John Howard Yoder’s “Alternative Perspective” on
ALAIN EPP WEAVER*
Abstract: The late John Howard Yoder’s posthumously published essays on Jewish-Christian relations display the breadth and depth of his scholarship. In them Yoder integrated biblical, historical and theological scholarship into multiple, provocative theses about how Christians should conceive their relationship with the people first called Israel. This essay outlines Yoder’s main contentions, critically examines the main critiques leveled against his claims and proposes areas for further theological discernment on the part of churches in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition that would engage in the broader Christian conversation as to how Christians and Jews are to be the people of God together.
Perhaps no other matters engender more controversy or are of as much theological import to the church’s identity and her witness than the questions of the proper Christian understanding of Judaism and of the church’s relationship to the Jewish people. The past half-century has witnessed a flurry of theological exploration and re-visioning on these contested issues, from academic treatises to ecclesial declarations. The Catholic and mainline Protestant churches have undertaken major study projects over the past decades, tackling such questions as: Do Jesus and Paul set aside “Judaism”? Does the church replace the synagogue? Should Christians proselytize Jews? How to atone for the evils of the Holocaust (Shoah)? How to relate theologically to the State of Israel’ While these reexaminations of the church’s theology of and approach to Judaism emerged in large part out of a desire to repent for the church’s history of anti-Jewish actions, culminating in the genocide of millions of European Jews during the Second World War, at their most profound level these new theological currents have been products of the recognition that the church, if it is to be the people of God with any integrity, must grapple theologically and reconcile with the people who were first called “Israel.” Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan poignantly asks: “How can the church be clothed with Israel’s name and vocation if the possessor of that vocation is remote from it'”
Mennonite involvement and engagement with these efforts to rethink the Christian relationship with Judaism have been limited, even as Mennonite missionaries have been active supporters of Messianic Jewish communities in Israel and as Mennonite relief and development workers have walked alongside the Palestinian victims of the Jewish state. Some of the limited Mennonite reflection on Judaism has reproduced the “supersessionist” assumptions of traditional Christian thought, whereby the election of the Jewish people is set aside and the church replaces the Jewish people as the rightful and exclusive bearer of the name Israel. In the early years of his ministry in Israel, for example, Roy Kreider, a longtime Mennonite missionary, expressed the traditional view when he wrote that “Jews are no longer covenant people except as individuals make covenant with God through Jesus Christ.”
The posthumous publication of essays on Jewish-Christian relations by the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder represents an opportunity for the churches in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition to join the broader Christian conversation about the proper theological understanding of Judaism. From the 1970s to the 1990s, Yoder delivered a series of lectures at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, and Earlham College in Indiana, assessing Jewish history and Christianity’s relationship to Judaism from a “free church” perspective. Michael Cartwright, a Methodist theologian and careful student of Yoder’s work, and Peter Ochs, a leading Jewish thinker, have provided an invaluable service in faithfully bringing these essays, previously available only as a “desktop packet” that Yoder had assembled, to print under the title The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited (Eerdmans, 2003). In addition to presenting Yoder’s essays, the volume contains critical introductions, an afterword by Cartwright, responses to individual chapters by Ochs and an overview by Cartwright of Mennonite mission and peacemaking efforts in Palestine/Israel. In these essays, Yoder set out to offer “a criticism of past ‘Christendom’ practices, from the centre of Christian identity rather than from its liberal margin.” Yoder sought to counter what he termed the “resolutely anti-Jewish” supersession thesis, according to which “Christians have replaced the Jews as the people holding the right understanding of the Abrahamic and Mosaic heritage and as the bearers of the salvation history.” Yoder countered this thesis with a rereading of Scripture and of post-biblical Jewish and Christian history in which he argued that the Jewish-Christian schism “did not have to be.” Just as Israel’s history of radical reliance on Yahweh alone culminates in Jesus and the messianic community gathered around him, so, Yoder argued, does a “free church” reading of Scripture and ecclesiology converge with a Jewish embrace of diaspora (galuth) as vocation. Yoder did not tackle the thorniest issues of Jewish-Christian relations (e.g., Is there one covenant, or two? If one, are Jews no longer in covenant-relation with God? If two, what implication does this have for Christology? Should Christians evangelize Jews’), but, setting such questions aside, sought rather to “articulate one basic alternative perspective, which if correct will call for redefinitions all across the board, even though it cannot be my task to do all that redefining.” In this review essay, I summarize Yoder’s “alternative perspective” on Jewish-Christian relations, discussing criticisms of Yoder’s approach by Cartwright and Ochs, and placing Yoder’s work into conversation with others who are wrestling with the enduring questions that all Christians, including Mennonites, must address if we claim to be “clothed with Israel’s name.”
