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Published on: November 27, 2011
Faith Matters Sunday: The Jewish Discovery of Jesus

Years ago I had some friends in a klezmer band in New Orleans; one of the members of the band was an African American musician whose church was so taken with the music that they wanted to produce a klezmer gospel album.  This unfortunately never happened, but something almost as remarkable has just been published […]

Years ago I had some friends in a klezmer band in New Orleans; one of the members of the band was an African American musician whose church was so taken with the music that they wanted to produce a klezmer gospel album.  This unfortunately never happened, but something almost as remarkable has just been published by Oxford University Press: The Jewish Annotated New Testament.  Under the editorship of Vanderbilt professor Amy-Jill Levine and Brandeis professor Marc Zvi Brettler, this edition of the Christian scriptures features commentary and annotation from prominent Jewish scholars who have analyzed the text and the concepts in it based on their own knowledge of Jewish history and thought. The New York Times has the story.

Klezmer musical group Lubliner Klezmorim (Wikimedia)

This is a book that any serious Christian student of the New Testament will want to consult; anytime a familiar text is read from an unfamiliar angle, new insights are likely to come.  More to the point, rabbinical Judaism and Christianity are the two great religious legacies of first century Palestine.  Learning to see Jesus through Jewish eyes is a way for Christians to encounter another side of the man we recognize as son of God and savior.  A copy has been ordered from Amazon and will hopefully arrive at the stately Mead manor in time for Advent and Christmas reading. By then I hope to have finished another reading project: currently I am working through The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis by Nahum Sarna.

For more than a thousand years after the missionary journeys of Paul, Christians and Jews were bitterly estranged.  Theological hostility, social and political discrimination, violence and anti-Semitism characterized the relationship.  Efforts by Christian prelates and princes to build a total world order that fused church and state led inevitably to the marginalization or worse of the Jews.

This began to change with the Reformation — although Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism helped embed some deeply destructive memes in German culture.  First and foremost, the translation of the whole Bible into the vernacular languages coupled with the invention of printing put the Jewish scriptures into the hands of ordinary Christians for the first time.  In Medieval Christian preaching and liturgy, the New Testament got more attention than the Old, the gospels got more than the epistles of Paul, and the Passion narratives got more attention than the rest of the gospel story.

Martin Luther (Wikimedia)

The consequence was that most Christians spent most of their time with the parts of their Bible in which Jesus was engaged in theological controversy with Jewish religious leaders, or being handed over to the Romans for execution by a faction of the Jewish religious leadership of the day.  Every Sunday the liturgy of the Mass retold the story of the crucifixion; every year reached its religious climax with the intense focus on the sufferings of Christ in the last week of his life — arguing with Jews, and ultimately dying at the instigation of his (Jewish) enemies.

But as Christians encountered more of the Bible, this picture began to change.  Calvinists and others who believed in the literal and eternal truth of the Word of God came to believe that the promises God made to Abraham were still valid today: that the Jews still had a place in God’s plan, that the gift of the Holy Land to the physical descendants of Abraham remained valid, that Jews would return to that land before the end of history, and that God commanded the rest of mankind to bless and help Israel, rather than to curse and attack it.

More, acquaintance with the Old Testament exposed Christians to Jewish heroes of faith: to kings and prophets and warriors who walked with the God of Abraham and from whose teachings and experiences Christians had much to learn.  Where Calvinist, Anabaptist and Quaker influence was strong, Christian parents began to give their children names from the Jewish scriptures: Hannah, Caleb, Esther, Josiah, Ruth, Joshua, Ezekiel, Rebecca, Ezra, Nathaniel, Naomi, Seth and Sarah entered the English speaking world.

From the earliest settlements in New England, Americans began to think of their country as God’s “new Israel.”  Like the first Israel, America had been blessed with a rich and abundant land and a global mission.  It was America’s job to assist in the regeneration of the world: Biblical religion and political and economic freedom, seen as deeply connected, would reshape human life.

In the 19th and 20th century, some Christian scholars began to encounter rabbinical Judaism and slowly came to understand that while modern Judaism had some features in common with the idea of Jesus’ opponents and debating partners in the gospels, rabbinical Judaism today is a much more highly developed, flexible and theologically sophisticated faith than what we can see in the gospels.  Many of the criticisms that Jesus made of the Pharisees he encountered were shared by those who shaped the modern rabbinical faith: modern Judaism is much closer to Jesus’ ideas about a reformed and purified Judaism than Christians who know Judaism chiefly through the New Testament narratives understand.

