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SIDIC Periodical I - 1968/1
Biblical Studies (Pages 09 - 11)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

The Arnoldshain Symposium
W. P. Eckert


«For the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to the mystery of God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are already found among the patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ, Abraham's sons according to faith are included in the same patriarch's call... ».
Nostra Aetate, No. 4

Abraham — Father of Believers

That in Germany several Jews should participate actively in a Jewish-Christian dialogue must be rather rare; still more rare for three of them to be rabbis. But such was the case in a working session for Christian and Jewish exegetes which took place at the Evangelical Academy of Arnoldshain/Taunus from the 16th to the 19th of May, 1967. The topic was « Continuity and Discontinuity — Analysis of biblical and talmudic basic terms ». The invitation to the second meeting of this kind had come from the German Council of Co-ordination of Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, from the work-team « Jews and Christians » of the German Evangelical « Kirchentag », from the circle of editors of the Freiburger Rundbrief with Dr. Gertrud Luckner, and from the Evangelical Academy in Hesse and Nassau.

In Pentecost-week a year ago an analysis of anti-judaistic passages in the New Testament was made in order to find a way to overcome deeply rooted prejudices; that is, a sort of Christian self-examination and reappraisal were carried out. (The complete text of the conferences and discussions was published last autumn under the title Antijudaismus im Neuen Testament?). At the 1967 meeting, not only that which is common to Jews and Christians, but also the particular character of the experience of each faith, were to be stressed. Most Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, feel the Old and the New Testamentto be one continuous unity and fail to realise that for the history of Jewish religion and culture there are decisive centuries between the conclusion of the Tanach — called the Old Testament by Christians — and the New Testament.

But whoever has realised the importance of these centuries necessarily faces the question of the relation between Scripture and Tradition, between written and oral Torah, the question of a living tradition which is both conservative and progressive. He further will inquire into the Judaic roots of the Christian faith, and at the same time into the modifications and different interpretations it has brought about. Misunderstanding can be removed. But first of all the atmosphere of the Jewish post-biblical tradition should and must be made clear.

That this happened in Arnoldshain is due mainly to the Jewish participants in this symposium: Rabbi N. Peter Levinson who not only took part in the preparation for the meeting but who also by his questions and suggestions kept the discussion moving; Rabbi E. Schereshewsky who spoke on the kingship and the kingdom of God in the Tanach and in the talmudic tradition; Rabbi Roland Gradwohl who, out of the rich treasure of the Midrashim, drew a vivid picture of Abraham, the Father of Believers in Jewish tradition; Professor Baruch Graubard who, in his conference, made the listeners experience what the Torah — not only in the Tanach, but also in talmudic tradition and even to the present day — means for the believing Jew; and Mrs. Dr. Pnina Nave who explained the meaning of Tradition and traditions in Judaism and clarified this meaning by example taken from the liturgy.

But what Tradition means in Judaism should not only be exposed through a historical analysis but, in addition, clarified through a comparison with the understanding of Tradition in Protestant and Catholic theology. The basic discussions about the understanding of Tradition had to be conducted in accordance with fundamental notions of Jewish and Christian tradition. Agreement and differences necessarily came to light through this comparison.

If Abraham is for both Jews and Christians the Father of Believers what, then, is more natural than to ask, « How can the particular character of Jewish and of Christian ways of belief best be deschibed? » If faith (pistis), a central idea in the New Testament, corresponds to the Hebrew word emuna, is it then possible by means of these two words to describe the specific character of the Jewish and of the Christian faith-experiences as Martin Buber did in 1950, in his book Zwei Glaubensweisen (The Two Ways of Belief)? Is it possible that Prof. Buber wrote with his Christian companion so exclusively in view that the specifically Jewish understanding of self did not emerge? Or has emuna no meaning, either in the Tanach or in the talmudic or in the later Jewish tradition, that corresponds to pistis? What about another idea that plays such an important role in the New Testament kerygma, the kingdom of God? When did this designation of God as king first emerge in the religion of ancient Israel? What value does this notion have in Jewish tradition? Finally a third idea: what does Torah mean in the Tanach and what is its meaning in Jewish tradition? What traces of the Torah remained in the message of the New Testament, in the Evangelists, and in Paul? All the elements of Jewish faith are still present in St. Paul but given a different emphasis. The Torah is not annulled but it has lost its central importance. Its authority is circumscribed. For the sake of the proclamation of Christ's message of salvation, the Apostle Paul dethroned the Torah. Inthis consists his anti-Judaism. The topic of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New Testament, and between the Jewish and the Christian understanding of tradition, is bound up with the question of anti-Judaism in the New Testament. Will one who professes New Testament principles be at all able to understand the language of his Jewish partner in dialogue?

