June 2004 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter — June 2004— Vol. X, no. 6

Dear Colleagues,

John Conway is on holiday this month, so he has asked me to
assist with the June 2004 Newsletter. I am very happy to do so,
and therefore take the opportunity to send you two book reviews
on the topic of contemporary Christian-Jewish relations. I should
be glad to have any comments you may care to send me to the
following address: mhockeno@skidmore.edu 16Sincerely,
Matthew Hockenos, Dept. of History, Skidmore College,
Saratoga Springs, New York, US


Book Reviews

1) Marc A. Krell, Intersecting Pathways: Modern Jewish
Theologians in Conversation with Christianity (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2003).
2) Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jensen, Jews and Christians:
People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing, 2003).

1) Krell, Intersecting Pathways

Marc Krell’s Intersecting Pathways: Modern Jewish Theologians
in Conversation with Christianity (2003) is an insightful and
timely contribution to the growing number of studies on the
contemporary Jewish-Christian encounter. Krell analyzes the
theologies of four twentieth-century Jewish thinkers: Franz
Rosenzweig (1886-1929), Hans Joachim Schoeps (1909-1980),
Richard Rubenstein (1924-), and Irving Greenberg (1933-), and
concludes that each of these theologians developed his (Jewish)
theology in continuous conflict and conversation with Christian
thought and culture. “Ultimately, the works of these four
Jewish-Christian interlopers demonstrate that modern Jewish
identity is predicated in some way upon its ambivalent encounter
with Christianity” (11). Yet their willingness to reconstruct
Jewish identity and to reformulate Jewish theology through a
dialogue with Christianity did not resulted in a dilution of Jewish
identity. Rather, Krell argues, these four theologians continually
reestablish Jewish uniqueness through cultural and theological
interaction at the boundaries between Christianity and Judaism.
Krell’s methodology is that of cultural studies and his book
liberally employs the terminology and jargon of this field.

Theology for Krell is a cultural activity in that it is constructed in
the context of continuous socio-cultural interaction and power
dynamics. “Instead of being an indisputable and normative
discourse,” Krell writes, ” theology is socially and historically
conditioned just like all other human activities” (4). He believes
that the ongoing construction of modern Jewish identities is
generated by a unique dialectic between Judaism and Christianity
in which Jews define themselves through a simultaneous
attraction and repulsion to the dominant Christian culture. The
identity construction of both Christians and Jews by
twentieth-century theologians has involved the displacing and
realigning of borders traditionally associated with Jewish and
Christian identities. While acknowledging that the boundaries
between Judaism and Christianity are more defined today than in
late antiquity, Krell maintains that Rosenzweig, Schoeps,
Rubenstein, and Greenberg engaged in a theological discourse
with their Christian counterparts that blurred long-established
boundaries between Judaism and Christianity.

Of the four theologians Krell examines, Franz Rosenzweig was
the only one whose theology was developed in its entirety before
Hitler came to power and thus does not struggle at least to the
same degree as Rubenstein and Greenberg — with Christian
antisemitism. Rosenzweig was attracted to Christianity early in
his life in part because he viewed Judaism as an anachronistic set
of rituals and in part because he believed that the Christian
notion of divine revelation could provide him with a living
relationship to God. Although he nearly converted in 1913, he
decided to remain a Jew and went on to develop a theology that
reflected his love-hate relationship with Christianity.

Just as the Reformed Swiss theologian Karl Barth and some of
his colleagues were critical of the secularization and historicism
of Christianity in the early twentieth century, so too was
Rosenzweig a critic of similar trends by liberal Jews. Before the
outbreak of the First World War Rosenzweig began to stress the
uniqueness of the Jews because they stood apart from world
history as God’s chosen people. The eternal, transcendental,
metahistorical, and divine predisposition of Israel became a
constitutive element in his theology. A second and
complementary element in Rosenzweig’s theology was the
crucial role of the Church in spreading the Word of God to the
pagan community. According to Krell, “Rosenzweig describes
the Jews as depending on Christians to eternalize or redeem the
world through proselytization” (33). Although Rosenzweig
acknowledges that Christians have an important role to play in
this-worldly redemption, he is also critical of the Christian claim
that their revelation is complete and that the Jews should join
them in recognizing the revelation of God in Christ the Messiah.

