The Middle Ages: More Virulent Forms of Anti-Judaism & Anti-Judaism in the Modern Period: The Virulence Spreads.

By: Mary C. Boys

Over the centuries, the church allowed or even encouraged defamation of Jews, although various popes periodically issued statements denouncing violence against Jews and condemning forced baptisms. While Christians and Jews co-existed in various places, warily, if often peacefully, church leaders overall treated Jews harshly.  In the High Middle Ages, anti-Judaism took a more vicious turn. Hostility against Jews captured the popular imagination, spawning outbreaks of violence. The call for a crusade against the Muslim “infidels” occupying the Holy Land in 1096 resulted in the massacre of Jews in the Rhineland.20 If traditionally Jews had been perceived as the historic enemy, now they were regarded as a menace to Christian society.

Socio-cultural dynamics help to probe the various layers of anti-Judaism.  In late twelfth-century Rhineland, for example, Jews inspired popular antipathy for a variety of reasons, including their status as immigrants, business competitors, and as allies of the political authorities.  Moreover, they were religious dissidents in a dominantly Christian realm.  Add the overlay of their role as historic enemies of Christianity, and we find a formula for a virulent new strain of anti-Judaism.  Just as Jews had persecuted and killed Jesus, so now Christians perceive them as a threat to their society.21

Popular legends about Jews as ritual murderers became widespread. During the thirteenth century, Christians charged Jews with desecrating the host so as to reenact their original deicide.  They accused them of blood libel—using the blood of Christians, preferably children, for their Passover rituals.  Preachers spread tales based on such fabrications and vilified Jews in passionate sermons.  The violence against Jews—both verbal and physical—suggests that anti-Judaism had come to resemble what the modern world calls anti-Semitism.  It had, however, one major difference: Christianity provided no sanction for genocide.


Anti-Judaism in the Modern Period: The Virulence Spreads. For the modern Christian, these medieval accusations appear particularly irrational and outrageous—and they were.

They were also enduring, despite the attempts of many popes to refute the charges. The charges exacerbated popular hostility toward Jews, leading in many cases to persecutions and even death.  Yet, the blood libel was the fantasy of the masses rather than church leaders, at least until the nineteenth century when the Vatican itself became identified with the charges.  Articles in official and unofficial publications repeated the charges against the “miserable race of Judah,” assuring their readers that the Talmud commanded Jews to murder Christians for their blood.  Vatican officials intensified efforts to convert Jews; for example, they held them against their will, confined them in ghettoes, and compelled them to listen to sermons.22

The Vatican was not alone.  Sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther had issued a vicious tract, On the Jews and Their Lies, in 1543 that recommended Jews be dealt with by “severe mercy,” including setting fire to synagogues and forbidding rabbis to teach.  The Lutheran tradition portrayed Jews as the living embodiment of legalistic religion—like Catholics, only worse.23  This carried over into nineteenth and twentieth-century German Protestant thought, and exercised a particular effect on the development of modern biblical scholarship.  Indeed, its leading lights—Ferdinand Weber, Julius Wellhausen, Wilhelm Bousset, Emil Schürer and Rudolf Bultmann—presented Judaism as a desiccated, ritualistic religion of works-righteousness.


Mary C. Boys is the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.  Her most recent book is Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding.



20 See Robert Chazan, In the Year 1096: The First Crusade and the Jews  (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996); also his Medieval Stereotypes and Modern Anti-Semitism  (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1997).
21 See R. I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950-1250 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).
22 See David I. Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001).


Whose Bible Is It? Further Thoughts about Listening to Messiah

By: Jaroslav Pelikan


Oscar Wilde once observed that the English and the Americans were kept apart by a common language. As we approach the end of the second millennium of Christian history, it is striking to ponder how accurately that epigram applies to the relation between Jews and Christians, who have always been kept apart by a common Bible. At the Vatican scholars of various traditions met to ponder the longstanding anti-Semitic interpretation of several key passages in both the Old Testament and the New, including the chilling words of Matthew 27:25: “Then answered all the (Jewish) people, and said, ‘His (Christ’s) blood be on us, and on our children!” That verse appears in the Saint Matthew Passion of Bach, where performers and listeners over the years have had to deal with it.

But for modern performers and listeners, Handel’s Messiah is a particularly striking case study of the Christian appropriation of the Jewish Scriptures: as one early Christian spokesman said to his Jewish opponent, “It is written in your Scriptures–or, rather, not yours, but ours!” Well, whose Bible is it anyway? I want to look at four passages as illustrations of some of the issues: The numbers refer to the sections of the Messiah.

“Since by man came death” (#46, 1 Corinthians 15) is a text about the series of covenants that God has made with the human race. It speaks about two of these, the one through Adam and the one through Christ. But there are also covenants made with humanity through Abraham and through Moses, and Christians have put each of these three into dialectical relation with the covenant through Christ: death through Adam, life through Christ; promise through Abraham, fulfillment through Christ; law through Moses, gospel through Christ. Yet the more deeply we study the Hebrew Scriptures, the more clearly we must recognize that this dialectic greatly over-simplifies the case. For there is also “life” through Adam by the sheer fact of our being human, “fulfillment” in Abraham “the father of all believers” for all who are his children, and “gospel” through Moses by the liberation from chaos that the law of the Torah confers.

“For unto us a Child is born” (#12, Isaiah 9) seems by now to be such a self-evident reference to the birth of Jesus Christ, yet this “messianic prophecy” is in fact not cited in the New Testament. On the other hand, there is a more striking parallel to Isaiah’s words to be found in quite another document, nearly contemporary to our New Testament, the Eclogues of the Latin poet Vergil, a Roman pagan: “Now is come the last age; the great line of the centuries begins anew. Now the Virgin returns; now a new generation descents from heaven on high. Only do Thou smile on the birth of the Child. He shall have the gift of divine life, and shall sway a world to which his Father’s virtues have brought peace.” Many early Christians, including St. Augustine, believed that Virgil must have read Isaiah, but most modern scholars find that hypothesis unacceptable. What is acceptable, however, is that the messianic hope of Israel is universalized.

“Surely he hath borne our griefs” (#24, Isaiah 53) is applied here to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But as has been said in reflection on the fate of Jews in the twentieth century, “The nation of Christ has now become the Christ of nations.” The words of Isaiah about the Suffering Servant seem to have referred originally to the people of Israel, whose sufferings then and now are declared to be redemptive. Thus the centrality of the Cross in Christian faith has its counterpart in the doctrine of vicarious suffering, which is articulated more fully in this passage of the “Old” Testament than in any passage of the “New” Testament.

