"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Jewish scholar's "argument with the Pope"

In his latest book Jesus of Nazareth, the Pope devotes over a dozen pages to engaging the thought of prominent Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner, especially as that thought is expressed in his 1993 book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. Anybody who, like me, has pursued "religious studies" in a secular university will know Neusner's name if not his actual work, if only because he has accomplished the enviable feat of having published more than Fr. Andrew Greeley while being only slightly less controversial. Neusner responds to Ratzinger in an article that was republished and commented on last week by Sandro Magister. Having myself recently sparked a surprisingly bitter debate about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, I find the exchange's combination of frankness and civility most worthwhile.

The passage from Neusner's article I find most striking is one about Jesus himself:

He claimed to reform and to improve: "You have heard it said... but I say..." We maintain, and I argued in my book, that the Torah was and is perfect and beyond improvement, and the Judaism built upon the Torah and the Prophets and Writings, the originally-oral parts of the Torah written down in the Mishna, Talmud, and Midrash – that Judaism was and remains God's will for humanity.

What Neusner says Jews maintain about the Torah sounds to me very much like what Protestant fundamentalists say about "Scripture," or what Orthodox believers say about Scripture-and-the Fathers, over against the claims of the Catholic Church. For it seems to me that the sort of retrospective abduction you find in NT interpretation of the OT, to which Jews strongly object, is what you get in RC "development of doctrine" vis-à-vis Scripture and the Fathers, to which conservative non-Catholic Christians equally strongly object. Thus, the way the Catholic Church has come to understand our appropriation of divine revelation is found objectionable in the same way that Neusner finds Jesus' claim to complete divine revelation objectionable.
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