revd Barry Drake M.A. September 2000

“The most difficult, if not impossible, prospect for the Christian church would be to have to live and work in a world without Jews. The Christians need the Jewish people as a “model” of peoplehood in God’s work in  history, and they need the living interaction with the people of the torah.” (Franklin Littell, The Crucifixion of the Jews, 5)

Introduction

On his own admission [1], Littell provoked a wide range of reactions when he wrote “The Crucifixion of the Jews”. His work is outspoken, incisive, and even twenty-five years on from his original writing seems avant-garde.

The central question that faces the church and every individual Christian in these post-Shoah years is framed by Littell in his foreword to Eckardt’s “Long Nights Journey Into Day”. The question is: “How do you interpret the survival of the Jewish people?” It takes courage to face that question. Littell says that the church “having given the wrong answer for centuries, now ignores the question.” [2] Littell had, in the “Crucifixion of the Jews” not only faced the question, but had become convinced that the answer to the question is that the Jews must survive; their survival is part of God’s purpose, and essential to the survival of Christianity itself.

Littell begins with a comprehensive look at the roots of antisemitism deeply entrenched in Christianity itself. He goes on to look at how this antisemitism affected the church in Germany during the second world war, and how it was used by Hitler. He then moves forward to the contemporary church, urging it to engage in many ways with the Jews as Littell himself was doing.

In this essay, I will be looking firstly at what Littell is saying in “The Crucifixion of the Jews”, followed by a look at Covenant in relation to God’s people, what the church is saying, what the Bible says, and what the future might hold for the church if Littell’s clarion call for a newly reformed church is heard. Littell has been a voice crying in the wilderness for many years now: I believe that the church is listening, but Christianity is big, diverse, and slow to change. It will take time, but I hope and pray that Littell will live to see the church begin to respond to his call.

Littell’s view

Littell sees the Shoah as an event which is comparable in magnitude to God’s covenant with Abraham, the Exodus, Sinai and Golgotha. He calls upon Christians to see it in that light. He points out that there could have been no Christianity without the Jews. That is an historic fact. But at the same time, the Jews do not depend on any other faith for their
existence. The Jews exist because God has called them to be his people. Thus far, there can be no controversy, but Littell goes on to see a continuing dependence on the Jewish people for Christianity – a dependence on an ongoing Jewry. It is at this point that he becomes challenging to Christians of all persuasions. Littell argues for a reformation “more radical and universal than the sixteenth century event known by that name”[3]. He sees the only possible solution in a return to the situation before the parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue, and for Jewish Christian dialogue to build a new Christianity without the stain caused by ecclesial antisemitism. “We Christians must go back to the turn in the road and reject the signs and signals which, expressing a spiritual and intellectual teaching which was false though familiar, turned us toward Auschwitz”[4]. In this, he is echoing Karl Barth[5]. His exposition of Christian history in which he shows the direct responsibility of the Church for the pre-existing antisemitism before ww2 is exemplary[6]. Perhaps most important of all, Littell points Christians to the “Suffering Servant” passages from Isaiah [7] reminding us that
the prophecy is for Israel. In their enthusiasm to claim the passage for Jesus and for him alone, Christians may never forget the relevance of “The Suffering Servant” to Israel, in history, and more specifically in respect of the Shoah [8]. Littell’s argument thus far is powerful, and
well presented. There is little doubt that the Shoah is, and will remain, a turning point for Christianity.

Littell is harshly critical of “modern” thinking following on from the Enlightenment. Science has been raised to a far higher place than religion, and from there has gone on to replace God in our Western Culture. In large measure, Littell blames the churches’ attitude towards the Nazis on the

extent to which Enlightenment thinking had permeated Christian culture and the church itself. His book was written in 1975. Twenty-five years on, some of this concept seems remarkably similar to the more recent ideas on post-modernism that is currently so ill defined.

In one particular area, Littell is remarkably (I might say refreshingly) traditional. He makes use of the word “the Adversary” very frequently.
He clearly means “Satan”, or “the Devil”. Perhaps this fact helps explain his some of his attitude towards Christians of a liberal persuasion[9].

His argument for Christianity’s need for and dependence upon present day Jewry is based in the main on Jewish culture being clearly identifiable today and throughout history. If Christianity were true to its roots, then a similar culture (Littell prefers the term counter-culture) would be evident in all Christian countries in the world today. He accuses Christianity of “Blending into the dominant culture, accommodating to the spirit of the times …… “ Littell believes that only the Jews can show us (the Christians) how to get back our roots, our story, and our culture.