This realization that in some respects the two religions have grown together rather than apart is driving efforts like the Jewish Annotated New Testament.  On the one hand, modern Judaism offers important insights for Christians seeking to develop a richer understanding of their own faith; on the other, it is increasingly possible for Jews to approach figures like Jesus and Paul as Jews operating within an evolving and developing tradition.

One does not know where this process of mutual rediscovery and reflection will take Christians and Jews during the next century.  One hopes at a minimum that the rich traditions of Jewish intellectual life in the middle ages can emerge into the general intellectual culture of the west; an encounter with the thought of people like Maimonides can enrich Christian and secular as well as Jewish writers and scholars.

But wherever this journey takes us, both Christians and Jews can welcome our growing capacity to enrich, respect and even admire one another.  Christians have much to learn from Jewish history, Biblical study and theological reflection.  Efforts like the Jewish Annotated New Testament are part of a process that will enrich both communities and the entire world.

show comments
  • Richard F. Miller

    Professor, this is long overdue and gratifying in the extreme.

    Years ago while taking graduate courses at the Harvard Divinity School (only to complete graduate course distribution requirements) I had the profound good luck to have Helmut Koester as a teacher of New Testament.

    I certainly didn’t regard it that way at first. As a Jew from a religious background, whose family had lost in the Holocaust (and who had grown up in a neighborhood of survivors), I was raised with enough hostile memes to electrify a world city for a week. (And I didn’t relish the idea of being taught by a German professor, either.) I felt guilty enough just walking into class.

    Three months later, Koester closed the course by stating that in his view, one of the great tragedies of the West was the alienation of Christianity from Judaism, (or vice-versa.)

    By that time and as a result of his instruction, I understood exactly what he meant. Thanks to Koester, when Pope John Paul later referred to Judaism as the “elder brother” of Christianity, I got that too.

  • Luke Lea

    Nice observations. I would even go so far as to say that, judged by their deeds and not by their words, the Jewish people have been among the greatest Christian in history.

    One quibble though. You write “that the gift of the Holy Land to the physical descendants of Abraham remained valid.” It was not a gift but part of a bargain. The terms of that bargain are spelled out in Genesis, to which I refer you to an essay, “The Torah and the West Bank,” in Judaism, Summer Issue, 1987.

  • Luke Lea

    Make that “Jewish people” not “the” Jewish people as among the greatest Christians in history — though “the” Jewish people have had a special role to play, namely, to keep the original mission in mind.

  • JJ

    One small comment: During most of the 1st Century, and certainly during the life of Jesus, the country in which Jerusalem is located was called “Judea”. The name “Palestine” was imposed by the Romans after their defeat of the Jewish Revolt in the year 70.

  • WigWag

    “More to the point, rabbinical Judaism and Christianity are the two great religious legacies of first century Palestine.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    I think that the Pharisees (who were the progenitors of rabbinical Judaism) and the early Christian Church were on a similar mission; they both wanted to tame G-d.

    Both movements realized that the deity formerly known as Yahweh was getting long in the tooth and fraying around the edges. Paul and the leaders of the early Church as well the Pharisee leaders understood that if the religion of the ancient Israelites was going to survive the Roman era and the destruction of the Second Temple that some serious rebranding needed to be done. Both movements, in their own way, set out to do it.

    They were both right; if he was going to survive the first few centuries of the common era, the G-d of the ancient Israelites was going to need to get his act together. Harold Bloom, writing in “The Book of J” gets to the core problem of the star attraction of the Pentateuch; speaking of Yahweh as he is described in Genesis, Exodus and Numbers, Bloom says,

    “…Yahweh is human-all too human: he eats and drinks, frequently loses his temper, delights in his own mischief, is jealous and vindictive, proclaims his justness while constantly playing favorites and develops a considerable case of neurotic anxiety when he allows himself to transfer his blessing from an elite to the entire Israelite host. By the time he leads that crazed and suffering rabblement through the Sinai wilderness he has become so insane and dangerous to himself and to others that the J writer deserves to be called the most blasphemous of all authors ever.”

    By the end of the First Century, it should have been apparent that no deity with so many flaws was going to attract many followers. Given the enormous historical popularity of Christianity versus Judaism, I think it is pretty apparent that Paul’s rebranding strategy was far more successful than that of the Pharisees or the originators of rabbinical Judaism. But I am not sure that Bloom was right about the “J” writer being the most audaciously blasphemous in human history.