For this reason Rosenzweig does not leave the responsibility of
addressing the unredeemed world to Christians alone. Through
prayer, suffering, and ethical behavior, he contends, Jews can
also participate in bringing about redemption without following

The complementary role that Christians and Jews play in
Rosenzweig’s theology does not, as some have argued, result in a
“two-covenant theology,” whereby Jews and Christians
acknowledge their connectedness but maintain their distinctive
covenants. Krell argues that Rosenzweig never pushes his
theology to this point. For Rosenzweig, Christian and Jewish
identities were constructed through “a judgment against the
other” (15). Krell writes, “Rosenzweig clearly illustrated the
dialectic between attraction and repulsion by Jews and Christians
for each other when admitting that there is a ëformal relation’
between Judaism and Christianity while also maintaining that
there is no ëliving relation’ between Jewish and Christian
theologies. [Rosenzweig] portrayed Judaism and Christianity as
being intimately bound together by God, while at the same time
claiming that God ëhas set enmity between the two for all time'”
(36). In short, Jews, not Christians, possess divine truth, and it is
the Christians’ role to recognize this and attest to it. According
to Krell, Rosenzweig neither crosses the boundary between
Judaism and Christianity nor does he reaffirm the existing
boundaries but rather “realigns those that are already shifting”

Hans Joachim Schoeps, on the other hand, does more than realign
the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity, he develops a
hybrid theology that both Jews and Christians have sharply
criticized. Perhaps even more than Schoeps’s amalgamation of
Jewish and Christian thought, it was his admiration for Prussian
politics and culture that earned him the wrath of many of his
Jewish colleagues. In 1933 he founded the Deutscher Vortrupp
(German Vanguard) to promote Prussian-German patriotism and
to work toward a Jewish-Nazi political rapprochement. Despite
Nazi antisemitism Schoeps remained steadfastly committed to
serving Germany as a Jew. “My own position concerning the
German fatherland remains unchanged,” he wrote after the Nazis
came to power. “I have no other fatherland than the one which is
called Germany; and I cannot serve it in any other meaningful
way than that as a full Jew . . . .”[1] The Nazis, of course, were
not interested in Schoeps’s love for the fatherland. Schoeps was
forced to flee to Sweden in 1938 after the Nazis had refused an
offer by members of his Vortrupp to serve in the German Army
in 1935 and had arrested Schoeps in 1936. Although the Nazis
had killed his parents in concentration camps, he returned to
Germany in 1946, accepted an appointment at the University of
Erlangen in 1947, and called for a return of the Prussian
monarchy. Until his death in 1980

Schoeps was dogged by Jewish critics, some of whom accused him of being a Nazi and others of being Protestant.
It is true that Schoeps’s theology drew more heavily on Protestant
and Lutheran beliefs than Rosenzweig’s. He even described his
own theology as a “critical-Protestant Judaism.” Karl Holl’s
interpretation of Luther and aspects of Karl Barth’s dialectical
theology were especially influential. But Krell insists that while
Schoeps borrowed from the theologies of Holl, Barth, and other
Protestants, he did so without losing his Jewish identity. Like
Rosenzweig, Schoeps believed that Jews and Christians had
distinct roles to play in the process of redemption, but unlike
Rosenzweig, he did not subordinate the role of Christians to the
role of Jews. Jews, Schoeps maintained, were as much a part of
the fallen world as Christians and each stood before God as
sinners. He also believed that both the Synagogue and the
Church had a mutual responsibility to proclaim God to their
unredeemed communities. He acknowledged Jesus as the Son of
God for Christians but countered that Jews were the sons of God.

