Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Comparing Spiritualities: Formative Christianity and Judaism on Finding Life and Meeting Death

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Comparing Spiritualities: Formative Christianity and Judaism on Finding Life and Meeting Death

Article excerpt

Comparing Spiritualities: Formative Christianity and Judaism on Finding Life and Meeting Death. By Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner. Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2000. xv +140 pp. $16.00 (paper).

Neusner and Chilton present a reflection on several "existential" issues, common to Judaism and Christianity, but peculiar in their meaning to each religion: how one knows God, how one faces death, and the shape and character of martyrdom. The book seeks to outline characteristic "spiritualities," in both their intellectual and practical form, in a comparative manner, basing their summaries on the "formative" texts-that is to say, the "classical" and 11 normative" documents-of each tradition. As a whole, the volume offers a useful lens through which to approach fundamental areas of human concern from within each of these two faith contexts, and could function as a stimulating introductory text for a range of students, from advanced adult groups to seminarians.

The volume, however, is uneven in its intellectual tone and content. Both Neusner and Chilton are stellar scholars, the former almost a legend of gargantuan intellectual prodigiousness in his studies of especially Talmudic Judaism, and the latter a New Testament academic and priest who has already built up an extensive and coherent oeuvre on the character of Jesus' teaching and attitudes. The two have collaborated before on studies, and in the present book seek to lay out a kind of basic groundwork of comparative religious practice. The concluding chapter (whose language and interests seem to be Chilton's) explains certain methodological orientations that distinguish the book's approach from more common choices within the academychoices that moor the understanding of religions in their "self-explanations," rather than in more speculative theoretical models drawn from other human sciences.

Neusner's contributions are the more self-evident of the two. They rely on primarily rabbinic sources, are unencumbered with historical details and footnotes, and present, in each case, fairly straightforward characterizations of "classical Judaism" on the respective topics. His stress on the "communal" meaning of Jewish understandings of these matters-knowing God through Torah study in the public context of Israel and synagogue, death and martyrdom as Israel-figures of humility and restoration-are perhaps generalizations that some would consider sweeping, but may be helpful entries for nonJewish students. …

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