God's Presence in Israel and Incarnation: a Christian-Jewish
I. Profound Difference and Strong
"The most profound difference of belief manifests itself in the face
of the strong connecting links between Christians and Jews. The
belief in Jesus Christ who as a consequence of his crucifixion and
resurrection is affirmed and proclaimed, not only as the promised
Messiah, but also as the consubstantial Son of God, appears to many
Jews as something radically 'unjewish': they see him as an absolute
contradiction, if not a blasphemy, to the strict monotheism as it is
referred to every day, particularly by devout Jews, in the 'Shema
Israel'. The Christian must understand this, even if he himself sees no
contradiction to monotheism in the teaching of Jesus, Son of God."1
This is how, in their 1980 declaration on the relationship of the
Church to Judaism, the German bishops described the proximity between
Judaism and Christianity and its limit as far as Christian faith in
Jesus Christ is concerned. In so doing, they gave two titles to Jesus
Christ: Messiah and Son of God.
Christian-Jewish disagreement is centred on these two Christological
titles, which are of unequal significance. The difference in the
understanding of Incarnation is more profound than messianic
expectation, which is not as central to Judaism as it is to
Christianity. A different emphasis is given to the messianic issue in
the two traditions. Consequently, the central divergence between Jews
and Christians does not lie in the title of Messiah, but rather in
Jesus Christ's other title, that of Son of God, and especially
regarding God and his presence — in other words, the understanding of
God and his presence in history and in the Incarnation of the Son of
God in Jesus Christ. Thus, the Orthodox Jewish philosopher Michael
Wyschogrod can say: "The most difficult outstanding issues between
Judaism and Christianity are the divinity of Jesus, the Incarnation,
the Trinity, three terms which are not quite synonymous but all of
which assert that Jesus was not only a human being but also God.
Compared to this claim, all other Christian claims, such as Jesus as
the Messiah, become secondary at most."2
Christian-Jewish dialogue today has matured and discussions can now
take place about God and the Incarnation as a very personal shape of
his presence. This has given rise to various Jewish responses and
Christian theologians should be aware of several arguments and
approaches in the Jewish objection to the Incarnation of the Son of
God. One important objection is on the level of (religious) philosophy.
The Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, has examined the value of the
"idea" of the Incarnation (of the Son) of God and suggested that God's
presence in the world would be "too much" for God's poverty and "too
little" for his glory, without which his poverty is no abasement. He
denies that God can become a "presence" in time and in the world and
argues that God remains "Otherness that cannot be assimilated, absolute
difference to everything that manifests itself". Consequently, he
speaks of "God's original priority or original ultimate validity as
regards the world, which cannot receive and shelter him;" thus he
"cannot ... become incarnate," cannot "enclose himself in an end, a
goal."3 Another interjection argues a
posteriori: Judaism cannot
accept the Incarnation of the Son of God because it does not hear this
story, because the Word of God as it is heard in Judaism does not tell
this story and because Jewish faith does not testify to it.4
the point of view of tradition and history, the Incarnation is not a
Jewish topic of discussion. That is why, already in the 30's of the
20th century, Martin Buber spoke of the absence of God's Incarnation as
being something specifically Jewish: "the absence of an Incarnation
[Inkarnationslosigkeit] of the God who reveals himself to the 'flesh'
and who is present to it in a reciprocal relationship" is "what
ultimately separates Judaism and Christianity. We 'unify' God by
professing his unity in our living and our dying; we do not unite
ourselves to him. The God, whom we believe, to whom we are given in
praise, does not unite with human substance on earth."5
objection, as seen by Jews, is that the consequences of Christian
belief in the Incarnation have resulted in deepening the antagonism
felt by Christians towards Jews.6
In Catholic theology, Jewish criticism of the Incarnation of the Son of
God is certainly listened to attentively.7
When theologians reflect
on the possibilities and limits of a Christian reception of these
objections, they may do so with reference to the Council of Chalcedon's
(451) understanding of Christ and to so-called Chalcedonian
hermeneutics. The Council of Chalcedon saw the relationship of
"humanity" and "divinity" in Christ as being not mingled and at the
same time not separate: in the human countenance of Jesus of Nazareth
the divine Word, the divine Son. In Jesus, what is human and what is
divine are not mingled with one another and they may not be separated
from one another. The famous Conciliar formula says: "Following, then,
the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and
only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. . . this one and only Christ-Son, Lord,
only-begotten — in two natures; and we do this without confusing the
two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without
dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them
according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is
not nullified by the union. Instead, the 'properties' of each nature
are conserved and both natures concur in one 'person' and in one
reality 'hypostasis'" (DH 301f.)8 This
Conciliar guideline remains
important when Christian theology responds to Jewish criticism of the
Incarnation of the Son of God as a very concrete and personal shape of
