Christianity and Judaism

In this section I wish to make two points. First, in encountering Judaism, Christianity has so often demonized Judaism while being in politically more powerful positions that one must ask (polemically) whether Christianity has really encounted Judaism or whether it has encounted a heresy of its own making. Second, and relatedly, how intrinsic is anti-Judaism to Christian theology, or more specifically to christology? Rosemary Ruether has uncompromisingly charged traditional christology with being intrinsically anti-Jewish (Ruether 1974).

It must be said that at the beginning of 'Christian' history it would have been very difficult to distinguish Christianity from Judaism. Recent scholarship (Sanders 1977, 1985; Vermes 1983) has emphasized the Jewishness of Jesus, the Jewishness of his first followers, and subsequently the Jewish sectarian nature of early Christianity. There is growing consensus on this point. The difficulty is in locating the moments of separation and distinction, whereby Christianity becomes transformed from a Jewish sectarian group into a non-Jewish world religion. At this point the internal sectarian squabble is turned into an inter-religious dispute with great emotional power at its heart. Jews are charged with deicide (murdering God—in Christ) and some explanation must be found for their rejection of the fulfilment of their own religious tradition (hard-heartedness, sin, God's purpose).

A number of Christian (and Jewish) scholars have begun to investigate the many areas of Christian theology and history related to Christian anti-Judaism. These explorations have excavated the possible anti-Judaism in the New Testament itself (Baum 1965; Maccoby 1986), and in pre-Christian culture (Gager 1983). This has been accompanied by an examination of the Adversus Judaeos tradition in early Church history (Williams 1935; Isaac 1964; Simon 1986), up to the present day (Flannery 1985). New Testament theologies and modern theology in this century and the last have been critically reviewed for the negative and stereotypical assessment of Judaism and the Jewish people (Saunders 1977; Klein 1978), as have the doctrinal and liturgical aspects of contemporary theology (Pawlikowski 1982). There have also been numerous studies of the church's involvement with Nazi Germany during the war (Littel and Locke 1974) and of ecclesiastical documents after the war (Croner 1977, 1985). All this research has not resulted in consensus on fine details of the overall landscape, but concurs on the acknowledgement of varying degrees of anti-Judaism throughout Christian history, with some putting the guilt of the Holocaust squarely on the shoulders of Christianity.

I do not wish to offer a survey of the various debates and topics (Pawlikowski 1980, 1982). Here, to continue my examination of common themes, I want to show how a christological issue lies at the heart of the problem of Christian anti-Judaism. The problem can be summarized as follows: for nearly two thousand years Christianity has defined itself as the fulfilment of Judaism. The 'new covenant' and 'new Israel' were formed with the coming of the Messiah Jesus and the Church that he established. Israel's history reached its fulfilment in these messianic events. Judaism should have flowered into Christianity—but (and here there are some variations) through ignorance or hard-heartedness the Jews rejected their true destiny. Hence, for most of Christian history Judaism has been seen as an anachronism. Some argue that this theology of fulfilment implicitly requires the theological extinction of Judaism and the subsequent attempts at historically liquidating the Jews were an inevitable corollary (Ruether 1974).

Some theologians have therefore argued for what is called a 'dual covenant' position. Christianity should view the Jewish and Christian traditions as two distinct yet complementary covenants. Jews, in remaining Jews rather than becoming Christians, are being faithful to their covenant with God—the same God who forged a further complementary covenant into which the Gentiles were grafted. Neither negates the other. The fulfilment model should be abandoned as should mission towards the Jewish people (Parkes 1960; Rylaarsdam 1972; Ruether 1974). The upshot of this is that mission to the Jewish people is inappropriate. However, some theologians argue that Christian attitudes to Judaism should catalytically reorient Christianity's attitude to other religions, so that the Christian message of hope does not imply that people are called to become Christians out of the great world religions. The church's claim to be the unique source of saving truth is a judgement on the systems of the world, not on the great world religions.