    Personally, I would give that title to John Milton. Anyone who has read “Paradise Lost” can attest to the fact that while Satan is described as a flawed but sublime romantic hero, G-d the Father is described as an imperious oaf and his son is described as a narcissistic braggart. Here’s Wordsworth expounding on Milton’s view of Satan,

    “Milton’s Devil as a moral being is so far superior to his God, as One who perseveres in some purposes which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of an adversity and torture, is to One who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments…Milton has violated the popular creed by alleging no superiority of moral virtue to his God over his Devil.”

    In “Paradise Lost” it’s G-d who is the usurper, his son who is an upstart and Satan who is the rightfully aggrieved party. At least in Milton’s eyes, Paul’s rebranding strategy wasn’t particularly laudatory.

    One other point comes to mind; in this post Professor Mead says,

    “From the earliest settlements in New England, Americans began to think of their country as God’s “new Israel.” Like the first Israel, America had been blessed with a rich and abundant land and a global mission. It was America’s job to assist in the regeneration of the world: Biblical religion and political and economic freedom, seen as deeply connected, would reshape human life.”

    This is not the first time in his blog that Professor Mead has commented on the special relationship between the United States and Israel. On May 25th he wrote,

    “Israel matters in American politics like almost no other country on earth. Well beyond the American Jewish and the Protestant fundamentalist communities, the people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul. The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism. The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.

    It means more. The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. For many American Christians who are nothing like fundamentalists, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted.

    Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don’t ‘get’ Israel also don’t ‘get’ America and don’t ‘get’ God.”

    I’ve been thinking about this deep affinity and where it comes from. One thing that occurs to me is that throughout the Bible G-d is constantly imploring the people of Israel to get up and go; he commanded Abraham to do it; he commanded Moses to do it and ultimately he commanded the ancient Israelite slaves in Egypt to do it. As a nation of immigrants, the wisdom of getting up and going seems deeply ingrained the in the American psyche. Whether it was easterners moving west in search of a better life or black slaves following the underground railroad in search of freedom, Americans seem to be much more fond of departure than arrival. In this the ancient Israelites and contemporary Americans seem to have quite a bit in common.

  • dearieme

    “I didn’t relish the idea of being taught by a German professor”: it’s brave of you to confess to such racism in your past.

  • John

    After the Exodus, God instituted a sacrificial system to atone for sins and allow the people to draw close. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest laid the sins of the people on a goat, and this goat was led into the wilderness. Another goat was sacrificed, signifying that from death comes life.

    Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. His blood was shed at the cross. Yet the Gentile church held tightly to the alter metaphor, while the Jewish church became the scapegoat.

    I think Gentile Christians can only partially understand the atonement without the Jewish perspective. I look forward to this version of the New Testament.

  • WigWag

    “But as Christians encountered more of the Bible, this picture began to change. Calvinists and others who believed in the literal and eternal truth of the Word of God came to believe that the promises God made to Abraham were still valid today: that the Jews still had a place in God’s plan, that the gift of the Holy Land to the physical descendants of Abraham remained valid, that Jews would return to that land before the end of history, and that God commanded the rest of mankind to bless and help Israel, rather than to curse and attack it.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    The early Christian Church of the first few centuries of the Common Era was increasingly anti-Semitic and tried to eradicate rabbinical Judaism; this anti-Semitism was later incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church and after the schism, the Orthodox Church. I think it is important to remember that Jews were not the only targets of the Christian churches. Acolytes of the Gnostic heresies were persecuted with as much vigor as Jews were. In fact, if anything, the early Christian church treated those who believed in Gnosticism even worse than it treated the Jews; after all, rabbinical Judaism survived while the Gnostic movement, for the most part, did not.

    Practitioners of rabbinical Judaism were not above persecuting their own apostates as well. Kariate Jews pointedly rejected the most fundamental tenet of rabbinical Judaism; that idea that the oral law had saliency. The Karaite Jews refused to accept the legitimacy of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Relations between rabbinical Judaism and Kariate Judaism became so bad that the first Islamic ruler of Egypt had to order leaders of the Rabbinate community to halt all violence against their Kariate coreligionists. For the most part, rabbinical Judaism succeeded in eliminating Kariate competition although about 50,000 Karaite Jews still survive and are thoroughly integrated into contemporary Israeli society.

