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Reclaiming the Jesus of History: Christology Today.

This book has the nature of a ruminating conversation between select contemporary Christologies and a mind that, having thought long and hard about certain matters, does not hesitate to offer its own insight and judgment. In this wide-ranging dialogue Eckardt's stance is marked by three assumptions: that Christian faith has its own historical validity; that, nevertheless, in this post-Shoah era, Christology must become free of traditional imperialism and elitism; and that this is best accomplished by stressing Jesus of Nazareth's actual "historicalness," i.e. his embeddedness in the Jewish people from whom he came and to whom he ministered. E. engages a spectrum of present-day Christologies, testing their coherence or lack thereof with these critical norms.

Some works discussed focus on images of the historical Jesus: Jesus as countercultural spiritualizer (Marcus Borg); as rejected advocate of Isreal's restoration (E.P. Sanders); as liberator of the wretched (Latin American liberation theologians); as redeemer of women (feminist each case, exposition is punctuated by critical assessment as to how credible the theologians' views are in light of the actual situation of Jesus within first-century Judaism. The answer in some cases such as Borg and Sobrino: not very.

E. also probes works that interpret Jesus Christ relative to peoples beyond the Christian community: the convenantal Christ and Judaism (Paul Van Buren), Christ and the world's religions (Paul Knitter), and the risen Christ (E.'s own changing views). The book closes with an address given by the author on the Holocaust; and with an epilogue that explores the recent Christology of John Macquarrie.

This is both a fascinating and frustrating book. E.'s exposition of other thinkers is comprehensive and fair, and his critical commentary insightful. Above all, his sensitivity to the history of Christian anti-Semitism which was aided and abetted by a triumphalist Christology, and his insistence that as an antidote Christology must honor the historical Jewishness of both Jesus and early Christian interpretation, add a clear voice to the chorus of those now setting this important direction for Christological work.

Regarding specific points, E.'s own positions invite debate. Using the admittedly slippery argument from silence, he seeks Jesus' understanding of his messianic function, concluding that Jesus was a theocentric Jewish revolutionist who, impelled by belief in the historical coming of the Kingdom of God, led a messianic movement aimed at the liberation of the Jews from Roman rule. When the Romans found him guilty of sedition they were right. The death of Jesus was thus a Roman business from beginning to end. E. accuses E.P. Sanders and others of "fabricating" Jewish complicity in this death with their argument that the priestly aristocracy were prime movers behind Jesus' execution.

Regarding the Christ of faith, E. maintains that the confession "I believe that Jesus was the Word of God made human, God's very self" is evidence of a supersessionist and absolutist predisposition. Only a theocentric Christology (using Knitter's typology) that identifies Jesus as a uniquely faithful Jew concerned with the oppressed status of his people and that understands incarnation language as mythological (following Hick) can adequately guard against anti-Semitism in theory and practice.

E. argues these and other controversial positions with vigor. The horror of the effective history of Christian anti-Semitism abetted by triumphalist theology warrants the vigor. But his vision of the only way forward seems unnecessarily narrow, with the result that it throws out the baby of historically probable accuracy and traditional Christian confession along with the bath water of intolerance. While, e.g., noting with approval recent official Catholic teaching that "the Jewish people were not then and are not now guilty of the death of Christ," E. leaves unaddressed the question of how this stance can be reconciled with the undoubtedly high Christology of the magisterium. There is more than one way to cleanse Christology of its link with pogroms and mass murder.

E.'s book is best appreciated for the way it places the issue of the Jewish people at the center of Christological reflection, and for its insistence that the Jewishness of Jesus needs to be incorporated ever more realistically into Christology as antidote to historical prejudice.
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Author:Johnson, Elizabeth
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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