(Baum 1977:113)

This is the equivalent of pluralism, but argued for initially on very specific Jewish-Christian grounds. While some theologians extend the principles of this particular case to the other world religions, others feel that such an extension is illegitimate. Those who do extend it argue that colonialist imperialism bears analogy to the anti-Judaism fostered by theological supersessionism. Blindness to the many revelations in the world religions bears analogy to the theological obliteration of post-Second Temple Judaism (Ruether 1974; Baum 1977). In contrast, others argue that while there is no legitimate place for mission to the Jews, mission is valid to the other world religions as these religions are not analogous to Judaism (Kung 1981:13250). Indigenization is a very complex and controversial question in this area, for most groups of messianic Jews and Hebrew Christians (Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah and remain Jews) are often regarded with deep suspicion by both Jewish and Christian communities (Schonfield 1936; Juster 1986).

Once again, at the heart of the Christian anti-Jewish question lies the issue of christology and its perceived socio-political implications. In opposition to this view, some critics have sorrowfully acknowledged Christian guilt and complicity in anti-Judaism. But they have defended the position that the affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah is precisely what the early Church was proclaiming and it is impossible to properly understand Jesus divorced from this Jewish messianic context. Similarly, such critics have questioned whether theological negation leads to socio-political liquidation, for 'negation' must be combined with affirmation—which is precisely the relationship to Judaism that Jesus enjoyed (D'Costa 1990c). What is at stake here is whether traditional christological proclamation actually intrinsically entails such socio-political consequences, and Christian history is too full of examples of anti-Judaism to be complacent on this point. The debate will go on, but all sides are at least agreed that all forms of anti-Jewishness within the Christian churches must be fully and unambiguously resisted. Furthermore, all sides in the debate tend to be in agreement that the portrayal of Judaism in Christian history is highly questionable, so that one can genuinely wonder whether real encounter has flourished between the two religions. Christianity's relationship to Judaism sharply highlights social and political factors that so dramatically affect theological reflection. When we turn to Islam, the picture is no less problematic.

Christianity and Islam

As with Judaism, it is possible to venture the claim that Christianity has rarely encounted Islam in a situation free of misperception and political hostility. The latter has hardly diminished today, despite there being no formal Christian or Ottoman empire. Furthermore, this misperception is also partly related to christology in so much as, if Islamic claims about the prophet Muhammad are taken as true, then the Christian claims about Jesus could not be true—and vice versa. Hence, to some extent, the self-identity of each is closely tied up with the denial of the other. As with Christianity's fratricidal relationship to the Jews, its relationship to Islam has also been incestuous in that both have shared (different versions of) common Scripture—the 'Old Testament', both have profound respect for Abraham, the Patriarchs, Mary, and Jesus too. Furthermore, Jesus is found in the Koran as are various references to Christian teaching (Robinson 1991). Hence, we have the volatile combination of common ancestry and common traditions, which makes the issue of self-definition so problematic. This is perhaps one reason why inculturation and indigenization have featured more prominently in relation to Hinduism and Buddhism, than with Judaism and Islam.

The history of the production of Islam for Western consumption has been widely documented, (Daniel 1960, 1975; Southern 1962; Said 1978, 1981). Here, however, it is only relevant to highlight two main features noted by most commentaries. First, the economic and military might of Islam and its proximity to the West have always been (and often still are) central factors in the portrayal of Islam. These factors also need to be located in the imperial conquests by Western powers and their fear of competitors. The main tradition of Islam's portrayal by Europe began with the context that, by the end of World War I, Europe had colonized 85 per cent of the earth. Second, Oriental study was initially conducted by predominantly Christian scholars whose religious concerns further skewed the production of Islam that was then carried over into more recent secular scholarship built on earlier Orientalist foundations.

For example, one of the foundation texts of the Orientalist tradition was Barthélemy d'Herbelot's massive, learned and influential dictionary Bibliothèque orientate (1697) which after supplying the Prophet's names, notes:

This is the famous impostor Mohomet, Author and Founder of a heresy, which has taken on the name of religion, which we call Mohammedan.The interpreters of the Alcoran and other Doctors of Muslim or Mohammedan Law have applied to this false prophet all the praises which the Arians, Paulicians or Paulinists, and other Heretics have attributed to Jesus Christ, while stripping him of his Divinity.

