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Post-Holocaust Hermeneutics: Scripture, Sacrament, and the Jewish Body of Christ.

What is eaten in the Eucharist is the Jewish body of Christ.

I was recently lecturing on the Gospel of Luke in my introductory Bible class, when a student raised her hand and asked, "When does the story stop being about Jews and start being about Christians?" Although she did not have much background in the Bible, she had learned along the way that the Old Testament was Jewish and the New Testament was Christian. My way of teaching, which emphasizes continuity between the Testaments, left her wondering when, exactly, this transition was going to take place. She, like many other students, assumed that Jesus and Mary were Christians and that they must have at some point converted from Judaism. When a close reading of the Gospels turned up no such conversion stories, she was puzzled.

It is no secret or great insight that all students bring to the biblical text backpacks full of assumptions about what they will find there. But one of the deepest, I suspect, is that this is a story of the transition (dare I say supersession) from Judaism to Christianity. Such a reading of the story, depicting Israel as a rejected people superseded by the church, has long underwritten Christian persecution of Jews, since such behavior was deemed congruent with God's judgment on a rejected people. While churches in the post-Holocaust West have widely repudiated the teaching of contempt for the Jews, indeed affirming Israel's unending covenant with God, the practices of reading the canon in supersessionist ways continue as an insidious, though largely unacknowledged, form of anti-Judaism. [1] The truth is, the students in my class did not develop their hermeneutical expectations in a vacuum but were taught them (perhaps unwittingly) by their churches and their culture. Yet given the official repudiation of su persessionism and anti-Judaism by most Christian churches, why is it that we continue to produce readers who expect (and therefore find) a narrative in which Christians have replaced the Jews in God's plan?

Our answer to this question will proceed in three phases: an examination of the critical methodologies of modernity, an analysis of the politics of interpretation, and an exploration of the hermeneutics of the Eucharist. I argue that our focus on particular exegetical methods as a cure for anti-Jewish interpretation is misplaced, since our readings are inevitably shaped by the social and political commitments of the reading community. These commitments, in turn, are grounded in social practices that shape our perceptions and descriptions of God's activity. For too long the practices of Christendom have bent our interpretations to serve the reproduction and confirmation of Christian cultural and political dominance. Until this lingering lust for domination is addressed and challenged in the post-Christendom church, we will continue to foster supersessionist interpretations of scripture that serve to underwrite Christian power.

The Failure of Critical Methodologies

We are mistaken if we think the "right" methodologies will put an end to anti-Jewish readings of scripture, for as it turns out, the very methodologies we think can save us from supersessionist readings can be and have been used to undergird Christian triumphalism. That is, these methodologies can support but do not guarantee non-supersessionist readings of scripture. For instance, many biblical interpreters in the post-Holocaust era have drawn on historical-criticism to recover Jesus' historical connection to the people of Israel. E. P Sanders, for one, has opened our eyes to the Jewish context in which Jesus' message must be understood. Indeed, by carefully attending to the historical situation of the first century, Sanders concludes that the eschatological restoration of Israel is at the heart of Jesus' mission and message. [2] And yet, using the same critical tools, many historical Jesus writers have consistently de-Judaized Jesus in the name of historical accuracy. They have done this using the much mali gned yet resilient "criterion of dissimilarity" or "discontinuity." This criterion attempts to construct an historically accurate picture of Jesus by attending only to those "words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from Judaism at the time of Jesus or from the early Church after him." [3] The assumption is that the criterion of dissimilarity will render an objective picture of Jesus untainted by the faith claims of Church or Israel. Yet such a critical tool only serves to give us a Jesus disconnected from his Jewish roots, and thus a Jesus who can support our rejection of Israel because his own Jewishness has become superfluous to his identity. What we find, then, is that for everyone who would use historical-critical methodologies to restore relations between Judaism and Christianity, there are at least as many who would use them (intentionally or unintentionally) to set these parties over against each other.