In this direct comparison of the divinity of Christ and Israel, Krell
believes that Schoeps crossed over “the essential boundaries
constructed between Judaism and Christianity by his Jewish and
Christian contemporaries” (65). Schoeps did not, however,
abandon Judaism. He proclaimed after the war that “every Jew
today, as in the past, must reject Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. . .
. We are, however, prepared to recognize that in some way,
which we do not understand, a Messianic significance for
non-Jewish mankind is attached to the figure of [Jesus Christ].
We can go this far without transgressing against the absoluteness
of the revelation on Mount Sinai (valid only for Israel); we can
go this far and still remain wholly and authentically rooted in the
revealed truth of Judaism, which neither needs, nor is susceptible
to, any completion.”[2]

Although Schoeps was neither a Nazi nor a Protestant as his
critics had charged, he did develop a theology with many
similarities to twentieth-century conservative Lutherans, many of
whom had compromised with Nazism. In contrast to Rosenzweig
who maintained that because of Israel’s eternal status as God’s
chosen people they were independent from history, Schoeps
maintained that Jews had a crucial role to play in history. He
urged Jews to participate in the politics of the Prussian state,
which he characterized in classic Lutheran fashion as one of the
divine orders of creation. Since Schoeps believed that the
Prussian leaders represented God in this world, it followed that
Jews had a responsibility to serve Prussia for spiritual as well as
historical reasons. Although Jews and Christians both had this
responsibility, Jews had a distinct role because they possessed
sacred blood through God’s divine promise and as a result had a
“predisposition to salvation.” Although Schoeps would agree
with Rosenzweig that the Jewish people have an eternal
ahistorical status as a result of their chosenness, he differs from
Rosenzweig when he calls on Jews to consciously enter history
and thereby activate God’s promise. Krell writes, “by portraying
Judaism more as a religion than an ethnicity, Schoeps wanted to
show that Jews are members of the Prussian nation based on a
religious decision to work with the German people in the
universal process of redemption. . . . Schoeps encouraged Jews to
make a religious confession to the Prussian idea of societal order
as reflecting the order of creation” (52-3). Israel’s chosenness
gave it a special role in German history and in the process of
redemption. But it was a role that complemented the role of
Christians in a shared redemptive process.

Whereas the Holocaust seems to have had little affect on
Schoeps’s optimistic view of Jews and Christians working
together to redeem the world, the Holocaust is the central event
in Richard Rubenstein’s post-Holocaust theology. Rubenstein is
president emeritus and distinguished professor of religion at the
University of Bridgeport. He is renowned among Jewish and
Christian scholars for his controversial and thought-provoking
contributions to the Jewish-Christian dialogue and debate on the
meaning of the Holocaust for our understanding of God. In After
Auschwitz (1966) he asked: “How can Jews believe in an
omnipotent, beneficent God after Auschwitz?” He concluded
that they cannot because belief in God as the omnipotent actor in
history ultimately leads to the conclusion that the Holocaust was
part of God’s salvation plan. Krell writes, “Rubenstein would
rather interpret historical Jewish suffering culminating in the
Holocaust as tragic misfortune rather than a deserved punishment
from an autocratic God” (87).

Rubenstein reached this conclusion after reflecting on a
conversation he had had with Heinrich Gruber, a Lutheran who
had risked his life to save Jews during the Holocaust and had
worked tirelessly on behalf of Jewish-Christian reconciliation
after the war. Gruber had expressed the belief to Rubenstein that
the Holocaust was God’s way of punishing Israel for rejecting
and crucifying Christ. This interpretation of the Holocaust was
not uncommon among postwar German Lutherans and some
ultra-Orthodox Jews. The Gruber encounter prompted
Rubenstein to declare that the myths by which Christians and
Jews define themselves and one another were the root of the
problem and ultimately responsible for the Holocaust.