(cited in Said 1978:66)

Note the following—the charge that Muhammad was an impostor relates to his rival status to Jesus. He follows Jesus and is the last of the great prophets, thereby making Jesus into a John the Baptist. If, however, he is an impostor, the supersessionist chain is broken. Hence, Islam becomes a form of Christian heresy, a second-rate Arianism. As Rana Kabani notes, 'For a thousand years Muhammad was described by a long line of Christian detractors as a lustful and profligate false prophet, an anti-Christ, an idolater, a "Mahound"' (Kabani 1989:27). The concentration on Muhammad skews Islam into a religion of the founder (an impostor), rather than placing emphasis on the Koran (a book whose credentials are also thereby questioned). The 'Quran was seen as the product of the events of the life of the Prophet, but rather as a deliberate contrivance than as God's revelation in response to particular needs' (Daniel 1975:231). Daniel continues that Christians did not then realize that their hermeneutic strategies applied to Islam would eventually be turned upon themselves; but that is another story.

This leads on to a further point. After the decline of Christianity in the West, the 'latent' images of Islam were not fundamentally altered, but only their 'manifestations'. I refer to Said's terminology, whereby 'latent' means the deep, underlying, 'almost unconscious' representations of the Orient's 'eccentricity, its backwardness, its silent indifference, its feminine penetrability, its supine malleability', among other characteristics (Said 1978:206). By 'manifest' is meant the various styles in which this representation is perpetuated. Hence, from the eighteenth century, the development of Orientalism was different only in its methods (such as philology), 'which in turn were naturalized, modernized, and laicized substitutes for (or versions of) Christian supernaturalism' (Said 1978:122). Said's thesis has been deeply influential in alerting us to the portrayal of Islam in the West. Taken with Daniel, Southern and others, it presents a complicated, consistent, though not unbroken, picture of the misportrayal and misrepresentation of Islam for political and religious purposes.

One should remember that this brief sketch constitutes a massive generalization, and Watt has recently criticized Said's 'bias', giving an interesting history of perception and misperception from both the Muslim and the Christian sides (Watt 1991). Young, on the other hand, has presented a devastating epistemological criticism of Said which calls into question the basis (rather than the outcome) of Said's project (Young 1991:119-56). As with Judaism, the christological issues are central, as noted above, but with

Islam they revolve more acutely around the trinitarian confession of faith in orthodox christology, as opposed to the Muslim insistence on the oneness of Allah and the sin of shirk (associating God with that which is not God: i.e. a human). Muslim-Christian dialogue has gone some distance in exploring the difficult issues involved here and there is less historical pressure (in comparison with the context of the Holocaust) to arrive at clear resolutions. Nevertheless, there are similar tendencies operating as within Jewish-Christian relations. For instance, Hick's contribution to Jewish-Muslim-Christian dialogue has been to remove the stumbling block of christology for many Jews and Muslims, by proclaiming the mythological character of Christian belief in Christ as God incarnate, in keeping with the pluralism he espouses, as outlined earlier. However, in so doing he has incurred severe criticism from Christian quarters. Others have not felt called to deny traditional Christian claims, but to explore points of contact and difference, finding that there is much more room for exploration before one arrives at unresolvable differences—while not denying that this may well be the outcome (see for example Cragg 1959, 1965; Samartha and Taylor 1973).

I am unable to pursue this theme of political—social contexts and christological underpinnings contributing to the misperception of different religious traditions, but would draw the readers's attention to various literature which throws more light on either pole of this duality. For example, for Christianity's encounter with Hinduism, see Hacker 1978:580-608; Schwab 1984; Halbfass 1988. For Christianity's encounter with Buddhism see Almond 1988. For an excellent bibliography of Christianity's encounter with specific religions and for a general theology of religions, see Sherida 1977; Hick and Hebblethwaite 1980:239-50; Amato 1992.

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