Another distinctly modern methodology that has shaped postHolocaust hermeneutics is what we might call ethical criticism. Here the goal is to critique the biblical text from the perspective of some previously enunciated ethical principle that provides critical purchase for our interpretations. In other words, we interpret the Bible in such a way that it concurs with our contemporary moral convictions and practices. Where it strays from these, we must call into question its authority. So, for instance, Irvin Borowski, approaching the New Testament with the goal of countering its anti-Jewish polemic, has argued that we must produce a sanitized translation of the New Testament that will "remove hateful and inaccurate references to Jews." [4] By this he means that we must literally alter the words of the text, so that when Jews are depicted in a bad light, the word "Jews" will be replaced by "the people" or "the leaders." Such a translation, he argues, should be used for public distribution and liturgical readin g, while the more literal translations would be reserved for scholars. [5] The critical ethical concern to combat anti-Semitism has produced here not only a reading, but an attempted rewriting of the offending text.

Yet in this proposal, Borowski mirrors the modern project of a distinctly anti-Jewish thinker, Immanuel Kant. Kant also undertook to excise references to the Jews from Christian readings of scripture, but his goal was exactly opposite that of Borowski. Kant wished to update and correct Christian thought by removing from it any dependence on Judaism, which was to him clearly an inferior religion. He read the Christian story as an emancipation from Judaism: "We cannot ... do otherwise than begin general church history ... with the origin of Christianity, which, completely forsaking the Judaism from which it sprang, and grounded upon a wholly new principle, effected a thoroughgoing revolution in doctrines of faith." [6] Seeking to be progressive, both Borowski and Kant have jettisoned those portions of scripture and faith that do not fit with their vision of a modern, ethical society. Yet, even as they make the same methodological moves, they articulate opposing positions regarding Jews and Judaism.

What all this amounts to is a challenge to those who believe that if we could only get the right methodology we could put an end to anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic readings of scripture. In fact, I would suggest, the distinctly modern tendency to focus on method simply cannot get us where we want to go. We must, rather, borrow a page from the postmoderns, turning our attention to who is doing the reading, in what context, and serving what purpose. In other words, we must attend more carefully to the politics of interpretation and the character of our interpreters. Only then will we ask how to transform the readers so that we might transform our readings. My argument, then, is that the supersessionists and anti-Judaists have not "misread" the text of the Bible, but that they have, to borrow from Stanley Fish, "mispreread" the text. [7] The question that interests me is how it became so obvious to my student, regardless of our methodological approach to the text, that the New Testament constitutes a critical repud iation of the Old Testament. Why is it that for so many this is the interpretation that comes naturally?

Constantinian Politics and Supersessionist Readings

There are, I think, deeply intertwined ecclesial and political practices that have shaped modern Western Christians to read the Bible in supersessionist ways. That is to say, anti-Jewish readings of scripture cannot be separated from the politics of Christendom, for supersessionism functioned as an apology for Christian hegemony within the empire. Yet given the demise of Christendom (even in its unofficial forms), we are provided an opportunity to reshape our reading practices just insofar as we leave behind the Constantinian attempt to claim Christian power at the expense of others. No longer do our interpretations need to bolster Christian imperialism over the Jews, since such imperialism was based on the church-state power sharing model of Christendom that is no longer in place. Thus, as the church's political situation changes in the Western world, we may find that our traditional anti-Jewish interpretations no longer seem obvious or natural.

Rodney Clapp has identified three types of Christian responses to the demise of Christendom: retrenchment, relinquishment, and radicalization. [8] The first, retrenchment, seeks to regain cultural and political power for the church by retrenching to the Constantinian mentality of Christian dominance. What we find in this camp are not explicit attempts to repristinate the empire, but rather more subtle forms of Constantinianism bearing the monikers of "public" or "political" theology. It is not uncommon among such theologians and ethicists to find residual anti-Jewish or supersessionist readings of scripture. Such readings serve the apologetic agenda of asserting that Christian principles or values are the most universal or rational or ethical, thus justifying the state in giving precedence to these Christian concerns.