“Hallelujah” (#44, Revelation 19) is, like “Sabbath” and “Amen,” an untranslatable Hebrew word. Its final syllable also contains the divine Name, which is not only untranslatable but to Jewish piety unpronounceable. Christian history attests that when Christians lose a living contact with the Hebrew Bible–and with the community that has preserved it–that leads them to a fatal misunderstanding not only of the Jewish tradition, but of their own Christian tradition. And so the renewals within twentieth-century Judaism and twentieth-century Christianity will not be complete until they can also teach us how to sing “Hallelujah” together. For the central confession of the Jewish community, voiced in the Shema of the Book of Deuteronomy, declares: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one:” and the central Creed of the Church begins with the words “We believe in one God.” But if the Lord God is indeed one, such a doxology as we hear in the Messiah should serve to remind Christians (and Jews) to “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn.”

One God–the Maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is also the Father of Jesus Christ–has throughout the history of salvation formed a series of covenants, but has never broken any covenants or repudiated them, Such is the teaching of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and of the Second Vatican Council: Whose Bible is it? Well, ultimately it is God’s Bible, graciously loaned to Handel and to us, both Jews and Christians. Listened to in that context, Handel’s Messiah, including its appropriation of the Hebrew Bible, can become a celebration of the one God whose children all of us are.


Jaroslav Pelikan
Sterling Professor Emeritus
Yale University

The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter

Commentary by John J. Clabeaux of The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter, written by Mark D. Nanos, Minneapolis: Fortress 1996


This is a book eminently deserving of the attention of those interested in Jewish-Christian relations. Mark Nanos builds on the work of scholars who have overturned a consensus that dominated Pauline scholarship for the last 500 years, namely that Romans is a systemic attack on the law and a manifesto of Justification by Faith. Nanos carries our understanding of Paul’s Jewishness a step further by working from a fresh yet simple hypothesis. It is: the Christians Paul addressed in Rome were still meeting in the synagogues. This hypothesis resolves more than one of the “storm centers” of scholarship on Romans.

The Introduction and Chapter 1 (pp. 3-20) contain a précis of Nanos’ detailed argument in the rest of the book. Paul’s reason for writing Romans, in addition to preparing for the Jerusalem Collection, was to correct the behavior of Gentile Christians in Rome, who were contemptuous of the Jews and were disregarding certain practices.

In Chapter 2, Nanos presents the evidence supporting the location of the Christians within the synagogues of Rome. Imperial Roman opposition to private meetings, and the exception of the Jews to this prohibition, makes it hard to understand how the Christians had been learning the Hebrew Bible to the extent that Paul presumes they have. Nanos also shows that the management of the synagogue involved far more than overseeing weekly services. In fact, it involved all of Jewish social and religious life. To the Romans, Christians were not yet distinguishable from Jews, and this may have obtained until as late as 100 CE. The objection arising from the Edict of Claudius, which is said to have expelled Jews from Rome from 49-54, is dealt with in appendix B and effectively dispatched.

Chapter 3 on the “Weak and the Strong” in Romans 14-15 contains the keystone to Nanos’ thesis. Traditionally interpreters have seen the “weak” as Christians who were timidly keeping certain Jewish laws, and the “strong” as other Christians who opposed this shrinking from the full freedom of Christian faith. But the weight of Paul’s argument is not against the weak; he insists that the strong return to obedience to a certain “teaching” (Rom 6:17-18 and 16:17-18). Christian interpreters who have judged the weak with such contempt as Martin Luther and a welter of Christian scholars since his time have done, unwittingly took the position Paul opposed. Paul urged the strong to be more mindful of the weak, namely, Jews in their synagogues who had not accepted Jesus. Their “weakness” was not a moral weakness in Paul’s eyes, but involved “stumbling,” over the identity of Jesus.

In Chapter 4, Nanos makes a connection between the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15 and the “teaching” which the strong were ignoring. The minimal legal requirements in Acts 15 reflect a stage of this “teaching.” Such rules come out of the discussion of Mosaic rules for resident aliens and later rabbinical discussions of Noahide laws. Their purpose was to enable people who wished to associate with synagogues to have appropriate social intercourse with observant Jews. Nanos argues that with these minimal requirements Gentiles come before God as Gentiles, with the Jews. Only in this way they would fulfill the Isaian scenarios Paul quotes in Romans 16.

In Chapter 5, Nanos discusses Paul’s emphasis on the pattern “to Jews first and then to Gentiles.” The “mystery” disclosed in Romans 9 to 11 is not that all Israel would be saved but how. Paul does not say all Israel will Christianize by a miraculous end-time intervention. The final outcome for the “branches that were chopped off” is not disclosed. The “fullness of the Gentiles” needed before “all Israel will be saved” is not the conversion of every Gentile, but the “full commencement of the Gentile mission”-the critical mass Paul believed was needed for God’s plan as articulated in Romans to come to fulfillment. This connects directly with the practical matters of Paul’s self-introduction to the Roman community as a base for his continued Gentile mission.

Nanos’ most elegant stroke comes in Chapter 6. Given his hypothesis of Gentile Christians meeting with non-Christian Jews in Roman synagogues, the identity of the authorities in Romans 13 is far more likely synagogual, than imperial. If Nanos is right, Rom 13:1-7 becomes a sensible step in the parenetic section of Romans and not a disturbing non sequitur.

The implications of these arguments for Jewish-Christian relations are profound. Paul is not to be seen as setting Christianity in radical contrast to Judaism. Paul’s protestations of respect for the law are genuine, not opportunistic stratagems which contradict his true agenda. What emerges is foundation in a work fundamental to Christian doctrine for genuine respect for Torah observance by Jews.


John J. Clabeaux
St. John’s Seminary College
, MA

Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People

By: Terrance Callan

The letters of Paul frequently refer to the Law and the Jewish people, but it is not easy to understand what he is saying about them. This difficulty arises largely because Paul wrote letters. Each letter is half of a conversation which can be understood only by reconstructing the other half, mainly on the basis of the letter itself. There is always more than one way to do this. And taken together, Paul’s letters do not constitute a systematic presentation of his thought; rather, they are halves of a series of conversations with different groups at different times. These must be synthesized by the interpreter, and again there is more than one way to do this.

Despite, or perhaps partly because of, this difficulty, understanding what Paul says about the Law and the Jewish people has always fascinated readers of his letters. And this has become a principal focus of Pauline scholarship in recent years. Thus far (as we will see) various interpretations have been proposed, and none has been universally acknowledged as satisfactory However, there is widespread agreement among scholars on certain points.

One point which now seems clear to most scholars is that Paul rarely speaks directly about non-Christian Jewish people in his letters. Paul’s letters were written to Christian communities that were largely made up of Gentile converts to Christianity, though they also included Jewish converts to Christianity (at least in some cases). And when Paul speaks about the Law and the Jewish people in his letters, he generally does so in an attempt to persuade his Gentile converts to Christianity not to take up Jewish practices. The suggestion that they should adopt Jewish practices has come from other Christians, either Jewish converts to Christianity or Gentile converts who themselves have adopted Jewish practices. Thus, what Paul says about the Law and the Jewish people is a contribution to a discussion which is occurring within the Christian Church. This Church is composed of both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity, and it is split over the question of how far it is appropriate for Gentile Christians to keep the Jewish Law. Paul is aligned with those who say that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law, and against those who argue the contrary. This position may have implications for non-Christian Jews, but is not directly concerned with them.

