Catholics and Jews in the ‘New Republic’
There are two book reviews in the June 7 issue of the New Republic that may be of interest to Commonweal readers. The first is “The Border Crossers,” Peter E. Gordon’s terrific and comprehensive review of John Connelly’s book From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965. Connelly is a frequent Commonweal contributor, and an excerpt from his book appeared in our March 24 issue: “Nazi Racism & the Church: How Converts Showed the Way to Resist.” (Another Connelly article relevant to this book, and this review, is his 2008 piece “Reformer & Racialist: Karl Adam’s Paradoxical Legacy.”)
According to Gordon,
It is one of the central lessons of Connelly’s book that the bonds of empathy that made Nostra aetate a historical possibility are far more fragile, and less expansive, than one might care to imagine…. The history of Nostra aetate, writes Connelly, may stand as an instructive lesson on both “the sources but also the limits of solidarity.”
The book sounds fascinating; the review itself is good material for reflection. Here’s Gordon on Connelly’s exploration of the phenomenon of “border crossing” — the conversion of Jews to Christianity, and their vital role in overcoming Catholic anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism:
Although he readily acknowledged his Jewish heritage, [John] Oesterreicher insisted that his efforts to dismantle Catholicism’s tradition of anti-Jewish prejudice represented the genuinely Christian vision.
But it is the major thrust of Connelly’s book that this was not so: Christian empathy toward Jews did not spring spontaneously from Christian sources, he argues, nor did it spring from Judaism. It emerged instead only from the experience of crossing, such that the other could persist within the new self. The Church, Connelly suggests, would not have been capable of coming to this vision without the curious doubling of identity that was brought into its sacred walls from those who, by birth or by faith, would have once been considered outsiders. And if this is true, then the facts of Oesterreicher’s biography hold stronger explanatory weight than his own statements to the contrary. The transgression of borders may leave marks that even the transgressor will not care to acknowledge.
Gordon also comments insightfully on Connelly’s recourse to Scripture:
As a historian, Connelly tries as much as he can to avoid making theological statements of his own—but occasionally one catches sight of a different scholar, who seems drawn to Scripture as the moral standard by which the actions of the Church may be judged deficient. Connelly never openly acknowledges the use of this higher measure, as it would stand in conflict with the imperatives of modern historicism, for which there can be no transcendent norm. But history is only enriched when it opens itself to other modes of thought. This, too, is a kind of border-crossing, and its conflictual energies may help to explain the considerable drama of Connelly’s book.
The other review I’m recommending goes deeper into Scripture scholarship: “The Jew Who Would Be God” is Peter Schäfer’s take on Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ. Schäfer (author of The Jewish Jesus: How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other) accuses Boyarin of too little research and too much conceit:
He does not even bother to mention the relevant literature. Instead he pretends to have invented this wheel, and attributes the discovery of the pre-Christian binitarian Jewish theology to himself.
Much careful chapter-and-verse analysis follows, which you may read for yourself. Allow me to skip ahead to one more pithy assessment from Schäfer of The Jewish Gospels:
Boyarin’s book leaves the reader irritated and sad. It has very little that is new to offer—and what appears to be new is wildly speculative and highly idiosyncratic. Even judged by its commendable intentions—to win over dogmatic defenders of the perfect uniqueness of Christianity or Judaism—it is disappointing. As the younger Talmud professor in the acclaimed Israeli movie Footnote says to his hapless student, “There are many correct and new aspects in your paper—only what is new isn’t correct and what is correct isn’t new.”
Which allows me to offer one final internal recommendation before you head off to the New Republic: Rand Richards Cooper’s review of Footnote is here.