Jewish-Christian Encounters over the Centuries: Symbiosis, Prejudice, Holocaust, Dialogue

Jewish-Christian Encounters over the Centuries: Symbiosis, Prejudice, Holocaust, Dialogue

Jewish-Christian Encounters over the Centuries: Symbiosis, Prejudice, Holocaust, Dialogue

Jewish-Christian Encounters over the Centuries: Symbiosis, Prejudice, Holocaust, Dialogue


The 19 essays of this book are exceptional in that, together, they cover the entire span of relations between Jews and Christians from the time of Jesus to the present. This lengthy period and complex subject required many experts and specialists, many of whom are famous in their fields. They have, however, created works of synthesis written in non-technical language and designed largely for the interested general reader and non-specialist as well as for students seeking to come to an understanding of one of the great issues of our time. Some of the themes highlighted in this book are: Judaism and Christianity in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Christian theory and practice towards the Jews from the Church Fathers through the Reformation; Judaism as interpreted in German biblical scholarship; modern antisemitism and philosemitism; policies and postures of the Allies and of the Vatican during World War II; and the several Christian attempts at reformulation since the Holocaust, culminating with Pope John Paul II.


Two ancient peoples are the source of the Western tradition--the Greeks who originated scientific and philosophical thought, and the Hebrews, who conceived the idea of ethical monotheism. The Hebrews' view of God led in turn to a new view of the individual. The Hebrews believed that God, who possessed total freedom himself, had bestowed moral freedom on human beings. Of all his creations, only men and women had been given the freedom to choose between righteousness and wickedness. The idea that each person is responsible for his or her actions gave new value and dignity to the individual. Inherited by Christianity, these ancient Jewish conceptions of moral autonomy and human dignity are central to the Western tradition.

The links between early Christianity and Judaism were strong. Early Christianity's affirmation of the preciousness of the human being who was created in God's image, its belief that God rules history, its awareness of human sinfulness, its call for repentance, and its appeal to God for forgiveness are rooted in Judaism. The concept of the messiah, respect for the sabbath, congregational worship, and the notion of conversion also stem from Judaism. The Christian invocation of God as a "merciful Father" derives from Jewish prayer. Also rooted in Judaism are the moral norms proclaimed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Because of these strong connecting links, we speak of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. However, as Christianity distanced and dis-identified itself from Judaism, it also developed an antisemitic tradition, replete with irrational myths, that has had tragic consequences.

Numerous scholars have analyzed the links between modern antisemitism and traditional Christian attitudes towards Jews and Judaism. Nationalist and racist antisemites may have broken with their Christian origins, but they retained a Christian antipathy towards Jews, updating and secularizing venomous myths about Judaism that had roots in the Christian past. Christian myths that demonized Jews generated irrational hatred and fear that nourished modern antisemitism and made the Holocaust possible.

Immediately after Auschwitz, few people would indulge in antisemitic rhetoric, and it seemed that Jew-baiters had forfeited their audiences. Lately, however, antisemitism has undergone a resurgence, particularly in eastern Europe where an extreme nationalism threatens to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of communism. That antisemitic movements have re-emerged in lands which have . . .

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