Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity

Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity

Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity

Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity


The Vatican II Council of 1965 signaled a new era in the relationship of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Determined to free the Church of the anti-Jewish polemic which led to such widespread suffering of the innocent, Catholic authorities completely revised their conceptions of Jews and Judaism. Soon, many mainstream Protestant churches also issued a series of official statements that affirm the eternal nature of God's ancient covenant with Israel. An entirely new category of theologyemerged as part of the developing Jewish-Christian dialogue, and gradually Jewish theologians began to respond. Opening The Covenant represents a significant advance in Jewish thinking about Christianity. Michael Kogan delves deeply into the theologies of the two faiths to locate precise points of difference and convergence. He sees Christianity as the breaking open of the original Covenant to include gentile peoples. God has brought this about, says Kogan, through the work of Jesus and his interpreters. If Christianity is a divinely inspired movement, then Judaism must reevaluate its truth-claims. This will in no way compromise the truth of Judaism itself but will cause Jews to understand their own faith more fully by locating it in the larger context of God's universal redemptive plan. Kogan calls for each tradition to receive the wisdom of the other as a means of self-understanding. Once each faith is freed to find God's purpose in the other, the way will be opento a liberating pluralism in which Jews and Christians come to see each other as Israelite siblings sharing a universal role as God's witnesses, the builders of God's Kingdom on earth. Neither faith can do this world-redemptive work alone. Kogan argues that an affirmation of one's own religion can still provide space for the truth of the "other," and presents a theory of multiple revelations of truth flowing from the one God of all.


According to a well-known account, in the early 1960s, Pope John XXIII was celebrating a Holy Week liturgy at St. Peter’s in Rome. Suddenly he gave a signal that abruptly interrupted the worship. The choir had just referred to “the perfidious Jews,” a line that had been part of the liturgy for many centuries. The pope announced that never again were those words to be spoken in Roman Catholic worship.

That watershed occurrence is usually seen as a milestone in church recognition of the humanity of Jews, but much more was involved, as later events were to bear out. At the heart of the pope’s objection to the phrase was the adjective “perfidious,” faithless.

The point he was making was not only that Christians should no longer speak contemptuously of Jews but also that Christianity should evaluate Judaism in positive, rather than negative, terms. Jews were to be seen as people of faith, if not Christian faith. This action by a great and farsighted Catholic leader ushered in a new phase of Jewish-Christian reconciliation.

There followed Vatican II and its document, Nostra Aetate, issued in 1965, with its groundbreaking statement on Roman Catholic relations with Jews and Judaism. The charge that Jews of the past or present were collectively guilty for the death of Jesus was rejected as historical nonsense and theological poison. The Jewish roots of Christianity were recognized and the kinship of the two faiths was affirmed. The validity of Judaism as a relationship between humankind and God was upheld.

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