Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow by Hans Kung

Article excerpt

Kung is the brilliant head of an impressive German academic enterprise that regularly produces large, deeply researched theology books. Writing theology is no longer a cottage industry of the solitary scholar. His enterprise, the Institute for Ecumenical Research at Tubingen, has some interesting parallels to other highly successful German technological growth industries. To venture an analogy, this treatise on Judaism is to theological books what the Mercedes 600 is to the world of automobiles. As with the Mercedes, the overall design may not be compelling but the technical details are awesome. The design of the book reflects a guiding genius--Hans Kung. The constitutive parts are the work of a group of highly trained specialists pondering hundreds of sources. At 753 pages, its dimensions approach those of a stretch limousine taking the reader from 2000 B.C. to the postmodern paradigm of a still uncertain future. The myriad of themes and opinions treated in the book, we are assured in the introduction, has been field-tested in colleges and universities all over the world. The cooperation of Jewish scholars and politicians certify the authenticity of its contents. To forestall fatuous criticism, Kung presents his ideas not as final conclusions but as suggestive insights reflecting the balance of scholarly opinions. With disarming honesty, he muses over the propriety of yet another Christian telling Jews who they are theologically.

This book is a theological, historical analysis of the traditions of Judaism written, according to its dedication, to help establish peace among the religious communities of the world through dialogue. However, dialogue is only possible if there is understanding by the religious communities of one another's traditions. But how do Christians, Muslims, and others concerned with Judaism come to understand its complex history? If one is not to be lost in historical details, there must be some overarching interpretive scheme to guide understanding. In wrestling with finding meaning in Jewish history, Kung places himself in a line of theologians and historians that got its impetus from Hegel. In this vision, intelligibility is found in history when its complexities are understood as part of an unfolding dynamic process. While the flow of history is mysterious and tragic, it is not random or chaotic. There are in history vast concretions of social, political, economic, spiritual, and intellectual energy that give characteristic shape to each age. Certain basic themes or ideas appear in history in a variety of forms expressing the spirit of the time. Historians and theologians speak of these patterns of meaning as "moments," "archetypes," "motifs," or "essences" that render the history of human religiousness intelligible. The history of religion is teleological. New forms of religiousness replace their predecessors in a complex logic known to the great interpreters of that history. Kung does not depend upon the overly neat dialectic of the classical Hegelian history of religion. He utilizes an analytical scheme of changing paradigms developed by the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn. According to Kuhn, the paradigm of a particular community at a point in its history establishes not only its theoretical constructs but its very perception of reality. …