Michael and Kenneth Hirnes, in their book, The Fullness of Faith, make just such moves as they seek to enunciate "the public significance of theology." [9] In order to make Christianity safe for patriotism, these authors must undercut the significance of Israel's communal particularity. For if Christians were to believe that the Jews represented God's specially chosen community, it might relativize our commitment to the nation-state. Thus, they write,

Even when Israel's understanding of God became sufficiently enlarged to include Yahweh's sovereignty over and interest in other nations, that sovereignty was seen as exercised for Israel's benefit....In the constricted worldview of the ancient near east, amid nations each proclaiming its justification to dominance in accord with the will of its gods, Israel's claim to be a divinely chosen people may be understandable. But must not the pretension of any nation to a privileged position in history now seem both preposterous and dangerous? Christianity seemed to have overcome the worst excesses of this claim to be a uniquely chosen people. Yet ambiguity pervades the gospels' depiction of Jesus himself. [10]

Israel's claim to being a chosen people is described as preposterous, pretentious, antiquated, and excessive. In the view of this retrenchment hermeneutic, Christianity has cleared the ground of Israel's small-mindedness, making patriotism toward the modern nation-state a good that is "fostered by the gospel." [11] Just as Christianity supersedes Judaism as a religion, the modern nation-state supersedes Israel as the public and communal locus of God's work. One must ask, however, why it is less provincial or preposterous to privilege the United States of America than it is to privilege Israel or church. Why is commitment to the people of God suspect and "constricted" whereas commitment to the United States or Germany is the patriotic message of the gospel? Perhaps Himes and Himes find the New Testament "ambiguous" when it comes to Israel's election because within their interpretive scheme they cannot make sense of Jesus' deep commitment to the regathering and redemption of the chosen people. [12] In the end, the supersessionist hermeneutic of Himes and Himes continues to serve the Constantinian agenda of ingratiating Christianity to the state.

Relinquishment is Clapp's term for a second response to the demise of Christendom. Rather than seeing the church and gospel as intrinsically social, cultural, and political, this option concedes that the church is but a spiritual body with a spiritual message. The politics are best left to someone else. As Clapp describes it, this is a Christianity defined by being polite to the postman. He writes, "A Christianity reducible to therapy or activism is, in the end, sentimentality. It is therapy and activism performed by people who could as easily do what they do without talk of Jesus and Israel and the kingdom of God, but who have mouthed these platitudes so long they can't quite let them go." [13] Such a view does not need supersessionism to justify Christian political supremacy; rather, it acknowledges in good liberal style that all religions are equally valid and should be respected as such. This political vision has deeply influenced post-Holocaust hermeneutics by providing a warrant for toleration and inclusiveness.

However, even such an ostensibly philosemitic posture proves in the long run to be detrimental to a proper Christian understanding of and respect for Judaism. In a recent book that seeks precisely to combat anti-Jewish readings of Paul, Charles Cosgrove asserts, "Guided by the interpretive norm of the humane purpose of scripture, I take Paul to affirm that the Jewish people are true and irrevocably elect Israel." [14] While this affirmation seems just right, and on the surface contrasts so sharply with Himes and Himes, by the end of Cosgrove's book one wonders whether the affirmation of Israel given with one hand has not been taken back with the other. Cosgrove chooses the command to love God and neighbor as his interpretive trump card, but in Cosgrove's hands love is given a modern liberal make-over. Rather than being defined by the self-giving of Christ on the cross (as in 1 John 3:16), love is equated with "humane purposes," "respect for the dignity of all peoples and individuals," and "the Western tradit ion of human rights and egalitarianism." [15] These principles of political liberalism, which one might suspect are just what we need to combat anti-Jewish hermeneutics, in fact drive Cosgrove toward a universalism that relativizes Israel's election. For at the conclusion of his book he writes, "the only way to resolve the tension between divine impartiality toward all human beings and the special election of Israel is to infer that, with God, every people has the right to be Israel." [16] This, he suggests, does not take away from the Jews the right to be the "original and true Israel"; [17] it simply extends "Israel" as a symbolic title referring to all nations that are loved by God in their ethnic particularity.