Littell – some considerations

Although Littell shows great clarity in his description of the way in which antisemitism is firmly rooted in the church, and however much one may believe that he is correct in his conclusion about the place of the Jews in the world today, his attitude throughout his work is very negative towards Christians who do not share his particular Evangelical position. He has an especially negative attitude towards Liberal Protestants. He begins with a section headed “Liberal Protestant Antisemitism”[10] which perhaps justifiably connects Liberal Protestants in Nazi Germany with the failure of much of Christianity to speak out against Hitler. In other chapters though, Littell takes very negative views of all present day Liberal Christians[11]. It is my personal conviction that any of the extremes within Christianity can cause the same serious problems that he ascribes to one particular group. This can be just as true where extreme Conservative Evangelical Christians involve themselves in interfaith dialogue. I find it hard to understand Littell’s silence on that issue! [12]

In addition to the above criticism, Littell treats present day Jewish culture with an almost too positive attitude. I would venture to say that he idealises Jews and Jewish culture to an unrealistic degree. I feel that these two points needlessly weaken his otherwise powerful and relevant argument calling for a re-reformed Christianity.

In his preface to the second Mercer printing of The Crucifixion of the Jews, Littell speaks of the criticisms leveled at the original edition. Here, the reactions came from the extremes. He mentions criticism from both the extremes of the Conservative Evangelical and the Liberal Protestant camps. One can only conclude that he must have got something right for this to happen. He also speaks of criticism by a part of the Jewish establishment. This time, because of the negative effect that his work was having on Christians! The book was “a negative influence in the
effort to improve relations between Christians and Jews [13]

Littell’s thinking on culture makes good sense, and needs to be considered deeply. It is a pity here though that he makes no reference at all to the great and noble cultural changes that have taken place as a direct result of Judaeo-Christian influence. It is true that so called
Christian nations have never taken Christian values on board in the way in which Littell feels they ought, but there is nonetheless a great deal of the faith ethos that underpins much of the social and legal heritage of these countries [14]. One must never overlook this.

In the other hand, present day Jewry is the product of enforced  dispersion, persecution, pogrom and ghetto over centuries. The need for cultural uniqueness becomes fierce under such conditions. And latterly Jewry is inevitably deeply influenced by the Shoah itself. It is many centuries since Christianity has been persecuted here in the West. This
is a further consideration that seems absent from Littell’s impassioned plea for Jewish culture to be grafted back into Christian community.

Littell bases at least some of his thoughts about Jewish culture on his knowledge of Israel at the time of his writing. Littell was writing twenty-five years ago and the secularisation that we see in Europe is true for Israel too. There is little doubt that Jewish culture is surviving longer and better than Christian culture, but the same problem exists even in Israel. Dan Cohn-Sherbrook[15] makes this point in his criticism of Ignaz Maybaum. He shows evidence of a decline in world Jewry giving as reasons intermarriage, assimilation and indifference[16].

Despite my criticisms of his book, there is a very great deal that Littell opens up for discussion that the Church needs to take very seriously indeed. A reviewer of his book points out that “It is rare to read a book by a Christian who believes in God [17]”. Christian unbelief has to be a commonly held view for this statement to have been used so glibly – and I imagine it refers to a number of theologians in todays church who are spoken of as offering a Godless Christianity. Much as I may believe the reviewer’s view to be in error, it is a commonly held one. However, a theologian with no belief in God would be a contradiction in terms [18]. I mention above Littell’s obvious belief in a force of evil, which he refers to as the ‘Adversary’. I suggest that the “Liberal Protestants” of whom Littell is so scathing may find some difficulty with this concept. On the other hand, acceptance of a real power of evil is normal in the whole of the Bible. ‘Satan’ used to be an essential part of Christian writings and belief and has been so until the last few generations. What, I ask, is one to make of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians without a belief in his “powers and principalities [19]”? Certainly Littell sees no problem with a tangible force of evil in connection with the Shoah.

The points that Littell makes that lead him to the conclusion that Christians could not possibly “live and work in a world without Jews” are then, Covenant (and the Christian teaching of supersession), the Jews as the root of Christianity, the writings of the Apostle Paul, especially Romans 10 and 11, the question of culture, and, by default, the disagreement between Christians of Conservative, Liberal and Catholic persuasions. This last issue is one that has to be discussed if for no other reason than Littell’s strong criticisms of positions other than his own.

The Question of Covenant

The Bible tells us that Jews are the Chosen People; the Covenant People. In Genesis 13:14-17, and again in Genesis 15:4-5, God promises Abraham that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
He promised the land of Israel to them. It will be necessary to return to this promise in more detail. The covenant is re-iterated in Genesis 17
and again in Genesis 22 after the Akedah. The promise is an ongoing one, and will never be broken.

When Moses leads the Chosen People back to the “Land of the Promise” this is a fulfilment and a sign and a symbol that God has kept the promise that he had made to Abraham, and when Solomon brings the Ark of the Covenant into the newly built temple this again is to be a symbol of the presence of God among his people, and a sign once more that he has kept the everlasting covenant. It ought, then to be inconceivable that the covenant between God and his chosen people should be anything but everlasting. This has not been the case.