Christian Belief in the Incarnation
Christians say in faith, "We believe in the Incarnation, that the
of God became flesh or became man in Jesus Christ." They consider an
intimacy between God and his creature as an event in the history of the
world which did not fall to earth like a meteorite, but within a
specific history of God's presence in the world, ie., in the encounter
between the God of Israel and the people of Israel. This specific
presence of God forms a history of encounter and intimacy. In the
Hebrew Bible this is described as God's dwelling in or among the people
of Israel. "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell
among them" (Exodus 25: 8). His dwelling designates here a special form
of God's presence. It is — as Benno Jacob states in commentary on the
book Exodus — "the completion of human beings with His spirit and
essence as a representative residing among them."9
thought developed further in Exodus 29: 42-46 and is concretized in the
concept of covenant: "There [the tent of meeting] I will meet with the
people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. . . And I will
dwell among the people of Israel, and will be their God" (Exodus 29:
43.45). Dwelling among the people of Israel is a consequence of the
exodus out from Egypt: so he can be "their God."10
began building the house of God, the Temple in Jerusalem, God said:
"Concerning this house you are building, if you will walk in my
statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk
in them, then I will establish my word with you. And I will dwell among
the children of Israel" (1 Kings 6: 12f.) God has thus two dwelling
places for his intimate presence: the Temple and the people of
Christian faith dares to state that the event of the Incarnation of the
Son of God — Jesus Christ, the one son of the Jewish people as concrete
and personal space and place of God's indwelling — brought about
change, not only in history, but to history itself. This is expressed
in the Gospel according to John in the climactic sentence in New
Testament theology: "And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us."
This two-fold statement in John 1:14 must be taken entirely seriously:
"the Word became flesh" is just as important as "and dwelled among us".
According to Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, the testimony about the Word
becoming flesh is the same as the testimony about God pitching his tent
and his name in the midst of Israel.12 The
first half of the verse
says in a "Christian" way what the second half says in a "Jewish" way.
During the course of the Church's history, biblical language was
transformed into other categories of speech, so that "Jewish"
categories are in the end expressed "philosophically". The belief that
God, the creator of everything in heaven and on earth, descended
through the Son and that his Son and Word became flesh and man, is very
foreign to the Jewish understanding of God. Israel, in whose midst the
event of becoming flesh and man occurred and from whose midst it went
out towards the nations, did not, on the whole, speak in this way about
God's presence or proximity, even though it had — and continues to have
— deep and intimate insights into God's presence and proximity. The
majority of the Jewish people did not hear this because the Word of
God, as it understood it, did not tell it this.
Commenting on the presence of God, the Orthodox Jewish scholar Michael
Wyschogrod did not shy away from choosing a phrase to characterize
Judaism, which at first glance seems like the antithesis to what Buber
said about the "lack of Incarnation". The God of Israel is "a God who
enters into the human world and who, by so doing, does not shy away
from the parameters of human existence, including spatiality. It is
true that Judaism never forgets the dialectics, the transcendent God. . .
But this transcendence remains in dialectic tension with the God who
lives with Israel in its impurity (Lev 16:16), who is the Jew's
intimate companion, whether in the Temple of Solomon or in the
thousands of small prayer rooms. . . Thus, Judaism is incarnational — if we
understand this concept as meaning that God enters into the human
world, that he appears in certain places and lives there, so that they
thereby become holy." According to Wyschogrod, there are no reasons
"within the essence of the Jewish idea of God," which exclude a priori
God's "appearance in human form".13
According to this position, the
idea of the Incarnation in general is not antithetical to Judaism.14
A Christian Response
What can a Christian say in response to Jewish criticism of the
Christian belief in the Incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ
and to the Jewish understanding of God's dwelling among the people of
Israel or even to the incarnational self-understanding of a Jewish
thinker like Michael Wyschogrod? The answer will not be philosophical
but theological. We can begin with Wyschogrod. It was not the victory
of a philosophical idea, but rather the free decision of the sovereign
God of Israel to take up his dwelling in the one Son of the Jewish
people, Jesus of Nazareth, in such a way that we Christians can no
longer speak of God without including his relationship to this Son. In
our description of God taking up his abode, we cannot come up with a
better concept than that the Word or the Son of God became flesh. Here
we should again remember the double statement in John 1:14: "And the
Word became flesh and dwelled/lived among us." According to Johannine
understanding, the testimony concerning the Word that was made flesh is
the same as the testimony regarding God's dwelling or living in Israel.
This was the testimony given from the midst of Israel to Christians
from among the Nations, as the free deed of the God of Israel to the
Son of the Jewish people, Jesus of Nazareth.
