Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Rehearing Buber's Jesus Deepens Jewish-Christian Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Rehearing Buber's Jesus Deepens Jewish-Christian Dialogue

Article excerpt

When I have to deal with the ... faith of Jesus, it is incumbent upon me to hold to ... the one voice, recognizable ever anew, that speaks to my ear out of a series of undoubtedly genuine sayings.

--Martin Buber, The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism

For Martin Buber (1878-1965), Jesus was "a Jew to the core, in whom the Jewish desire for realization was concentrated and in whom it came to a breakthrough." (1) Buber took his stand in relation to Jesus "at that point in the midst of the events reported in the New Testament where the 'Christian' branches off from the 'Jewish'." (2) Drawing a boundary line between the faith of Israel and Hellenistic Christianity, between the Synoptic Gospels and Paul's Letters, Buber distinguished the actual, historical Jesus, raised in the genuine Jewish tradition of Urjudentum--an unquenchable quest for a spontaneous, intimate, passionate relationship with God--from the later Christian theological image of the Christ, the Logos, who becomes the "way" to God. (3) Buber held that Christian teaching "has turned the meaning and the ground of Jesus upside down," asserting that "[t]herefore I mean to and will fight for Jesus and against Christianity." (4) As part of this project, Buber located manifestations of Jesus' inborn nobility in "the plain, concrete and situation-bound dialogicism [Dialogik] of the original man of the Bible [urbiblischen Menschen], who found eternity, not in the supertemporal spirit, but in the depth of the actual moment." (5) It is no wonder, then, that for Buber the "high faith" and "fervent devotion" of human wholeness (der volkommene Mensch) (6) came to realization in moments of situation-specific dialogic encounters.

The irony of Buber's attempt to situate a dialogic Jesus in relation to Jewish tradition is that his statements about Jesus were met with vehement resistance by both Christians and Jews. For some Jews, Buber spoke too positively about Jesus and deviated too much from the teachings of the ancient rabbis; for some Christians, Buber spoke too negatively about Jesus, especially when he described the Gnostic nature of Paul's Christ of faith and the mystical nature of John's Jesus as the preexistent Logos. As will be shown, however, Buber did not intend to view Jesus as either traditional Christianity or traditional Jewish theology has understood him. (7) Instead, Buber's work helps us identify four dialogic refractions of Jesus' unified soul. Jesus is figured as son, relating with his whole being intimately and immediately to bis father; as teacher, announcing and living the redemptive necessity of turning and trusting; as leader, challenging disciples to follow God as the way-determiner who goes on ahead of Israel; and as servant, asking disciples for a personal response to being God-anointed. Each refraction of Jesus' indivisible wholeness, according to Buber, expresses itself in the unified soul of his living voice.

Before elaborating more clearly on how these aspects of Jesus illuminate Buber's thoroughly Jewish message, Messianic self-consciousness, and thus his relationship with God, it is important to speak briefly about his textual hermeneutics. Buber's interpretive practice engages scriptural texts both scientifically and experientially in a hermeneutics of retrieval meant to offer a method for encountering the genuine spokenness of Jesus' voice. After discussing Buber's hermeneutical practices and considering his particular views of Jesus' groundedness in Jewish tradition, I will discuss the relevance of Buber's dialogic thought to interfaith encounters. Looking through a Buberian lens, it becomes clear that the very "dialogicism" that enspirits Jesus also offers a "key" for reinvigorating interreligious conversations, especially between Jews and Christians.

Dialogical Hermeneutics

On Buber's second visit to America in 1957, after his well-known encounter with Carl Rogers at the University of Michigan, he met with a group of scholars--including Reinhold Niebuhr, James Muilenberg, Joseph Campbell, Walter Kaufmann, Malcolm Diamond, and Michael Wyschogrod--for a seminar in biblical faith at Columbia University. …

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