June 2005 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


June 2005— Vol. XI, no. 6

Dear Colleagues,

John Conway is on vacation this month. He has asked me to edit the
Newsletter in his absence, which I am happy to do. Below you will find two
reviews by me on books addressing Christian-Jewish relations. Should you
have any comments please feel free to e-mail me at mhockeno@skidmore.edu.

Best Wishes,
Matthew Hockenos
History Department
Skidmore College


Book Reviews

1) Irving Greenberg, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter
between Judaism and Christianity
 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication
Society, 2004).
2) John C. Merkle (ed.), Faith Transformed: Christian Encounters with Jews
and Judaism
 (Collegeville, MN: The Order of Saint Benedict, 2003).

1) Greenberg, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth

Rabbi Irving Greenberg’s steadfast and courageous efforts over the past
four decades to promote a new understanding between Christians and Jews has
rightfully earned him the reputation as one of the most significant
contributors to the post-Shoah Christian-Jewish dialogue. For the Sake of
Heaven and Earth
 is a collection of nine of his essays on the encounter
between Judaism and Christianity, seven of which were published previously
between 1967 and 2000. Although reading these essays in chronological
order provides a wonderful sense of the development of Greenberg’s thought,
it is remarkable how constant his emphasis on pluralism and dialogue has
been over the years. The collection ends with brief response essays,
mostly praising Greenberg’s efforts, by five renowned scholars of
Jewish-Christian relations: James Carroll, David Novak, Michael Novak, Mary
C. Boys, and Krister Stendahl. There is also a useful seven-page study
guide, which provides study questions intended to facilitate comprehension.

The first two essays in this collection are the two written most
recently. One is a fascinating autobiographical account detailing the
development of Greenberg’s unwavering belief in the need for both Jews and
Christians to develop new theologies of Christianity and Judaism that
eschew the negative stereotypes of the other. Although he is emphatically
clear that it is Christian theologians and church leaders who have the most
work to do in overcoming the church’s nearly 2000-year-old practice of
teaching contempt for Jews, he also unflinchingly calls for Jews to revise
their unflattering depiction of Christianity, especially the claim that
Jesus Christ was a false Messiah. Greenberg acknowledges repeatedly his
respect and admiration for many Christian theologians, in particular Alice
and Roy Eckardt, who over the years have challenged the claims of Jesus’
absolute status and rejected outright Christian assertions of
supersessionism and triumphalism. The Eckardts’ willingness to repudiate
some of Christianity’s most central tenets, despite relentless attacks on
their theology by Christian colleagues, has inspired Greenberg to set forth
his own controversial views on the relationship between Jews and
Christians. The Orthodox Jewish community, of which Greenberg is an
enthusiastic participant, has for the most part not welcomed his insights,
but Greenberg has persevered nevertheless.

In the second of the new essays, “Covenantal Partners in a Postmodern
World,” Greenberg provides a historical narrative of the encounter between
Judaism and Christianity over the centuries in order to demonstrate that
God intended both faiths to play a role in God’s plan to perfect the
world. This essay as well as others that were published in the late 1990s
and appear at the end of this volume represent Greenberg’s most current
perspective on the relationship between faiths in the post-Shoah or
postmodern world. Although he is concerned primarily with Christians and
Jews working together in an evolving covenantal partnership with God, he
also stresses the importance for them to work with other faiths as
well. The challenges of materialism, secularism, and terrorism, he
recognizes, are too great for Jews and Christians to tackle alone. “Jews
and Christians must recognize that the two faiths together cannot
accomplish the full task [of perfecting the world]. Once they admit this
truth, they can respect other faiths as well” (101). Greenberg
acknowledges that for Jews to affirm Christianity as a necessary partner in
this process, Christians must first act like loving brothers and sisters
and repudiate those aspects of the Christian tradition that degrade Jews
and Judaism. “The two [faiths] must realize that the more they overcome
the demons of the past, the more they become God’s witnesses, channels of
divine blessing for a suffering humanity, couriers of redemption” (101).