YODER’S “ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE”
Trust in Yahweh, from Abraham to Paul
Scripture, in both its Old and New Testament witness, Yoder believed, testifies to God’s gathering of a people who learn radical reliance on God alone and whose mission consists in dispersal into the world to seek the world’s peace and salvation by living as a faithful community. A scriptural trajectory thus connects Abraham’s faith in God to God’s provision for the tribes in their wandering, Israel’s radical reliance on Yahweh alone in holy wars to an always-present critique of kingship as a way of becoming like other nations, Jeremiah’s urging the exiles to seek the peace of the cities where they dwell to Jesus’ admonition to his followers to go out in mission into the world.
Israel’s fundamental identity, Yoder claimed, “was not defined first by a theoretical monotheism, by cult or kaschrut, nor by the Decalogue. It was rather defined by the claim of the tribes to ‘have no king but JHWH/Adonai,'” a claim that developed from the Abrahamic and Mosaic trust in God and that stood in uneasy tension with, and at times pointed toward the rejection of, Israelite monarchy. Abraham’s trust in God initiates a new stream of history that will culminate in Jesus: “What begins in Abraham, and crests in Jesus, is not merely a different set of ideas about the world or about morality: it is a new definition of God. A God enters into relations with people who does not fit into the designs of human communities and their rules.” Israelite kingship (or, to be anachronistic, “statehood”) was, in this telling of the biblical narrative, something of an anomaly, subject to critique from within the scriptural witness that points back to Israel’s reliance on Yahweh alone. Connecting the holy war traditions and the call to “Trust in JHWH/Adonai” with the Jeremian acceptance of exile, Yoder explained that this trust in God
opens the door to his saving intervention. It is the opposite of making one’s own political/military arrangements. Jeremiah’s abandoning statehood for the future is thus not so much forsaking an earlier hope as it is returning to the original trust in JHWH.
The exile, on this reading of Scripture, thus represents not a disruption in God’s plans for His people, but rather an opportunity to return to reliance on God alone. “The move to Babylon was not a two-generation parenthesis, after which the Davidic or Solomonic project was supposed to take up again where it had left off,” Yoder insisted. “It was rather the beginning, under a firm fresh prophetic mandate, of a new phase of the Mosaic project.” Exile meant a return to an ethic, theology and spirituality of “not being in charge,” of embracing “Galut as vocation.” This reality of “not being in charge” continued even with the return of some exiles to the land and with the nation-building projects of Ezra and Nehemiah, for their return to life and worship in the land was accomplished without kingship or sovereignty, under the protection of pagan imperial power.
This scriptural trajectory of God sustaining a people who live without being “in charge” continues into the New Testament. “Jesus’ impact in the first century,” contended Yoder,
added more and deeper authentically Jewish reasons, or reinforced and further validated the already expressed Jewish reasons, for the already established ethos of not being in charge and not considering any local state structure to be the primary bearer of the movement of history.
Affirming the dominant trends in biblical scholarship, Yoder argued that “Nothing in the Christianity of the apostolic canon is anti-Jewish, or even un-Jewish or non-Jewish, unless it be read in the light of later Christian prejudice.” Traditional theological oppositions between the “law” of the Old Testament and the “grace” of the New fail to capture, Yoder argued, the complexity of the scriptural witness. Jesus, he claimed, did not set aside the Law, but rather “increased its wholeness, its binding-ness, its breadth and depth.” A proper reading of Paul, meanwhile, has him proclaiming that in Christ we have “the fulfillment and not the abolition of the meaning of Torah as covenant of grace.” Pacifist Christians, who might slip into anti-Jewish and Marcionite oppositions of the “violent” God of the Old Testament with the “loving” God of the New, are reminded by Yoder that “Jesus did not reject anything Jewish in calling for love of enemy”; Jesus’ call to enemy-love, Yoder stressed, should be viewed as the development of an “original intent . . . within the Torah itself, which points to the renunciation of violence and the love of enemy.”
Not only should Jesus not be viewed as setting aside “Judaism,” but Paul, who has routinely been portrayed as opposing “Judaism” by supporting table fellowship with Gentiles and encouraging mission to Gentiles, should be understood as a Jewish contributor to an ongoing Jewish conversation. Paul, Yoder observed, was part of a “debate which had been going on already generations earlier, a debate provoked within Diaspora Judaism before Jesus, by its extensive success in attracting to the synagogue community sincere seekers of non-Jewish blood.” Jewish communities in exile had been engaging in mission to Gentiles for centuries, as the life of the gathered community attracted God-fearing Gentiles. Paul’s openness to table fellowship with Gentiles and his approach to dietary laws should, Yoder believed, not be viewed as anti-Jewish but rather as one voice in a Jewish debate. “What Saul or ‘Paul’ did was not to found another religion,” Yoder insisted, “but to define one more stream within Jewry,” a stream that “had been prepared for by the phenomenon of ‘Jeremiah,’ i.e. by the acceptance of galut as mission centuries before.”