Rubenstein believed that the Christian myths that portrayed Jews
as Christ-killers and taught contempt for Jews created an
atmosphere in which the Nazis’ racial antisemitism found
widespread appeal. But more controversially he was also critical
of the excessively rigid expectations and punitive nature of
rabbinic Judaism. “[Rubenstein] portrayed the development of a
servile Jewish consciousness due to behavioral restraints imposed
by the Rabbis who, he argued, interpreted every misfortune as a
deserved punishment by an angry Father God” (72). Rubenstein
urged both communities to demythologize their religions in order
to open the way for a true dialogue. Both Jews and Christians
needed to rethink their images of Jews and see them as “neither
more nor less than any other men, sharing the pain, the joy, and
the fated destiny which Earth alone has meted out to all her
children.” Despite his call for the demythologization of
Christianity and Judaism, it is Krell’s contention that Rubenstein
perpetuates these myths in his critique of rabbinic Judaism.

In After Auschwitz Rubenstein proclaimed the death of the
omnipotent historical God and reconstructed the divine image as
“a God who unfolds in nature yet is ontologically distinct from
it” (86). Rubenstein stated in 1970, “I would like to offer my
own confession of faith after Auschwitz. I am a pagan. To be a
pagan means to find once again one’s roots as a child of Earth
and to see one’s own existence as wholly and totally an earthly
existence.”[3] Although Rubenstein denied the existence of a
historical God, Krell does not believe that Rubenstein separated
himself entirely from Judaism.

In Rubenstein’s post-Holocaust theology God is no longer an
omnipotent, transcendent, and punitive God but rather one who is
amoral, immanent, feminine, and transcends good and evil.
Gone is the God of biblical and rabbinic Judaism, which
Rubenstein associated with a wrathful God who judges and
punishes. Rubenstein’s post-Holocaust God of nature draws a
good deal on the Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich and
Rubenstein’s reading of the apostle Paul. Rubenstein’s theology,
according to Krell, sought to “transcend Jewish Christian
boundaries and achieve a universal oneness with all humanity in
a world immanently permeated by divinity” (100). By
deconstructing the dehumanizing myths so central to the
Jewish-Christian rivalry, Rubenstein attempted to build a
community that focused on shared human traits as opposed to
combative religions. Although Rubenstein challenged both Jews
and Christians to abandon their mutually destructive religious
myths, he employs anti-Jewish Christian myths in his critique of
rabbinic Judaism.

Irving Greenberg, like Rubenstein, believes that the Holocaust
marked a major turning point in Jewish-Christian relations. He
encourages both Jewish and Christian theologians to develop a
joint theological response to the Holocaust in conversations with
each other. In contrast to Rubenstein, whom he called an atheist,
Greenberg continues to maintain the belief, common to Jews and
Christians, that God acts in history. However, in his
groundbreaking essay, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism,
Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust” (1974), he
concluded that the covenant between God and the Jews had been
shattered in the Holocaust. God did not keep His share of the
covenant by protecting the Jews. The Holocaust then marked the
end of the covenant that had been established between God and
Israel at Sinai.

However, he interpreted the founding of the State of Israel in
1948 as a decision by the majority of Jews to voluntarily accept
the covenant again. According to Greenberg, the Jews have
responded to God’s call to take responsibility for themselves and
to actively work to prevent another Holocaust. In “Cloud of
Smoke, Pillar of Fire,” Greenberg wrote, “Israel’s faith in the
God of History demands that an unprecedented event of
destruction be matched by an unprecedented act of redemption,
and this has happened.”[4] In this act, Jews began to take control
of their own redemption and in doing so redistribute the power
relationship between Jews and Christians. Greenberg also
suggested that the Holocaust and the founding of the State of
Israel marked a shift in the locus of God’s presence to the secular
world. Greenberg referred to this as a “secular revelation” and
argued that it “shifted the balance of Jewish activity and concern
to the secular enterprises of society building, social justice, and
human politics” (111). Thus Greenberg sees the Holocaust as a
revelatory event that ushers in a new covenant and establishes a
new orientation between God and the Jews, on the one hand, and
Jews and Christians, on the other.