In view of Levinas' objection that the Incarnation is too much for
God's poverty and too little for God's glory, the Christian answer
consists in the simple und philosophically defenceless counter
question: but what if the God of Israel was pleased to enter into a
presence or proximity, which in fact does seem to be too much for
divine poverty, and to dare a presence, which seems to be too little
for God's glory, without which his poverty is no abasement? This is
Christian belief. A responsible reflection on this topic prohibits
triumphalism, as for example the claim that our belief is better or
greater or deeper in comparison with Jews and Judaism. Such a judgement
will only be apparent at the end of history, when our faith will be
weighed by the Lord of history. May our faith not be timid but humble,
without claiming to be better, without being polemical towards the
Levinas' critical interjection against the idea of "a God man" is part
of the uneasiness that found expression in the Middle Ages in the
concept of shittuf. This concept arose out of the impression that
Christian worship of Jesus Christ as the equal Son of God introduced an
element of mingling or of a non-divine element into God himself.15
Christian theology will not be able to satisfy this Jewish criticism
and concern but should be sensitive to the dangers of mingling and
fusing the relationship between the human and the divine natures in
It seems to me that shittuf touches on the insight of the Council of
Chalcedon when it emphasized the one and same Christ "in two natures;
and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting
one nature into the other," and that the Council then reinforced by
adding: "The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the
union." (DH 302) In his Christology Walter Cardinal Kasper emphasized
that Chalcedon unambiguously held on to the statement "that God and man
do not form a natural symbiosis. In the Incarnation, God does not
become a principle within the world; he is neither made into a spatial
reality nor into one of time. God's transcendence is upheld as much as
is the human person's independence and freedom."16
The Council of
Chalcedon expressed a sensitivity that does not do away with the Jewish
concern, but that does indicate something that is objectively related:
it does not mean some being in between that is formed by mingling the
divine and the human, but rather, the one and same Christ "in two
natures that are not mingled."
A Jew as the Incarnation of the Son of God
Michael Wyschogrod linked Christian understanding of Incarnation
with the demand that Jesus not be separated from the Jewish people. The
vigour of Christian replacement theology demonstrates that this did not
happen often enough. The same danger arises when the Incarnation is
spoken of in a way that makes the Son of God in Jesus Christ into a
"human being in abstracto, in general and in a neutral way." The Son of
God, God's Word, became a human being in Jesus of Nazareth; he did not
become a human being in abstracto, in general or in a neutral way.
Rather, he became Jewish flesh, a Jew, the son of a Jewish mother, and
as such he became a concrete human being.
The fact that the Son of God became a Jew is foundational for Christian
theology. The concreteness of the Incarnation of the Son of God in
Jesus Christ has yet to be taken seriously in Christian theology.
Several documents of the Church's magisterium have touched on this
topic in the last decades. Pope John Paul II reflected deeply on the
concrete reality of the Incarnation of the Son of God in his many
statements concerning the relationship of the Church to Judaism. On
April 11, 1997, he received the Pontifical Biblical Commission in
audience, and in his address spoke of the New Testament's inseparable
link with the Old Testament and Jesus' human identity. By emphasizing
that Jesus became a Jew, he described the Incarnation of the Son of God
as follows: "Jesus' human identity is determined on the basis of his
bond with the people of Israel, with the dynasty of David and his
descent from Abraham. And this does not mean only a physical belonging.
By taking part in the synagogue celebrations where the Old Testament
texts were read and commented on, Jesus also came humanly to know these
texts; he nourished his mind and heart with them. . . Thus he became an
authentic son of Israel, deeply rooted in his own people's long
history. . . To deprive Christ of his relationship (with the Old Testament)
is therefore to detach him from his roots and to empty his mystery of
In Christian-Jewish dialogue today there are those who wish to
emphasize the historical burden of guilt and failure of the Christians
and the Church rather than discuss the teachings of and between Jews
and Christians. Even if one agrees with this thesis, questions of faith
remain and for Christians faith depends on the understanding of Jesus
of Nazareth as Christ. If one turns to this most difficult issue in
Christian-Jewish relations, one must face Jewish criticism of the
Incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ. It is in response to
this criticism that Christian belief in the Incarnation can be seen
more clearly. Jewish-Christian conversation about the understanding of
God and his presence may result in an unexpected proximity. The Jewish
understanding of God's presence in the world can shed light on and make
incarnational thinking fruitful. That is a comforting experience in the
theology and dialogue of our time.
Translated by Sr. Dr. Katherine Wolff NDS, Abu
II. God's Presence in Israel and the
One of the certain facts about Jesus was that he was a Jew. He
was a child of Jewish parents, brought up in a Jewish home and reared
among Jewish traditions. Throughout his life, Jesus lived among Jews
followers were Jews.