In the early days of the church, the idea of supersession arose and became the norm (Littell prefers the term ‘displacement’). There is not the space here to expand the concept fully, but briefly, the idea is that the Church superseded (or displaced) the Jews as the Covenant people. The Christian theological viewpoint was that a “New Covenant” had superseded God’s Covenant with Israel and the Jewish people and the Christians were the new Israel.

The need for the Jews was at an end. They had served God’s purpose in giving Jesus to the Gentile world, and therefore surviving Jews were something of an anachronism. The teaching of supersession progressed, and developed by the Middle Ages into a “teaching of contempt” towards Jews. Some examples of what has been taught might illustrate the situation [20]:

“The former law that was given by Moses was to cease, and a new law was to be given”. Cyprian – treatises.

“God will not cast off his Christian church, as he cast off the church of the Jews, the New Covenant is established upon better and surer promises than the Old.” John Wesley (Wesley’s notes) – commentary on Isaiah 54

“They [the Jews] are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election –
That part of them who believe[have been Christianised], they are beloved”.
John Wesley (Wesley’s notes) on Romans 11 – words in square brackets mine.

“though the Jews were cast off at present, yet in God’s due time they should be taken into his church again. The Jews, it is true, were many of them cast off, but not all …..

God had made a distinction between some of them and others. There was a chosen remnant of believing Jews, that obtained righteousness and life by faith in Jesus Christ …….” Matthew Henry Commentary on Romans 11

This attitude continued well into the 1970’s.

“A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture” from 1969 speaks of: “….. the present exclusion of Israel from the salvation of the Messiah in the Church …..”

A number of documents and statements[21] have been made by various parts of the church in post-war years in the main because of the growing realisation that the antisemitism that caused the Shoah was rooted in
Christian teachings of the kind that we see above. These statements have been slow to take effect, but the majority of the church now rejects supersessionism. Supersession apart, there are two main viewpoints on the question of Covenant within Christianity. One takes the view that  there is one Covenant that has existed since Abraham, and the church is grafted into this covenant alongside Israel. The other view is that there are two covenants; the covenant with Abraham is ongoing, but God, through Jesus made a new covenant and this is separate and operates alongside rather than supersedes the old covenant. I have oversimplified the question of covenant for the purposes of this discussion, however in broad terms the two positions outlined indicate that almost the entire church sees an ongoing Israel as the People of God alongside the church which is also the People of God. This is true except for a small minority within the church that still maintains a strict supersessionist doctrine.

Whilst the above does not lead directly to the conclusion that Christians could not possibly “live and work in a world without Jews” it paves the way insofar as it accepts that Jews remain part of “the People of God” in the world today, and the People of Israel can and should continue  alongside the Church.

What the Christian Scriptures say

During the history of the Church, the Gospels and letters have been used and abused to justify both the doctrine of supersession and the teaching of contempt. It is easy to pick out, for example, from John’s Gospel the phrase: “Jesus said …., “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and teach that this means that anyone who does not become a Christian cannot enter God’s Kingdom[22]. The earliest of the Christian Scriptures are the letters from Paul the Apostle. In particular, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and his letter to the Romans say a great deal about his view on the place of the Christians and that of the Jews in relationship to God and to one another.
The letter to the Galatians is very evidently written to a particular church in answer to a specific problem that had arisen there. It is unlikely that Paul had intended it to be anything more than that. The problem
that he addresses is a conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile
Christians on the question of Torah observance. Paul had previously set out a minimal observance for Gentiles (see the “Council of Jerusalem”, Acts 15, which can safely be dated before the letter to the Galatians[23]). In this letter, he tries to affirm his previous statements, and to give reasons.

The letter to the Romans was written a few years later[24] is a far more
considered approach to Paul’s own theological position. He gives his thoughts on faith, Torah and salvation and discusses once more the topics that he had explored in his letter to the Galatians. It is probable that Paul’s polemical words to the Galatians, written as I have said, into a
particular crisis, were being used by some Christians to defend a position
similar to that of supersession which came later. Certainly Paul in Romans 9 to 11 sets out very plainly his view on the “Mystery of Israel”. Israel has had its “heart hardened” for a time. If Israel has “stumbled” for a time, it is to allow the Gentiles the opportunity to become part of the people of God as Christians. “Has God rejected His people?” Paul asks, and then gives the answer: “By no means!”

A reading of Romans 9-11 with none of the background knowledge that is part of Christian tradition gives a clear enough picture: Paul is struggling with what to him is a mystery. If Jesus is, in fact the expected Messiah [25], why do many Jews carry on as though he had not come? He never fully understands this mystery, but accepts that God must have some purpose in mind for the situation that exists. He speaks of the Church being “grafted in” to its Judaic root[26] and the idea that Christianity has taken over from or superseded the “Old Covenant” is far from evident in Paul’s writing. Nevertheless, supersession was not only taught, but has been ‘proved’ by Paul’s letter for many centuries.

