- Redeeming Our Sacred Story: The Death of Jesus and Relations between Jews and Christians by Mary C. Boys
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (November 18, 1965), teaches that “the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God” (n. 7). Since Christians’ inadequate approaches to this sacred mirror have generated erroneous theological ideas, Dei Verbum proceeds (nn. 8–20) to explain and endorse the critical interpretation of the Bible within the Church’s life and worship.
Redeeming Our Sacred Story builds on Dei Verbum, as it aims at releasing the New Testament’s references to the Jewish people from longstanding, tragic misinterpretations. This enlightening book is the fruit of participation in Jewish-Christian dialogue by Mary C. Boys, Union Theological Seminary’s Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology and dean of academic affairs.
The book’s part I, “A Trembling Telling,” highlights the issue. On the one hand, Christians have at times wrongly appealed to Jesus’s suffering and death in support of their denigration of themselves and/or of others (for example, women, African Americans, and Jews). On the other hand, they have at other times rightly approached the cross as a “mirror” of their misery and their hope. This mirroring is often evident, for example, in the religious hymns of enslaved Black Christians (pp. 26–31).
Part II, “A Troubling Telling—and Its Tragic Consequences,” examines how the passion narratives, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Pauline letters have served as the “raw materials for hostility to Jews” (p. 47). For example, they were distorted in Nazi propaganda against Jews and Judaism, and, for centuries, they were misread [End Page 589] in the Oberammergau Passion Play’s misrepresentation of the Jewish people as “Christ killers” (pp. 104–36). A decisive, ecclesiastical effort to overcome anti-Semitic renderings of the New Testament occurred not only with the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum but also with its Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate (October 28, 1965). As Boys explains, this effort is continuing today, although not without occasional ambiguity, in the Vatican’s deliberate engagement in Jewish-Christian relations (pp. 130–36).
Part III, “A Transformed Telling,” demonstrates how Christians, building on Dei Verbum, can adopt a judicious hermeneutics to assure an accurate reading of the Bible. In particular, it proposes “eight guidelines for interpreting New Testament texts about the passion and death of Jesus” (pp. 221–26). These helpful, concrete criteria are meant to free the true “power of the story” of Jesus Christ. In pursuit of this goal, Boys illumines how the gospels’ authentic power may be experienced in the Church’s devotional practices such as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and meditations on Jesus’s “Seven Last Words.”
The epilogue observes that this book is a “synthesis,” uniting “biblical, hermeneutical, and historical studies” for the sake of “a ‘practical’ theology” (p. 258). In this vein, it recommends that Christians will discover more of the New Testament’s wisdom as they learn from Jewish interpretations of the Bible as well as from Jewish art and literature on Jesus’s Crucifixion such as that rendered by Marc Chagall and Chaim Potok (pp. 265–68).
Appearing fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, Redeeming Our Sacred Story is a significant, timely contribution to the Council’s renewal of the Church’s life, mission, and theology. Written in clear, energetic language, it is readily accessible to general readers, and it is an invaluable resource for pastors, homilists, catechists, and teachers.