No other Jew in history has rivalled Jesus in the magnitude of his
influence. The words and deeds of Jesus the Jew have been, and are, an
inspiration to countless millions of men and women. Strange, is it not,
that Jews have given little attention to the life and teaching of this
outstanding Jew? Yet, this is true because the Christian
followers of Jesus came to cherish beliefs about his life, which no Jew
When the Church persecuted Jews in an effort to convert them, Jewish
indifference to Jesus turned to hostility. It is a sad fact of history
that the followers of this great Jew have brought much suffering upon
the Jewish people, so that for centuries it was very hard for any Jew
even to think of Jesus without difficulty. Up until recently, most Jews
have chosen not to think of him at all.
Now we are witnessing a significant change and although Jewish
indifference to Jesus has not by any means disappeared, the signs are
Jesus and his family would have been observant of Torah, paid tithes,
kept the Sabbath, circumcised their males, attended synagogue, observed
purity laws in relation to childbirth and menstruation, kept the
dietary code — one could go on. While the Gospels record disputes about
Jesus' interpretation of a few of these, the notion of a Christian
Jesus, who did not live by Torah or only by its ethical values, does
not fit historical reality.
There is no official Jewish view of Jesus but in one respect Jews are
agreed in their attitude towards Jesus. Jews reject the tremendous
claim, which is made for Jesus by his Christian followers — that Jesus
is the Lord Christ, God Incarnate, the very Son of God the
Father. On that belief, Jews and Christians must continue to
respectfully differ. Jews believe that all share the divine spirit and
are stamped with the divine image and no person — not even the greatest
of all people — can possess the perfection of God. No one can be
Dr Henrix is correct, therefore, when he indicates that for Jews, the
doctrine of Jesus Christ as Son of God or as 'the incarnate Word of
God' exceeds the limits of Judaism, even though we can acknowledge it
develops central Jewish themes. The concept of incarnation is generally
viewed as one of the main dividing lines between Judaism and
Christianity, particularly the understanding that nothing less than the
actuality of divine love, wisdom, self-expression is mediated through
Christ, which enables humanity to participate in the divine life.18
Yet whilst there is this divide between, this does not mean the topic
should be put to one side. There is benefit in discussing this topic
together for in so doing we may understand each other a little better
and also discover certain commonalities, shared features, that we did
not realize exist. For Jews, one way to approach the Christian
understanding of incarnational Christology is to view this alongside
the Jewish insistence on God being with his people. The term, Shekinah,
is the closest Jewish analogue to Incarnation: 'when they [Israel] went
into Egypt, the Shekinah went with them; in Babylon the Shekinah was
with them' (Talmud, Megillah 29a).
The term Shekinah originates with God's glory 'dwelling' over the
tabernacle (Exodus 40.35) and indicates both divine presence and
continuity. An important image of the Shekinah is the continuity of the
divine presence even when in exile, seen in the cloud and fire leading
the people in the Exodus account, and later taken to be present after
the fall of the Temple in 70 CE. The prologue to John's Gospel might
have been developing similar concepts, especially with the allusion
there to the 'tabernacling' of the Word. Drawing upon a pun in Greek
where the word for 'tent' is similar to the Hebrew for 'to dwell'
(1.14), Jesus, the Word of God, is depicted as encamping with the
people of the world — 'and the word became flesh and dwelt (lit.
tabernacled) among us'. We thus discover a similarity of the Jewish and
Christian concepts of divine presence, which serves not only as a
theological issue of dialogue but of greater understanding of the
bridges between our faiths.
One might also make comparisons with the Jewish understanding of Torah.
Mainstream rabbinic Judaism taught that Moses received the Torah from
Sinai but there was also a tradition that the Torah was in existence
before the creation of the world (eg., Ben Sira 1:1—5), or even before
the creation of the Throne of Glory (Genesis Rabbah 1:4). Torah was
equated with Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22) and Philo wrote about the
pre-existence and role in creation of the word of God (logos), which he
identified with the Torah (Migration 130). Although Philo did not have
the same understanding of the incarnate logos that is found in the
prologue to John's Gospel, it is striking that a Jew who lived at the
same time as the authors of the New Testament, and who probably never
even heard of Jesus, spoke of the fatherhood of God and of the logos as
his image: 'Even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons and
daughters of God, still we may be called the children of his eternal
image, of his most sacred word (logos)' (On the Confusion of Tongues
147). Later, of course, Christianity understood logos as the 'Word of
God', which referred to Jesus as God Incarnate.
Rabbinic Judaism also personified Torah, describing how God discussed
the creation of the world with the Torah. On another occasion the Torah
is described as Israel's bride. Another feature of the Torah according
to the rabbis is that it was eternal. Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:17
that he has come not to destroy but to fulfil the Torah is reminiscent
of the rabbinic teaching of its non-abrogability. The rabbis taught
that the Torah would exist in the world to come, but interestingly it
was also argued that changes to the Torah would take place in the
messianic age (Genesis Rabbah 98:9), although this was later rejected
by Maimonides, who held there would be no change after the coming of
This discussion of Torah is another example of how Jews may understand
better than we first think the way Christian theology treats Christ
although the divine origin of Torah is never viewed as the
self-manifestation of God. However, it might be suggested that the
description of Christ who 'bears the very stamp of God's nature' (Heb
1.3) is not too dissimilar.