I have already cited John Wesley on Romans[27]. The use of the letter to the Romans to illustrate supersession was normative until recently. In Romans 11:5, Paul speaks of the “faithful remnant” of Israel. The view has been taken that only Jews who convert to Christianity are part of this “remnant”. The rest of Israel is then understood to be outside the new People of God, which is the church, until the end times, when the full number of Gentiles have become Christian. After that, there will be a sudden conversion, in which all the Jews will become Christian. The old standard, “Ellicott’s Commentary” says: “The reconversion of the Jews will be a signal to inaugurate that reign of eternal life which will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead.” There is something of this thinking behind the present day expectation among some Christians that the restoration of Eretz Israel is a sign of the end times, in which the messiah will soon be among us [28].

To read the Christian Scriptures in a fresh light then, is to see that Paul, at least, was aware that God has a continuing purpose for His Covenant People. Paul is not clear as to the nature of this, but he gives a strong message to the Church which the Church has ignored for far too long. From the point of view of the Christian Scriptures, Littell’s argument has to be taken very seriously.

What the Churches say

I mentioned above that Littell takes a view that the Liberal Protestants and the Conservative Evangelical Christian hold differing views on the question of Jewish Christian Relations. I suggest that he oversimplifies the case. There are, broadly speaking, three schools of thought on the place of Christianity relative to other world faiths. The Jews are regarded by most Christians as being part of the group termed “other world faiths”. The three views are: Exclusivism, which holds strictly to the view that there is no salvation outside the Church, Inclusivism, which states that the only salvation is through Jesus, but that through God’s grace others than Christians may be included in this salvation, and the third view is Pluralism, which accepts that there are  many paths to salvation, and that the world religions represent these paths.

I have simplified the present situation within the churches – as one might expect there are schools of thought that are in between these three clear-cut models. However, these different views do not correspond nicely with divisions of the Church into Catholic, Orthodox, Conservative-Evangelical and Liberal. Until very recent years, the entire church would have allied with the Exclusivist position (which went hand in hand with supersession). In the official statements from the churches mentioned above, there is a shift from Exclusivist to Inclusivist teaching. This is true
in both the Catholic and the Protestant or Evangelical churches [29]. The late Lesslie Newbigin saw the Inclusivist position as being the most appropriate for the Evangelical Christian: Newbigin defines those who hold this view as having “an inclusivist position which acknowledges Christ as the only saviour but affirm that his saving work extends beyond the bounds of the visible church”[30].

The Liberal wing of the church extends right across the denominations. While the Catholic Church tends to produce conservative official statements, it has its share of liberal theologians, whose views in many ways parallel those of liberal Evangelical scholars[31]. It is our liberal theologians who constantly challenge us to look afresh at our doctrines, and consider new possibilities. Pluralism currently has its place among the liberal theologians[32].

Whilst the churches would not generally go as far as Littell in saying that the Jews of the present day are essential to Christians, they do at least acknowledge that Jews remain God’s Covenant People.

A New Christianity?

Littell makes a case for a changed church – a new Christianity – and as mentioned above, he is quoted by Fackenheim as calling for a “Reformation”. I see a big difficulty in this kind of thinking. There is no doubt that the entire church is in a process of change, and that this change is profound. There is also no doubt that the church is having to reconsider its position as a result of the part it undoubtedly played in sowing the seeds of the antisemitism that gave rise to the Shoah. The Reformation came about because an authoritarian church had become too proud to admit that it was wrong. The church of today, as we have seen, is in a process of repentance, and of searching. It is, in fact, in a reforming process, but this is going to take time. Reformation, on the grand scale of which Littell speaks inevitably breeds Counter Reformation, and faction. There can not be a better reason for “making haste slowly”. We are in a Christianity that needs to be fully aware of all of its history as it re-thinks its past mistakes. The admission that the Church Fathers were wrong in their teachings about “The Jews” strikes at the very foundations of church as we know it. The question has to be asked: “If they were wrong about that issue, what about other equally important doctrines?” It is only a small step to begin questioning seriously a wide range of teachings to which the Church holds tenaciously. As an example, the doctrine of the Trinity, necessary in its day, may well need to be reviewed[33]. As I have said, and as the Church knows well, once foundational “truths” are challenged where does one stop? The slow steady transition is to be preferred. This is not to say that change should be delayed unnecessarily, just that it needs to be considered well and at length if we are to make progress.