Greenberg’s theology offers a “new organic model” for the
post-Holocaust relationship between Jews and Christians. In
dialogue with Christian theologians A. Roy Eckardt and Paul van
Buren, Greenberg influenced them and was in turn influenced by
them. All three drew a direct connection between the Church’s
anti-Judaism and the rise of Nazi antisemitism. Rather than
combat anti-Judaism by calling for the demythologization of
Judaism and Christianity as Rubenstein did, Eckardt, van Buren,
and Greenberg interpreted the core myths in new ways. Rather
than interpret the crucifixion as a model for redemptive suffering,
they argued that after the Holocaust the cross had become a
symbol of degradation. In the wake of immeasurable suffering
Jews endured during the Nazi period Greenberg believed that the
redemptive nature of suffering had to be called into question and
he encouraged Christians to abandon their glorification of the
suffering servant model. Although Greenberg encourages a
dialogical relationship between Christians and Jews, Krell
believes he “unwittingly reversed the power relations between
Judaism and Christianity by attempting to make Christianity
more rabbinic or this-worldly after the Holocaust. Instead of
respecting the faith claims of Christianity, Greenberg appeared to
subordinate and incorporate them in a Jewish framework” (134).

It is difficult to dispute Krell’s overarching thesis that these four
theologians constructed their theologies through an unusually
high degree of debate and dialogue with Christian theologians as
well as deep reflection on the relationship between Christian and
Jewish identity. Krell, however, is not merely arguing that these
four thinkers deliberately sought to develop their theologies
through a conversation with Christianity, but rather that Jewish
theologians who seek to develop an all-encompassing theology
and who seek to formulate the basic characteristics of Jewish
identity will out of necessity come into intimate contact with


[1] Gary Lease, “Hans Joachim Schoeps,” in Yale Companion to
Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture 1096-1996,
edited by Sander L. Gilman and Jack Zipes (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1997), 659.
[2] Hans Joachim Schoeps, “A Religious Bridge between Jew
and Christian: Shall We Recognize Two Covenants,”
Commentary (1950), 129, 131.
[3] Richard L. Rubenstein, “Some Perspectives on Religious
Faith after Auschwitz,” in
The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust ed. Franklin H.
Littell and Hubert G. Locke (Detroit: Wayne State University
Press, 1974), 267.
[4] Irving Greenberg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism,
Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust,” in Auschwitz:
Beginning of a New Era? ed. Eva Fleischner (NY: KTAV
Publishing House, 1974), 32.

2) Braaten and Jenson, Jews and Christians

Jews and Christians: People of God (2003), edited by Carl E.
Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, is a collection of eight scholarly
essays, which originated as presentations at a conference in
Minneapolis in 2001 organized by the Center for Catholic and
Evangelical Theology. For reasons of space only half of the
essays can be reviewed in detail here. In addition to the essays
by some of the most prominent Jewish and Christian scholars
engaged in the ongoing dialogue over the relationship between
Judaism and Christianity, the volume also includes a
mini-symposium on Dabru Emet (“Speak the Truth”), the historic
Jewish statement on Christians and Christianity issued in 2000
and signed by nearly 200 Jewish scholars, and a personal essay
by Reidar Dittmann in which he reflects on his experience in
Buchenwald. Although this extraordinary volume is highly
recommended for anyone familiar with the literature in this
rapidly expanding field, some of the essays are theologically
quite challenging and the collection offers neither a systematic
nor historical approach to the topic. Despite these drawbacks,
one is immediately struck by two impressions: the sophisticated
understanding that Jewish contributors have for Christianity and
Christian contributors for Judaism and the straightforwardness
and ease with which these Jewish and Christian scholars now
exchange ideas and opinions. For those who desire a more
systematic approach that emphasizes the work being done by
Jewish scholars, I would suggest Christianity in Jewish Terms
(2000) edited by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter
Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, and Michael A. Singer. Christianity
in Jewish Terms consists of ten chapters with essays that address
key theological concepts in Judaism and Christianity, such as
commandment, worship, suffering, sin, and redemption. Each
chapter also contains responses by prominent Christian scholars.