Fundamental to Greenberg’s theology is the belief that certain historical
events the advent of modernity, the Holocaust, and the founding of the
State of Israel have led to a new encounter between Christians and Jews
and a new understanding of the covenantal relationship with God. As early
as the 1960s Greenberg first began to wrestle seriously with the meaning of
the Holocaust. In contrast to other theologians who concluded that God was
dead, absent, or powerless, he contended that “God’s self-restraint in not
preventing the Holocaust was a divine cry to humans to step up and stop the
evil; it was time for the human partner to take greater responsibility in
the unfolding of the covenant and the redemption of the world” (91). The
covenant God made with Abraham entered a new stage first after the
destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and then again after the
Holocaust. In the aftermath of the Holocaust God no longer related to the
Jewish people by imposing obligations or unreasonable demands to live by a
higher standard than other people. “The covenant of demand (for higher
standards of behavior from Jews) had been morally passed through the fires
of the Holocaust – and found wanting” (27).

The covenant between God and the Jews became voluntary asserts
Greenberg. God no longer commanded, he invited; God invited the Jewish
people to take greater responsibility for overcoming the contradiction
between the divine dream and unredeemed reality. Greenberg hypothesizes
that God is less visible at critical times in order to evoke greater
participation by Jews (and all people) in their own history. Greenberg
maintains that God entered into a covenant of partnership with people so
that they could play a role in their own liberation and in repairing the
world (tikun olam). “In the Holocaust,” he writes, “Jews discovered they
had no choice but to go back into history. If they did not take power,
they would be dead” (158). The urgency with which Jews sought to establish
the State of Israel exemplifies for Greenberg their strong desire to
control their lives and the acceptance of a new stage in their covenantal
relationship with God. Greenberg urged Christians, especially after their
apathy and silence at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War, to join Jews in
defending the State of Israel and playing a more active role in repairing
the world.

That some Christians, twenty years after the Holocaust, were beginning to
acknowledge Christian responsibility for the Holocaust signaled the
potential, according to Greenberg, for a new stage in Christian-Jewish
relations the stage of pluralism. Greenberg’s notion of pluralism, which
developed over the years to include multiple faiths, can be traced to his
early use of the concept in his 1967 essay, “The New Encounter of Judaism
and Christianity.” In this essay the concept of pluralism referred simply
to Jews and Christians living together peacefully out of love for God
(120). If Jews and Christians could live together, despite their
passionate commitments, this would act as a model for all peoples and
demonstrate the positive role that religion can play in the world. For
this to be possible, Greenberg realized, both Jews and Christians must
profoundly rethink their relationship to one another. They must talk to
one another in a frank, open, and loving manner. In the late 1960s, when
the Christian-Jewish dialogue was just getting underway, Greenberg’s
understanding of pluralism was undeveloped and his optimism about the
prospects of the Jewish-Christian dialogue was reserved.

Two decades later in his 1986 essay, “Toward an Organic Model of the
Relationship,” Greenberg is far more optimistic. Here he envisioned a
model of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity that would allow both
Jews and Christians to “affirm the fullness of the faith-claims of the
other, not just offer tolerance” (146). But how would it be possible for
Jews to affirm the faith-claims of Christians, in particular that Jesus
Christ was the Messiah? Greenberg argues that a fundamental characteristic
of Judaism is that it generates messianic expectations. “Judaism has built
into its own self-understanding that it must generate future messianic
moments” (148). Thus Jews should recognize that the early Christians “were
thinking like faithful Jews when they recognized Jesus” (149). The
relationship between Jews and Christians faltered when the former referred
to Jesus as a “false” messiah and the latter referred to Jesus as _the_
messiah and claimed that Christians now superceded Jews as God’s chosen
people. Greenberg believes that Jews and Christians should abandon these
claims and acknowledge that Jesus was a messiah a “failed messiah”
(152). “A failed messiah,” according to Greenberg, “is one who has the
right values and upholds the covenant, but does not attain the final goal
[of perfecting the world]” (153). Although Greenberg’s concept of a
failed messiah has yet to be accepted widely by Jews or Christians, it is
one example of Greenberg’s innovative approaches to developing ways to
improve the relationship between the two faiths.

