The legacy of Jakob Jocz.
Jakob Jocz's long career involved a sequence of ministries that began in Eastern Europe before World War II, then took him to Jewish evangelism in England along with parish ministry in an Anglican congregation in London. The culmination was a professorship of systematic theology in Wycliffe College connected with the University of Toronto. He was a missionary, a theologian, and a missiologist--an outstanding Jewish Christian of the twentieth century.
His Life and Times
We would not know many of the details of Jocz's family history had he not written a somewhat disguised autobiography.(2) In it we find his Lithuanian Jewish roots clearly delineated along with the record of the family's first encounter with the Christian Gospel. This took place in 1900 in the isolated shtetl of Zelse near Vilnius, Lithuania, where his maternal grandfather, Johanan Don, was a local milkman, married to Sarah and blessed with Hannah, a fourteen-year-old daughter. It was while Johanan was seeking medical assistance for Hannah, who had earlier sustained a fall that threatened to leave her permanently crippled, that he reluctantly went to the Lutheran Medical Mission clinic in Vilnius for assistance. Reluctantly, because he had been warned that Dr. Paul Frohwein, the doctor in charge, was "kind of a Jew, and yet not a Jew." Actually, he found Dr. Frohwein's welcome most disarming. While waiting in the anteroom, Johanan's curiosity was aroused by a small black book on the table--a Hebrew New Testament. Upon opening it, he encountered almost immediately something that he had not heard before, that Jesus was "the son of David, the son of Abraham." When Dr. Frohwein reappeared and noticed his interest, the doctor encouraged him to take the book home with him.
In the weeks that followed, Johanan secretly studied the Gospels and eventually became a believer in Jesus. Baptism followed, to the disgust of his wife, Sarah. But Hannah believed soon afterward, to his great delight.
Johanan died while still relatively young. Sarah moved the family to Vilnius and to make ends meet rented a room to Bazyli Jocz, a young rabbinical student from the yeshiva of the Vilno Gaon. One day while Bazyli was reading the Book of Isaiah, questions arose that he could not answer. Upon asking his teacher, he was rebuked with such startling vehemence that he sought the help of the same physician who had earlier helped Hannah. It was through Dr. Frohwein that Bazyli came to faith in Jesus. But he told no one. He continued his studies at the yeshiva and, as was the custom, learned a trade also. He became a rather successful cabinetmaker, but his deepening relationship with Jesus made him begin to ponder the future. When he shared his faith with Hannah, she disclosed her similar secret. Not unnaturally, their common faith in Jesus drew them together, and the way eventually opened for them to marry. Jakob, their first child, was born in 1906.
World War I brought great distress, particularly to Lithuanian Jews, caught as they were between Polish Catholic and Russian Orthodox anti-Semitism. The Jocz family did not escape, even though they were confessing Christians. On one occasion a nun denied young Jakob relief food, simply because he was Jewish--and she told him so in no uncertain terms.
During those difficult years Jakob did not receive much formal education, but through parental instruction he came to Christian faith. He early showed remarkable ability as a linguist. Over the years he became fluent in Russian, German, Polish, and English, in addition to his native Yiddish.
By 1920 Bazyli became associated with the Church's Mission to Jews (CMJ--Anglican) as an evangelist. Jakob was drafted for army service in postwar Poland. Following demobilization he also offered himself for evangelistic service with the CMJ and was enrolled in its newly formed training center in Warsaw. Three years of study coupled with missionary service in Poland were followed by two years of study at the German Methodist seminary in Frankfurt am Main. Because he showed unusual promise, the CMJ sent him to England, where he completed training for Anglican ordination at St. Aidan's College in Birkenhead. During this period he met his future wife, Joan Celia Gapp, an Anglican missionary volunteer. They were married in 1935 and assigned to CMJ ministry in Poland. This involved itinerant evangelism ranging into the Polish countryside and assuming responsibility for the Yiddish-speaking messianic congregation in Warsaw.