By making every nation elect, Cosgrove diminishes the significance of Israel's unique election and conjures again the specter of nationalism underwritten by claims of election (e.g., the "manifest destiny" of nineteenth-century America). Certainly Cosgrove has no intention of justifying any imperialistic appeals to divine favor, and his careful reading of Romans is in many ways to be commended. But when he makes the leap from "neighbor love" to "every people has the right to be Israel," he shows his project to be underwritten by a relinquishment of the claim that the Jewish people of God carry a distinctive political significance. This relinquishment finally subverts his attempt to restore the people of Israel to their central place in the divine economy and it undermines his philosemitic hermeneutic. Although he comes from a very different set of political and theological assumptions, Cosgrove ends up standing alongside Himes and Himes.

Retrenchment and relinquishment urge us toward particular canonical readings of the church's relation to Israel, both of which fail to do justice to the biblical significance of Israel's election and vocation. In contrast, the ecclesial and political posture which Clapp describes as radicalization may be precisely what is needed to shape a non-supersessionist hermeneutic in a post-Christendom world. Radicalization involves a return to the roots of the church's identity--a return that calls into question the Constantinian practices that shaped the church for centuries. Clapp describes the situation this way: "For radicals, postmodern pluralism is a social condition in which the Constantinianism that has always been a theological dead end now becomes a political and sociological dead end.... There is a place for the church in the postmodern world, not as a sponsorial prop for nation-states but as a community called by the God explicitly named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." [18] He goes on to add the provocativ e claim that "much of the church's late Constantinian malaise comes from the fact that Christians all too quickly forgot how to be good Jews, yet Jesus and the earliest New Testament Christians did not." [19] Radicalization frees us from having to produce readings that justify Christian political dominance. Thus, the post-Holocaust and post-Christendom world creates an opportunity for Christians not only to affirm the ongoing validity of Israel's covenant with God, but in fact to recover our own identity by reading our story in closer continuity with the election and vocation of the Jews. Indeed, the ongoing validity of the Jewish covenant becomes a necessary affirmation of the church once Christians come to understand their own social and political life as an extension of the calling of Israel.

I take this to be the force of Karl Barth's claim that "the Bible as the witness of divine revelation in Jesus Christ is a Jewish book. It cannot be read and understood and expounded unless we openly accept the language and thought and history of the Jews, unless we are prepared to become Jews with the Jews." [20] Becoming Jews with the Jews is seen by Barth as a prerequisite for the proper understanding of scripture and of Jesus Christ himself. But how do we do this? How do Christians become Jews with the Jews as readers of the Christian Bible? How do we come to identify ourselves with Jesus' people so that we can more fully understand Jesus himself?

To answer these questions we must turn our attention to those practices of Christian life that train us as readers. Practices such as prayer, sacraments, and proclamation have long nurtured particular readings of scripture, though rooted in the soil of Christendom these have too often been anti-Jewish readings. This is not to say that these Christian practices have always been explicitly anti-Jewish. If this were the only problem, then the contemporary rejections of supersessionism and the careful prescriptions for how to speak of the Jews in preaching and liturgy would be enough to transform our supersessionist habits of mind. But in fact, a more dangerous form of anti-Judaism lurks in the "Israel-forgetfulness" [21] of Christian practice. We transact our liturgies as if the stories of Israel were but prelude or background to the Church's own story (the ecclesial equivalent of the "optional text" or "supplemental reading"). The Jews are not disparaged but ignored, and here lies the true problem. It is harde r to address and reform that which is unsaid than that which is spoken, harder to recover that which has been shrouded in indifference, erased (but not evacuated) from the palimpsest of Christian practice, than that which appears on the surface of the ritual transcript. In short, the church has enacted its liturgy and sacraments as if Israel's covenant were irrelevant to ecclesial practice. We have pushed the Jewishness of the Christian story in to the background, making Jesus' Jewishness insignificant to his sacramental presence. In so doing, we have become trained as readers to overlook the lasting significance of Israel's covenant in the overarching plot of God's economy.

Eucharist and Hermeneutics

The post-Christendom posture of radicalization thus requires communal practices that train us to map our social vision not in relation to states and empires, but in relation to the calling of Israel to be a light to the nations. I will focus here on one particular practice, the celebration of the Eucharist, for this sacrament is uniquely able to shape the community both politically and hermeneutically. The Eucharist enacts the pattern of Christ's presence in our midst and thus shapes how we understand the biblical words which witness to him. In this practice the written Word becomes the sacramental Word; the Word read becomes Word consumed. By re-Judaizing this sacrament and reclaiming its Jewish elements, Christians will come to see what it means to be Jews with the Jews or, in Paul's terms, to be grafted into Israel. In this way our experience of the Word in the bread and wine may transform our reading of the Word in the text.