Many more Christians and Jews are likely to be receptive to Greenberg’s
concept of “covenantal pluralism and partnership,” which he has developed
most recently. His argument is quite simple. God established a permanent
universal covenant, the Noahide covenant, with all of humanity after the
Flood. In this covenant God agreed to sustain humanity and to look after
its welfare despite its sinful nature. In addition to this universal
covenant open to all people who want to take part in God’s plan, God
initiates particular covenants with specific groups of people. God does
this because “The best way to instruct people to raise their standards of
ethics and relationship to the Divine . . . is to inspire them with a
human model that freely and lovingly sets an example” (57). Moreover, the
particularization of the universal covenant through God’s initiation of a
covenantal relationship with smaller national groups, such as the Jews,
allows for “varied pathways” toward redemption. Thus particular covenants,
such as the Abrahamic covenant, are different from the universal covenant
because they are rooted in culture, language, and history. Greenberg
believes that Christianity is another particular covenant that God called
into being in order to engage a greater number of people in God’s plan to
redeem the world. Most importantly, just as the Abrahamic covenant did not
supercede the Noahide covenant, the covenant God establishes with
Christianity in no way diminishes his earlier covenant with the Jews.
Tikun olam (the repairing of the world), according to Greenberg, depends
on more than simply Jewish and Christian tolerance or even acceptance of
the other’s covenant. The monumental task of redeeming the world requires
partnership between Jews, Christians, as well as people of other
faiths. “Partnership goes one step further [than pluralism], Greenberg
writes in his 1999 essay, “Pluralism and Partnership.” “This concept of
partnership suggests that my truth/faith system alone cannot fulfill God’s
dreams. Therefore the world needs the contribution that the other makes
for the world’s own wholeness and perfection.” In this concept of
partnership one sees most clearly the dramatic development of Greenberg’s
thought and his optimism that if the wounds of the past can be healed “then
Judaism and Christianity in partnership could lead the world toward
messianic accomplishments in upgrading human life, dignity, and peace”
2) Merkle (ed.), Faith Transformed

Faith Transformed: Christian Encounters with Jews and Judaism is a
collection of autobiographical essays by eleven Catholic and Protestant
biblical scholars, historians, and theologians who address how their
encounters with Jews and Judaism and their participation in the
Christian-Jewish dialogue have influenced their understanding of the two
faiths. John C. Merkle, editor of the collection and a professor of
theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in
Minnesota, states in the introduction that his intention was to bring
together in one text the personal narratives of Christian scholars whose
understanding of Christianity and Judaism have been dramatically
transformed by their contact with Jews and Jewish scholarship. Students
and scholars interested in Jewish-Christian relations will no doubt find
the personal accounts in this thin volume engrossing. Read as one piece
these essays provide an overview of the history of the Jewish-Christian
dialogue in the United States following the Holocaust. Of particular
interest to the reader will be the various pathways that led these
Christians to the dialogue. The autobiographical accounts are followed by
a ten-paragraph statement, “A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith
in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People,” by the Christian Scholars
Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, of which all the contributors to this
collection are members. Irvin J. Borowsky, a Jewish scholar and chairman
of the American Interfaith Institute, brings the volume to a close with an
afterword praising the work of the various contributors and encouraging
Christians to use the Contemporary English Version (CEV) translation of the
Bible, which he deems more accurate and less anti-Judaic.

Although each of the narratives is unique and each of the authors draw
distinct conclusions based on his or her personal experience, there are
several common themes that are addressed repeatedly. Nearly all of the
contributors begin by noting how little contact they had while growing up
with practicing Jews or living Judaism. Many of the authors had little
knowledge of Judaism and the knowledge they did have came from
church-school lessons, which prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)
taught that Judaism was a fossilized religion that it had been superceded
by Christianity. Norman Beck, professor of theology and classical
languages at Texas Lutheran University, writes that although he was aware
of Jews living in the neighborhood near where he attended college in
Columbus Ohio, “there was virtually nothing about Jews as such in the
curriculum of that time” (72). Clark Williamson, professor emeritus of
Christian thought at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis,
acknowledges that even after receiving his PhD from the University of
Chicago Divinity School “I had not tumbled to the fact that the
anti-Jewish, supersessionist tradition of the Church is a problem” (93).

