Pope book on Jews: how original is its insight?

It would have been surprising if Pope Benedict had resurrected the age-old antisemitic accusation that the Jews as a people were responsible for Jesus' death. But in part two of Jesus of Nazareth, out next week, he provides some interesting further scriptural and theological justification for debunking the idea.

Just how original and substantial this contribution is, however, is harder for this mere journalist to judge. The problem with a Pope wading into scriptural exegesis -- and he still is the Pope, despite being at pains to stress that this is a personal contribution rather than magisterial teaching -- is that other scholars are likely to be more polite than they would otherwise be.


At this morning's press conference in London to launch the book, Sr Margaret Shepherd, secretary of the committee for Catholic-Jewish relations of the Catholic  Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the Pope offers "original insights", and "takes further" the modern Church's rejection of the deicide charge against the Jews "by providing scriptural depth to our understanding of it".

"At every turn", she says, "he's saying: this is not the Jews as such. At each moment he makes that denial ... He sets out to do that, and does it repeatedly. And I think that's to be welcomed."

But, I asked, does it add anything to what the 1965 declaration by the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate, made clear?

"It does in the sense that he's teasing it out," she manfully answered.  "He's looking at the texts and engaging with them. That is his contribution."

As the extract here at In All Things shows, the Pope believes that when St John speaks of the Jews, he means specifically the temple aristocracy; and when, in St Matthew's account, the “whole people” say “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Pope says this "should be understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament". For, Benedict XVI says, "Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel"; it is not a curse, but a source of redemption and salvation.

Fr Joe Evans, a scripture scholar also present at this morning's press conference, said the Pope was saying something "both new and not new". It was not new in the sense that he had written in his 1998 book Many Religions, One Covenant that "even as a child I could not understand how some people wanted to derive a condemnation of Jews from the death of Jesus ... Jesus' blood raises no call for retaliation but calls all to reconciliation."

What was new was the "theological insight" that while Abel's blood demanded vengeance, the blood of Christ brings reconciliation. "Yes, the blood of Christ is on the Jewish people," said Fr Evans, "and it's on Christian people and indeed all people -- to save and not to condemn." This was a "new understanding" of the nature of what blood calls for, he added.

Interestingly, the Pope writes that Jesus' blood "is poured out for many, for all", thus carefully avoiding one of the big rows over the forthcoming English translation, which translates pro multis effundetur as "poured out for many" rather than the current "poured out for all".

Or was that a translator's deft rendition? The original text was in German; the translation was carrried out by the Vatican Secretariat of State. After all the fuss over the gender of prostitutes in Light of the World, clearly this time they were taking no chances.

But does it mean that the Secretariat of State isn't wholly committed to the new translation? (Just wondering).


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Kang Dole
7 years 10 months ago
I haven't completetly waded through the lengthy extract kindly provided in the post below, but based on these few things, it would not seem as though there's much that is particularly new here. Of course, when a subject has as long a bibliography as the Passion Narrative does, then it's damned hard to really posit much that is new, especially when writing for an audience that will presumably be broad.  The very breadth of the readership (and its potential size, when one considers the author) could be the place where something interesting happens: a well-rounded take on the material that has intelligently synthesized scholarship offered to a lot of fresh readers.

Jim McCrea
7 years 10 months ago
Catholic arrogance at its worst!  Who in their right mind thinks that Jews need exoneration by a pope or anyone else?

Shame, shame, shame.
Victor Hoagland
7 years 10 months ago

It would be regrettable to reduce the pope’s treatment of the Passion narratives to just a lengthy statement about the role and responsibility of the Jews, important as that issue is.  From what I read, he’s doing much more. He’s looking at the Passion of Jesus like other believers before have done: as a great book that reveals in those harsh and heroic moments the wisdom of God. 
He also making use of the new tools that modern scholars provide for reflecting on this great story.The Passion of Jesus has always been “the well-trained tongue” that God uses to speak to us, but we may not hear it so well today. I think the pope is trying to remind us of its power and glory. He may be also trying to figure it out for himself.  
Unfortunately we tend to say ''I know the story. I've heard it before.'' But it's a revelation of God and humanity;  “a Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”
Juan Lino
7 years 10 months ago
Why presume that the Pope's goal was to be "original"?  If he never stated that that was his goal then why bother bringing it up?  Seems silly to me to highlight imaginary issues!


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