    Professor Mead makes the point that that “God commanded the rest of mankind to bless and help Israel, rather than to curse and attack it.”

    This command is to be found throughout what Christians call the “Old Testament.” Most famously it is found in Genesis 12:3,

    “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

    The same sentiment is echoed in Exodus 23:22,

    “If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.”

    It is also echoed in Numbers 22:6,

    “Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.”

    What I find particularly ironic is that while the more conservative Christian denominations that have eschewed anti-Semitism have taken these biblical passages to heart, the more liberal denominations tend to ignore these passages and have come to embody the anti-Semitism that once seemed to characterize their more conservative co-religionists.

    Today, it is the denominations associated with the National Council of Churches (including the Episcopal Church of the United States) where anti-Semitism is most likely to rear its ugly head. The Episcopal Church of Jerusalem specifically rejects Christian Zionism and most of the liberal American Christian churches look at their brethren who have a dispensationalist perspective as if they are little more than yahoos.

    Conservative Christians are coming to feel a sense of fellowship with their Jewish brothers and sisters. Unfortunately many progressive Christians seem to be moving in precisely the opposite direction. In today’s world it is pastors like John Hagee who seem most likely to agree with Pope John XXXIII who greeted a delegation of visiting Jews by quoting the line from Genesis 45:1; “I am Joseph Your Brother.”

  • Richard F. Miller

    @dearieme

    Just to be clear, my initial paranoia about taking a New Testament course had nothing to do with “race,” insofar as Professor Koester and I both belong to the same “race.” (I use the scare quotes because the consequentiality of race–as compared with culture and ethnicity–seems be the same as comparing a thimbleful of water to an ocean.)

    As noted, ethnicity and culture are different stories, and having read Higher Biblical Criticism of the “Old” Testament, much of it from German scholars, and some of it bluntly anti-semitic, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But in truth, that was mere veneer. My discomfort was based on deeply ingrained prejudices and fears, not of fictitious Aryans, or of Swedes, or of Tuscans, but specifically, of Germans.

    I suppose if the year was 1500, and I was taking a course from a Spaniard, I might have felt the same way about him!

    But race, whatever that is or means, formed no basis for my irrational concern.

  • http://www.martinbermangorvine.com Martin Berman-Gorvine

    Hey Professor Mead! The Klezmatics did produce a gospel album, “Brother Moses Smote the Water.” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dpopular&field-keywords=brother+moses+smote+the+water&x=16&y=15

  • Frank Arden

    Wigwag,

    You say, “Today, it is the denominations associated with the National Council of Churches (including the Episcopal Church of the United States) where anti-Semitism is most likely to rear its ugly head.”

    As an Episcopalian, I cannot agree with you more. As the political left has continued to exert more influence on the National Church, its tenants have strayed further into the realm of Social Law and Progressivism to the injury of Ecclesiastical Law and the general communion. One may not be substituted with the other as the former purports to save society from itself and the latter to save men one soul at a time.

    I fear the political liberals who control the National Church may follow the herd into anti-Semitic attitudes; certainly anti-Israel politics.

    Both Christians and Jews are children of Abraham. We are brothers. As I am a Christian, I am a Jew.

    The Jewish Annotated New Testament sounds like a fine Christmas Present.

  • Kenneth Marks

    It’s truly exciting to see that Jewish scholars and religious men and women are interested in the New Testament Scriptures. But as I read your piece, their interest seemed to be purely intellectual rather than spiritual.
    As you well know, being a man of faith, studying any of the Scriptures to determine the truths about God, Jesus, and the principles of our faith in general – whether in the Jewish Bible or the New Testament – using only intellect, is doomed. God certainly gave us minds to comprehend, and we are required to use these. But it is by His Spirit that the truths of Scripture are revealed. So whatever knowledge the Jewish scholars and rabbis’ get, absent the Spirit of God working in their hearts, will only be superficial.
    Fortunately, the Word of God is living and active: by opening up the Scriptures, these scholars and rabbis are presenting themselves to God Himself; some of them will hear His call and find the truth about Jesus they are seeking: that He is their Messiah and waits to usher them into His eternal kingdom. Yes, indeed, it is truly exciting that this is happening. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Pete Dellas

    As a Ph.D in theology, I must confess that Wigwag’s observations and comments were very astute and, indeed, inspiring. The regular readers of Mead’s columns are surely a thoughtful and intelligent bunch.

    Thanks again, Prof. Mead, for a great piece.