A useful introductory chapter on “Christian-Jewish Interactions
over the Ages” by Robert Chazan sets the historical context.
Jews and Christians begins with a thoughtful essay by Robert
Jenson, the senior scholar for research at the Center for
Theological Inquiry in Princeton, which attempts to outline a new
Christian theology of Judaism. Although dramatic changes and
significant progress have taken place in Christian-Jewish
relations since the Holocaust and the founding of the State of
Israel, there is still a sense among some Christian and Jewish
scholars that Christianity urgently needs to rethink its theology of
Judaism. This volume in general and Jenson’s essay in particular
attempt to address this deficiency. For Jenson, “A Christian
theology of Judaism will be at its center an attempt to understand
Judaism’s claim and in so doing to understand its own better”
(3). But for Christians to understand Judaism’s claim is not a
simple matter. While Christian theologians have relied on the
theory of supersessionism — the claim that with the resurrection
of Jesus Christ the church has displaced or superseded Israel as
God’s covenantal partner — for their understanding of Judaism,
Jenson notes that supersessionism is increasingly out of fashion
as a result of the rethinking of Christian theology in the wake of
the Holocaust. “We see ever more clearly how Jewish the
Christian claims and fundamental patterns of understanding are,
indeed how very much the predominant gentile part of the church
is indeed grafted onto someone else’s tree.” To emphasize his
point Jenson offers the rather startling gloss on John 1:14: “The
Torah became flesh and dwelt among us” (6).

His more systematic attempt to replace the supersessionist
interpretation of Judaism involves reinterpreting the New
Testament claim that through the resurrection of Jesus God
marked him as the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise
to Israel. Jenson acknowledges that “this claim can be
understood in a way that . . . takes Israel’s mission as concluded
with the life, death, and resurrection of this one Israelite” (6). In
contrast Jenson proposes that we understand the church not as the
fulfillment of the promises to Israel but as “a detour from the
expected straight path of the Lord’s intentions, a detour to
accommodate the mission to Jews and gentiles” (7). Since it is
quite clear that the resurrection of Jesus did not bring the
Kingdom of God in all its glory, it follows that the church is not
the kingdom but a detour on God’s way. Jenson then suggests
that the church may also see Judaism as a detour “taken by God
on his way to the final fulfillment” (8).

The rest of Jenson’s essay attempts to address why God would
ordain the Judaic detour alongside the Christian detour. His
answer is threefold. First, he proposes that God “wills the
Judaism of Torah-obedience as that which alone can and does
hold the lineage of Abraham and Sarah together during the time
of detour” (9). That is, if Jews had accepted Jesus as the Messiah
and had entered the church as was expected by the apostle Paul
and later Christians, it would have brought to an end a people
identified by descent from Abraham and Sarah. This could not
be the case because the promises God made to Israel, promises
not yet fulfilled, were promises based on the lineage of Abraham
and Sarah.

Jenson’s second proposal begins by observing that since the
church does not understand or adhere to God’s Law in the same
way as Orthodox Jews, Christians are not marked off as different
in the same sense as observant Jews. Should Jews join the
church and abandon their interpretation of God’s Law, the Jews
would “vanish from sight as Jews.” Thus Jenson recommends
that any Christian theology of Judaism acknowledge that God,
during the time after the resurrection of Jesus and before the final
fulfillment of his divine promise, wants a community that
appears different to the rest of the world because it studies and
obeys the Torah as Judaism does. During this time of detour “the
church is not able herself to bear such exegesis, and this is not a
failing” (11).