Let us look at another closely related and important topic, which I
think sheds light on our dialogue: atonement. This theme at first glace
demonstrates the significant differences between Judaism and
Christianity — notably the nature of human beings and the efficacy of
The conventional Jewish understanding of human nature sees people as
having two inclinations, one calling people to the good and the other
to wrong actions. People, having free will, are capable of responding
to the one inclination or the other. To such an understanding of human
nature, "sin" is less a condition than an adjective to describe wrong
actions chosen. In addition, the consequences of such actions are not
ineradicable. Rather, they can be reversed by teshuvah.
In Christian thought, the understanding of atonement is conditioned
upon a different understanding of human nature. People are understood
to be conceived in sin, and held in the bonds of original sin, what
Augustine calls "inherited corruption". In this fallen state, they are
unable to save themselves. The death of Jesus (born without defilement
by original sin) is understood as atonement necessary to save people in
a way that they cannot save themselves.
The second significant issue is vicarious atonement. The rabbis require
the involvement of the individual in their own teshuvah. The practice
of vicarious atonement came to an end in Judaism with the cessation of
sacrificial cult when the Temple was destroyed. In Christian teaching,
the Christ event is understood as the great act of atonement in human
history. Jesus' death becomes, in effect, a vicarious atonement on
behalf of all those who believe in him. To such a perspective, it is
not the action of the believer that is significant, but the action
taken on the believer's behalf.
Nevertheless, despite these significant differences, there is
considerable commonality in the religious practice of the two
communities of faith. Both liturgies offer the faithful the opportunity
to confess their sins to God and to seek forgiveness from God for those
failures. And, as a practical matter, both Jewish and Christian
practice include a strong emphasis on reconciliation between people and
between the individual and God, from whom they may have become
estranged. Both traditions include concrete practices to ritualize the
act of atonement: the rite of Confession in the Catholic Church, the
various forms of atonement ritual in the Protestant traditions, and the
Day of Atonement — along with other ritualizations of confession — in
Let us therefore return to the question of whether there can be any
commonality in terms of incarnational theology. Indeed, there has been
some Jewish interest in this subject, most importantly by Michael
Wyschogrod (see especially, The Body of Faith: God in the People of
Israel, 1989) who emphasises God's free yet irrevocable love for the
people Israel, and in connection with Israel, for the world as a whole.
A major theme for Wyschogrod is that God's election of Israel is based
solely on God's unalterable love and cannot be abrogated from the human
side. God did not choose Israel because it was superior in any way to
other peoples; indeed, in some respects it may even possess slightly
more negative characteristics than other groups. Nor is God's election
conditional upon Israel's obedience to the commands that God imposes on
Israel as the expression of God's will for Israel's conduct. God's
election brings with it God's command and the threat of severe
punishment should Israel fail to live up to its election. Yet in spite
of the fact that the Jewish people have struggled endlessly against
their election, with the most disastrous consequences for themselves
and for the rest of humankind, the divine election remains unaffected
because it is an unconditional one, based solely on God's love.19
Incarnational christology is a subject of interest to Wyschogrod in his
discussion of Christianity who perceives a certain convergence between
Judaism and Christianity. He makes clear that Christian claims on
behalf of Jesus are problematic from the perspective of Jewish faith.
The claim that Jesus was the Messiah is difficult for Jews to accept
because Jesus did not perform a key messianic function: he did not
usher in the messianic kingdom. More difficult by far, however, is the
Christian claim that God was incarnate in Jesus. For a Jew to subscribe
to this belief would mean a grave violation of the prohibition against
Nevertheless, Wyschogrod does not think that Jews are entitled to
dismiss the Christian claim about God's incarnation in Jesus out of
hand. To reject the incarnation on a priori grounds would be to impose
external constraints on God's freedom, a notion fundamentally foreign
to Judaism. According to Wyschogrod, there is only one condition under
which Israel would be entitled to reject the church's claims about
Jesus out of hand, and that is if these claims were to imply that God
had repudiated God's promises to Israel. For that is something that
Israel can safely trust that God will never do, not because God is
unable, but because God honours God's promises.
The question, then, is whether incarnational theology implies the
abrogation of God's promises to Israel. Is this necessarily the case?
For Christians, the question of the validity of Judaism challenges some
of the proclamations of Christian triumphalism. The issue, which we
need to ask, is whether Christianity can differentiate itself from
Judaism without asserting itself as either opposed to Judaism or simply
as the replacement of Judaism.