Ministry in Poland prior to the Nazi assault was very fruitful. Although opposition at times was quite intense, the reports Jocz and others submitted contain instances of unprecedented Jewish interest in their evangelical witness to Jesus. One report by Jocz states:
Before we started, the church was filled and a bigger crowd was sent home than the one which was inside .... We had before us a crowd of good-looking and well-behaved young men and women, who did not come out of curiosity, but who really sought something which could fill their lives. Mr. Wolfin addressed them in Yiddish, and I spoke in Polish on the text, "I am the way." It was indeed a very inspiring meeting; sometimes we forgot that we had Jews before us. The stillness and the attentive faces made us almost believe that we were speaking to Christian people.(3)
This unprecedented receptivity was confirmed by Nicholas Berdyaev: "We live in a time not only of bestial anti-Semitism, but of increasing Jewish conversions to Christ."(4) And Jocz added: "We missionaries know the full truth of these words--today when the cross is being twisted into a swastika. When thousands of gentiles refuse to acknowledge the sovereignty of Christ, Jewish men and women flock into the mission halls to hear and to learn about the wonderful Savior."(5)
Then came an unexpected deliverance. Joan has returned to England in late May 1939 to await the arrival of their first child and to ensure its British citizenship. Jakob remained in Warsaw. A minor crisis in England--the illness of the key speaker for the Church Missionary Society Summer Conference--resulted in an urgent phone call to leave Warsaw immediately and fill this assignment. How providential this proved to be! Had Jocz remained in Warsaw, he no doubt would have been destroyed along with the hundreds, even thousands of Jews who had believed, and the hundreds of thousands of other Jews whom the Nazis also liquidated. After the war he learned that his father had been betrayed to the Gestapo and shot, and that other members of the family had perished in Hitler's death camps.
Meanwhile Jocz had been appointed to head CMJ's work in London. Somehow he managed to include graduate studies at the University of Edinburgh. In 1947 his ministry was enlarged to include serving a small Anglican congregation in Hampstead. His literary career took on prophetic dimensions with the publication of his doctoral dissertation, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ (1949). This was the first of six major works and marked the beginning of his lifelong theological struggle for Jewish evangelism.
Ever since Warsaw days Jocz had been involved in the work of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance. In 1957 he became its president and in that capacity traveled widely. An earlier invitation to take charge of a rather large Jewish evangelism center in Toronto proved irresistible, and in 1956 the family left England. Strangely, his service at the Toronto Nathanael Institute proved frustrating. Fortunately, he was rescued by an invitation to join the faculty of Wycliffe College, the local Anglican theological seminary. From 1960 onward he occupied its chair of systematic theology.
It was in this post that Jocz truly came into his own. He was known for "taking the glibness out of theology by showing students how to think theologically, as well as how to preach and live theologically."(6) All spoke of his personal warmth and spiritual insight. Students who submitted papers to him encountered exacting standards. "Back the essays came, punctuation errors circled, spelling errors underlined, awkward syntax exposed, faulty argument disclosed, false information denounced (and, on occasion) a gentle request to rewrite the entire paper because 'You really are capable of much better work than this.'"(7)
Over the years Jocz accepted lectureships and conference engagements and wrote constantly. Following retirement in 1976, he continued at a heavy pace for seven more years. He died in 1983 after a brief illness.
Early in his missionary career in Poland, Jocz produced The Essence of Faith (1936). For some years he edited the Yiddish journal Der Weg and encouraged outstanding Hebrew Christians to contribute. This publication ceased to exist with the fall of Poland in September 1939. The suffering of his own people prompted a second book, an appeal to the churches: Is It Nothing to You? (1940). As the anguish of the European Jewry deepened, he revised and greatly enlarged this publication in 1941.
His essays and book reviews increasingly appeared in such journals as The International Review of Missions, Jewish Missionary Intelligence, Life of Faith, Christian, World Christian Digest, Judaica, Hebrew Christian, and Church of England Newspaper. He wrote as an advocate of the Jewish people but against Zionist ideology and always on behalf of missions to Jews. He was adamant in his conviction that there are not two ways to God, not two covenants--one for Jews (Sinai) and the other for Gentiles (Golgotha). "I see my people from within and also have the spiritual discernment of the Christian believer." Hence, with respect to his literary output he wrote: "It has been my endeavor to treat a difficult subject in a scholarly manner, though I have not tried to hide my own convictions regarding Jesus Christ."(8)
Then came his second major book, A Theology of Election (1958), quickly followed by The Spiritual History of Israel (1961); in 1968 The Covenant: A Theology of Human Destiny appeared. The climax of his major writings was The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz (1981). This brought up to date his comprehensive grasp of the age-long controversy between church and synagogue. It is a tragedy that most of these books are currently out of print.