Attention to Eucharist as determinative for right interpretation is something that may not appear obvious, at least to most Protestants. But as the Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky writes,

Christ appeared and still appears before us not only in the Scriptures; He unchangeably and unceasingly reveals Himself in the Church, in His own Body. In the times of the early Christians the Gospels were not yet written and could not be the sole source of knowledge. The Church acted according to the spirit of the Gospel, and, what is more, the Gospel came to life in the Church, in the Holy Eucharist. In the Christ of the Eucharist Christians learned to know the Christ of the Gospels, and so His image became vivid to them. [22]

I take this not only as prescriptive but also descriptive; that is, Florovsky accurately describes the interplay between Eucharist and scripture even in traditions that do not formally acknowledge or exploit this interplay. Indeed within the scripture itself the deep connection between word and sacrament is made clear. On the road to Emmaus the disciples do not recognize Jesus until biblical (Old Testament) interpretation and broken bread have come together (Luke 24). When Ezekiel encounters the glory of the Lord he is commanded to eat the scroll, to ingest the word (Ezek. 3:1-2). And John in his Revelation describes the angel commanding him to take and eat the Word of God that is both bitter and sweet (Rev. 10:9-10). Eating and reading, digesting the text, feeding on the flesh that is the Word -- these interplays of food and language point to the deep correlation of word and sacrament through which the one Christ is revealed and reiterated in the liturgy.

In Telling God's Story, Gerard Loughlin has brilliantly brought to the foreground the connections between Eucharist and interpretation, between the body of Christ in the meal and the story of Christ embodied in the church. [23] Loughlin describes the Eucharist as

The Eucharist is a summation of narrative theology, since it is precisely the practice whereby the community is engrafted into the story. God's story becomes our own story; we become participants in the ongoing drama of God's reign. [25] Loughlin suggests that in Revelation 10:9--10 the scroll which John eats is "both Christ's risen body in the bread of the Eucharist and the divine logos in the word of Scripture." Eating and reading become one, for the single Word of God is made present in both. The reading/eating of Christ means "becoming part of the story as the story becomes part of oneself." [26]

the meal in which the one and the many are united, the Body and the Word with the bodies and words of the enstoried Church. The great theme of eucharistic theology -- that the Eucharist makes the Church by which it is made -- is paralleled in the teaching of narrativist theology: the scriptural story makes the church by which it is made in the telling of the story. But the two themes are closer yet, for the Eucharist is the telling of the story that is at the same time the telling of the church as the very Body of Christ. [24]

While Loughlin's account of the eucharistic Word helps us understand its relation to the written Word, his appeal to narrative tends at times to float above the actual biblical witness to which he points. Thus, instead of locating the masticated Word within the nexus of Jerusalem, Passover, and Jesus' redemption of Israel, Loughlin turns to the ontological quandary raised by Jacques Derrida concerning the possibility of true gift-giving. Contextualized within this alternative narrative, the Eucharist becomes a challenge to the Derridean claim that there can be no gift that is not already caught up in an economy of exchange. By reading Eucharist as an answer to this ontological concern, Loughlin pushes the narratives of the Last Supper into the background, allowing the Eucharist to be circumscribed by the conditions of possibility for gift-giving. [27] As the body and blood are drawn into the general category of "gift" their particularity as Jewish body and blood recedes from view. The question goes unasked w hether it matters that the body offered in the Lord's Supper is a Jewish body or that the practice enacted is a Jewish practice.