  • Micha

    I suppose I should be happy for this theological shift that caused (some) Christians to accept and even embrace Jews, rather then view them as enemies. But it makes me feel quite uneasy.

  • WigWag

    Pete Dellas, thank you for your kind comment.

    Frank Arden, when it comes to Christian views about Jews I find it absolutely remarkable that progressive and conservative Christians have flipped their approach to Jews in just the past few decades.

    One of the themes of Professor Mead’s post is religious reconciliation. Just a half century ago after promoting animosity between Roman Catholics and Jews for more than a thousand years, thanks to one of the most progressive Popes in the church’s long history, the Roman Catholic church decided to make amends. That Pope was John XXXIII, aka Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, and he is beloved by Jews to this day.

    One year after Roncali’s election, the Pope actually interrupted a Good Friday service when one of the celebrants used the traditional word “perfidious” to describe the Jews. To a stunned assembly, the Pope had the prayer repeated with the word “perfidious” removed. In 1960, at the Pope’s instruction the word “faithless” was removed from the prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

    In 1962, a visiting delegation of Jews visited the Pope in his Vatican Apartment. He descended from his throne, embraced the men and uttered the words from Genesis, “I am Joseph, your brother.” The effect on the Jewish community was electrifying.

    In 1965, Roncalli famously said this,

    “We are conscious today that many, many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recognize in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, or shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we know what we did.”

    This magnificent statement sent a seismic shock that profoundly impacted Catholic-Jewish relations in an extraordinarily positive way.

    Embracing the Jewish community was natural for Roncali; long before he became Pope he saved hundreds if not thousands of Jews from the Shoah in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria. While serving as Nuncio in France, Roncali refused a directive from the Vatican not to return baptized Jewish orphans to their families.

    During World War II as Nuncio for Greece and Turkey he assisted the Jewish underground; it’s little wonder that John XXXIII has been granted the highest honor bestowed by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations.” To this day, Jews old enough to remember him are likely to shed a tear at the mention of his name.

    I bring this up because Roncali was clearly a great progressive Pope. While many of the innovations of Vatican II (which he never lived to see completed) have now been repudiated by the Church, and while subsequent Popes have taken the Church in a far more conservative direction, there is simply no question that John XXXIII is personally and singlehandedly responsible for purging the Church of an almost two thousand year history of vicious anti-Semitism. Progressive Protestant leaders and progressive secular political leaders celebrated Roncali’s generosity of spirit.

    What I find ironic is that a mere 45 years after Roncali’s death it’s not progressive Protestant leaders who have come to agree with Roncali, it’s conservative Protestant leaders who have concluded that he was right to do what he did.

    Obsessed with political correctness and worshipping at the alter of multiculturalism, progressive religious leaders ignore the Jihad against Christians taking place all over the world and they have little but contempt for Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

    After centuries of their ancestors discriminating against Jews and trying to annihilate them, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Evangelical Lutherans now feel perfectly comfortable debating whether they should boycott Israel and Israeli companies.

    The National Council of Churches and a variety of other leftist oriented denominations have joined together to support what they call the “Jerusalem Declaration” a document that ridicules Christian Zionism.

    From his perch in heaven, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli must be looking down on his Protestant colleagues with disgust. Even worse, he must be wondering how they have the audacity to consider themselves progressive.

    Who would have ever thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Katharine Jefferts Schori would think that John XXIII got it wrong when it came to the Jews? Who would have guessed that Reverend John Hagee and Reverend John Falwell would be the ones to conclude that John XXIII got it right?

  • Kevin Reimers

    I enjoy Dr. Mead’s posts very much and have come to appreciate the thoughtful posts / debate that breakout in the comments section. The book recommendations, (polite) arguments and occasional interjections by Dr. Mead serve to further educate and enliven an already robust blog. Well done to all of you!

  • Luke Lea

    @ WigWag – “The early Christian Church of the first few centuries of the Common Era was increasingly anti-Semitic and tried to eradicate rabbinical Judaism”

    I believe you are mistaken on this point WigWag. The Catholic Church never tried to eradicate rabbinical judaism the way it did all other heretical sects without exception. It gave special protection to Jews living within its jurisdiction against those secular elements in society who would wipe them out. Correct me if I am wrong.

  • Toni

    WigWag, I thank you for your illuminating comments.

    Progressives’ flip-flop on Israel puzzles me. Aren’t they supposed to be for the underdog? When did Jews stop being the underdog, especially in that vast swath of anti-Semitism known as the Middle East?