Several other contributors, however, who attended graduate school during or
after the Second Vatican Council were drawn into the Christian-Jewish
dialogue via their dissertations written on topics that addressed
Jewish-Christian relations. Captivated and intrigued by the issues raised
by Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (the Declaration on the Relation of the
Church to Non-Christian Religions) contributors Eugene Fisher, executive
director of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, Michael McGarry,
rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem, and John Pawlikowski,
professor of social ethics at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago,
refer to Vatican II and their years in graduate school when they began to
read Jewish authors such as Abraham Joshua Heschel as formative experiences.

Friendships with Jews motivated several of the essayists to participate in
the Jewish-Christian dialogue. Walter Harrelson, professor emeritus of
Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University, recalls how his involvement in the
struggle for racial justice brought him into contact with local rabbis and
Jewish leaders in Nashville. “These interfaith struggles for a better
community brought deepened respect for Jews, brought close personal
friendships between my family and several Jewish families, and began my
personal effort to enrich my understanding of Judaism – living Judaism”
(5). For Eva Fleischner, professor emerita of religion at Montclair State
University, the invitation by a Jewish friend to celebrate Shabbat with her
family brought her “into contact for the first time with a living Judaism;
with Jews – modern American Jews – whose faith deeply informed their lives”
(42). Franklin Sherman, professor emeritus of Jewish Christian Studies at
Muhlenberg College, describes his encounter, first through his writings and
then in person, with Heschel as a “great turning point” in his
understanding of Judaism.

These scholarly and personal encounters with Jews and Judaism, as well as
intense reflection on Christian involvement in the Shoah, inspired many of
the contributors to radically reexamine their commitment to traditional
Christian doctrine. While there is something to be learned from all the
essays, the narratives of Alice Eckardt, Eva Fleischner, Mary Boys, and
John Merkle are particularly illuminating.

Alice Eckardt, often in collaboration with husband Roy Eckardt until his
death in 1998, is a pioneer in Jewish-Christian relations. Eckardt recalls
that she had little awareness of Christian antisemitism when she was
growing up or going to Oberlin College. To be sure, American newspaper
coverage of the liberation of the death camps in Europe in 1945 alarmed her
but it was not immediately apparent that the Christian anti-Jewish
tradition had had any influence on the mistreatment and murder of Jews. As
she says, “Neither Roy’s nor my secular and religious education (not even
Roy’s divinity school courses) had taught us any of this Christian
anti-Jewish tradition” (20). The realization by the Eckardts of a
deep-seated anti-Jewish polemic at the core of Christianity occurred in the
mid- to late-1940s while Roy research and wrote his dissertation, which
addressed the various church theologies concerning Jews and Judaism. This
led to a lifetime commitment by both to root out all vestiges of
anti-Judaism and antisemitism from Christian theology.

Living by the motto that good theology cannot be based on bad history Alice
Eckardt has spent much of her life correcting misunderstandings at the core
of many people’s understanding of Christianity. She address, in
particular, the belief held by many that “the Jews” crucified Jesus and
have fallen out of favor with God because of their disobedience. During
the late 1960s and early 1970s she examined, among other things, the early
Christian period when many of the church’s anti-Judaic tenets were
developed. The victories by the Romans and the destruction of the
Jerusalem Temple in the first century led many Christians to the erroneous
conclusion that God was punishing the Jews because of their failure to
recognize Christ as the messiah. In light of the creation of the State of
Israel after the Holocaust, Eckardt “suggested that we might look at ‘the
newly gathered Israel’ as a ‘sign that God is faithful to his promise and
that the call of God to the people of Israel is irrevocable'” (25). Part
and parcel with her repudiation of supersessionism, Eckardt also sought to
develop a Christian theology that in the aftermath of the Holocaust would
no longer assert that the crucifixion of Jesus constituted the ultimate in
human suffering and godforsakenness. The unprecedented suffering that
characterized the Holocaust has led a number of Christians to agree with
Eckardt that, “we must give up trying to find . . . anything salvational in
events of suffering” (29).