Early Christianity as a Jewish Movement
To anyone with passing familiarity with New Testament scholarship of the past three decades, Yoder’s reading of Jesus and Paul as Jewish contributors to a Jewish conversation will be noncontroversial. Daniel Boyarin, professor of Jewish studies at the University of California-Berkeley, is but one of the more prominent (and thoughtful) examples of scholars who read “Paul’s discourse first and foremost as an inner-discourse of Jewish culture.” Peter Ochs, in his commentary on Yoder’s chapter, “Paul the Judaizer,” cites over ten studies that deepen and extend the pioneering work of Krister Stendahl and Hans Joachism Schoeps that has helped to undo “the false Christian stereotype of Paul as ‘rejecter of Jewish law’ and of the Jews as legalists.”
Just as the New Testament witness should be understood in large degree as part of a Jewish conversation, Yoder continued, so should the early church be viewed as one strand in a variegated Jewish tapestry. Yoder called into question the notion of a “historical parting of the ways” between two clear distinct entities, one named “Judaism” and the other “Christianity.” The trope of “two ways” to describe “Christianity” and “Judaism” fails to do justice to a complex reality, according to Yoder, in which “the real cultural reality” of the first and second centuries “must have been much more like the branches of the Nile in its delta.” Rather than arguments between “Jews” and “Christians,” one had intra-Jewish conversations and debates about two main issues: first, “about one very Jewish but also very theological question, namely on whether the presence of the Messianic Age should be conceived of as future or also already as present”; and second, differences in degree or tonality “in the attitude towards the incorporation of the Gentiles into the faith of Abraham.”
In the midst of this complex reality, “To be a Jew and to be a follower of Jesus were not alternatives.” Yoder’s argument here, too, is supported by recent scholarly trends. Peter Ochs, commenting on Yoder’s work, agrees with the perceived need “to overcome the presumption that there was ‘one Judaism’ and ‘one Christianity’ back then and that they were separate and, to a great extent, mutually exclusive,” acknowledging that hard-and-fast distinctions between Judaism and Christianity emerged only gradually. Daniel Boyarin and many other scholars have problematized the image of a clean break between “Judaism” and “Christianity” in the second century, mapping instead complex conversations and arguments (extending, some would argue, well into the fifth century) that resist easy binary analysis.
If increasingly influential historical scholarship bolsters Yoder’s contestation of the “parting of the ways” model, however, Yoder drew surprising theological conclusions from his historical analysis for Jewish-Christian relations, conclusions sure to provoke vigorous debate. Consider, for example, Yoder’s claim that “there was no such thing as normative Judaism in the first century of our era.” This claim can be read as a historical description, a recognition that no one stream within Judaism could claim hegemony. Yoder, however, clearly wanted to press more challenging points. First, if there was no such thing as “normative Judaism,” then the Jewish-Christian schism simply “did not have to be”: rather, one could imagine histories in which Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Yeshua would have remained in conversation with Jews who did not recognize Jesus as the messiah. Second, if the Jewish-Christian schism did not have to be, then it does not have to be today. “What happened historically cannot be excluded theologically,” Yoder asserted. “If it cannot on historical grounds be excluded for then, it cannot on theological grounds be forbidden for tomorrow.” Yoder surveyed the contemporary landscapes of Judaism and Christianity and saw such diversity that he claimed that the “spectrum of differences within each of the faith communities is now broader than the distance between their centres; the terrain of their overlap may again become substantial.” Just as there were a variety of Judaisms in the first centuries of the Common Era, so today there are a plurality of Judaisms and Christianities. Yoder believed that highlighting the plurality of “Judaism” then and “Judaism” and “Christianity” today would facilitate a rapprochement between Jews and Christians, as Christians came to understand themselves as part of a Jewish conversation and debate. Yoder’s critics, however, as will be discussed more fully below, worry that Yoder’s account is a new way of negating the theological significance of Rabbinic Judaism. At issue is the following: by denying that there was or is a “stable and autonomous” entity called “Judaism,” was Yoder calling Jews and Christians to understand themselves as members of one conversation who must learn from one another what it means to be Israel, or was he denying the normativity of Rabbinic Judaism only to assert the normativity of a Judaism that proclaims Jesus as Lord and to dispense with any aspects of Rabbinic Judaism that did not mirror the marks of free church Christianity as theologically insignificant’
Rabbinic Judaism as the Way of Jesus
How should Christians understand the centuries-long life and witness of Jewish communities that did not and do not acknowledge Jesus as the messiah? Some of the best theological minds of the twentieth-century, Yoder recognized, tackled this question by revisiting the question of election. Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others explicated with hermeneutical and theological depth how “the election of Israel is irrevocable.” While expressing admiration for this approach, Yoder for the most part (one imagines consciously) avoided discussion of election when considering the theological significance of Rabbinic Judaism for Christians. Instead, Yoder sketched an alternative history of church and synagogue in which Jewish communities living as minorities within a “Christianized” empire were the communities that kept alive the Jeremian way of life that was “not in charge,” the way of life Jesus had come to fulfill, the way of life that depended upon God rather than the sword for its preservation. Thus Yoder can provocatively write that “for over a millennium the Jews of the diaspora were the closest thing to the ethic of Jesus existing on any significant scale anywhere in Christendom.”