But does Christianity teach the replacement of Judaism? If we examine
the writings of the Church Fathers the only possible answer is 'yes'!
The fathers argued that because the Jews had rejected Jesus they were
punished by having their Temple destroyed and by being exiled from the
Land of Israel. Christians allowed Jews to survive in an impoverished
state so that their lowly position could witness the truth of
Christianity. As a result, contempt for Judaism became central to
Christian teaching and to the development of Christian identity.
Fortunately — for both Jew and Christian — the days when Christian
identity was dependent on a negation of all things Jewish have passed.
Indeed, there is not only a re-awakening to the Jewishness of
Christianity but recognition that the formation of Christian identity
today is dependent upon a positive relationship with Judaism.
Ironically, this is not a new theological approach but a re-discovery
of an old theological doctrine, which is expressed, in the earliest New
Testament writings — the letters of Paul. In his letter to the Romans
(especially chapters 9-11) Paul tackles exactly this point when he
raises a particularly controversial question: what of the ongoing
validity of God's covenant with his Jewish people? Did the Church, as
the New Israel, simply replace the Old as inheritors of God's promises?
If so, does this mean that God reneges on his word? If God has done so
with regard to Jews, what guarantee is there for the churches that he
won't do so again, to Christians this time?
One might argue against Paul by saying that if the Jews have not kept
faith with God, then God has a perfect right to cast them off. It is
interesting that Christians who argue this way have not often drawn the
same deduction about Christian faithfulness, which has not been a
notable and consistent characteristic of the last two millennia.
Actually, God seems to have had a remarkable ability to keep faith with
both Christians and Jews when they have not kept faith with God, a
point of which Paul is profoundly aware in Romans 9-11. He goes out of
his way to deny claims that God has rejected the chosen people, and
asserts that their stumbling does not lead to their fall.
In Paul's view it was impossible for God to elect the Jewish people as
a whole and then later displace them. In his view, the hardening took
place so that the Gentiles would receive the opportunity to join the
people of God. The Church's election, therefore, derives from that of
Israel but this does not imply that God's covenant with Israel is
broken. Rather, it remains unbroken — irrevocably.
Paul also offers a severe warning that gentile Christians should not be
haughty or boastful toward unbelieving Jews — much less cultivate evil
intent and engage in persecution against them. This critical warning
remained almost totally forgotten by Christians in history. Christians
have remembered the Jews as "enemies" but not as "beloved" of God and
have taken to heart Paul's criticisms and used them against the Jews
while forgetting Paul's love for the Jews and their traditions.
It is common for Christian theologians to turn to the arguments of Paul
and call for Christianity to abandon its historical religious animosity
and misleading caricature of Judaism has been overwhelming. These are
now admitted as something wrong and their full and public rejection was
required before the possibility of dialogue might exist. Thus, before
dialogue could really begin with Judaism, Christianity needed to shift
from what was, for the most part, an inherent need to condemn Judaism
to one of a condemnation of Christian anti-Judaism. This process has
not led to a separation from all things Jewish but, in fact, to a
closer relationship with "the elder brother". In our times we are
witnessing the occurrence of a demonstrable shift from a Christian
monologue about Jews to an instructive (and sometimes difficult)
dialogue with Jews.
For Wyschogrod, the doctrine of God's incarnation could be understood
as a kind of intensification of God's covenant with Israel. Although
the incarnation is not foreseeable on the basis of the Hebrew Bible,
once the fact of the incarnation is assumed (as it is by Christians),
it can be regarded as an extension of the Bible's basic thrust.
In an article entitled Incarnation and God's Indwelling in Israel,
Wyschogrod argues that the covenant between God and Israel results not
just in a closeness and intimacy between them but includes an
indwelling of God in the people of Israel whose status as a holy people
may be said to derive from this indwelling. He suggests,
controversially, that the divinity of Jesus is not radically different
than the holiness of the Jewish people.21
John Pawlikowski has also taken an interest in this topic such as
Christ in the Light of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue22
suggested that "Incarnational Christology has the best possibility for
preserving such universalistic dimensions of the Christ Event while
opening 'authentic theological space in for Judaism,' as the late
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin termed it."23
Ultimately, however, the question to what extent the Church is part of
God's plan for the world depends, from a Jewish perspective, upon
whether Christianity aims to replace Israel. Traditionally, the church
has proclaimed itself to be the true Israel (verus Israel), comprising
the faithful of all nations, in relation to which the old carnal Israel
existed as a temporary foreshadowing. By claiming to be God's new
people, replacing the old, the church undermines God's promises and is
a rebellion against God's word.
This is reminiscent of the early period of Jewish-Christian relations
when Jews reminded Christians that Jesus lived his life not as a
Christian but as a Jew. Jesus was a Jew, not an alien intruder in
1st-century Palestine. Whatever else he was, he was a reformer of
Jewish beliefs, not an indiscriminate faultfinder of them. For Jews,
the significance of Jesus must be in his life rather than his death, a
life of faith in God. For Jews, not Jesus but God alone is Lord.