Eckardt acknowledges the important influence that Hans Jonas, a German Jew
and student of both Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann, has had on her
understanding of God as a _suffering_ God. “With Jonas I am convinced that
_only_ a suffering God, One who continues to suffer with human beings, can
speak to us since the Shoah’s whirlwind of destruction, and that we
mortals, empowered by God, have the obligation to help each other overcome
suffering and thereby ‘help the suffering immortal God'” (29). To the
question “where was God?” Eckardt would agree with Rabbi Irving Greenberg
that God was there in Auschwitz suffering with his people. For Eckardt,
the suffering of God and his people in the Holocaust was a clarion call to
all of humanity, and Christians in particular, to take action to end

Catholic theologian Eva Fleischner grew up in Vienna, the daughter of a
Catholic mother and Jewish father. She was raised a Catholic, attending a
Dominican school in Vienna until 1938 when her parents sent her to a
convent school in England to be out of harm’s way. Five years later she
joined her parents in the United States, where she began studying at
Radcliffe College at the age of eighteen. Despite having a Jewish father
she remembers that “my acquaintance with Judaism as a living faith remained
non-existent” – her Jewish friends and relatives were all secular Jews (37).
During and after college Fleischner remained devoted to the Catholic Church
and its doctrine even as she studied other religions and read deeply in the
Hebrew Scriptures, especially the psalms. “To use today’s terminology,”
she acknowledges, “I must reluctantly admit that I was a typical Christian
‘supersessionist,’ believing that the Hebrew Scriptures derived their value
exclusively from their pointing to Christ” (38). It was only in the 1960s
while pursuing a PhD in Christian historical theology at Marquette
University, a Jesuit institution, that she was introduced to the theme of
Christian anti-Judaism and the teaching of contempt for Jews and
Judaism. After a period of intense reading and reflection on the Shoah,
studying Jewish perspectives on Judaism, and building friendships with
Jews, Fleischner concluded that the survival of the Jewish people was based
on their deep sense of Jewish identity “that I trace back to Sinai and the
Jewish covenant with God” (43). She went on to write a dissertation on the
attitude of German Christian theologians toward Judenmission, the
Christian churches’ missionary effort to convert Jews to
Christianity. This excellent study was published in 1975 as Judaism in
German Christian Theology Since 1945: Christianity and Israel Considered in
Terms of Mission.

Fleischner’s research on Judenmission and her belief that Christians can
learn from Judaism has led her to call for Christians to openly renounce
proselytizing Jews and to pray that Judaism continues to flourish. “I have
become convinced,” she writes, “that religious pluralism is not some
inevitable but passing phenomenon, to be endured temporarily in a time of
theological turmoil, but rather a positive development, part of the very
stuff of salvation” (48).

Mary Boys, a professor of practical theology at Union Theological Seminary,
recalls how in her youth her knowledge of Jews and Judaism was
contradictory. On the one hand, her Catholic education relied on the
catechism prior to Vatican II, which portrayed Judaism as a dead religion
and Catholicism as the only true living faith. On the other hand, any
off-putting images of Jews she learned in the classroom or at Church were
offset by her family’s close friendship with a Jewish woman. The Second
Vatican Council, which coincided with her last three years of high school,
also had a major impact on her. “Belonging to a Church opening its windows
to let in fresh air animated my interest in religion, and provided a major
motivation for my lifelong professional work in religious education”
(164). In 1965 she joined the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
and though deeply committed to Catholicism also began to read Jewish
authors, including Abraham Heschel’s book on the prophets. Following
graduation and a five-year teaching stint she entered the PhD program in
religion and education at Union Theological Seminary and Teachers College
at Columbia University.