His most popular publication was Christians and Jews: Encounter and Mission (1966), originally delivered as three lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary (1964). This book was translated into German and Norwegian, but it was bitterly attacked because it dared to challenge the theological absurdity that Jesus Christ is without salvific significance to the Jewish people.
Mention should be made of Jocz's unpublished titles: "Modern Judaism and Jesus Christ," "Religion, and the Christian Faith," "Jews in the Bible," and "Evil and Sin." He also wrote "Guide to Family Worship," a libretto to a four-act opera entitled "David the King," "God's Quarrel with Religion," and a somewhat autobiographical novel, "War Without Peace: The Life and Times of Moishe Litvak."
Because of his knowledge of German, Jocz was able to introduce fellow theologians to the insights of Karl Barth's theological revolt long before Barth's writings had been translated into English. But he never uncritically adopted all the theses of the "biblical theology" movement that resulted from Barth's vigorous assault on philosophical and religious liberalism. Jocz was wary of Barth's overemphasis on election to the neglect of the need for personal repentance and faith. Just because Israel was an elect nation was no guarantee that all Israelites were salvifically related to God. Jocz unapologetically accepted the thesis of the apostle Paul: "Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham" (Rom. 9:6, 7).(9)
Jocz's Legacy: Its Distinctives
Many subjects dominated the thought of Jakob Jocz during his long years of missionary obedience, pastoral concern, and theological reflection. Admittedly, it is impossible to subject his literary legacy to brief statements, but what follows is an attempted distillation of his thought on themes very germane to missiological debate today.
Although Jocz's arguments are never forced or trivial, he tends to intimidate the reader by the incredible breadth of his learning. He writes as a systematic theologian, not as a biblical scholar, although all his writings reflect the heart and mind of a devout Christian who had the utmost confidence in the integrity and authority of Scripture. He disavows "scientific detachment," stands squarely within the context of faith, is scrupulously fair in handling material with which he disagrees, but writes as a partisan with burning conviction.
Jocz's lifelong concern was that synagogue and church should engage in continuing dialogue. Both have much to learn from the other. Stereotypes need to be confessed and repudiated. Common roots need to be reexamined as well as all aspects of their parting of the ways in the first century and the two thousand years of mutual hostility that have followed.
Jocz's constant theme is that only in Judaism does the church meet its equal. Both share the same ethical code, the same social vision, the same spiritual tradition, and the same cultural standards. As far as human religions go, Jocz contends that Judaism has no peer. Its unitarian monotheism is philosophically and metaphysically more palatable to modern men and women than Trinitarianism. Its ethics appear better adjusted to practical living. Its freedom from cumbersome dogma calls for no wrestling over the intellectual paradoxes one encounters in Christian theology. Judaism is this-worldly, but not overindulgent. It affirms human dignity and self-reliance and can boast high moral achievements in Jewish personal and family life. In Jocz's eyes Judaism has all the advantages of an intelligent religion, representing an integration between religion, race, and culture unequaled in history. And in this day of widespread religious pluralism, Judaism is tolerant, sensing no compunction to proselytize beyond its ethnic group.(10)
The Synagogue and Jesus Christ
Jocz frequently admits that synagogue and church possess no common denominator that could form the basis of a "bridge theology between them." Indeed, "the synagogue perpetuates her existence in the continued negation, and the church in her continued affirmation of the claims which Jesus made."(11) It is an offense to all forms of Judaism that the church persists in confessing his authority, uniqueness, and sinlessness. Biblically informed Christians have always believed that Jesus, declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4), was able to do and say all that the Evangelists recorded. The New Testament bears no evidence of any debate on Christology; the apostle Paul taught nothing on the person and work of Jesus that is out of character with the way he is portrayed in the Gospels.