Yet an increasing number of Jews are proud that Jesus was born, lived
and died a Jew. Now a few of us are willing to consider the even more
challenging theological doctrines of our partners. We are looking for
bridges to create greater understanding between our communities; to
establish a chevruta, a partnership, in which we seek not only to build
respect but also to further understanding; not only to acknowledge
difference but to build bridges.
Separately and together, we must work to bring healing to our world. In
this enterprise, we are, as Christians and Jews, guided by the vision
of the prophets of Israel:
It shall come to pass in the end of days that the mountain of the
Lord's house shall be established at the top of the mountains and be
exalted above the hills, and the nations shall flow unto it . . . and
many peoples shall go and say, "Come ye and let us go up to the
mountain of the Lord to the house of the God of Jacob and He will teach
us of His ways and we will walk in his paths." (Isaiah 2:2-3)
- Die Deutschen Bischöfe, Erklärung über das Verhältnis der Kirche zum Judentum vom 28. April 1980, in: Die Kirchen und das Judentum. Band I: Dokumente von 1945 bis 1985, Rolf Rendtorff and Hans Hermann Henrix, eds., 3rd ed. (Paderborn/Gütersloh: Bonifatius — Gütersloher Verlag, 2001), 260-280, 275 = German Bishops' Conference, The Church and the Jews, (1980, IV.2): www.bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/cjrelations/resources/documents/catholic/german_church_jews.html (August 11, 2006).
- Thus Michael Wyschogrod, Abraham's Promise.
Jewish-Christian Relations. R. Kendall Soulen, ed., (Grand
Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2004), 166; Michael Wyschogrod,
"Inkarnation aus jüdischer Sicht": Evangelische Theologie 55
(1995): 13-28, 15; Michael Wyschogrod, The Body of Faith. Judaism as
Corporeal Election (New York: The Seabury Press, 1983), 211-215.
Similarly, Eugene B. Borowitz, Contemporary Christologies: A Jewish
Response (New York/Ramsey: Paulist Press, 1980), 31f.; Alon
Goshen-Gottstein, Judaisms and Incarnational Theologies: Mapping out
the Parameters of Dialogue: Journal of Ecumenical Studies 39 (2002):
219-247; cf. the Christian resonance to the Jewish perspective:
Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, Das christliche Bekenntnis zu Jesus, dem
Juden. Eine Christologie. Band 1 (München: Kaiser, 1990); Josef
Wohlmuth, Die Tora spricht die Sprache der Menschen (Paderborn:
Schöningh, 2002), especially 36-40; Josef Wohlmuth, Jesus der
Bruder und Christus der Herr, in: Redet Wahrheit — Dabru Emet.
Jüdisch-christliches Gespräch über Gott, Messias und
Dekalog (Münster: Lit, 2004), 91-109; Hans Hermann Henrix,
Judentum und Christentum: Gemeinschaft wider Willen (Regensburg:
Pustet, 2004), 156-174; Clemens Thoma, Juden und Christen beten
denselben Gott an: Monotheismus und Trinität, in: Juden und
Christen im Gespräch über "Dabru emet — Redet Wahrheit"
(Paderborn/Frankfurt a.M. : Bonifatius/Lembeck, 2005) 89-102.
- Quotations from Emmanuel Levinas, Menschwerdung
Emmanuel Levinas, Zwischen uns. Versuche über das Denken an den
Anderen. Translated from the French by Frank Miething (Wien: Carl
Hanser, 1995), 73-82, 77f.
- Michael Wyschogrod, Warum war und ist Karl Barths Theologie für einen jüdischen Theologen von Interesse?: Evangelische Theologie 34 (1974) 222-236, 226; similarly, Jeshajahu Leibowitz, Gespräche über Gott und die Welt (with Michael Shashar; translated from the Hebrew by Matthias Schmidt) (Frankfurt: Insel 1990), 74 or Peter Ochs, The God of Jews and Christians, in Christianity in Jewish Terms, eds. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David F. Sandmel, Michael A. Signer (Boulder/Oxford: Westview Press, 2000), 49-69, 59.
- Martin Buber, Die Brennpunkte der jüdischen
in: Martin Buber, Der Jude und sein Judentum. Gesammelte Aufsätze
und Reden (Gerlingen: Lambert Schneider, 1993), 196-206, 205.
- On this cf. Clemens Thoma, Die theologischen
Christentum und Judentum, 2nd. ed. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft, 1989), 111 or Zwi Werblowsky, Juden und Christen am
Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts (Unpublished manuscript of November 5, 1999,
- On the discussion, cf. among others the
Wohlmuth, ed., Emmanuel Levinas — eine Herausforderung für die
christliche Theologie (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1998).