In similar fashion to some of the other essayists, Boys first began to
grapple with issues of anti-Judaism and antisemitism in graduate
school. Her studies focused on the Church’s emergence from Judaism and she
“realized with increasing dismay the chasm between the findings of biblical
scholars and theologians and what preachers and teachers were saying”
(167). Although these academic pursuits were enlightening, she credits her
friendships with Jews and several trips to Israel as the seminal
experiences that brought about a transformation in her understanding of
Judaism. In particular was Boys’s close collaboration with Jewish
educators like Sara S. Lee, director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education
at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, that
convinced her that “interreligious learning” must be a key component to
improving Jewish-Christian relations. Interreligious learning, Boys
believes, “takes dialogue to a greater depth by involving persons in a
relationship of mutual study” (171).

Through these interreligious encounters Boys acknowledges coming
face-to-face with the incomprehensibility of God and the finitude of the
Catholic tradition. Anyone who engages earnestly in interreligious
dialogue and mutual study, she suggests, cannot but humbly conclude that
God alone is absolute and infinite and that all faiths are limited and
incomplete. She writes, “Even as I believe ardently in the Way of
Christianity and aspire to live it as a practicing Roman Catholic, I know
it does not exhaust the paths by which God draws us and I cannot believe
it is the superior way by which God calls all to walk” (175). For this
reason she expresses consternation with the August 2000 declaration,
Dominus Iesus, drafted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of
Faith headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The declaration is highly
suspicious of pluralism and tends to equate pluralism with relativism.
Boys supports religious pluralism only when it is rooted in what she calls
“textured particularism.” Textured particularism implies a person who is
committed to his or her particular faith, passionate about its traditions,
and seriously immersed in its practices but also receptive to other
faiths. “A rich and receptive particularism is necessary for developing a
religious identity that is simultaneously rooted and adaptive, assured and
ambiguous one that allows for engagement with pluralism” (176). A deep
understanding and devotion to one’s tradition, Boys believes, will also
involve understanding the finitude of its beliefs and practices. Pluralism
rooted in textured particularism involves a desire to learn from
differences in belief without adopting those differences as your own.

The final narrative is by the editor himself, John Merkle, whose first
serious encounter with Judaism was also academic. While attending graduate
school at the Catholic University of Louvain in the early 1970s he read a
number of modern Jewish philosophers and theologians including Leo Baeck,
Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Emmanuel Levinas, Will Herberg, and, of
course, Heschel. Stunned to find virtually nothing in these books in
common with Christian perspectives on Judaism, Merkle recalls, “I was
shaken to the foundations of my spiritual life by the realization that my
Church had established its identity over against a misrepresented Judaism”
(183). Heschel, in particular, was effective at transforming Merkle’s
understanding of Judaism from the religion of the Old Testament to a
religion characterized by vitality, diversity, community, and covenantal
renewal. Friendships and academic collaborations with Jews served to
reinforce his newfound conviction in the “enduring vitality of Jewish
covenantal life” (186).

Merkle insists, as do many Christians who have also come to understand
Judaism as one way to experience a covenantal relationship with God, that
Church doctrine and practice must continue to be reformed. Although this
process began with Vatican II in the early 1960s and has progressed with
each decade, much work is still needed to eliminate negative images of Jews
and Judaism. He calls on Christians to recognize God’s covenantal
pluralism. “We should acknowledge that Christianity is valid because it,
like Judaism, fosters covenantal life with God. The same God who formed
Israel into a people by way of a covenant, and who regards this people and
their covenant as irreplaceable, also called into being the Church with its
new form of covenantal life” (189). The purpose of the new covenant was
not to usurp the old but rather to enable Gentiles to establish a
covenantal relationship with God as well. Merkle believes that as
Christians rethink their faith in relation to Judaism, there is much to be
learned from reflecting on some of the central beliefs and practices of

Merkle must be praised for envisaging this collection and for selecting an
impressive group of scholars whose personal, spiritual, and academic quests
can be woven together in a virtually seamless narrative. If his hope was
for readers to learn from and be inspired by these accounts then _Faith
Transformed_ is an enormous success. In fact, its success lies in the
possibility that this slim volume may find readership beyond religion
scholars and, in its way, transform the outdated thinking of a broader

Matthew Hockenos,
Skidmore Colege,
Saratoga prings, New York