Loughlin is not alone or even unusual in his inattention to the Jewishness of the Eucharist, for its celebration has long ago fallen prey to Israel-forgetfulness. Just to the extent that this practice has come to be understood primarily as a transaction imparting divine grace to the individual soul, it has been not only de-Judaized but de-politicized. By abstracting the Eucharist from the context of Passover and Exodus, we have left behind the politics of liberation and community formation that were central to the Last Supper. Further, by ignoring the Jewishness of the eucharistic body, we have dissociated the practice from God's election and covenant with the flesh of Israel. So, as often as we partake of this non-Jewish body of Christ at the table, we become trained to see a non-Jewish Jesus in the Gospels. We thus fail "to become Jews with the Jews" and fail to understand rightly the biblical witness.

The Jewish Body of Christ

The re-Judaizing of the Eucharist, as an act of hermeneutical truth-telling, needs to happen in two ways: first, by reflecting on the significance of the fact that the eucharistic body of Christ is a Jewish body, and second, by reconnecting the Lord's Supper to the celebration of the Passover. In these ways the Eucharist will come to instantiate for us the figurative relationship between the Old and New Testaments in which Jesus is received not as the replacement or repudiation of Israel, but as the confirmation and salvation of an Israel now extended to the Gentiles.

Again Barth points us in the right direction: "The Word did not simply become any 'flesh.'... It became Jewish flesh." The Church's whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaningless to the extent that this comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. [28] If Barth is right in his claim, then we must also say that the flesh of Christ that comes to us in the sacrament is not just any human flesh, broken for us; it is Jewish flesh. The church's whole doctrine of the sacrament becomes abstract and meaningless to the extent that this comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. To the extent then that we partake of the sacrament in a way that conceals the Jewishness of the body and blood, we de-Judaize our reading practices as well. For practicing the Eucharist as if the Word made flesh in the sacrament is not Jewish word and Jewish flesh, shapes us to be readers who do not recognize the hermeneutical significance of the Jewish flesh Jesus bears in the gospel stories. And insofar as Christians have been able to distance Jesus from Judaism, we have been able to avoid the deep incongruity between worshiping a Jew and persecuting his people.

In reclaiming the Jewishness of the body of Christ, we must reclaim without apology the materiality of the practice. The obvious materiality of the Eucharist has largely been reduced to a spiritual event, and even in Catholic practice where the carnality of the elements is emphasized doctrinally, its significance for material (i.e., economic and political) existence has not been sufficiently displayed. [29] The roots of such Christian spiritualizing goes all the way back to the church fathers who set forth Christian doctrine in opposition to Israel's supposed materialism, interpreted as the embrace of sensuality and worldliness. As Rosemary Ruether notes:

The theme of Jewish sensuality can be fused with the general ontological dualism of Christian theology which describes the Jews as the people of the outward "letter," against the Christian people of the "spirit." The Fathers feel full license to describe Jewish "outwardness" not merely in terms of literalism over against the Christian allegorical interpretation of Scripture, but as though the Jews were actually addicted to the vices of the flesh, in contrast to Christian Asceticism. Ephrem the Syrian speaks of the synagogue typically "harlot."... John Damascene says that God gave the Jews the Sabbath because of their "grossness and sensuality" and "absolute propensity for material things.

The critique of materiality in the church fathers gets turned on its head in the recent work of the Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod. [31] He argues that it is precisely Israel's materiality -- understood not as "sensuality" or "worldliness" but as the material location of God's blessing and presence -- that saves them from the Gnostic spiritualizing that has infected Christianity. He writes,

Israel's election is ... a carnal election that is transmitted through the body. And to many, this is a scandal.... Why do we recoil at a carnal election? Because we have been taught to respect the spirit and to have contempt for the body. The roots of this lie in Greek philosophy, which sought the unchanging and eternal. It contrasted this with the material that was subject to change and therefore not altogether real. Here is the basis for the Gnostic spiritualization that sees man as spirit fallen into the shadowworld of the material.... Judaism rejects this bifurcation of spirit and matter. Both were created by God and both are good. [32]

Part of what is gained, then, by recovering the significance of the Jewish body of Christ in the Eucharist, is the recovery of materiality which has, as Wyschogrod rightly notes, been dangerously lacking in a Christianity influenced by Gnostic pretensions.