- Quoted according to: www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/creeds.chalcedon.txt.
- Benno Jacob, Das Buch Exodus, edited on behalf of the Leo Baeck-Institute by Shlomo Mayer under co-operation of Joachim Hahn and Almuth Jürgensen (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1997), 859; here quoted after: Christoph Dohmen, Exodus 19 -40 (Freiburg i. Br.: Herder, 2004), 247.
- So with Christoph Dohmen, op. cit., 247 and 274.
- See for the exegetical discussion of the statements of the Hebrew Bible on God's "dwelling" and on its derivates such as shekinah only: A. R. Hulst, article "Å¡kn wohnen": Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, eds. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, Vol. II. (München/Zürich: Kaiser/Theologischer Verlag, 1976), 904-909; Johan Brinkman, The Perception of Space in the Old Testament. An exploration of the methodological problems of its investigation, exemplified by a study of Exodus 25 to 31 (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1992); Ralph E. Hendrix, The Use of MiÅ¡kan and 'Oh'ed in Exodus 25-40, Andrews University Seminary Studies 30 (1992) 3-13; Bernd Janowski, Gottes Gegenwart in Israel (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1993), especially 11-147; 214-246, 247-280; Susanne Owczarek, Die Vorstellung vom "Wohnen Gottes inmitten seines Volkes" in der Priesterschrift (Frankfurt a.M. Peter Land, 1998) and Christoph Dohmen, op. cit.
- Thus in Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, Das christliche Bekenntnis zu Jesus . . . 1, op. cit., 115f.
- Michael Wyschogrod, Inkarnation, ibid., p. 22; cf. also Michael Wyschogrod, Gott und Volk Israel. Dimensionen jüdischen Glaubens (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2001), 21, 42, 62, 79, 91, 105, 125, 185ff.
- Thus also, picking up Wyschogrod's thought: Elliot R. Wolfson, Judaism and Incarnation: The Imaginal Body of God, in: Christianity in Jewish Terms, op. cit., 239-254.
- "There is a good reason for the severity of the
of the incarnation. No matter how close God comes to humankind in the
Hebrew Bible, no matter how much God is included in human hopes and
fears, he still remains the eternal judge of the human being, whose
nature is to be in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26f.), but who may not
be mingled with God. . . In the light of this, the statement that a human
being was God can only give rise to most profound concern in the Jewish
soul": Michael Wyschogrod, Ein neues Stadium im
jüdisch-christlichen Dialog: Freiburger Rundbrief 34 (1982) 22-26,
26.; similarly Michael Wyschogrod: Christologie ohne Antijudaismus?:
Kirche und Israel 7 (1992) 6-9 or: Abraham's Promise, op. cit.,
165-178, especially 174ff.
- Thus by Walter Kasper, Jesus der Christus, 8th
Grünewald, 1981), 280. See also Josef Wohlmuth, Jesus der Bruder
und Christus der Herr, op. cit., 96ff.
- Pope John Paul II, Address to Members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission - 11 April 1997; quoted according to: www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1997/april/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19970411_pont-com-biblica_en.html. German: Johannes Paul II., Ansprache an die Vollversammlung der Päpstlichen Bibelkommission am 11. April 1997, in: Hans Hermann Henrix/Wolfgang Kraus, eds., Die Kirchen und das Judentum. Band 2: Dokumente von 1985 bis 2000 (Paderborn/Gütersloh: Bonifatius/Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001), 102-105, 103f.
- See further, John McDade, "Catholic Christianity and Judaism since Vatican II", New Blackfriars, forthcoming; see also, Elliot Wolfson, "Judaism and Incarnation: the imaginal body of God" Christianity in Jewish Terms eds.,. Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al (Oxford: Westview) 2000, pp .239-253; and Randi Rashkover, "The Christian Doctrine of Incarnation", Christianity in Jewish Terms, pp .254-62.
- See, Kendall Soulen, Abraham's Promise: Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations (London: SCM, 2005) pp 1-22. Also, "Michael Wyschogrod and God's First Love", The Christian Century, July, 2004 pp. 22-27.
- Michael Wyschogrod, "A Jewish Perspective on Incarnation", New Theology (1996) 12:2, pp 195-209.
- The article was first published in Incarnation, M Olivetti (Cedam: Biblioteca dell 'Archivo di Filosofia) 1999 pp 147-157; see also, Soulen, op cit. pp. 165-78.
- John T. Pawlikowski, Christ in the Light of Christian-Jewish Dialogue (new edition). Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001. See also, "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" Themes in Jewish-Christian Relations, eds., Edward Kessler and Melanie J. Wright, (Cambridge: Orchard Academic) 2005, pp 273-299.
- Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and the Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1996, 78-79.