Another way of putting this is that Paul’s letters derive from a very different context than the one in which we read them today. Today the Christian Church is almost exclusively Gentile, and the question of whether or not Gentile Christians should keep the Jewish Law is hardly a live one. We spontaneously read Paul’s letters as though they speak directly to our situation in which the Gentile Christian Church and the Jewish people face one another as separate entities with a long and troubled history of mutual interaction. The single most important thing for us to realize in trying tc understand what Paul says about the Law and the Jewish people is that his situation was very different from ours. He himself is a Jewish Christian; the Church of his day was made up of Jews and Gentiles; and he tries to resolve a question which we have laid to rest (partly because of Paul’s efforts).


Paul on the Jewish People

Although it is true that in general Paul does not speak directly about non-Christian Jewish people, there are at least two passages in his letters where he does speak directly about them.


1. Romans 9–11

The most important of these passages is Romans 9–11. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul concludes a lengthy argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law by speaking about non-Christian Jews One reason for this may be that the Christian community in Rome seems to have included a sizeable number of Jewish Christians.

Paul begins this section with an expression of his anguish at the fact that many of his fellow Jews have not believed in Christ. (Some understand this anguish as caused by something other than not believing in Christ, as we will see below). He says, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race” (9:3). But as he continues his discussion, it becomes clear that the biggest problem which their unbelief raises for him is the possibility that “the word of God [has] failed” (9:6), i.e., that God has not succeeded in saving the people of Israel by sending Jesus as Messiah. Paul then goes on to argue that the unbelief of some Jews need not mean that the saving plan of God has failed. The history of Israel shows that God has always chosen some and rejected others (9:6-29); God could now have chosen those Jews who believed in Jesus and rejected those who did not. This leads Paul into a discussion of why some Jews have not believed in Jesus (9:30–10:21). He attributes their unbelief to a failure to understand God’s purposes. He says, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened” (10:2).

Paul now returns to the possibility he himself had earlier suggested, i.e., that God has rejected those Jews who did not believe in Jesus. At this point Paul emphatically rejects this suggestion. “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (11:1). This makes it clear that the earlier argument was incomplete. It would be possible to show that the unbelief of some Jews did not mean the failure of God’s plan of salvation by supposing that God had rejected them. However, this is not Paul’s actual solution to the problem. His actual solution is that the unbelief of some Jews was part of God’s plan. Mysteriously, God intended this in order to extend salvation to the Gentiles; and after the salvation of the Gentiles has been accomplished, all Jews will also be saved. Because of this, Gentile Christians should not consider themselves better than non-Christian Jews. (This concern also surfaces in Eph 2:11-22). As Paul says, “Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25-26). This is Paul’s definitive statement about non-Christian Jews. Because “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable,” (11: 29) God will surely save all Jews, those who have believed in Jesus and those who have not.


2. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

The other passage in which Paul speaks directly about non-Christian Jewish people presents a somewhat different picture. In this passage Paul says that the Thessalonian Christians have become imitators of the Christian Churches in Judea. They have imitated them in accepting the Gospel which Paul preached as the word of God (cf. 2:13) and in remaining faithful to it despite opposition from their countrymen (v. 14). Paul then comments on the non-Christian Jews who opposed the Christians in Judea, saying that they “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last” (vv. 15-16).

This is a very different perspective on non-Christian Jews than the one we find in Romans 9–11. It even includes elements which later contributed to Christian anti-Judaism, notably the accusation that the Jews killed Jesus. Mainly because of the tension between this passage and Romans 9–11, many scholars propose that 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 was not originally part of Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians, but was added later by someone else. Another possibility is that Paul changed his mind in the course of time. 1 Thessalonians is the earliest letter of Paul which has survived; Romans is one of the latest. Paul’s view of non-Christian Jews might have changed between the composition of 1 Thessalonians and the composition of Romans.

However, it is important to realize that the tension between Romans 9–11 and 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 is not as great as it might first seem to us. Although Paul ordinarily uses the word Ioudaios to mean members of the Jewish people wherever they live, in this context he uses the word more restrictively. He is comparing the treatment which the Thessalonian Christians have received from their countrymen with the treatment which the Churches of God in Judea have received from the Ioudaioi. It is clear that Ioudaioi here means primarily Judeans, not all Jews everywhere.

Further, the meaning of the sentence which the Revised Standard Version translates, “God’s wrath has come upon them at last,” would be more accurately reflected by the paraphrase, “The wrath (of the last day) has drawn near to them in the end.” It is true that this sentence literally says that wrath has already come upon them. But Paul also refers to this wrath in 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; and in these passages it seems clear that this wrath still lies in the future. However, with the arrival of the Messiah, the last day has begun to dawn, and Paul can say that both the righteousness and the wrath of God have been revealed (Rom 1:17-18). What this means is that the coming of the Messiah has now made it clear that acceptance of the Messiah means righteousness before God, and that non-acceptance of the Messiah leaves one liable to wrath. In this sense wrath has drawn near to the Judeans who opposed the Gospel.

In his discussion of non-Christian Jews in Romans 9–11, Paul considers the possibility that God makes use of them to show forth wrath (9:22). As we have seen, he ultimately rejects this possibility in Romans 9–11. Perhaps a similar clarification is taken for granted in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, but is left unspoken because Paul is not mainly concerned here with the situation of non-Christian Jews. However we interpret 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, we must remember that Romans 9–11 is Paul’s final statement on this matter and should take precedence over 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 in any reconstruction of what Paul says about the Jewish people.


Paul on the Jewish Law

Although Paul rarely speaks directly about non-Christian Jewish people, he often discusses the Jewish Law. One of the main themes of his letters is that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law. This is the principal argument of Paul’s Letters to the Galatians and Romans, and an important element of his Letter to the Philippians. We also find this theme in the Letter to the Colossians, which may not have been written by Paul.

It seems quite likely that Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law would reveal Paul’s view of the Law, and perhaps indirectly of non-Christian Jewish people. However, we must keep two things clearly in mind. The first is that Paul discusses explicitly only the case of Gentile Christians and the Law. He never says clearly whether or not Jewish Christians should keep the Law, and certainly never addresses the issue of non-Christian Jews and the Law. This means that we do not have Paul’s complete view of the Law, but can only infer it with some caution from his argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Law.