    I will quibble with you a bit about early church anti-Semitism. There could be no Christian condemnation of nonorthodox beliefs until there was an orthodoxy, subsequent to the Council of Nicea in 325. Gnostics may have been purged, but I don’t believe they were ever as persecuted as Jews came to be in later centuries.

    Also, I’ll hazard a guess that you don’t worship the sun, the moon, Tiw, Woden, Thor, Frigga, or Saturn. If you substitute Common Era for Anno Domini becase the latter is confessional, oughtn’t you also find substitutes for Sunday, Monday, etc.? Aren’t CE and BCE, in fact, PC?

  • Toni

    Prof. Mead, thanks also for this. Besides one for me, I just ordered a copy for a friend who on Christmas Day will enter her tenth decade of Bible study. That is, she’ll be 91. I think The Jewish Annotated New Testament will be a fine gift.

  • Frank Arden

    Wigwag,

    “Who would have ever thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Katharine Jefferts Schori would think that John XXIII got it wrong when it came to the Jews?”

    Again, you have hit the nail on the head.

    The See of Canterbury, a bumbling old intellectual fool who thinks Sharia Law ought to be accommodated by Statutory Law in the UK has surpassed the foolishness of the Episcopal Primate, the Bishop of the ECUSA, Madame Schori (Lear Jet pilot and oceanographer), who said to Episcopalians,

    “Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.” A perfect example of social law, think ye not?

    What about saving souls?

    Perhaps my outrage ripens because I’m a southern conservative who finds Communion in a conservative Episcopal Church (St. John’s, Savannah). What American Episcopalians fail to realize it that the Anglican Church is the third largest Christian Communion in the world.

    The bumfumbling intellectual of Canterbury and the Bishop of the ECUSA simply don’t understand that I have more in common (communion) with a poor black woman who worships under the pastoral leadership and spiritual protection of the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda.

    Are Rowan and Schori further ignorant of Benedict XVI’s offer to protect wayward Anglican and Episcopalian Communions under the authority of the Bishop of Rome?

    The Pope reminds me of a deceased rector of my own precious church. He was truly an intellectual who taught college level Dante, Shakespeare and Elliot before he was called, against his will, to the ministry. His intellectual acumen is reminded by Benedict’s address to the University of Regensburg.

    Benedict’s address was criticized by liberals and by those who await the spiritual glories of Sharia, and don’t rise to the most liberal attributes of The Enlightenment and Hellenistic influence.

    Somehow Rowan and Schori, tragically, ignore this as their collective stupidities invite Sharia and anti-Semitism with vigor.

  • John Barker

    Wig Wag,
    Why do you not identify yourself so we can read more of your books and articles?

  • WigWag

    “The Pope reminds me of a deceased rector of my own precious church. He was truly an intellectual who taught college level Dante, Shakespeare and Elliot before he was called, against his will, to the ministry. His intellectual acumen is reminded by Benedict’s address to the University of Regensburg.” (Frank Arden)

    Thank you for your interesting response, Mr. Arden. I don’t want to be too hard on the current Pope; I think you are right he is a brilliant man.

    But there is another irony that I didn’t point out in my earlier comment about John, XXIII. At just about the time that Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was literally putting his life on the line to save Hungarian, Romanian, Slovakian, Bulgarian, Greek and Turkish Jews from the gas chambers scattered across central and eastern Europe, Joseph Ratzinger was marching in formation with the Hitler Youth.

    In fairness to Ratzinger he had no choice but to join and he claims to have been an unenthusiastic member. It is also true that one of Ratzinger’s cousins was killed by the Nazis for the crime of having Down Syndrome.

    I am not suggesting that Ratzinger was a Nazi but I do think that while Roncalli was saving Jews, Ratzinger was required to serve a regime pledged to exterminating them. There is irony there.

    I also think it’s fair to say that when it comes to Catholic-Jewish relations, Ratzinger is no Roncalli. Ratzinger restored the Tridentine Mass which is clearly more problematic for Jews and he lifted the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, a prominent Holocaust denier. Ratzinger also reversed the excommunication of other prominent Bishops from the Society of St. Pius X; an organization that never reconciled itself to Roncalli’s reconciliation with the Jews.

    If one can generalize, I think it’s fair to say that many Jews loved Roncalli and really liked John Paul II. Jewish relations with Benedict XVI are not nearly as warm as with some of his most recent predecessors.

