- Jewish-Christian Relations: The First Centuries by Abel Mordecai Bibliowicz, and: Jesus Reclaimed: Jewish Perspectives on the Nazarene by Walter Homolka
The authors of both of these books are Jews active in dialogue with Christians. Homolka's short and very readable book surveys the scholarship over the past two centuries of the quest for the historical Jesus and the involvement of Jewish scholars in that quest. Bibliowicz meticulously goes through the New Testament (NT) and the works of some of the Fathers of the church on Jews and Judaism, challenging scholars in the field to rethink ideas with regard to the interpretation of the NT and the development of the ancient Christian teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism. I highly recommend both books for anyone interested in the Jewish-Christian dialogue today.
Jesus Reclaimed focuses especially on German and Jewish scholarship. There is an excellent foreword by Leonard Swidler and preface by Ingrid Shafer. After a brief look in the Introduction at the historical sources for recreating the life and death of Jesus, Homolka discusses Jesus as presented in the Mishnah and the Talmud and in the Jewish apologetical/polemical work, Toledoth Yeshu, which argues, among other things, that the disciples stole and hid the body of Jesus so that they could falsely claim that he had been raised from the dead. Toledoth Yeshu, Homolka correctly states, is "evidence of the suffering of the Jews in the Middle Ages" and quotes Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz that "The Christians shed our blood, we merely shed ink" (p. 18). There is a brief survey of rabbinic polemics directed at Jesus and Christian belief in the Incarnation and with Christian (mis)reading and censorship of the Talmud. Chapter 2 summarizes the scholarly "quest for the historical Jesus" and the debates and controversies that occurred between leading Christian and Jewish scholars in the field. [End Page 349]
In Chapter 3 Homolka takes an extended look at the presentation of Jesus in the work of his fellow German scholar, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), criticizing Ratzinger for viewing Jesus solely through the lens of Christian doctrine, especially the doctrine of the Incarnation, and thus, in essence, missing the point of the life and teachings of Jesus, who was a pious Jew of his time. I underscore Homolka's point that Jesus and the apostles were not Christians, but Jews steeped in the Bible of their Jewish people. He concludes by noting that Jesus has been integrated into Jewish literature (and, I would add, art, e.g., Chagall); despite the differences in their theological understandings of Jesus, there is much that can be used in Jewish-Christian dialogue now and in the future. The book includes an extensive and very useful bibliography (pp. 117–134).
While Jesus Reclaimed is a brief and very helpful summary of a large body of scholarly work, Jewish-Christian Relations, which makes use of that scholarship, re-visits each book of the NT, seeking in them the source of the negative (and false) portrayals of Jews and Judaism that developed in the early centuries of the church. The book has excellent forewords by two leading scholars in the field, Norman A. Beck and Clark M. Williamson. Much of what has been taken as anti-Jewish polemic in the NT, Bibliowicz argues, is a reflection of the rivalry between the original Jewish followers of Jesus and the gentile followers (and their Jewish supporters) brought into the church under the rubric of Paul, who convinced the early church Fathers that gentiles could become Christians by taking the Jewish mikvah, ritual bath. Rabbinic Judaism does require the mikvah for conversion to Judaism. We Christians call it "baptism." But, when they have become Christians, Paul argued successfully, they do not need to observe the whole of the Law but only the...