The exilic location of Jewish communities allowed them to maintain a Jeremian mode of embodied witness. Rabbinic Judaism, Yoder argued, is “the way of life . . . which makes sense of exile as the way it is going to have to be.” This way of life has key sociological and theological markers. On the sociological front, Yoder identified the following traits of rabbinic Jewish communities:
The phenomenon of the synagogue; a decentralized, self-sustaining, nonsacerdotal community life-form capable of operating on its own wherever there are ten households;
The phenomenon of Torah; a text around the reading and exposition of which the community is defined;
The phenomenon of the rabbinate; a nonsacerdotal, non-hierarchical, nonviolent leadership elite whose power is not civil but intellectual, validated by their identification with the Torah.
These practices, Yoder continued, were interwoven with a theological vision of radical dependence upon God, a vision that, “from Jeremiah until Theodore Herzl,” was “the dominant Jewish vision.” The key components of this vision of Jewish pacifism/quietism include the conviction that “since God is sovereign over history, there is no need [for God’s people] to seize (or subvert) political sovereignty in order for God’s will to be done”; the beliefs that only the Meschiach will establish the righteous social order and that attempts by Maccabees and Zealots to do so had not been blessed by God; and an acceptance of suffering both as a punishment for sins and as a way of sanctifying God’s name (“the death of the righteous ‘sanctifies the Name,’ i.e. makes a doxological contribution, on the moral scales of history, which our avoidance of suffering (even if unjust) would obviate”). This theological and sociological shape of diaspora Jewish communities, Yoder believed, was not simply a “pragmatic expedient” in the face of the Temple’s destruction and enforced exile, but, more profoundly, stood in continuity with the Jeremian embrace of life in diaspora as the calling for God’s people in the world. Diaspora Jewish communities embodied “mission without provincialism, cosmopolitan vision without empire.” The church’s entanglement with empire-the mistake of Constantinianism-thus goes hand in hand with a loss of the church’s “Jewish rootage,” and an accompanying loss of the church’s “vision of the whole globe as under God,” a “sense that Torah is grace and privilege,” and a “readiness to live in the diaspora style of the Suffering Servant.”
The sociological and theological marks of diaspora Jewish communities bear, Yoder believed, a striking resemblance to the defining characteristics of Anabaptists, radical reformers and the proponents of the “free church”: the radical reformers engaged, Yoder suggested, in a retrieval of “certain Jewish aspects of original Christianity.” Anabaptists and Mennonites revived within Western Christianity the Jeremian legacy of “not being in charge,” and so for them, as for Jews, “every foreign land could be their home, yet every homeland remained to them foreign.” Like Jews, Anabaptists and Mennonites lived amidst European Christendom as “a visible counter-community, distinct from the structures of clan, city, and state.” Like Jews, Anabaptists and Mennonites thus sometimes faced violent persecution and sometimes enjoyed “the privileged status of that hard-working minority population which kept to itself, worked hard, paid its rents and taxes, and was appreciated by the rulers who protected them.” As minorities, Jews and the radical reformers were “unembarrassed about particularly,” finding no scandal in the fact that their beliefs and practices diverged-sometimes dramatically-from that of the wider society. Jews, Anabaptists and Mennonites, moreover, have discovered that by living as a committed minority they can effectively seek the peace of the Babylons into which God has led them: “Not being in charge of the civil order,” Yoder underscored, “is sometimes a more strategic way to be important for its survival or its flourishing than to fight over or for the throne.”
Theologically, Jews and Anabaptists shared multiple emphases in common. Exploring these convergences, