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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 9 (Oct. 1995)

A Jewish-Christian Dialogue III

Raymund Schwager, "Second Reply to Sandor Goodhart"

In his "reply to Father Schwager and Józef Niewiadomski" (Bulletin No. 8, p. 12) Sandor Goodhart critically views all my statements and is in basic disagreement with my enquiries. I appreciate his direct and frank language, because only by this can we achieve a definition of our statements which goes beneath the surface. Moreover, his reply shows that we are discussing essential points of the Jewish-Christian dialogue. This is why I confine myself to three questions in my reply.

1. A central point in our discussion is S. Goodhart's statement that "the notion of a 'conflict of interpretations' is less a Hebraic notion than a Platonic Greek one" and "that in Judaism there are no true and false interpretations". I have heard such statements quite frequently, but I have never been able to understand them. In the history of Judaism there were quite a few 'conflicts of interpretations'. They can already be found in the Bible,--for example in the fight between the true and the false prophets or between Job and his friends (=enemies), arguments which actually include the claim of a true interpretation against a false one. The conflicts continue in the post-Biblical time. Just think of the community of Qumran, which--against Jerusalem--claims to be the only and genuine Israel. Today we find the same situation. It is certainly a very big 'conflict of interpretations', when Jewish settlers quote the Bible in maintaining that God has given them the land and when they are even ready to defend their conviction with violence against their own government. Furthermore one can pose the question: Why should one reject 'a sacrificial interpretation', which has a long tradition in Christianity--this is done by S. Goodhart--if there do not exist true and false interpretations? Can one actually speak of 'an innocent victim' without claiming at the same time to be in the possession of the true interpretation in contrast to those who consider the 'victim' guilty? There is certainly not an authority in Judaism who could definitely decide which interpretation is the true one. But this is a different problem, which is not the theme at the moment. For me personally, however, there would no longer be any reason to continue my theological work, if I were not convinced that there are true and false interpretations and that one should take pains for the former and reject the latter. I want to add a citation of René: "As far as I am concerned, such ideas as 'textual indeterminacy', 'infinite interpretation', 'undecidability', and the like, while they may be true as far as Mallarmé's poems are concerned, do not apply to myth and the other great texts of traditional culture. The interpretation of myth which I propose is either true or false. What it most closely approximates is our historical demythification or deconstruction of late medieval witch hunts and that deconstruction, too, is either true or false. The victims were real behind the texts, and either they were put to death for legitimate reasons, or they were victims of mimetic mobs of the rampage. The matter cannot be undecidable. There cannot be an infinite number of equally 'interesting', or rather uninteresting, interpretations, all of them neither true nor false, and so on. The interminable preciosity of contemporary criticism is completely irrelevant to my question." ("Violence, Difference, Sacrifice: A Conversation with René Girard." Religion & Literature 25/2 [1993] pp. 13-14)

2. S. Goodhart continues: "There is no unresolved tension in Hebrew at least between God acting through Cyrus in one moment, and the suffering servant in another". Here I realize an essential problem. Can I assume that God sides with the victim in one moment and acts through military power in another? Kings and military leaders have frequently referred to the belligerent David and the anointed Cyrus to justify their claim to wage wars in the name of God? Have the done so rightfully? It is the most essential point in Girard's analysis that this question is denied. This is why I simply cannot understand how Cyrus and "the suffering servant" as far as God's action from Girard's point of view is concerned can be put on the same level.

3. S. Goodhart criticizes that I have brought in the question of resurrection and he thinks that 'the fact Girard happens also to be a believing Christian' has not got to do anything with his theory of the innocent victim. This differentiation between Jesus as a victim and his resurrection is not clear to me. According to the Bible Jesus was convicted as a blasphemer. Had he really been one, he would not have been innocent, but he would have deserved death according to the Torah (Lev 24:16). The Gospels uncover the mechanism of power and describe him as an innocent victim only because his disciples were convinced that God raised the crucified from the dead and proved him innocent against his prosecutors.

4. The question of Jesus' condemnation and resurrection is a central problem in the Jewish-Christian dialogue. In his study Resurrection: A Jewish Experience in Belief the Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide shows that there need not necessarily be a separation between the two paths. He first makes clear that the belief in Jesus' resurrection was only possible in the context of the pharisaic belief in the resurrection of all dead. He continues that he had been a Sadducean for decades as far as Jesus' resurrection is concerned and he finally gives reasons why he changed his conviction and found his belief in Jesus' resurrection. Though Lapide did not become a Christian, it is his intent to give an important position in the Jewish history of belief also to that Jew who had by far the greatest spiritual influence on the world. Going back to Moses Maimonides he considers Jesus that prophet who was authorized by God to prepare the heathen world (as Messiah for the heathens) for the salvation expected by Israel. I judge this attitude of a Jew very positively, because he uses the same category of thought as Christian theology. This says that the Hebrew Bible is a preparation for the Gospel, and Lapide says that Christianity is a preparation of the heathen world for the Jewish Messiah. From my point of view this could be a (preliminary) target of the Jewish-Christian dialogue. The differences between the Jews and the Christians remain with this result, but there is no longer a condemnation, and common work will be possible in more or less all points (e.g. also with the help of the mimetic theory). In order to achieve this aim the Christians will have to give up the position of the traditional theology that the church has finally replaced Israel in its function in the history of salvation, which I personally do. On the part of the Jews one would have to renounce definitely the declaration of Talmud that Jesus was a magician, who seduced Israel (Baraitha to Sanhedrin 43 a) and Jesus should be acknowledged as a Jewish prophet with a special mission in the pagan world. Not even Paul is an unsurpassable hindrance, as the Jew Jacob Taubes has shown. (cf. my contribution at the symposium in Chicago).

(trans. by Elisabeth Thurner)