Inevitably, Jocz devoted much study to Christian origins and found himself repeatedly "driven to the conclusion that the church never tried to separate herself from the synagogue .... was forced out of the Jewish community for reasons which made coexistence impossible."(12) And yet, Jocz never forgets the long history of anti-Semitic hate and contempt that was nourished by the clergy. He repeatedly speaks of their inexcusable crimes against his people. For this reason, although he asks searching questions of the rabbis, he never allows a spirit of Christian triumphalism to dominate his encounter with them.(13)
The Rabbinic Conception of Humankind
What particularly troubled Jocz was that Jewish scholars had successfully persuaded most Christian writers of two things: first, that there is an unbroken line of development between the Old Testament and later rabbinism; second, that Pharisaic Judaism was the religion in which Jesus was reared and that was congenial to him. Jocz rejects these theses. Furthermore, he refuses to concede that the rabbis' conception of humankind has biblical support.
The synagogue, in Jocz's critique, misstates the divine image in people, promotes an idealistic and optimistic humanism, and downplays the Fall. It rejects human depravity and the consequent inability of people to make themselves fit for the presence and acceptance of God. For any person to claim relationship with God without the substitutionary atonement embodied in the cross is to overlook the mortal disease of sin. To Jocz, this is an act of supreme presumption. In contrast, the rabbis teach that, although people sin, they are not sinful in essence. People are not estranged from God by the Fall. Evil is but an acquired deficiency, not an inherent characteristic of human nature. Hence Judaism's confidence in human ability to approach God without the need for a mediator or savior.
Judaism and the Prophetic Tradition
Jocz frequently speaks of the tragedy of rabbinic Judaism. He evaluates in various ways the fateful efforts of the synagogue in the first and second centuries to cope with two awesome realities: the growing vigor of Hebrew Christianity in its midst, and the implications of the A.D. 70 destruction of the second temple. Jocz is at his best when he explores the manner in which the synagogue removed a central aspect of religious life from the Jewish people and reoriented its approach to God away from a sacrificial and substitutionary approach to something direct and immediate--shifting from the sacrificial cult to a preoccupation with the study of the law. When the priestly dimension of Old Testament religion disappeared in rabbinic Judaism, the prophetic aspects of biblical faith also largely faded away. This meant that all Jews by virtue of their birth could automatically assume acceptance into convenantal relationship with God, whether or not they were religiously observant.
The prophets of ancient Israel spoke otherwise. The individual Jew was never free to take his or her Jewishness for granted. To be a Jew is not a static condition; it is a calling and a responsibility. This becomes clear when full weight is given to the prophetic tradition and the literally hundreds of occasions when the prophets called the descendants of Abraham to turn back to God and seek personal relationship with him (Hag. 2:17; Zech. 1:3; etc.).
An unbroken and intimate link exists between this prophetic tradition and the New Testament faith. Indeed, first-century Hebrew Christianity has its roots in the pious, prophetic circles within Jewry that derived inspiration from the prophetic message and put their hope not in the meticulous observance of the law--although they were a law-abiding people--but in the prophetic vision of the messianic age that Jesus had inaugurated. Both the priestly and prophetic aspects of Old Testament religion were fused into the redemptive work of Jesus the Christ, the Mediator between God and humankind in both the prophetic and priestly sense. Hence, Jocz asks why the synagogue elevates engrossment in the study of Torah as having precedence over every other segment of biblical revelation. In contrast, he notes that Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus were concerned to develop a personal, spiritually energized relationship with God through him.
Hebrew Prophetism and the Nations
Furthermore, Jocz stands against the rabbis who seek to safeguard Israel's separate existence from the Gentiles. He follows the apostle Paul in contending that the messianic theme of the Old Testament not only points to God's ultimate triumph in Israel but that this triumph will extend to all the nations of the world. They too will join with Israel in the worship of the one true God. Hence, messianism in the Old Testament promises the vindication of God within history. Through the worldwide witness of Hebrew and Gentile Christians, Hebrew prophetism has already had a significant impact on world history. It promises yet greater things for Israel and the nations in the Last Day.
