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The Crucified Jew.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok. HarperCollins. 17.95[pounds].

Dr. Cohn-Sherbok is a rabbi who teaches Jewish theology at the University of Kent. His book is sub-titled |Twenty Centuries of Christian Anti-Semitism'; and his sub-title, set beside a concentration camp photograph on the jacket, provokes questions which are by no means resolved when he reaches his concluding echo of the Psalmist's reflection: |Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity'.

Why did the followers who venerated a Jewish teacher, who held him to be the Jewish Messiah, both execrate and persecute his nation so long? They know him still through biographies attributed to Jewish disciples and have their theology shaped by a Jewish intellectual from Tarsus. What is the link between this traditional, if now abandoned, Christian antipathy and the persecution by anti-Christian Nazi and Communist ideologies? And why is it possible for anti-Semitism to linger in a Western secular environment and apparently to revive after the collapse of Communism, even in countries which now have only tiny Jewish minorities?

The book is a narrative of hard times for Jews in the nations that are or were |Christendom'. Dr. Cohn-Sherbok tells the story of hostility -- and often of cruelty -- with a restraint that sometimes seems at odds with the horror of the detail, but from the conviction that |anti-Jewish attitudes in the history of the Church were not accidental'. They were the direct consequences of Christian teaching about Judaism and the Jewish nation', and the basis for later secular anti-Semitism.

It is a powerful indictment, even though there are many places where Dr. Cohn-Sherbok runs into difficulties in generalising about the history of twenty centuries and two religions, both of them affected by a good deal of theological and ethnic variation.

He does not probe deeply into the profound differences between theological antipathy to Judaism (sometimes held by people of Jewish descent) and pseudoracial anti-Semitism. He is sketchy about Protestantism, and therefore adequately explores neither the different Calvinist and Lutheran traditions, nor the marked differences among Lutheran countries, and he is weaker on the English-speaking world than on Continental Europe. He says little about Christian sympathy for Zionism, often linked to the now unfashionable notion of |Jewish missions' and sometimes to the idea of Jewish nationality with a national Jewish-Christian Church. When he writes of Jewish conversions to Christianity he tends to the assumption, often but by no means always true, that these are conversions of convenience reflecting social factors rather than spiritual convictions.

But Christian-Jewish relations also involve the Inquisition, the dark side of the Crusades, and the shrug of the shoulders or nod of the head with which Christian authorities in Church and State responded to popular anti-Semitism, sometimes half-heartedly restrained, sometimes encouraged. That history explains only too well the modern situations, a half-century after the most murderous of all anti-Jewish persecutions, in which Christians may think Jews too sensitive and Jews may think Christians dangerously complacent.

Christians may distinguish, in a way Dr. Cohn-Sherbok declines to do, between what the New Testament Jewish writers say and the mood in which their words were later used in a Church detached from its Jewish origins. They may also argue that Nazism and Communism were inherently anti-Christian. But they have to recognise the shame of the past and the anxieties about the future which, though kept in perspective, mingle with Dr. Cohn-Sherbok's concluding summaries of good intentions and reconciliatory statements.
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Author:Kernohan, R. D.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:574
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