The second thing we must keep in mind is that the reason why Paul believes that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law is not entirely clear. In fact it is currently among the topics most debated by scholars. One reason for this unclarity is that in addition to arguing that Gentile Christians should not keep the Law, Paul can also speak favorably about keeping the Law (e.g., Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10). Another reason for this unclarity is that Paul presents different arguments in support of his contention that Gentile Christians should not keep the Law. Unless Paul’s view of the Law is inconsistent, only some of these arguments express the reason why Paul believes Gentile Christians should not keep the Law; the others are supporting arguments. The way we construe Paul’s argument determines to a great extent what implications we will see in it for a view of the Law and of non-Christian Jewish people. Recent scholarly discussion has produced at least five different ways in which we may understand Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law.


1. The Qualitative Interpretation

Many have understood Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law as based on the inherent character of the Law. The very existence of a religious law seems to imply that human beings can achieve righteousness, and so qualify for salvation, by their efforts to keep the Law. Paul, however, thought that righteousness was possible only as a gift from God. Thus there was no place for any effort to achieve righteousness, or for the Law which would guide such efforts. Paul seems to express this sort of critique of the Law when he refers to himself as “not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9).

If this is Paul’s basic reason for arguing that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law, then he obviously finds the Law itself deficient, at least in the sense that human beings inevitably misuse it. And it hardly seems that Paul could view positively those Jews who try to keep the Law, whether they are Christian or non-Christian. When the Law is regarded in this way, anyone who tries to keep it seems to have misunderstood God’s will in a fundamental way.

Until recent times this has been the dominant understanding of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law. It is still espoused by influential scholars such as E. Kasemann. In itself this understanding of Paul’s argument makes sense, and there clearly are passages in Paul’s letters which seem to support it. However, for two reasons many scholars today consider it unlikely that this interpretation goes to the heart of Paul’s argument. First, as E. P. Sanders has argued at length, first-century Jews did not regard the Law as a means by which they could be righteous before God by their own unaided effort. In Jewish thinking keeping the Law was combined with reliance on God. Of course, there probably were individual Jews who tended toward self-reliance, but this was not characteristic of the Jewish people as such.

Even if this is so, it is possible that Paul came to see the Law as intrinsically connected with self-reliance. However, most of those who have interpreted Paul’s objection to the law along these lines, have supposed that self-reliance was characteristic of Judaism in Paul’s day. If it was not, we must explain in some way how Paul came to this understanding. This understanding itself is not the ultimate basis of Paul’s argument.

Second, even if Paul does criticize the Law as an instrument of self-reliance, this does not seem to be his most prominent concern about the Law. As K. Stendahl has argued, Paul is more concerned about the way the Law affects Gentile participation in God’s salvation of Israel. Other interpretations of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law do greater justice to this concern.


2. The Quantitative Interpretation

Another common interpretation of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law sees it as based on the view that it is impossible to keep the whole Law. Since one cannot keep the entire Law, an attempt to do so is certain to be unsuccessful and thus to result in one’s being liable to punishment for failing to keep the Law. Paul seems to express this understanding of the Law when he says: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them’” (Gal 3:10).

Like the qualitative interpretation, the quantitative interpretation of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law implies that the Law is inevitably deficient whenever human beings actually try to keep it. Because reliance on the Law can only lead to condemnation, it seems that Paul could only view negatively those Jews who try to keep it, whether Christian or non-Christian.

This interpretation of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law is often combined with other interpretations. For example, H. Hübner understands Paul’s argument in Galatians as quantitative, and his argument in Romans as qualitative. However, many scholars today doubt that this interpretation goes to the heart of Paul’s argument, and for the same reasons that doubt has arisen about the qualitative interpretation. Neither does justice to Paul’s concern for the participation of Gentiles in God’s salvation of Israel, and neither reflects the understanding of the Law current in Paul’s day. Moreover, not only is the view that it is impossible to keep the whole Law not a common view among first-century Jews, even Paul does not maintain it consistently. In Philippians 3:6 he describes himself in these words: “as to righteousness under the law blameless.”


3. The Retrospective Interpretation

Because of the problems with the qualitative and quantitative interpretations, others have proposed a very different understanding of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law. E. P. Sanders has proposed that Paul’s argument is not based on a problem with the Law, but rather on the implications of faith in Jesus. In other words, before he became a follower of Jesus, Paul saw no problem with keeping the Law. But after he became a follower of Jesus, his faith in Jesus implied that it was not appropriate for Gentile Christians to keep the Law. Paul believed that Jesus had been sent by God to save all, Gentiles as well as Jews. But the very sending of Jesus implied that the Law could not lead to salvation; if the Law could provide salvation, the mission of Jesus was unnecessary. Thus there was no reason for Gentile Christians to keep the Law, and attempting to keep it would seem to imply doubt about the sufficiency of faith in Jesus. Paul expresses this view when he says, “if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose” (Gal 2:21).

According to Sanders, then, becoming a follower of Jesus led Paul to conclude that the Law was not necessary for salvation. But this required him either to argue that the Law was not from God (something he could not do as a Jew) or to explain why God gave the Law. And Paul explains that God did not give the Law so that people might keep it and be righteous before God. God gave the Law, knowing that people could not keep it, in order to prepare them to accept salvation through the mission of Jesus (see Gal 3:19-25; Rom 5:20-21).

Thus Sanders argues that Paul does not reject the Law because of qualitative or quantitative problems. But having rejected the Law because of the implications of faith in Jesus, Paul supports this by retrospectively viewing the Law as deficient. Paul begins with the conclusion he wants to reach and develops a variety of arguments for that conclusion. The center of Paul’s thought about the Law is the incompatibility of the Law and faith in Jesus. Everything else Paul says about the Law supports this. Scholars who interpret Paul along these lines differ concerning the degree to which Paul’s view of the Law is consistent. Paul’s explanations of the purpose of the Law do not seem fully consistent, nor do his positive and negative statements about the Law. Sanders considers Paul’s position coherent, though unsystematic; H. Räisänen argues that Paul is simply inconsistent.

If we understand Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law as based on the implications of faith in Jesus, then it is possible that Paul finds nothing wrong with the Law at all. It could not bring salvation, but within its limits, it may be entirely good. And this would mean that Paul could regard positively the Jews who try to keep the Law. Because salvation comes from faith in Jesus and not from keeping the Law, Paul would regard non-Christian Jews as missing something essential. But he might have no problem with Jewish Christians who both keep the Law and believe in Jesus.

It is true that according to this view Paul sees the Law as having a negative purpose, and this in turn might have negative implications for his view of those who keep the Law. But if Paul’s explanations of the purpose of the Law are supporting arguments, and not the center of Paul’s thought about the Law, it is easy to suppose that they are limited, partial statements about the character of the Law, which would be supplemented by other perspectives if Paul were giving a full account of the Law and not trying to dissuade Gentile Christians from keeping it.


4. The Sociological Interpretation

J. D. G. Dunn has argued that the retrospective interpretation (and presumably others as well) finds Paul’s treatment of the Law inconsistent because it does not take sufficient account of the social function of the Law. Dunn argues that keeping the Law, and especially circumcision and the food laws, served the social function of establishing the identity of the Jewish people and marking the boundary between them and other groups. But Paul believes that God is God of all, Jew and Gentile, and that Jesus was sent to save all. To require Gentile Christians to keep the Jewish Law is to require them to become Jews, implying that God is God of Jews only. To avoid this implication Gentile Christians must not keep the Jewish Law, thereby becoming Jews. Paul expresses this view when he says, “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith” (Rom 3:29-30). But if Paul objects to the Law only as something which divides Jew and Gentile, he can still affirm the need to keep the Law. Both Jew and Gentile must keep the Law, but in such a way that it is not a barrier between them. In practice this means that circumcision and the food laws must be seen as matters of indifference. In this way Dunn reconciles Paul’s positive and negative statements about the Law and argues that his treatment of the Law is consistent.

This understanding of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law implies that Paul rejects only part of the Law, i.e., circumcision and the food laws, and is favorable toward the rest. If so, it seems that he would regard positively all who tried to keep the latter part of the Law, both Jew and Gentile. But he would regard negatively all who thought it was important to circumcise and keep the food laws. This would include most Jewish Christians and non-Christian Jews.

Although Sanders himself is aware that Paul finds the Law incompatible with faith in Jesus because of the inclusion of Gentiles in the Christian community, Dunn has emphasized this point and developed it in a helpful way. However, it seems unlikely to me that Paul is arguing only that Gentile Christians should not be circumcised and keep the food laws. It seems most likely that Paul, like other Jews, regards the Law as a unity which must be kept in its entirety. In arguing that Gentile Christians should not keep the Law, he argues that no part of it is binding on them. Of course, this means that there is at least some tension between Paul’s positive and negative statements about the Law.


5. The Restrictive Interpretation

All of the previously discussed interpretations of Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law imply an understanding of the Law and a view of those who keep it which is negative in some degree. Recently however, L. Gaston, followed by J. Gager, has proposed that Paul’s discussion of the Law is exclusively concerned with the relationship of the Law to Gentile Christians and says nothing about the Law in itself, or about those who keep it. No single passage expresses this view directly, but Gaston and Gager argue that it underlies everything that Paul says about the Law. When understood in this way, Paul’s argument is compatible with the view that Jews are saved through the Law. This provides a simple explanation of Paul’s positive statements about the Law. According to this view, Paul’s only critique of non-Christian Jews is directed against their refusal to accept that God is saving Gentiles through Jesus apart from the Jewish Law. In Romans 9–11 Paul is concerned with this refusal and not with lack of faith in Jesus.

Obviously, this way of understanding Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law is the most attractive in its implications (or rather, lack of them) for Paul’s view of the Law and the Jewish people. Understood in this way Paul says nothing negative about the Law in itself, and there would be no reason to suppose that he regards negatively the Jewish people who try to keep it. Paul is exclusively concerned with the way God has chosen to save Gentiles. All Jews need do is acknowledge that God is saving Gentiles in this way.

This proposal is revolutionary, and it is so new that scholars have only begun to evaluate it. It takes very seriously something which is beyond doubt—Paul is arguing that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law. But it maintains that this argument has no implications for a view of the Law or of the Jewish people. This is far from certain.

All five of these ways of understanding Paul’s argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law have contemporary adherents. Scholarly discussion has not yet produced any consensus on this matter, and such consensus may never develop. The biggest unresolved question is whether or not the last interpretation will prove satisfactory. At present the retrospective interpretation is probably the most widely held. This is partly because of the influence of Sanders but also because Sanders articulated a view which had been emerging from the work of various other scholars, such as W. D. Davies, J. Munck, H. J. Schoeps, K. Stendahl and N. A. Dahl.

As may already be obvious, I also find the retrospective interpretation most satisfying. But I am inclined to combine the qualitative, quantitative, and sociological interpretations with it, seeing the retrospective interpretation as fundamental to the others. As I have pointed out above, the sociological interpretation, properly qualified, can be seen as an elaboration of the retrospective interpretation. Further, although Sanders does not do so, the qualitative and quantitative interpretations can be combined with the retrospective interpretation by seeing them as arguments to which Paul appeals in support of the retrospective interpretation, explaining how the Law leads to sin rather than to righteousness.

The only one of the interpretations for which I cannot find a place is the restrictive interpretation. Because of its important implications it must be scrutinized carefully by scholars. And perhaps it will finally be proved the best interpretation, or at least the equal of any other. However, at present it does not seem as satisfying as my modification of the retrospective interpretation, for the reasons which follow.

Although Paul makes the argument in order to convince Gentile Christians that they should not keep the Jewish Law, arguing that if the Law were the source of Justification, then Christ died in vain seems to imply the insufficiency of the Law not only for Gentile Christians but also for Jews. And when Paul supports this view by arguing that the Law could not lead to righteousness, this too seems to imply the insufficiency of the Law for Jews.

At least some of this can be read restrictively as Gaston and Gager propose. But if Paul intended this, we must ask why he did not say so explicitly. At least part of the reason that Gentile Christians were drawn to keeping the Jewish Law is that not keeping It seemed equivalent to disobeying God. To have explained clearly that the Law was God’s will for Jews, but that God had established a different means of salvation for Gentiles would surely have been helpful.

The part of Paul’s discussion of the Law which is hardest to interpret restrictively is his explanation of the purpose of the Law. While Paul uses this to support the argument that Gentile Christians should not keep the Law, its direct application would be to Jews. On any interpretation Paul does not think that Gentiles should ever keep the Law. Thus its purpose could only be accomplished in those who kept it, i.e., Jews. And this purpose, as Paul sees it, was to serve as a negative preparation for the coming of Christ.

Even though Paul never directly expresses such a view, it seems very likely to me that Paul regarded the Law itself as deficient and would have been critical of Jews who relied on it alone; in Paul’s view the Law was intended to lead to faith in Jesus. If this is so, however, it must be qualified in three ways. First, it is clear that Paul did not think Gentile Christians should keep the Jewish Law, but it is not clear that Paul thought Jewish Christians should stop keeping the Law. If they adopted Paul’s perspective, they could not suppose that righteousness came from keeping the Law. But if they regarded righteousness as deriving from faith, it is not clear that Paul would have objected to their keeping the Law. They might have done so as a way of preserving their identity as the people of Israel, which Paul would surely have seen as a good. Likewise, Paul would have made no argument that non-Christian Jews should cease keeping the Law, only that they should accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Second, Paul is critical of the Law and of non-Christian Jews because he himself is a follower of Jesus. His criticism of the Law does not arise from an analysis of the Law in itself, and his critique of non-Christian Jews has nothing to do with the way they keep the Law. Before Paul became a follower of Jesus he saw nothing wrong with the Law or Jews; on the contrary, he regarded the Law as God’s will for the human race and Jews as uniquely privileged to possess it. What caused him to view this somewhat differently was becoming a follower of Jesus. This means that what Paul implies about the Law and the Jewish people will seem very strange to anyone who does not share his faith in Jesus or at least perceive that this is Paul’s starting point. What Paul says about the Law and the Jewish people is not objective analysis, but an analysis from the perspective of faith in Jesus. Its truth depends entirely on the truth of that faith.

