Abraham's troubled children

Three faiths

It all too often seems forgotten that Mary and her son, Jesus, were observant Jews. Islam too shares roots with Judaism. Edward Kessler studies the encounters between all these spiritual children of Abraham, and tracks recent changes.

Jews, Christians and Muslims in Encounter by Edward Kessler (SCM Press)

- Review by The Tablet

There seem, at first, to be conflicting echoes. On the one hand, the gospel of Matthew (27:23-26) shows the Jewish multitude crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus and insisting that his blood should be upon them and upon their children. The pre-Vatican II liturgy for Good Friday made reference to 'the perfidious Jews.'

On the other hand, Pope John XXIII greets some Jews who have come to visit him with the words, 'I am Joseph, your brother;' Nostra Aetate proclaims that 'the Jews remain most dear to God;' Pope John Paul II visits the National Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in 2000; and both he and Benedict XVI pay visits to the synagogue in Rome.

Conflict or chronological development?

Dr Kessler, a distinguished Jewish theologian, head of the Woolf Institute and a fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge, attempts to make sense of all this and shows that there has, indeed, been a most radical development in the attitudes of the Catholic Church towards Judaism.

The key has been the short but immensely significant Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate. This document articu¬lates in a nutshell the ideal tools for Christian-Jewish interaction: respect, understanding, dialogue.

Edward Kessler's book is an important contribution to our understanding of Christian-Jewish relations. In 10 of the essays, written between 1998 and 2011, he charts a developing relationship between the two faiths.

He perceives in recent Christian writings three major themes: first, Christianity has become much more aware of the suffering it has inflicted on Judaism down the ¬centuries; secondly, Christianity has begun to relearn its Jewish roots; and thirdly, some Christians in leadership roles have begun to realise that to be truly Christian in identity involves 'a right relationship with Judaism.'

Kessler does well to remind us that while the Catholic Church in recent years has positioned itself as the younger brother of Judaism. The problems that can arise in Christian-Judaeo relations are not ignored.

Kessler's final three essays deal with Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations. Here again, he finds no initial solutions as such but ways forward are suggested. For example, he rightly observes that 'the basis for Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue is that each faith must be understood on its own terms.'

Read full review: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Encounter (The Tablet)

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