When Jocz writes of the prophetic vision of a new world and a united humanity, he can only lament what he called Judaism's penchant for tribalism, sensing no duty toward the nations and remaining passive with no message of salvation for the outside world. Nothing is more foreign to rabbinic Judaism than Isaiah's cry, "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other" (Isa. 45:22). When the synagogue turned so completely from the universal character of the Old Testament prophetic message, it could not but alienate the followers of Jesus--Jews and Gentiles--who read the Scriptures so differently.
God's Quarrel with Religion
Some of Jocz's most controversial writings are concerned with what he calls God's quarrel with religion. He regards the Bible as a long historic record of the clash between human religions and the revelation of God's good news for sinful people. This clash reaches its climax in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and reveals the Gospel as the opposite of religion--not of false religion, but of all religion. Seen in this light, "Religion reveals itself as man's word about God--whereas the Gospel is God's word to man."(14)
Jocz laments what is seldom recognized: "Religion is always the most bitter opponent to the Gospel."(15) It represents the self-assertive universal human impulse to secure protection from the unknown and to achieve harmony with the universe. "The religious man tries to take hold of God and use him for his own ends. Not God, but himself, is in the center; and everything else is subservient to his needs."(16) Religion rejects the biblical witness that all people are rebels: fugitives from God, defiled by sin, and given to evil. Hence, to Jocz the synagogue is the epitome of religion, since Judaism requires no salvation. Pious Jews are confident that forgiveness can be secured by earning it. Jocz concludes: "Had religion been able to save people, Christ need not have come. Had the most perfect religion been able to save the Jewish people, Christ need not have been born a Jew."(17)
Zionism and the State of Israel
It was inevitable that religious editors would turn to Jocz for commentary, both political and theological, upon events in the Middle East. Toward the end of 1948 he responded with a short article, "Jews and Palestine: The Background to the Struggle for a Jewish State." He began with a review of anti-Semitism in the twentieth century, then sought to evaluate the secular philosophy of the Zionist movement. When Zionists contended that the Jewish people would find freedom only in the context of a free, independent state, Jocz disagreed. Zionism, he argued, cannot solve Israel's underlying problems, rather, it only transfers them to the Middle East. True and lasting freedom for the Jewish people can be found only beneath the cross. It is only there that Jews and Gentiles can together attain the sort of unity that will transcend their cultural and ethnic diversity. Jocz grants that God can use Zionism for his own inscrutable purposes, but Jocz remains convinced that the nationalism promoted by Zionism will not enhance Israel's spiritual development.
Mission to Jews
Throughout his life Jocz was an indefatigable advocate of evangelizing the Jewish people. He wrote extensively on this theme, invariably beginning with the reminder that mission to the Jews began when Jesus preached the kingdom of God to his own people. The primitive church continued this witness out of loyalty to him and out of profound concern for the Jewish people. It is the acid test of the church's submission to Christ's lordship that it continue in efforts to call the Jewish people to Jesus Christ. For the church to leave them out of its evangelistic effort is tragic evidence that it has lost faith in the miracle of conversion to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Jews, as well as Gentiles, must experience rebirth by the Holy Spirit if they would enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-10).
One of Jocz's memorable statements frequently quoted today bears repeating: "If the Church has no Gospel for the Jews, it has no Gospel for the world."(18) In this connection Jocz laments what has happened to the synagogue: "A faith which confines itself to one people is not the faith of the Old Testament prophets. By its lack of a world mission, Judaism separates itself from the rest of humanity, and also from the Bible."(19)
Jakob Jocz regarded the current emergence of Hebrew Christianity as the most remarkable sign of our times. He rejoiced that the Jewish people today are able to hear the message of Jesus Christ from Jewish lips in a Jewish idiom and in the context of Jewish life. To him Hebrew Christians stand as a reminder that there can be no collective decision for God, only a personal one. The Jewish community rejects them, for it makes no allowance for such a decision. This rejection indicates that its priorities have shifted from God to nationhood as the ultimate loyalty. As a result, Hebrew Christians (or Messianic Jews) find themselves in a prophetic role, not by choice but from necessity, even though this isolates them from their community and marks them as rebels. They pose profound questions to their fellow Jews: Why do you accept the rabbinic tradition about the crucifixion of Jesus? Why have you uncritically adopted the decision against Jesus made long ago by a minority of our people--the religious establishment? Should you not examine the Gospels personally, and not automatically follow the decision of those who have perpetuated this tragedy?
