Boys, Mary C.. Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding

Mary C. Boys. Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding

Confronting Supersessionism


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 As a result, Judaism is obsolete and the stubborn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


Jewish people.


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


as Christianity.


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


committed Jews.


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.