At this juncture, we need to consider Littell’s point about the Church learning from the Synagogue. There are two sides to this suggestion. The first is that the Church neglected a valuable source of education in the ast when it rejected the work of the Rabbis. One might, for instance look at the Talmud (BT: San. 107b) in which Jesus is accused of “worshipping a brick”. Whilst the episode itself is pure illustration, it is not hard to see the underlying criticism of Christianity as being idolatrous and failing to observe Torah. The first of these charges proved well founded and in part led to the need for the Reformation [34]. The second of these charges may well prove to be equally well founded. Jesus is quoted in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 5:18) as saying that the law must be observed. The early church seen in Acts was also concerned about Torah observance as we have seen above in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Littell makes a
valuable point in observing that a Christian country ought to have a distinctive culture, and in pointing out that this culture ought to have a
similar ethos to Jewish culture if both cultures were truly Torah based.

At the same time, the Synagogue today is very different from anything that existed in the Second Temple era. This may be an obvious statement, but the Church has tended to act as though the situation had never altered from the time in which Jesus lived. Hilton [35] is able to show that Jewry has been changed significantly because of Christianity. The question has to be asked: “Does either present day Judaism or present day Christianity adequately reflect the teachings of Jesus?” and if so, to what extent? These are not straightforward questions: there are no simple answers. Just as the Shoah came out of a Christianity which is a sham, and a Christendom which is a fraud[36], Christianity never has fully reflected its origin. Open dialogue between Christians and Jews in which Christians are prepared to study and take seriously the foundation of modern-day Judaism in the writings of the Rabbis could lead to further discoveries of the flaws in our inherited tradition. This could only lead to a better church which is more true to its origin than is the
present one. Indeed, the process is
well under way in some sectors of the Church[37]

I mentioned two sides to Littell’s plea for Church to learn from Synagogue. On the other side of this particular coin is the apparent infatuation that Littell has with Jewish culture. I have mentioned that
Dan Cohn-Sherbrook points us to a more measured view. The present spiritual malaise in the Western Christian world that Littell sees as springing from the Enlightenment is affecting our Jewish brothers and sisters too. Here. I believe that dialogue can be at its most productive. When Christians are prepared to step outside their own flawed tradition for a while, and leave behind their preconceptions of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, they may well discover Jesus the Rabbi in his real context. They may well go on to discover, alongside their Jewish brothers and sisters, Jesus the first century Jewish prophet[38].

The Future

The above discussion has focussed in the main on the findings of Theologians and Scholars, and upon the official statements from various parts of Christianity. There are other levels at which the process is taking place – other areas in which Jewish life, learning and culture is entering into the lives of Christians. As a Christian Minister, I find it very noticeable that ordinary Christians are taking far more of an interest in Jewish thought than was usual just a few years ago. Our local Christian bookshop now boasts a large collection of books about Jews, Jewish feasts and Judaism. There is also a rapidly growing following in so called Messianic Communities. This is not to suggest that Messianic groups are in themselves a good or a bad thing – I mention them simply as an indicator of a burgeoning Christian interest in Judaica. This growing interest in Judaica on the part of ordinary Christians at a grass-roots level is I believe,significant. I would personally regard it as a part of a wider movement of the Holy Spirit.

At another level, the church – perhaps the Synagogue too – needs to listen to its mystics and its prophets. I have in mind the best known quotation from Elie Wiesel – the episode of the child dying on the end of a rope: “Then he heard the same man asking ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice from within me answer him: ‘Where is he? Here he is – He is hanging on this gallows …….” [39] This episode, which Ken Cracknell[40] believes has profoundly influenced Christian Theology, is one that needs to be listened to and understood in the very depths of our soul. Every Christian can identify with the idea – it is basic to our understanding of Jesus – it is basic too to our understanding of Humankind “created in the image and likeness of God”. Elie Wiesel’s mysticism shows through the pain of his anger towards the God who failed him. If we are, as Littell suggests, to go back to the time before the parting of the ways as Christians and Jews together, it is voices such as Wiesel’s that need to be heard and understood.

Conclusion

Littell’s stark and powerful statement that Christians can’t be Christians without the Jews is a challenge. Deep down I have, for reasons more emotional than rational, found myself wanting to oppose it. Equally deep down, I believe Littell to be right. He had great courage to write what he wrote, especially twenty-five years ago. The Church is slowly accepting its part in the antisemitism that led directly to the Shoah – it remains to be seen how much further it will be willing to go in reconsidering its theological position more deeply in the light of its own Hebrew roots.

The Christian Scriptures – particularly the writings of Paul – leave no room for doubt about the attitude that we ought to be taking with regard to the Jews. Littells main point about a clearly defined counter-culture ought to be self-evident. He has a good argument – outsiders ought to
be able to see the Christian difference as easily as they can see the distinctive marks of Jewish community. Going back to “the parting of the ways” as Christians and Jews together would not be easy – but it is what is needed. If – dare I say ‘when’ – we do that, there is much that we will have to examine that will be painful. I mentioned above the question of the Trinity. It seems to me that the Church is going to need to re-think its entire Christology. To many Christians that would be to think the unthinkable. It would be a step too far. Wallis quotes Ekardt as saying that the Church needs to be prepared to give up its ‘incarnational’ Christology – and that the Church will not do that. He goes on to say that it remains a weakness of the Eckardt’s position that he does not begin to offer an alternative Christology. I don’t believe that the Church is yet ready for such an alternative. But I do feel that it is vital that Jewish Christian dialogue works towards the formulation of this. The starting point might well be the divinity of humankind[41]. Our Christian Mystics and our Jewish Kabbalists have a great deal to say about this. Let us begin to listen to them.