Jesus himself connects the materiality of the Eucharist with the "new covenant," in which, according to Jeremiah 31, the Torah is written on the very flesh of the Jews (Luke 22:20). Jesus' body, taken in the bread and wine, becomes the lived Torah which inscribes itself on the heart of the communicant. Jesus' body becomes part of the flesh of both Jew and Gentile gathered at the table. Or rather, their flesh becomes part of his. As Augustine and Aquinas have taught us, eucharistic food is not consumed by the body, but rather it consumes the body. [33] Eucharist can therefore be understood as the place where God's corporeal election of Israel is extended to the Gentiles. For the Gentiles are united in the Lord's Supper to the body of the Jewish Jesus. By participating in Christ through Eucharist, they are made to participate in the covenant God made with Jewish flesh. And as his body consumes theirs they are grafted into Israel, not just spiritually, but by having their own bodies transformed into Jewish bodi es. Such an understanding of the sacrament would force us to disavow any supersessionist patterns of interpretation, since God's repudiation and rejection of Israel would render the sacrament meaningless and powerless. What could be the significance of being engrafted into a covenant that has been abrogated? What value could there be in becoming one with the Jewish flesh of Christ if Jewish flesh has been forsaken?

Eucharist and Passover

In addition to reemphasizing the Jewishness of the body of Christ, we must also recover the Eucharist as a remembrance, an anamnesis, of the Passover. The fact that the Last Supper was a Passover meal has faded into the background in Christian liturgy. Even my Catholic students who have been shaped by years of Catholic schooling and countless masses, are often surprised when I tell them that the Eucharist is a reenactment of the Passover. For just to the extent that we have reduced the Lord's Supper to a means of imparting grace to the individual, we have missed the deep political resonances that link this meal to the liberating events of the Exodus. Slowly but surely, however, the connection between Passover and Eucharist is being recovered, in official teaching if not always in local practice. John Paul II has said that "the faith and religious life of the Jewish people, as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church. Such is the case of liturgy." [34] The Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews adds this reflection,

This is particularly evident in the great feasts of the liturgical year, like the Passover, Christians and Jews celebrate the Passover; the Jews, the historic Passover looking toward the future; the Christians, the Passover accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ, although still in expectation of the final consummation. It is still the "memorial" which comes to us from the Jewish tradition, with a specific content different in each case. On either side, however, there is a like dynamism: for Christians it gives meaning to the eucharistic celebration,...a paschal celebration and as such a making present of the past, but experienced in the expectation of what is to come.[35]

What if we were to recover and take seriously this liturgical continuity between Passover and Eucharist? Might it not point us toward a political continuity as well, whereby the church also is identified by the liberating and community-forming events of the Exodus? The church might then, in a posture of radicalization, come to understand its primary political obligation to be the formation of a peculiar people, the embodiment of a distinct social witness, the enacting of a communal life in which the world can see the reign of God revealed. Celebrating the Eucharist as a Passover meal inscribes the participants into the narrative of the Exodus and the journey to the promised land. We, through our participation in Christ, become members of that community which is called to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). As such, we can rediscover the church's political calling as we rediscover our proper relationship with the people of Israel.

What I have tried to do in this essay is to reorient our conversation about post-Holocaust hermeneutics away from methodologies (which are insufficient insofar as they ignore the character and context of the readers) to the social context in which reading takes place. In the Christendom era, the church's social standing and political ambitions underwrote a triumphalist reading in which the church replaced Israel as God's people. Supersessionist readings became a way of justifying ecclesial power. In the era after Christendom, the church in the West (at least in America) is faced with the social and political options of retrenchment, relinquishment, and radicalization. Each of these creates a social context which supports and is supported by a certain reading of the biblical story. My argument has been that only through a commitment to radicalization, a returning to the roots of the church's communal vocation, will Christians be freed from the need to supersede (retrenchment) or relativize (relinquishment) Is rael in our narrations of scripture.

I have suggested that one way to advance such a reframing of the church's social, political, and hermeneutical vision is by a refraining of the Eucharist within its original Jewish context. Through a re-Judaized

Eucharist, Christians are trained to resist the political temptations of retrenchment and relinquishment, just insofar as each of these stances presupposes the supersession and/or relativizing of Israel. For lithe Lord's table delivers to us a Christ who is Jewish and calls us to enter into the story of Israel's liberation, then we dare not support a political vision that replaces Israel with the nation-state or relegates Judaism to a second-rate religion in order to advance Christian cultural power. The politics of radicalization provides a social context that can open up new patterns of reading, in which the witness of the New Testament no longer replaces the Old, but rather grows organically from the soil of Israel's vocation.