Third, although Paul may have been critical of non-Christian Jews, we must remember that this criticism was limited. As we can see from Romans 9–11, Paul thought that God’s faithfulness to Israel was unconditional. Even if part of Israel rejected God’s plan by not accepting Jesus as the Messiah, God did not reject them in return. In the end God’ s promise to save Israel will be kept.



It is critically important not to read Paul as if he were a representative of what we today call Christianity and speaking about what we today call Judaism. Paul was a Jew who came to believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’ s promises to Israel and who thought that this fulfillment was open to Gentiles as Gentiles. This faith led Paul to a radical reinterpretation of what it meant to be a Jew. And this in turn made Paul critical of those who did not share his new view of what it meant to be a Jew. In my opinion both of these emerge indirectly, by implication, as Paul argues that Gentile Christians should not keep the Jewish Law.

Later history makes this implicit view of Paul’s look like anti-Judaism. Now Christianity and Judaism regard one another as separate religions and Paul is understood as speaking for Christianity against Judaism. But in his own context Paul is involved, with other Jews, in a disagreement concerning the true nature of Judaism. Earlier I said that Paul’s letters were a contribution to a conversation occurring within the Christian Church. But they were simultaneously a contribution to a discussion within Judaism because in the first century the two groups overlapped. Many first-century Christians, including Paul himself, were Jews. And it was initially Jewish Christians who differed as to whether or not Gentile Christians were obliged to keep the Law. Those who said Gentile Christians must keep the Law did so because they understood Judaism in the same way non-Christian Jews did. Those, like Paul, who argued that Gentile Christians should not keep the Law did so on the basis of a new understanding of Judaism.

Such differences over the nature of Judaism have arisen again and again in the history of the Jewish people (and in the history of most other groups). In the time of the prophet Jeremiah there was a division among the prophets as to whether God would give Judah into the hands of the Babylonians or would save Judah from them (Jer 27–28). In the time of the Maccabean revolution there were Jews who wished to embrace Hellenistic culture and others who saw this as incompatible with faithfulness to God (1 Macc 1; 2 Macc 4). At the present time Reformed and Orthodox Jews differ over the true nature of Judaism.

Seeing Paul as a Jew who came to a new understanding of Judaism probably does not make his views any more congenial to twentieth-century Jews than they were to those 1st century Jews who disagreed with him But it does give a more satisfactory sense of what is involved as Paul takes his position. And we must always remember that Paul continued to regard the Jews who disagreed with him as the people of God and held that God’s promises to them were irrevocable.



The foregoing is heavily indebted to the treatment of Paul by George Smiga in Pain and Polemic: The Problem of Anti-Judaism in the New Testament, soon to be published by Paulist Press.

For a brief description of the process by which Christianity became a religion separate from Judaism, showing the place of Paul in that development, see T. Callan, Forgetting the Root: The Emergence of Christianity From Judaism (New York: Paulist, 1986).

Books mentioned in the foregoing discussion:
Dahl, N. A., Studies in Paul (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1977).
Davies, W. D., Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1948).
Dunn, J.D.G., Jesus. Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990).
Gager, J., The Origins of Anti-Semitism (New York: Oxford, 1983).
Gaston, L., Paul and the Torah (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987).
Hübner, H., Law in Paul’s Thought trans. by J.C.G. Greig (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1984).
Käsemann, E., Commentary on Romans trans. by G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980).
Munck, J. Paul and the Salvation of Mankind trans. by F. Clarke (London: SCM, 1959).
Räisänen, H., Paul and the Law (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1987).
Sanders, E. P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).
———, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).
Schoeps, H. J., Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History trans. by H. Knight (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961).
Stendahl, K., Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976).


Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Why are Paul’s exact thoughts about the Torah difficult to ascertain? Why did he rarely refer to non-Christian Jews? How is the social context of Paul’s addressees different from our own?
2. What fundamental point about the Jewish people does Paul make in Romans 9–11? Why might his thoughts be important to the modern Church as it seeks to reform its supersesslonist past?
3. What are five scholarly approaches to Paul’s ideas about the Jewish Law, the Torah? Which of these seems to be the most reasonable to you? Why? What are the possible effects of these various approaches on one’s attitude toward modern Jews and Judaism?
4. How has this essay impacted on your own understanding of the Apostle Paul?

The So Called Old Testament and Hate

By Walter Harrelson
Professor of Hebrew Bible, Vanderbilt University Divinity School (Emeritus)


The focus of this paper is on “hate” in the Hebrew Bible. Hatred is more than enmity; it expresses the desire to see the enemy destroyed. Hatred and curse are thus quite close to one another. The hateful-sounding prayers in the Psalms for vengeance against enemies are really part of the life of faith. They are present in large numbers in the Hebrew Scriptures because they describe the actual experience of worshipers who turn to God for help and who need to lay out their feelings and their experiences clearly and forcefully. People do take advantage of others; friends do betray friends. Those who care about justice want justice and vindication, and the psalmists enable us to enter the intimate world of love and hate, of pleas for pardon and pleas for vengeance.

Hatred was a fact of life in the world of ancient Israel, as it is in the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world. But it would be wrong to say that the Hebrew Scriptures teach love of one’s own people and hatred of outsiders. From earliest times, according to the Hebrew Bible, strangers and aliens enjoyed a special place  in the piety of hospitality in the faith of Israel (e.g., Abimelech of Gerar [Gen 20 & 261, the Pharaoh in Joseph’s day [Gen 41-50], the inhabitants of Hebron [Gen23]). Xenophobia (fear of or hatred toward the stranger) is in little evidence in the dealings of early Israel with its neighbors.

Early Israelite law required that the alien who resides regularly with the Israelites be protected from oppression and mistreatment, just as one would protect the widow and the orphan (Ex 22:21 [Hebrew 22:20]; Ex 23:9). The exhortations of Deuteronomy (10:19) require that Israel love the resident alien, who became more and more like the proselyte. With circumcision, the resident alien became a full member of the community.

The Hebrew Bible specifies, in various texts from various times, that the community of Israel is to maintain its hatred of certain peoples. The best-known of these are the Amalekites, the Midianites, and (according to some texts) the Ammonites, Moabites, and the Edomites. Many of the texts that demonstrate Israel’s and the deity’s anger against non-Israelite peoples are clear about why the enemy is hated. Those who destroy life in community have to be stopped.