Endnotes


[1] Littell’s preface to the Rose reprint – beginning of first page.

[2] “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” – Eckhardt, p13

[3] Fackenheim, quoting Littell from a meeting of Christian and Jewish scholars. P 72 “The
Jewish Bible after the Holocaust”.

[4] Littell – “The Crucifixion of the Jews” p65.

[5] Fackenheim speaks of Barth at a 1963 meeting saying that the Jews and the Christian should each leave behind their traditional teachings while they meet together – the Christians unencumbered by the New Testament, and the Jews without their rabbinic sources together looking at the “Book that belongs to us both” with fresh eyes . . . P 71 “The Jewish Bible after the Holocaust”.

[6] I admit to being so shocked by his citing of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” that I had to see some of it for myself. Hitler’s statement: “And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord” at the end of Vol. 1, chapter two seems shocking now, but perhaps it is not surprising that churches, indoctrinated by centuries of good sound orthodox Christian teaching accepted it in the nineteen thirties.

[7] Isa 53

[8] The idea of the perpetual suffering of the Jews as a kind of atoning sacrifice has crept in here. It is extremely controversial, especially among some Jews. One exponent of this idea is Ignaz Maybaum as cited by Dan Cohn-Sherbok in Holocaust Theology. Sherbok, for one finds difficulty with Maybaum’s idea.

[9] Alice and Roy Eckardt take this view in “Long Night’s Journey Into Day”. Certainly those who are able to give credence to a real “Evil Personified” find it easier to understand the existence of evil in a world created by a perfectly good God.

[10] Littell – “The Crucifixion of the Jews” p35

[11] Theologians John Hick and Ninian Smart would place themselves among the liberal school of theologians. Both have made valuable
contributions to Christian thinking about non-Christian faiths and belief
systems.

[12] I have to remind myself that Litell was writing twenty-five years ago. In those days, the different camps within Christianity were far more divided than they are today, and attitudes generally were far more partisan. Writing today, Littell is quick to acknowledge positive contributions towards dialogue from all sectors of our faiths. As an example Littell’s address at: Religious Freedom conference. Berlinhttp://www.religiousfreedom.com /index.php?catid=44%3Agermany-conference&id=335%3Alittell-berlin& format=pdf&option=com_content
takes a far broader attitude than “The Crucifixion of
the Jews”.

[13] First page of Littell in the “Rose” reprint from Mercer.

[14] Our modern education system owes much to the Sunday School movement which began in the Methodist Church. The Abolition of Slavery, and the present day concept of a democracy in which both sexes and all classes take part has its roots in Christianity. And there are many more examples that one can find.

[15] “Holocaust Theology” pp 40-41

[16] Far from seeing the state of Israel in an entirely positive light, Cohn-Sherbrook sees a major problem in Anti-Zionism which saps the constructive energy of the nation.

[17] Reviewer in “Commonweal”, quoted by Mercer in the Rose reprint

[18] Littell gives no references for his comments about liberal theologians. Eliezer Berkovitz, in “Faith After the Holocaust” cites Thomas J. Altizer as a radical theologian who preaches Nietzsche’s “God is Dead” enlightenment thinking in an attempt to “modernise” Christianity. It may be that approach that Littell, writing at a similar time, had in mind. Things have moved on from the 1970’s. There are few if any theologians today who would want to offer an “Atheist Theology” – an oxymoron if ever there were one! One might want to cite Don Cupitt and the “Sea of Faith” school as being among todays Liberal Theologians with no belief in God. To do this would be facile: a current introduction on the internet says that “Sea of Faith”, the book by Don Cupitt: “examined the decline of institutional religion and asked what might replace it in our complex postmodern world, where the certainties of scriptures, clerical hierarchies and supernatural underpinnings no longer make sense”. This is a far cry from saying that the Sea of Faith School denies God.Having said that, the Sea of Faith supporters do represent one of the extremes of which I speak.

[19] Eph 6:11-12

[20] These examples were offered by the writer in a handout to his fellow students at CJCR Summer School, 2000.

[21] Brockway (“the Theology of the Churches and the Jewish People”) includes 20 documents of this kind. The first is the statement from the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The Catholic statements are not included among them. The Vatican statement “Nostra Aetate” in 1965 is a pivotal document due to its admission that the church must bear its part of the blame for antisemitism. As an acknowledgement that the church had, in its past, been wrong, Nostra Aetate is very much a ‘first’ from the Catholic Church.