  • Frank Arden

    Wigwag,

    I continue to find good company with your comments.

    You are quite right to point to the not-so-subtle irony between Roncalli and Ratzinger. And if I can generalize, I think the whole world loved John XXIII. This good priest probably helped more Jews escape Nazis with his influence than any single man. His efforts might be compared to an “Underground Railroad” except that the things he did were above ground. When he died I was only nine years old, but profoundly interested as the College of Cardinals chose Giovanni Montini, arguably a more conservative pope, at least a more traditionalist one.

    And yet, Pope Paul VI allowed the ecumenism and liberal accommodations of Vatican II to continue unfettered. Perhaps it was time. If anything, it represents the ecumenism of John XXIII in the Nostrum Aetate (Our Time):

    “True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures…”

    There exists a clear parallel with this document and Roncalli’s soulful words:

    “We are conscious today that many, many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recognise in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, or shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we know what we did.”

    I think Roncalli was a sincere liberal reformer whose values were reinforced by fascism and Ratzinger is a sincere conservative whose values were tested by fascism. No doubt both men were shaped by those awful times.

    On the other hand, the reforms of Vatican II encroached upon the Liturgy and Latin Mass that reduced its majesty to the flat sounds of everyday, common English and buried the high church resonance of a pipe organ under the plucks and strums of a pedestrian guitar.

    Please think me not a hypocrite as my own church’s Articles or Religion hold:

    “It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of its Primitive Church, to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, not understanded of the people.”

    Yes, so true.

    Yet, were I a Roman Catholic, who had heard the rhythm and resonance of the Latin Mass since childhood, I would have found something lost in the auditory reforms of Vatican II.

    This is not unlike the Episcopal Church that forced its congregations to adopt a new Book of Common Prayer with revisions from modern (or post-modern) authorities who challenged the beautiful resonance of Thomas Cranmer’s genius.

    For example, here’s Cranmer’s English translation of the Collect for Purity from Latin, 1662 (as per the 1928 Book of Common Prayer):

    Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    And here’s the 1979 revision:

    Almighty God, to You all hearts are open, all desires known, and from You no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Which one sounds better when you humbly recite it Sunday mornings, on your knees, before the Eucharist?

    It’s far from the radical changes Vatican II allowed to the traditional Latin Mass, but suffice it to stand as an example of the disruption to the ear of poetry and the souls of Roman Catholics who knew what the Latin words meant even if they didn’t know what they said. William F. Buckley (a Catholic married to an Episcopalian) remarked about this years ago.

    But, I digress.

    Back to the issue at hand;

    Perhaps Benedict XVI’s conservative efforts are to defend the Christian Church and to consolidate and to defend its precious culture of Christian societies against the coming Islamic onslaught. He is most right to do so. Things change. Times change. Perhaps he believes our times are best used to defend Christianity. Perhaps he knows it’s time for Jews defend Christianity. It truly is their last, best hope.

    Perhaps John XXIII’s liberal efforts were to absolve the Christian Church, and Jews, and to share its precious culture with a liberated world.

    Either way, both men are gifts to this sorry world. Neither is perfect in spite of the Magisterium claimed by the Roman Church. No man is.

    I guess that’s why I’m a poor, struggling, sinning Episcopalian who aspires to be a Christian someday.

  • WigWag

    “On the other hand, the reforms of Vatican II encroached upon the Liturgy and Latin Mass that reduced its majesty to the flat sounds of everyday, common English and buried the high church resonance of a pipe organ under the plucks and strums of a pedestrian guitar.” (Frank Arden)

    That may be, but I am sure you can understand why a prayer from the Good Friday liturgy of the Tridentine Mass, which says,
    “Oremus et pro perfidies Judaeis” (Let us pray for the perfidious Jews)is something most Jews find highly objectionable. This form of the prayer dates to 1570 and has been used to justify the most horrible treatment of Jews by numerous Catholic Popes and monarchs.

    It is little wonder that Roncalli’s innovation, which edited the prayer to
    “Oremus et pro Judaeis” (Let us pray for the Jews), was a welcome redaction. The omission of the word “perfidious” hardly seems to detract from the poetic majesty of the Latin mass; what I don’t know is whether Pope Benedict’s restoration of the Tridentine Mass uses the form in use before Roncalli’s changes.

    By the way, Roncalli did more to purge anti-Semitism than just make this one edit. Attempts by the Church to encourage Jews to convert have always been a touchy issue, especially in the aftermath of the holocaust when the worldwide Jewish population has been so severely diminished.