Nevertheless, these hatred texts also disclose a spirit of vengeance and vindictiveness that any religious community would wish to condemn. My Aunt Zora, an extraordinarily able teacher of Bible to young children, often would say to us children in the country church in North Carolina, “Well, children, that is what the Bible says, but there must be something wrong.” She would not elaborate, but she insisted that “there is something 7 wrong” with texts like Numbers 25 and 31, where God is reported to demand the slaughter of Israel’s and God’s enemies. Many of the acts of cruelty reported in the Hebrew Scriptures as having God’s blessing must be flatly condemned, not justified.

Expressions of hatred against enemies do have some value, when affirmed in worship. At the very least, it is better to pray for vengeance against enemies than to take vengeance oneself. Psalms and prayers that call for divine vengeance against enemies are real prayers of real people—prayers that arise out of human experience and need. They arise in situations of intolerable suffering, situations that must be confronted.

The Hebrew Scriptures show with what tenacity the community held to the demand for public and private justice. Those who violate the demands of what will come to be called the Noachic laws stand condemned for such violation, just as the people of the covenant stand condemned for their violation of the terms of God’s distinct covenant with them. God is no unmoved mover. God cares passionately about the world, about its peoples, and about the people of the covenant. God can and does hate evil and will not forever let it rage in the world. Evildoers will not forever get away with their evil, for the day of accounting will surely come. The faithful may rely upon God’s justice finally to triumph in the world. In the meantime, the victim survives because God shares the pain and suffering with the victim, holds the person by the hand, guides the sufferer, and provides “communion in suffering” while waiting for justice to be done.

The Classic Jewish Penitential Prayer

By: James H. Charlesworth
George L Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary
Published with the permission of Doubleday; see The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha


Throughout the nearly 1900 years of their history, Christians have made intermittently two preposterous claims: only Christians recognize their unworthiness; only they affirm that God is a forgiving Lord.

Another more dreadful contention pops up sporadically. It is the argument by Christian leaders, some of them learned that the prayers of Jews are fraudulent. The translator of the Vulgate, Saint Jerome (c. 342-420), claimed that when Jews pray it is the grunting of a pig. (In Amos 5.23) At the end of the last century E. Schuerer in his volumes, classics of nineteenth-century scholarship, asserted that during the time of Jesus, Jewish prayer “was bound in the fetters of a rigid mechanism” and that the Shema and Eighteen Benedictions were “degraded to an external function.” (ET; 1898. IL 115)

This gigantic distortion of early Jewish piety affected the appreciation of the Prayer of Manasseh. Fabricius (1691.VIII. 208; 1722. I. 1101) and Nestle (1899. 111.18) claimed it was written by a Christian. Migne (1856. 1.850) attributed the Greek text to the author of the Apostolic Constitutions, and tended to disage the Prayer.

Now, thanks to a refined and refreshing understanding of Early Judaism and Early Christianity, to an improved and more self-critical methodology, and to the phenomenal discovery of early Jewish hymns and prayers, it is certain that the Prayer of Manasseh was composed by a Jew, probably in or near Jerusalem, and sometime before the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. The author is a Jew who attempted to supply the prayer attributed by 2 Chronicles 33 to the son of Hezekiah, Manasseh (687-642 B. C.E. ), the wickedest king of Judah. In the Apostolic Constitutions (4th cent.), a compilation of ecclesiastical law, the bishop is instructed to read the Prayer of Manasseh to the “beloved children,” so that they will comprehend that God forgives and reinstates the penitent (11.22)

For the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest would confess his own sins, as well as the sins of his family and the nation Israel. Confession of guilt and need for forgiveness was at the heart of Early Judaism. As the Jewish expert Sandmel stated, the Prayer of Manasseh would “have fitted admirably” into the synagogue service for the Day of Atonement. (1978. 70). As the eloquent preacher Cleland claimed, “It is the gospel outside the Gospels.” (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, II. xi) Forthe outstanding Greek New Testament critic Goodspeed, the “simplicity, deep feeling, and power” of the Prayer of Manasseh “give it genuine religious worth, and remind us of the genuine religious feeling that welled up in Jewish hearts….” (1939. 56) Affirming that it is a Jewish prayer, the distinguished and admired New Testament scholar Metzger calls the Prayer of Manasseh “the little classic of penitential devotion,” which “breathes throughout a deep and genuine religious feeling.” (1957. 123).

Despite the well-known and consternating protestations of one leader of a prominent southern church, Christians are affirming the fact that God hears the authentic prayers of Jews and Christians. Jesus, the Jew, and his Jewish followers, prayed words similar to those found in the early Jewish prayers, many of which are now preserved in the Mishnah and Talmuds. Toward the end that Jews and Christians may continue to come together occasionally in services of worship to call upon the one true God, I present my idiomatic translation of the Prayer of Manasseh from the Syriac version (with some minor alterations to insure inclusive language).

1. Lord, God of our parents.
God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their righteous offspring:
2. You  who made the heaven and the earth with all their beauty;
3. You who bound the sea
and established it by the corm-nand of  yourword.
You who closed the bottomless pit
and sealed it by your powerful and glorious name;
4. You (before) whom all things fear and tremble; (especially) before your power;
5. Because your awesome magnificence cannot be endured;
6. But unending and immeasurable are your promised mettles;
7a. Because you are the Lord,
long-suffering, merciful, and greatly compassionate;
and you feel sorry over the evils of humans.
7b. You, 0 Lord, according to your gentle grace,
promised forgiveness to those who repent of their sins,
and in your manifold mercies
appointed  repentance for sinners as the (way to) salvation.
8. You, therefore, 0 Lord, God of the righteous, did not appoint grace for the righteous, such as Abraham, Isaac, ancl Jacob,
those who did not sin against you,:
but you appointed grace for me, (I)  who am a sinner.
9a. Because my sins exceeded the number of  the sand(s) of the sea, and on account of the multitude of my iniquities,
I have no strength to lift up my eyes.
9b. And now, 0 Lord,I arn justly afflicted, and I am deservedly harassed; already I am ensnared.
10. And l am bent by many iron chains, so that I cannot lift up rny head;
for I do not deserve to lift up my eyes and look to see the height of heaven,
because of the gross iniquity of my wicked deeds,
because I did evil things before you, and provoked your fury,
and set up idols and multiplied impurity.
11. And now behold I am bending the knees of my heart before you; and 1 am beseeching your kindness.
12. I have sinned, 0 Lord, I have sinned; arid I certainly know my sins.
13. I beseech you;
forgive me, 0 Lord, forgive mel
Do not destroy me with my transgressions; do not be angry against me,
do not remember toy evils;
and do not condemn me and banish me to the depths of the earth! For-you are the God of those who repent.
14. in me you will manifest all your grace; and although Lam not worthy,
you will save me according. to your manifold mercies.
15. Because of this (salvation) I shall praise you continually
all the days of my life;
because all the host of heaven praise you, and sing to you forever and ever.