[22] “Nor can any man draw nigh God as a Father, who is not quickened by Him as the Life, and taught by Him as the Truth, to come by Him as the Way”. – Matthew Henry Commentary on John 14 is representative of most pre-WW2 commentaries.

[23] The New Jerome commentary puts the letter to the Galatians around 54 CE, and suggests that the instructions to the Gentile Christians had been given during Pauls’ visit referred to in Acts 18:23. The Council of Jerusalem took place between 49 and 51 CE, and therefore would have been formative in Paul’s later teaching.

[24] The New Jerome commentary places it around 58 CE

[25] Interestingly, Littell poses the question: “Was Jesus a false Messiah?” – page 17, “The Crucifixion of the Jews”

[26] Rom 11:17-21

[27] “They [the Jews] are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election – That part of them who believe, they are beloved” – Wesley’s Notes

[28] There is a widespread movement mostly within the conservative evangelical wing of the Church that sees the fulfillment of various verses in Isaiah (mainly from Isa. 27) in the establishment if the state of Israel. Their view is that the Messiah will come soon, and bring in God’s Kingdom. An example is found at: http://www.srv.net/~thor/thor/CR/INDEX.HTM

[29] From the Catholic side, Nostra Aetate in 1965 begins to express the inclusivist doctrine that is now the official position of the Catholic Church. The 1999 statement “Memory and Reconciliation” takes this further, and admits to some of the past mistakes of the church. On the
Protestant side, a development is seen in the statements from the World Council of Churches (see Brockway). Here there is gradual but definite movement from an Exclusivist towards an Inclusivist position. I mentioned above a Catholic commentary from the 1960’s that taught exclusivism. A later Catholic commentary, “The International Bible Commentary” (1998) on Romans 10 & 11 “….. God, who has been able to profit from Israel’s rejection to bring mercy to the Gentiles will still save God’s People ….” Note especially here that Israel remains “God’s People” – the Mosaic Covenant is still valid for the Jews

[30] P174 of “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”

[31] There is of course the possibility that Catholic Theologians who find themselves too far outside accepted teachings also find themselves outside the church. I offer Hans Küng as an example.

[32] Pluralism’s best known advocate today is John Hick. The idea has been around for many years, indeed Alan Race cites Nicholas of Cusa in the 15th Century as an advocate. Pluralism suggests that God reveals Himself through all the world faiths, and in effect, each holds some of the truth. Ultimately, the pluralist would say that only in the coming together of all the faiths will the truth be found.

[33] I have described the Trinity as a fudge, but an elegant and necessary fudge in its day. The problem that I see (apart from the obvious one in inter-faith dialogue) is that the doctrine of the Trinity sidesteps the bigger issue of the divinity of humankind. Jesus made an uncomfortably large issue of this, and neither Christians nor Jews have been especially keen to follow its implications to the full ever since.

[34] Christianity’s obsession with Holy Places, buildings and relics had reached its zenith in the Middle Ages, and formed one of the main platforms for the reformers.

[35] M. Hilton – “The Christian Effect on Jewish Life”

[36] Littell uses these words with feeling and effect – “The Crucifixion of the Jews” p86

[37] “The Truth Shall Make You Free” document from the Lambeth Conference, 1988 emphasises the importance of learning from the work of the Rabbis, and points out the the state of Jewish understanding and learning today is very different from that of the Second Temple period.

[38] Some thoughts of mine expanding this idea came to the conclusion that Jesus was a pharisee who was called by God to become a prophet, and it was out of his prophetic claim that opinions became deeply divided about him. The essay is available at: Jesus, the Pharisee. Eliezer Berkovits
reports that there is a move among Progressive Jews to recognise Jesus as a prophet.

[39] Elie Wiesel in “Night”, p44

[40] Ken Cracknell in the journal “The Way”, January 1997, p67

[41] It is a passionate concern of my own that the Church in all its history seems to have exalted the divinity of Jesus, while making little effort to understand his teaching that “we are Gods all of us and sons of the most high”. In quoting the psalmist, Jesus clearly points us towards our divine origin; we are, after all made in God’s own image and likeness. I believe that Jesus was asking us to accept this fact in a very literal manner. In pointing to our divinity as human beings, he fully accepted his own divinity. As Christians or Jews, each of us ought to be able to do exactly as he did. If we are able to recognise our own divinity, we must recognise each and every other human person as divine. In doing that, there can  never again be the devaluing of individual humans at any scale – especially devaluing of the scale that we have seen in the Shoah.

Islam – my own experiences of encounters with Muslims

I have been involved with interfaith dialogue for a number of years. I was Interfaith advisor to the East Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church for several years, and still maintain close contact with the Nottingham Interfaith Council.

I met Yasmin at a meeting to discover faiths in the Nottingham area. I was invited to present Christianity. Yasmin was there with two other ladies. For the occasion, they were wearing traditional Muslim dress, although without the face covering. Normally, all three of them wear Western clothes. I kept up the conversation with Yasmin by email after the meeting. She came to my house to meet me to discuss how we might work together.

