The Next Pope Could Be Progressive and Transform Relations With Jews

Don't Assume Cardinals Will Pick Benedict-Style Conservative

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By John Connelly

Published February 17, 2013.
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They were deeply influenced by the reasoning of Jules Isaac, a French-Jewish historian who had written a study called Jesus and Israel while in hiding during WWII (his wife and daughter did not survive). Isaac concluded that anti-Judaic readings of Christian scripture were not necessary, but were produced by anti-Judaic lens that Christians had worn throughout history.

It was absurd, said Isaac, to claim that the Jewish people had rejected or crucified Christ: because of their dispersion around the Mediterranean in that time, most Jews did not even know he existed. Isaac’s challenge was worded not in terms of revelation, which he left untouched, but in terms of historical knowledge, and critical, scholarly readings of texts. No doubt the Gospels portray harsh invective by Jesus against Jewish authorities, but they do not record enmity of Christ against Jews or Judaism. On the contrary, Isaac assures us, “with rare exceptions, wherever Jesus went the Jewish people took him to their hearts.” He heaped “signs of love and compassion on them in return.”

In the scholarship on Paul that has followed the trail blazed by Jules Isaac two things stand out: first that if one wants to understand what Paul thought about the Jews one must read his letters and not what others said about him (for example in Acts of the Apostles).

When one does that one sees that Paul was a faithful Jew who thought that Jews should live according to the law. Second, Paul was capable of learning, and therefore his letter to the Romans, as his last letter, has added weight , incorporating the culmination of his reflections. It is also the only statement in Christian scripture where the author speaks directly to readers about the Jewish people. Other references are indirect.

Therefore, the Vatican II reading is not only Catholic teaching: it emerged from and is solidly embedded in a widely held scholarly consensus which claims not only that the old anti-Judaic readings of Christian scripture were harmful and unnecessary, but that they were wrong.


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