    Roncalli eliminated from the rite of baptism the phrase used for Jewish catechumens: “Horresce Jusaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraicam superstitionem” (Disavow Jewish unbelieving, deny Hebrew superstition).

    It doesn’t make the Jewish community any happier about Christian attempts to convert Jews but it certainly makes the conversion ritual itself somewhat less offensive.

  • Frank Arden

    WigWag,

    You said, “…I am sure you can understand why a prayer from the Good Friday liturgy of the Tridentine Mass, which says, ‘Oremus et pro perfidies Judaeis’ (Let us pray for the perfidious Jews) is something most Jews find highly objectionable. This form of the prayer dates to 1570 and has been used to justify the most horrible treatment of Jews by numerous Catholic Popes and monarchs.”
    Yes, you are right again. I do understand this pejorative phrase and why “perfidious” is a term Jews found objectionable. Thank you for awakening my interest.

    But, to refine my understanding, I consulted several dictionaries in my humble library in an effort to hone down to the best definition of the word. I finally settled on Black’s Law Dictionary (Fifth Edition) that holds” “Perfidy… the act of one who has engaged his faith to do a thing, and does not do it, but does the contrary. Faithlessness, treachery, violation of a promise or vow or trust reposed.”

    Jews espouse the Ecclesiastical Law from the authority of Old Testament and from the Talmud. “Perfidy” is a legal term associated with the breaking of a trust. Lack of faith and treachery were common to all definitive sources, but I thought the legal one was most appropriate to this discussion about anti-Semitism and ecumenism.

    My criticism of Vatican II’s revisions was a general lament of the Latin to the vernacular; the majesty of that prose to the flat sounds of everyday English (or French or Spanish for that matter). I am sensitive of changes to the sound of Liturgy. I believe it has a subtle effect upon the resonance of a contemplative soul. As a conservative Episcopalian, I prefer the sonorous prose of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer to the caustic revisions to vernacular English of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

    What I did not know before reading your post was of the substantive changes attributed John XXIII (and later to Paul VI), in the third of the Solemn Collects in Good Friday’s “Prayer for the (perfidies of) Jews”. I was inclined to look to Thomas Cranmer’s original translation from the Latin in 1547, 1552, the BCP of 1662 and the revised 1928 and 1979 BCPs of the Church of England and the Episcopal Church’s revision of this anti-Semitic insult.

    Cranmer’s 1547 and 1552 Good Friday translation of Latin of the third Solemn Collect for Good Friday is consistent with 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (the last authorized by Parliament) and the 1789 version of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America:

    “Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home…”

    The final 1928 version (begun in 1904) of the Church of England’s BCP (never approved by Parliament):

    “Have mercy upon thine ancient people the Jews, and upon all who have not known thee, or who deny the faith of Christ crucified; take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home…”

    Compare these with the 1928 version of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America:

    “Have mercy upon all who know thee not as thou art revealed in the Gospel of thy Son. Take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt for thy Word; and so fetch them home…”

    And just to give an example of the lack of soulful resonance in the 1979 version of the BCP of the EPUSA:

    “Have compassion on all who do not know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; let your Gospel be preached with grace and power to those who have not heard it; turn the hearts of those who resist it; and bring home to your fold those who have gone astray…”

    John XXIII’s (and Paul VI’s) Vatican II edit in the 1960’s of the third collect (in present liturgical use) from “Oremus et pro perfidies Judaeis” (Let us pray for the perfidious Jews) to “Oremus et pro Judaeis” (Let us pray for the Jews) was, indeed, a welcome redaction of a clearly pejorative term that echo’s the Church of England’s 1928 revision.

    Interestingly, this was not the first time the request was made from within the Roman Church to address the Jewish complaint. John XXIII’s predecessor, Pius XII, made no revisions in the liturgy but, instead, tried to make an Orwellian re-definition of the adjective “perfidious” to exclude “treachery” under the wishful thinking that the Latin word “perfidies” meant only “unbelieving”.

    To conclude, Thomas Cranmer’s original translations from Latin to English were revised in a process that began in 1904 and finished in 1928 that predated by fifty years Rome’s edits by the heroic, sincere and much beloved John XXIII. What the English speaking peoples accomplished before the Holocaust was finally done by the Latinate after the Holocaust.

    Perhaps the English said to the Jews, “We are many Josephs, your brethren.”

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