Christians & Jews: Starting Over: Why the Real Dialogue Has Just Begun

By Johnson, Luke Timothy | Commonweal, January 31, 2003 | Go to article overview

Christians & Jews: Starting Over: Why the Real Dialogue Has Just Begun


Johnson, Luke Timothy, Commonweal


How should Christians think about Jews? Or better, how should Christians think about themselves with reference to Judaism? This will always be a necessary question for Christians to ask, and will never be an easy question for them to answer.

It is a necessary question because Christians and Jews each lay claim to the same body of sacred texts and the story found in them, but do so in such different terms that each claim appears to challenge the other. It is necessary as well because Jews and Christians share a history of internecine rivalry. The primal trauma experienced by the first Christians is expressed in the New Testament's polemic against non-believing Jews. Christian payback extends across the long centuries of anti-Semitism supported and even sponsored by the church. Figuring out how Christianity should approach Judaism is necessary also because the Holocaust of the twentieth century and the subsequent rise of the state of Israel have fundamentally altered the terms of the conversation.

Recent exchanges in this and other journals indicate that the question remains as difficult as ever. Even as many Jewish scholars and religious leaders seek a more informed and less inflammatory context for constructive conversation (see Christianity in Jewish Terms, Westview Press), others find additional reasons for rage, not only because of the uncovering of historical evidence concerning the church's role in the Holocaust, but because of the Vatican's obtuseness in pursuing the canonization of Pius IX, Pius XII, and Edith Stein (see "Continuing the Conversation: The Church and Daniel Goldhagen," Commonweal, March 8, 2002). Christian voices are equally divided and perhaps even more confused. A good example of the distortions introduced by supersessionism is a recent exchange in America ("Covenant and Mission," October 21, 2002) between Avery Dulles--who thinks that, despite everything, Christians should still proselytize Jews--and members of the Christian Scholars Group of Jewish-Christian Relations (Mary Boys, Philip Cunningham, and John Pawlikowski)--who defend their statement that, "revising Christian teaching about Judaism and the Jewish people is a central and indispensable obligation of theology in our time."

I do not hope to answer the question of how Christians should think about Jews, because I think that is the wrong way to put the question. Instead, I hope to suggest a way that Christians might begin to think of themselves with reference to Jews. If Christianity is not supersessionist, is it anything? I think so. But discovering what Christianity is apart from supersessionism will require more work and clearer thinking than has usually been in evidence.

The charm of supersessionism

It is an odd word, supersessionism. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, a reference work that defines almost everything, has no entry for it. The term is traditionally used for the conviction that the church has replaced Israel as God's chosen people. Israel has lost its place and Christianity now occupies it. Supersessionism is shorthand for the dominant Christian theological position regarding the Jews.

The claim that supersessionism is explicit in the writings of the New Testament exaggerates. The New Testament, it is true, provides plenty of ammunition for later supersessionist arguments. Avery Dulles defends the idea, expressed in Hebrews 10:9, that Christ "abolishes the first [covenant] in order to establish the second," but the New Testament compositions were not written from a position of Christian superiority to Judaism. They were, rather, composed in the context of competition among sects within the framework of Judaism. For Dulles to speak of Hebrews as "the most formal statement on the status of the Sinai covenant under Christianity," is, at the very least, anachronistic.

Supersessionism in the proper sense emerges in the middle and late second century, when Christianity had become almost entirely Gentile, and when history seemed to be running against the Jews.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Christians & Jews: Starting Over: Why the Real Dialogue Has Just Begun
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.