Missionary Assaults on Judaism (Part 2)

By Mamlak, Gershon | Midstream, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Missionary Assaults on Judaism (Part 2)


Mamlak, Gershon, Midstream


The Enlightenment and the ensuing Emancipation of the Jews brought confusion within the intellectual ranks of Western Christianity. The social problems of the masses of humanity appeared on the arena of history. All the protests against the ancien regime, with which the savior's church has long been identified, threatened the very foundations of Christianity. With it came the need to reevaluate the gospels' denial of the terrestrial sphere of man, and to adjust he Christian ethos to the spirit of the modern age -- to attune the religion of the West to the spirit of Western Humanism.

In the post-Enlightenment epoch, this-worldly issues became the foremost concern of the spiritual elite who sought in religion an answer to, and an affirmation of, earthly ambitions. Christianity's denial of the material world plus Jesus's negation of socioeconomic and political issues became the "bleeding wound" of Christian civilization, the stumbling block of the churches. The quest for a "modified Jesus" became an intellectual Christian fad.

To reconcile the incompatibility between their humanistic theories and an awareness of pressing issues resulting from Jesus's denial of any need for earthly institutions became the problem of Christian intellectuals in modern times. The Church-tradition of Jesus as the negator of this world, Jesus's exclusive emphasis on a heavenly kingdom contradictious to all and any social, national, economic, and political problems could not be reconciled with the new ethos of Enlightenment; it conflicted with the Weltanschauung of progressive Christians.

Like Pontius Pilate of old, so too, Western intellectuals of modern times refused to accept Jesus's axiom that "his Kingdom is not of this world." Pilate's disbelief led him to crucify the living Jesus; disbelief in such a kingdom in the post-Enlightenment epoch led to a reinterpretation of Jesus's legacy. Jesus's denial of man's earthly realm had to be refurbished in an effort to "reform" and "humanize" this world. Throwing a veil over the historical sources of nascent Christianity, post-Enlightenment scholars brought into being a new ethos of Christianity: the glorification of the human person in Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet of comprehensive social reforms.

As Jesus's denial of this-worldly life was the cause of his alienation from Judaism and of his refutation of the national infrastructure of the monotheistic ideal, another scenario was required for Jesus's feud with Judaism. Jesus's conflict with Judaism was reduced to a clash with the Jewish "establishment"; the "corrupt" Temple priest-hood, the "dry legalists" who were "choking" the prophetic spirit of Biblical Judaism!

The fervor with which Christian humanists began to construct a new image of Jesus and a different scenario of his clash with Judaism was de facto an admission that Judaism's mentors had been justified in their opposition to Jesus's ministry, a confession of the original sin of incipient Christianity against Judaism. Despite the heralding of European intellectuals about their return to the "glorious" world of Classical Hellas, it was to the "despised" treasuries of Judaism that they looked for a solution to the clash between the humanistic spirit of the new age and the basic doctrines of Christianity!

The awareness that religion is meaningless when severed from existential problems justified the view that Jesus's teaching was alien to Judaism. It was Judaism's positive attitude about the role of religion in the this-worldly realm -- the task of man and human collectives to find in religion guidance for daily problems -- that made Jesus negate Judaism.

The symbolism of the Church depicting Judaism as a blindfolded, decaying figure vis-a-vis the youthful, proud, and farsighted figure of Christianity turned out to be a truth-in-reverse. It was Jesus's Weltbeneinung that was based on blindness to the the existential problems of human collectives. …

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