A. James Rudin
Mary C. Boys. Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding. Paulist Press, New York and Mahwah, NJ, 2000
The world-famous 13th century stone figures of two women in the European cathedrals of
Strasbourg, Freiberg, Bamberg, Magdeburg, and, in Paris, Notre Dame, all convey the same
triumphant message: a crowned woman proudly representing the conquering Christian Church
stands in glory next to a blindfolded and bowed figure who symbolizes the defeated
No words of interpretation are needed when a person views such sculptures. For more than
700 years these graphic stone images have transmitted a potent spiritual claim: Christianity
and the Church have replaced Judaism and the Synagogue.
The technical term for this widely held belief is supersessionism, which asserts the New
Testament fulfills the Old Testament. As a result, Judaism is obsolete and the stubborn
Jews, rejected by God, are a theologically surplus people. To this day, supersessionism
remains one of the major obstacles in the Christian-Jewish encounter. Throughout history, it
has provided Christians a theological justification for the teaching of contempt toward
Judaism and, tragically, supersessionism has frequently led to physical violence against the
Happily, Sister Mary Boys, a prominent Roman Catholic scholar, has confronted
supersessionism head-on in her extraordinary new book whose title says it all: Has God
Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding (Paulist Press).
Boys, the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological
Seminary In New York City, ardently believes authentic Christianity does not require the
spiritual annihilation of Jews and the destruction of Judaism. Her remarkable book is of
historic importance because it thoroughly repudiates the spiritual arrogance and religious
competition that have bedeviled Christian-Jewish relations for 2,000 years.
Has God Only One Blessing? destroys the carefully nurtured belief that is
artistically embodied In the cathedral statues. Writing in an effortless style, Boys takes
her readers back to the "complex world of first-century Judaism" when Christianity
began. She vividly describes the dynamic Jewish civilization into which Jesus was born, and
she describes the "parting of the ways" between Judaism and what came to be known
That parting, Boys asserts, was "neither orderly nor sequential." She believes
the separation process took centuries, not decades, and Boys shows that even 800 years after
the death of Jesus, some Syrian Christians "could not distinguish between Judaism and
Christianity." While she doesn"t call for the church"s "reunion" with
Judaism, Boys urges her fellow Christians "to acknowledge ... the complexity of the
partings" and to sat aside any oversimplified and erroneous understanding of that
Boys tackles many "hot button" issues including the divinity of Jesus, the
cross as a symbol of Christian faith and Jewish dread, the Trinity, anti-Semitism, the Nazi
Holocaust, the state of Israel, the Pharisees, the virulent anti-Jewish writings of some
Church Fathers, and the discredited charge that Jews are "Christ killers."
But the major achievement of the book goes far beyond Boys" superb scholarship. From 1993
through 1995, she directed a unique program that involved 22 Catholic and Jewish educators
who wrestled with many aspects of Jewish relations.
During those two years, the participants strengthened their own faith commitments because
of the intense encounters with members of the "other" religion. They also
discovered that their previous beliefs about the "other" were sharply challenged
when the "other" was present in the same room.
One Catholic educator said she now understands the gospel in a new way and thinks of her
Jewish colleagues whenever she hears painful negative references to Jews and Judaism in her
church services. When Christians and Jews seriously engage one another face-to-face,
long-held stereotypes, cliches, and caricatures often disappear. It"s one thing for
Christians to mouth ancient negative teachings about Judaism when no Jews are present, but
it"s far different when one recites those same teachings in the presence of religiously
I consider Has God Only One Blessing? one of the most important books I have ever
read. It is the gold standard for faithful Christians who wish to end 2000 years of
religious enmity toward Jews and Judaism. The book has the compelling power to replace
inaccurate and negative beliefs with accurate and constructive ones.
It may be impossible to remove the cathedral statues after all these centuries, but
thanks to Mary Boys it is now possible to clearly see those stone figures for what they
really are: transmitters of a spiritual poison regarding Jews and Judaism. She reminds us
God has many children – and more than one blessing.
© 2000 Religion News Service. Used by permission.