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Edward Kessler, An Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations.

Edward Kessler, An Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. 243. $95.00, cloth; $29.99, paper.

This interdisciplinary overview of the history of Jewish-Christian relations that makes scholarship of the last five decades accessible to broader audiences is most welcome and highly needed. Kessler proceeds chronologically, beginning with the New Testament, into the rabbinic and patristic periods, through the Middle Ages, and into the modern developments of enlightenment, Antisemitism, and Zionism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He skillfully condenses two millennia of Jewish-Christian competition, coexistence, and co-evolution into a compelling narrative. In the last two chapters, he lays out more theological issues of covenant, mission, and dialogue, and he ends with an outlook toward the future of Jewish-Christian dialogue in a globalized world of religious pluralism and interfaith relations. This book serves as a compendium to A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and will prove useful for teaching undergraduates and adults in churches and synagogues, as well as to those working in academia.

The book begins with the Holocaust, which initiated a radical rethinking of Jewish-Christian relations and forced the Christian churches to consider the violent history of Christian anti-Judaism as one root of modern Antisemitism and the genocide of European Jewry. In his Introduction, Kessler outlines the history of Jewish-Christian dialogue since 1945 that precipitated new scholarship: "Jewish-Christian relations" is (still) not a separate discipline, and there are no academic appointments or institutional careers in this subject matter, but he shows convincingly that there is a growing body of scholarship drawn from different disciplines that coalesces into a coherent field of inquiry. Scholars hail from biblical studies, rabbinic studies, patristics, history, theology, and philosophy, as well as liturgy and ritual studies. As a whole, the inquiry has shifted from an initial focus on Christian anti-Judaism/Antisemitism toward an appreciation of cross-fertilization and fluid exchange of ideas between the Jewish and Christian communities across time. As an example, Kessler analyzes the Jewish and Christian interpretations of Genesis 22, the binding (Akkeda) of Isaac. He shows convincingly that Jewish and Christian interpreters were always aware of "the other" tradition that shared the same sacred text (albeit in translation, in the church's case). They tailored interpretations of the text to engage, respond, contradict, include, or exclude the other's readings. In his case study, Kessler extends biblical interpretation to include "artistic exegesis" and compares church and synagogue mosaics, frescoes, and artwork. It is his interdisciplinary perspective on Jewish-Christian relations that allows him to move beyond the confines of biblical hermeneutics and to draw on different areas of expertise.

The book includes a glossary with helpful terms, starting with Adversos Iudaeos and ending with Zionism, and is a most welcome overview of the complex, often polemical and hateful, but sometimes creative and constructive history of Jewish-Christian relations.

Katharina von Kellenbach, St. Mary's College of Maryland, St. Mary's, MD
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Author:von Kellenbach, Katharina
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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