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The Fathers and the Jews

The Tablet published an op-ed that more than hints the Fathers were anti-Jewish. Globetrotting gurublogger Gashwin Gomes gives good graces back to the ancients, linking here once, twice, or thrice along the way.

I think it’s bad form to judge the Fathers anti-Jewish — or, for that matter, the rabbis of the Talmud anti-Christian. Neither the Fathers nor the rabbis were playing by our 21st-century rules. There are no third-century examples of bureaus of interreligious affairs, staffed by career clerical diplomats. Our ancestors, Christians and Jews, did religious controversy the rough-and-tumble way. I don’t want us to return to their modes of argument, but they might eschew ours, and for good reasons.

I’m glad Gashwin quoted Jacob Neusner, who wishes that both Jews and Christians would respect each other’s desire to live by their respective rules. Christians have a mission to all peoples. It’s not anti-Jewish to include Jews in that number and even to pray for their conversion when we pray for everyone else’s. By Christian principles, it would be anti-Jewish not to. I don’t expect my Jewish friends to think I’m right in the matter of Christian mission. If they did, after all, they would be Christian. If they pray for my conversion, even publicly, I’m happy that they wish me the greatest blessing they know.

It’s not anti-Jewish to pray, in St. Paul’s words, that “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26), any more than it’s anti-Christian for Jews to wish we wouldn’t.

5 thoughts on “The Fathers and the Jews

  1. This discussion is fascinating, and important. It’s first necessary to remember that in the first three centuries, Christians were powerless to impose their beliefs on anyone, nor could they harm anyone who rejected those beliefs. Both Christians and Jews used the rhetorical devices of the period, and played by the same rhetorical rules. Things that would be impossible to say today were routinely expressed in the polemics of the late Roman Empire. As for the prayer, anyone who wants to pray for my conversion will recieve my gratitude!

  2. Gurublogger??? :)

    I tend to think of rhetorical violence in terms of violence in general. Is rhetorical harshness or violence, simply a subset of the violent nature of humanity and human interaction? I wonder.

    Does rhetorical harshness automatically lead to actual physical harm and violence?

    Especially in the West, we are very suspicious of religious speech that seems harsh, or judgmental. And the secular world makes the connection that the best way to prevent religiously inspired violence is to become less serious about religion, less certain about truth, i.e. more relativistic. The queasiness with rough religious speech seems to stem from this.

    Surely one can disagree in matters serious, in questions pertain to truth, in a way that doesn’t just end up in violent deprecations of the others humanity, yet also avoid relativism.

    Just some stray, inchoate thoughts.

  3. [Sorry about the bad syntax and grammar there! I was distracted while writing this, and didn’t clean it up before posting! :)]

  4. How sad we don’t know our faith better. Having lived with Jewish people a number of years, it never occurred to me that Psalm 23 was Jewish. It could have been a great unifying prayer and open door for discussion. I always thought it was “Protestant”. After all, it was the good Protestant teachers who read it once a week out of “The Protestant Bible” which was read every morning before classes started.(public school) It took Dr. Cavalletti of Rome to open that door for me. And what Catholic attending Mass after Easter does not hear Jesus proclaim “I am The Good Shepherd”? Maybe we do get too complicated. As He said,May there “be only one Shepherd and one sheepfold”. How? Don’t ask me! That is God’s Plan.

  5. Good blog and sound historical-critical methodology. The people of Paul’s day had a totally different concept even of the body and therefore of resurrection and eternal life. Paul was a Jew himself and according to the opinion of Krister Stendahl, remained a Jew.

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