The only issue on which all Jews agree is their rejection of Jesus Christ. Some charge that for any Jews to speak otherwise is to destroy Jewry. When challenged, they invariably reply, "But isn't the survival of our people a good ultimate goal?" Jocz would answer that the higher scriptural goal is the unity of the human race in the Messiah.
Messianic Jews are also an anomaly to the average Christian, for they remind the church that God is still the God of Israel. The Jewish people still have a future role in the divine purpose. God will be faithful to the covenant and promises made with them. But Jewish believers are also a rebuke to the compromises many Gentile Christians continually make with the world. They challenge the church's nominality, its baptizing, marrying, and burying the unconverted in the name of Jesus. This follows because Messianic Jews have come to faith not by birth but by costly decision. They are a reminder that neither synagogues nor churches can take themselves for granted. If historic Israel failed, despite her privileges, so can the churches fail. Indeed, Messianic Jews are a sign of the utter spiritual need of the human race and the unsearchable riches of God's grace.
Out of loyalty to Jesus Christ, Jakob Jocz stood against the syncretistic tendencies both within the synagogue and the church. He could not endorse a rabbinic Judaism that saw fit to downplay the central event in ancient Israel's worship--represented by the temple--with its single focus on the need for expiation and atonement. He could not agree with the rabbinic denial of the need for any mediatorial priesthood between a holy God and sinful people, much less for the need of a prophetic order to call people to repentance and faith. Nor could Jocz endorse a largely Gentile church that tolerates "Christian" anti-Semitism, racism, and sentimental religiosity instead of the rigorous demands of historic, biblical Christianity. When the synagogue asks in all seriousness: "Yes, you Christians have Jesus, but where is the redeemed world, the kingdom he reputedly inaugurated?" Jocz then turns to the church and says, "You owe the synagogue an answer; where is the evidence of God's grace to be seen in this generation?"
1. Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ (1979 ed.), Preface. In writing this essay, I found very helpful the annotated bibliography in Elizabeth Louise Myers, "The Literary Legacy of Jakob Jocz" (M.A. thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1989).
2. Jocz, "War Without Peace: The Life and Times of Moishe Litvak" (unpublished, 1973).
3. Jocz, "The Gospel in the Little Towns of Poland," Jewish Missionary Intelligence 28, no. 8 (August 1937): 88.
4. Quoted by Jocz in "The People of the Cross," Jewish Missionary Intelligence 31, no. 2 (February 1940): 13.
5. Ibid., p. 13.
6. Cap and Gown, no. 53 (1976): 7.
7. Ibid., p. 25.
8. Jocz, Jewish People and Jesus Christ, Preface.
9. Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz (1981), p. 121.
10. Jocz, Christians and Jews (1966), pp. 36, 37.
11. Jocz, Jewish People and Jesus Christ (1949), p. 264.
12. Jocz, Christians and Jews, p. 40.
13. Jocz, Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz, pp. 186-92.
14. Jocz, "Religion and the Gospel," Victoria Institute 84 (1952): 79.
15. Ibid., p. 80.
16. Ibid., p. 86.
17. Ibid., p. 99.
18. Jocz, Christians and Jews, p. 48.
19. Jocz, Spiritual History of Israel (1961), p. 160.
Major Works by Jacob Jocz
1949 The Jewish People and Jesus Christ. London: SPCK.
1958 A Theology of Election: Israel and the Church. London: SPCK.
1961 The Spiritual History of Israel. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.
1966 Christians and Jews: Encounter and Mission. London: SPCK.
1968 The Covenant: A Theology of Human Destiny. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
1981 The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Arthur F. Glasser is Dean Emeritus, School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.
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|Title Annotation:||foremost Jewish Christian missiologist|
|Author:||Glasser, Arthur F.|
|Publication:||International Bulletin of Missionary Research|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1993|
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