Assessing Changing Winds Within Catholicism Regarding Jews and Judaism

By: Professor David P. Efroymson, Professor Emeritus, Religion, La Salle

Everyone is aware that Vatican II’s declaration, Nostra Aetate, is a convenient starting point for reflections on the changing winds within Catholism’s massive problem of Christian Anti-Judaism. Everyone is equally aware that the Vatican declaration was intended as a response to the Holocaust, although this goes unmentioned. If it was also intended to deal with whatever responsibility the Catholic theological tradition bore for it, this is not admitted.

But the problem isn’t simply the Holocaust. The problem begins, at the latest, in the second century and throughout the age we call that of the so-called “Fathers” of the Church. They were nearly unanimous that God’s covenant with Israel had been abrogated, that there was no longer a saving relationship between this people and God that God’s Torah was no longer in effect, that Israel’s scriptures belonged now to the Church — in brief, that God had replaced Israel with Gentile Christians as God’s people, had replaced Judaism with Christianity. There were no pogroms yet, but synagogues were burned by Christians.

This in turn led to centuries of debilitating legislation against Jews and Judaism, legislation of the Christian Roman Empire, Church legislation, legislation of local church synods. Then, beginning with the First Crusade in 1096, Christian crusaders slaughtered Jews by the thousands in several places in Europe. These Jews were forced to choose between baptism and death. The thought was that God doesn’t so much object to Jews if they become Christians; it’s Judaism God wants done away with. Popes and bishops objected, forbade the killing of Jews, forbade forced baptisms, but many seem not to have understood that centuries of their teaching and preaching — that is, the teaching and preaching of Catholic leaders, Catholic Christian leaders, Christian pastors — had triggered the contempt that led to the violence. Later, Jews were accused of ritual murder, host desecration, responsibility for the Black Death, and again Jews paid with their lives. They were expelled from most of the countries of Europe at one time or another, including from Spain in 1492 by order of Her Catholic Majesty Queen Isabella.

Things did change with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Napoleon’s opening of the ghettos. Nationalism increased. Nation gave way to something called race in the 19th century and beginning in 1933, Hitler was nearly successful in his attempt to rid the world not only of Judaism but Jews. The Nazis were not inspired or motivated by Christianity or Christian theology, but without the previous centuries and the accumulation of Christian teaching on Jews and Judaism, what people let happen between 1933 and 1945 could not have happened. As Jacob Neusner puts it, “Christianity’s teaching of contempt created the attitudes that made the Holocaust not only possible but plausible and, under the right conditions, inevitable.” Or as Raul Hilberg shows, there is a kind of logic leading from the Christian claim, “You have  no  right to live  among  us  as  Jews,” to the 19th century’s claim, “You have no right to live among us,” to Hitler’s, “You have no right to live.” The Holocaust and what led up to it are tightly woven into the history of Christianity.

Back to Nostra Aetate. It can be seen both positively and negatively. Positively, it does claim that Jews are not to be presented as rejected by God, and the crucifixion of Jesus cannot be blamed on all Jews then living or upon the Jews of today. The down side would have to be what was not said. There was no mention of the Holocaust, nor was there even a hint of accepting any responsibility on the part of Catholicism or Christianity for nineteen centuries of Anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, something was begun within Catholicism at the Council.

There’s a relevant and exciting dimension of the Council that is not always brought up in the context of Jewish-Christian relations. In addition to, and at least as important as Nostra Aetate, other forces were at work which had gone on for years prior to the Council. The Declaration on Religious Liberty, for example, pointed out that God demanded that the religious conscience of the other be respected. Obviously, the religiosity of Jews has to be included in that. The Decree on Ecumenism gave a kind of “permission” to be critical of elements of the Catholic tradition. That at least made permissible the question of what in the tradition was toxic to Jews and Judaism and whether that had to be so. The Constitution on Divine Revelation, reinforced the principal thrust of the 1964 instruction on the Gospels, which gave an impetus to Catholic scholars, at least for those who needed it, to use the historical-critical method in their work with the New Testament. Finally, there was a growing awareness in Catholic theology to take the humanity of Jesus far more seriously than it had heretofore been taken.

One of the most important results of this re-examination is a deepening awareness of the implications of the Jewishness of Jesus, and the Jewishness of two of the most troublesome New Testament documents: the Gospels of Matthew and of John. Not simply that the authors of those gospels happen to be Jewish by birth, but that the polemic in each of them comes from angry Jews, bitter at other Jews who as they see it are attempting to impose their way of being Jewish on them and on their communities. Historically, in the context of the pluralistic and unsettled situation of the Judaism(s) of the late first century, in the further confusion resulting from the destruction of the Temple, these documents should be read as variations on or arguments for the issue of the “right” way to be Jewish.

Beyond the Jewishness of Jesus and of early Christianity, one further basic point should be made. We Christians have a “story” which we tell of ourselves, by which we identify ourselves and say where we come from. In that story, obviously, God and Jesus are the dominant figures. But we cannot tell that story without “the Jews” as characters. The problem, as Paul van Buren and others have pointed out, is that whatever the intention of the gospel writers, as Christians read the story, the Jewish people appear as those who refused the King’s invitation to the wedding feast of his son. They appear as the wicked tenants who kill the son of the owner of the vineyard and who therefore should be destroyed, so that the vineyard may be given to others. They are those who demanded of Pilate that Jesus be crucified, and who had said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” And thus from the time of the break, the Church had a view of the Jewish people as the former people of God who had forfeited their election by rejecting the Messiah, and who had now been displaced by the Church as true heir of the covenant.

One can say, as Vatican II said, that we are not to think of Jews as rejected. One can say, as New Testament scholars have said, that those documents are Jewish documents.  But the impression that people inevitably get is what has just been described.

In the story, it seems legitimate to understand God as the person who asserts his or her claim on the vineyard.  It may add a bit of zest to the story if one puts some emphasis on those who allegedly refuse that claim. But is that “refusal” essential to Christianity, to the Christian story? Isn’t it more important to focus on the God who lays a clam on all of us who are answerable before that claim?

This God invites people to a great banquet.  I think it is wonderful that Jesus was apparently adamant that the marginal in Israel — tax collectors, traitors, sinners — ought  also, along with the “pious,” be offered a chance at teshuvah, at repentance. With Paul, we can wonder and be grateful that Gentiles, too, have been invited to this banquet. Why make equally important in the story, the fate of those who did not come? Were they sure that the invitation was authentic? What they were doing instead might have been something important. The point, I would argue, is that the focus ought to be on the God who invites — and on what we do about that invitation — rather than on a God who displaces people who allegedly do not respond.

Happily, New Testament scholarship allows us to ask, and allows us to hope that someday we might have a Christian story without anti-Jewish polemic in it.

This morning I heard something that seemed wonderfully appropriate. Today [November 19] is the anniversary of the Ford Motor Company’s decision to get rid of the Edsel. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someday this Edsel brand of anti-Jewish Christianity, which has caused so much harm, were no longer being produced, and we got busy producing better vehicles?