Professor Graubard recalled that there have been many religious discussions between Jews and Christians throughout history but the majority had had an unhappy ending. When it comes to matters of faith and not only to a discussion, for example, on common social action, the readiness to a brotherly dialogue alone does not guarantee that the dialogue between Jews and Christians under such different conditions must directly lead to rapprochement, to a better mutual understanding, and will not end in disappointment. The Christian theologians who took part in the symposium in Arnoldshain, Catholic as well as Protestant, did not deny that they came from different schools of thought and that they differed in their degree of openness. But, in concert with their Jewish friends, they were ready to learn and thus to be taught, too. This readiness was visibly transformed into action. Some of the Christian exegetes, affected by the scientific vocabulary of exegesis taught in the theological faculties in Germany, had used spontaneously in their manuscripts the expression Spatjudentum without realising that behind this expression is hidden a whole ideology, that is, the theory of the end of Israel with the year A.D. 70. The Arnoldshain Symposium was to them an eye-opener. They replaced this unhappy expression by the value-free one, « postbiblical Judaism ». The symposium also had a liberating effect in that there were not simply Jews and Christians facing one another but that the methods of interpretation compelled Christian and Jewish scholars to take up positions against other Jewish and Christian scholars. It was the Reverend Friedrich Wilhelm Marquardt who asked the Christian theologians the provocative question whether or not the traditional vocabulary of theology did not from the beginning close the entrance to a dialogue with Jewish partners. With that, he provoked a protest from Professor Erich Grasser, Dean of the Evangelical-Theological Faculty in Bochum who at Arnoldshain had given a highly impressive analysis of the New Testament concept of pistis (faith). In this protest a necessary crisis of the dialogue became obvious. Crisis is necessary, for unity may not be postulated too quickly; boundary posts cannot and should not be removed. But despite this, each one must analyse and review his position.

It was a moving experience to see that Pastor Gunther Wied from Kettwig, Assistant of Professor Kremers, hesitated to pronounce the name of God so as not to hurt the religious sensitivity of the Jewish partners.

Just as the Christian theologians from Germany proved their ability in analysing Old and New Testament fundamental ideas — besides Professor Grasser, particular mention must be made of the Heidelberg Old Testament scholar, Professor Rolf Rendtorff, who presented a careful description and clarification of the idea emuna (confidence) in the Old Testament — so the Christian theologians, who for the first time had come from Holland to participate in the symposium, made an impression by their familiarity with Jewish categories of thought.

For some time now, there has existed in Amsterdam a Bible study house founded, not by churches or by the synagogue, but by Jews and Christians who simply want to learn together. The Dutch theologians were prime examples of the results. This contribution was not an insignificant gain for the meeting. Dr. Jan van Goudoevre, Pastor of a Remonstrant community at Hilversum and secretary of the study house at Amsterdam, spoke about Gospel tradition, a call to a perpetual renepal of thought.

The Catholic exegete, Professor Theo de Kruijf, by an examination of the inner development of the Apostle Paul, shed light on the connection between nomos (Torah) and the Gospel in the letter to the Romans. He pointed out that the distinction between the Greek word nomos and the Hebrew word Torah does not necessarily mean a distinction in way of thinking and living, because in the last analysis, it was Jews who, in the Greek translation of Tanach, decided in favor of the word nomos. It is the different context which leads to another meaning. In St. Paul there is certainly no lack of explosive material caused not only by the connection between Torah and messianism but also by his own character. The letter to the Romans is written after two decades of his apostolate, two decades which led to a definite separation of Jews and Christians. He is concerned with reevaluating his work, with assessing the validity of the message of justification. Who could hope to be justified if Israel were not to be saved? Thus the salvation of Israel becomes a burning issue, even the decisive question in the letter to the Romans. Paul circumscribed the Law to make it broad enough so that the heathens could accept it, but he did not annul it. What his message has in fact effected, the separation, is one thing; what Paul intended is another. We must explain this, his proper intention, when we again read his letters, above all to the Roman community in which it is said « Then let us no more pass judgement on one another but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother » and « Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law ».

This was the spirit in which Jews and Christians met at Arnoldshain to find together a way to abolish prejudices, to listen to one another, to learn from one another, in the awareness that Abraham is our Father in the Faith.


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