SCOTT BADER-SAYE is Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Scranton. He is the author of Church and Israel after Christendom: The Politics of Election.


(1.) For an insightful examination of this problem see Kendall Soulen's description of "structural supersessionism" in The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 31-32, 48-50.

(2.) E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 323-40.

(3.) John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, volume 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 171. Although this methodology has come under heavy fire over the past few decades, its significance for historical Jesus studies has not waned. For instance, in this recent attempt to construct the historical Jesus, Meier allocates a central place in his methodology for the criterion of dissimilarity (171ff.). He is aware of the dangers, and his ambivalence toward this approach is clear; yet, in the end he argues that such a privileging of discontinuity remains "useful," and he refuses to relegate it to the dust bin.

(4.) Irvin Borowski, "Introduction," Removing the Anti-Judaism from the New Testament (Philadelphia: American Interfaith Institute, 1998), 16.

(5.) Ibid., 18-19.

(6.) Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), 118.

(7.) Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in this Class? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980), 311.

(8.) Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1996), 16-32.

(9.) Michael J. Himes and Kenneth R. Himes, The Fullness of Faith: The Public Significance of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1993).

(10.) Ibid., 126-27.

(11.) Ibid., 136.

(12.) On this point see Gerhard Lohfink's powerful and insightful account of Jesus' mission in relation to Israel in Jesus and Community (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).

(13.) Clapp, A Peculiar People, 18.

(14.) Charles Cosgrove, Elusive Israel: The Puzzle of Election in Romans (Louisville: Westminster, 1997), xiii.

(15.) Ibid., xiii, 80, 75-76, respectively.

(16.) Ibid., 79.

(17.) Ibid., 90.

(18.) Clapp, A Peculiar People, 32.

(19.) Ibid., 77.

(20.) Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 1/2, trans. G. T. Thomson and Harold Knight (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 511.

(21.) The felicitous description "Israel-forgetfulness" comes from Kendall Soulen's analysis of structural supersessionism in The God of Israel and Christian Theology, 49-52. The church's "forgetting" of Israel results in the erroneous belief that "God's identity as the God of Israel and God's history with the Jewish people [is] largely indecisive for the Christian conception of God," 33.

(22.) Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (Belmont, Mass.: Nordland Publishing Co., 1972), 48.

(23.) Gerard Loughlin, Telling God's Story: Bible, Church, and Narrative Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(24.) Ibid., xiii-xiv.

(25.) Ibid., 223-24.

(26.) Ibid., 245.

(27.) My hunch is that by beginning with the particulars of the Passover celebration of this Jewish Jesus, we will in fact discover that he, in the giving of himself, creates the conditions of possibility for the gift. Here the particular determines the general, or put another way, the actuality of God's giving determines its own conditions.

(28.) Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, trans. G. W Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 166.

(29.) This is changing. See for instance William Cavanaugh's Torture and Eucharist (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999).

(30.) Rosemary Ruether, Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of AntiSemitism (Minneapolis: Seabury Press, 1974), 127-28.

(31.) See Michael Wyschogrod, The Body of Faith: God in the People Israel (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983).

(32.) Ibid., 176-77.

(33.) Aquinas writes, "The difference between corporeal and spiritual food lies in this, that the former is changed into the substance of the person nourished, and consequently it cannot avail for supporting life except it be partaken of; but spiritual food changes man into itself, according to that saying of Augustine (Conf. vii), that he heard the voice of Christ as it were saying to him: Nor shalt thou change Me into thyself, as food of thy flesh, but thou shalt be changed into Me" (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 73, 3).

(34.) Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, "Notes on the Correct way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church," (June 1985), in Helga Croner, ed. More Stepping Stones to Jewish-Christian Relations (New York: Stimulus Foundation, 1985), 230.

(35.) Ibid.
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Date:Dec 22, 2000
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