Jenson’s final explanation for the existence of two communities,
who simultaneously claim to be God’s chosen people awaiting
the fulfillment of God’s promises, is that God wills that “the
embodiment of the risen Christ is whole only in the form of the
church and an identifiable community of Abraham and Sarah’s
descendents” (13). The church traditionally teaches that it is the
body of the risen Jesus Christ. Jenson, however, is reminding the
church that the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ is part of
the lineage of Abraham and Sarah. Thus: “the Torah became
flesh and dwelt among us.”

Many of the themes raised by Jenson, in particular the need to
acknowledge the distinctiveness of Judaism and Christianity
while at the same time recognizing their common roots, are also
addressed in this volume by Marvin R. Wilson in his essay “Our
Father Abraham: A Point of Theological Convergence and
Divergence for Christians and Jews.” He stresses the central role
that Abraham has played and continues to play for Christians and
Jews. Wilson, the author of a highly acclaimed text on this topic,
Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (1989),
first establishes the importance of Abraham to both religious
traditions and then compares and contrasts Jewish and Christian
interpretations of central Abrahamic themes, including election,
covenant, and faith.

The importance of Abraham to Judaism is obvious; he is the
“first Jew,” the “founder of the faith,” and the one with whom
God enters a covenantal relationship. God continually tests
Abraham and Abraham passes all the tests. In the Torah
Abraham is referred to as a prophet, God’s friend, and God’s
servant. He is a symbol of hospitality, justice, nobility of
character, and loyalty. Wilson writes, “Judaism and the Jewish
people would not be as they are today without the revolutionary,
ground-breaking influence of father Abraham” (47).

Christians also praise Abraham and incorporate him and his
image into Christian theology. Although he is described in the
New Testament as the “founder of the church,” the “father of
all,” early Christian theology, beginning with the early Christian
controversy with Judaism, increasingly portrayed Abraham as
abandoning the Jews. Moreover, the supersessionist claim that
God cancelled his covenant with Abraham in favor of a new
covenant with the church “sought to remove [Jews] permanently
from salvation history” (51). Jews, of course, point to the eternal
covenant God established with Abraham and his descendants in
Genesis 15 and 17. God initiated the covenantal relationship
while Abraham was the passive beneficiary of God’s promise.
Wilson writes, “The unilateral, unconditional character of the
covenantal agreement assures Abraham and his posterity that
God’s relationship with his people is permanent” (54).

Circumcision was instituted in Genesis 17 as an active response
and external sign of one’s commitment to God’s covenant with
Abraham and the values and concepts associated with covenant
transcendence, redemption, and justice. Although Christians
abandoned the practice of circumcision, they did not entirely
abandon the concept. Wilson explains that Paul turned
circumcision into a metaphor or spiritual concept when he speaks
of a “circumcision of the heart.” For Paul and most Christians
this refers to the inward, faith-based commitment to Christ.
Those who put their faith in Christ are said to have been
spiritually circumcised. By abandoning the ritual practice of
circumcision — the so-called covenant of Abraham — “the church
was understood by the Jewish community to be saying that it no
longer considered itself part of traditional Judaism but rather
apart from it” (56). Nevertheless Wilson emphasizes that the
decision to establish a new covenant based on faith alone was not
a rejection of Abraham and in fact “resulted in significantly
advancing the Abrahamic promise” (56). In the end, there is
some difference in Christian and Jewish interpretations of
Abraham but ultimately both acknowledge and praise Abraham’s
eschatological role.

Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things and the
president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, also
reflects on the eschatological role of Jews in his essay on the
meaning of Jesus’s words in John 4:19-22: “for salvation is from
the Jews.” He points out that very few Christian theologians
have rigorously considered this striking statement and those who
have tend to play down its significance by interpreting it to mean
that salvation might proceed, as a point of departure, from the
Jews but the Jews are not the source of salvation.