She belongs to a non religious Muslim family. Like many Christians, church/mosque is there for hatches, matches and dispatches and little else. Yasmin wanted to learn more. She started going to her local mosque for Friday prayers. One day, she received a revelation from God. What a Christian would describe as a ‘conversion experience’. She was moved to go into local schools with the other two ladies to talk about Islam, and the fact that the majority of Muslims in the UK are moderate, and loathe what the extremists are doing.

Sadly, Yasmin suffered some serious chronic illness, and had to give up most of the work she had been doing. She is frequently in my thoughts and prayers, but she has made no further contact with me.

The other encounter I had was during an evening arranged by the Nottingham Interfaith Council. It is called ‘The Listening experience.’ It takes place every year, and allows us to tell our faith story to someone of another faith, and for them to tell us about their own faith journey.

It was there that I met a young Muslim woman. She was twenty at that time, and was a post graduate science student at a London university. Her story began when she was fourteen. Her school was not a Muslim school, but had a large number of Muslim students. A prayer corner was curtained off in an area of the main hall. Three Muslim lads went there every day for the mid-day prayer time. She decided to join them. She had not been brought up in a particularly religious family, but found something in that prayer time that moved her. Some non-Muslim lads came along to poke fun at them, and two of them stopped bothering when they found that the Muslim kids took no notice. One lad became interested. He told them that he was an atheist, but would they mind if he came to the prayer time every day, as he was finding it interesting. He started asking one of the Muslim lads questions. It reached the point when the Muslim lad found the questions too deep and challenging for him, and offered to take him to the mosque and introduce him to the Imam. The young lad liked what he heard, and asked if he could go along every Friday. Subsequently, he discovered that ther is a God, and he began to enjoy a relationship with God. He has now converted and has all the enthusiasm that we expect from a convert.

Malcolm, a friend of mine, wrote the following about his experience on the ‘Listening Experience.’
“I asked to meet a young Muslim for my second meeting, and this was arranged. He was 19 with a small beard, easy to talk to, and an ideal representative of the Muslim faith. Both his parents have always been Muslims. He said he was more religious as a young boy, but now still prayed five times a day. He said he has always played a part in various community work. Today he is involved in youth work including football and cricket as well as taking classes. He feels that a wrong impression of Muslims prevails today due to extremism. I pointed out that Christians have had our own problems in Northern Ireland, and we were by no means perfect. Just as Muslims left the problems to Christians to sort out, we expect Muslims to sort out their extremism today.
He does not approve of Muslims wearing veils, but feels the French are wrong having a law against it. He does approve of the wearing of head scarves. He considers we should follow their customs in their country, and Muslims should do the same in our country..
He has an interest in politics twice having been invited to speak at meetings in the House of Commons”.

I have also found a great deal of commonality between the Christian mystics, and Muslim mystics of the Sufi tradition. A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Neil Douglas-Klotz. The talk he gave was on his latest book “The Genesis Mediations.” He regard the creation story as a starting point in our shared journey as Christians Jews and Muslims. We can meet together in meditation on these passages. This concept excited me, and reminded me of my own work on the same subject. You might see my essay on “The Divinity of Humankind” at: http://www.barrydrake.webspace.virginmedia.com/minister/divinity.html It includes the following about Mother Julian of Norwich:
“There were, however a number of significant writings from Christian mystics. One in particular, Mother Julian of Norwich, offers us a striking picture of humankind. In chapter 51 of her revelations of divine love[83], she offers a vision of a Lord, and a servant. The Lord asks the servant to go on an errand for him, and the servant eagerly runs to do the Lord’s will, but falls into a ditch and can no longer move. Mother Julian sees this as ‘all of humankind’ – in her explanation of the vision, she says:
“The Lord that sat stately in rest and in peace, I understood that He is God. The Servant that stood afore the Lord, I understood that it was shewed for Adam: that is to say, one man was shewed, that time, and his falling, to make it thereby understood how God beholdeth All-Man and his falling. For in the sight of God all man is one man, and one man is all man.”
There is great similarity between this mystical picture, and the picture of the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel, restored to his former glory.
She goes on to say later in the same chapter:
“When Adam fell, God’s Son fell: because of the rightful oneing which had been made in heaven, God’s Son might not [be disparted] from Adam. (For by Adam I understand All-Man.)”
Mother Julian, it seems sees all of humankind from God’s viewpoint, not as individuals, but as a composite ‘Son of Man’, who waits to be restored (healed) in God’s own good time.
It seems at this point in time, that Christian theologians are producing an increasingly higher Christology in which humankind is lowly and does not share in the divinity which they ascribe to Jesus, while mystics – Mother Julian among others – are seeing a different picture of the divinity of humankind.