Neuhaus, as one might expect, understands this statement
differently. For Neuhaus “salvation is from the Jews not as a
ëpoint of departure’ but as the continuing presence and promise
of a point of arrival a point of arrival that we, Christians and
Jews, together pray that we will together reach” (77). To be sure,
Neuhaus acknowledges that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is
the redeemer and that he has come and is with us now, yet he
also stresses the sense of expectation that Christians have in
common with Jews. He quotes approvingly from David Novak’s
Jewish-Christian Dialogue (1989) that, “From creation and
revelation comes our faith that God has not and will not abandon
us or the world, that the promised redemption is surely yet to
come” (76). Neuhaus would like to see the statement “salvation
is from the Jews” given a more prominent place in the
Jewish-Christian dialogue because it “nicely combines the ënow’
and ënot yet’ of life lived eschatologically” (76). Although he
does not want to collapse the distinctions between Judaism and
Christianity, he insists that the distinct traditions are reflections
of differences within a larger story. That story is the story of
witness to the one God of Israel and his one plan of salvation.
David Novak, one of the editors of Christianity in Jewish Terms
(2000) and the director of the Jewish Studies Program at the
University of Toronto, is a frequent and insightful contributor to
the discussion on the relationship between Judaism and
Christianity. In his essay in Jews and Christians, “From
Supersessionism to Parallelism in Jewish-Christian Dialogue,”
Novak argues that the rejection of Christian supersessionism and
Jewish counter-supersessionism, is a necessary precondition for a
more positive Christian theology of Judaism and a more positive
Jewish theology of Christianity. (Jewish
counter-supersessionism, according to Novak, is the Jewish claim
that the Christian denial of God’s covenant with the Jewish
people is equivalent to rejecting God.) Novak believes that this
precondition has largely been met and has finally opened the way
for Christian and Jewish theologians to talk theology with each
other without the accusations that marked the Christian-Jewish
dialogue in the past.

Novak asserts that it is in the best interest of Christians to
develop a positive theology of Judaism because they can learn
from Judaism, in particular the lesson that the Jews have survived
centuries of persecution because God does not break His
promises. For example, in certain parts of the world where
Christian spiritual and physical survival is precarious at best, an
understanding of the theological and physical struggles of the
Jews could provide a valuable example. Similarly, Novak
maintains that Jews must engage Christians theologically because
a positive theological understanding of the other’s religion
increases the possibility of effective partnerships in times of

He uses the example of a small group of Canadians who are
demanding that the state make circumcision of infant boys illegal
because they believe it is a form of mutilation on an unwilling
participant. Although it is unlikely that such legislation would
ever be enacted, Novak wonders who besides Canadian Jews,
would come to the defense of the right of Jews to circumcise
their sons. Although Muslims also practice circumcision, they do
so as a cultural practice. Moreover, whereas Jews consider
circumcision to be a direct command from God and “the sign of
covenant,” Muslims do not practice a covenantal religion.
Additionally, Novak speculates, Muslims would not be
particularly supportive given the present antagonistic political
climate between Jews and Muslims. Christians, on the other
hand, are a far more likely ally because they “can fully
understand [circumcision’s] covenantal significance for Jews”
(106). Jews and Christians have something in common that Jews
and Muslims do not – the theological concepts of covenant and
election. The need for a Jewish theology of Christianity then
becomes particularly apparent when there is a need to call upon
another community that understands you and respects (even if
they disagree with) your religious practices and beliefs.
Jenson, Wilson, Neuhaus, and the other contributors to this
volume would most likely agree with Novak’s final words: “It is
best, both historically and theologically, to look upon ourselves
[Jews and Christians] as two traditions, related to the same
sources, which have developed, often in the same worldly
locations, with a striking parallelism” (112). This conclusion
represents what appears to be a growing consensus among those
who engage in the Jewish-Christian dialogue. In fact, one could
view this collection of essays as an attempt by a group of eminent
scholars to discuss a variety of these parallels.
Matthew Hockenos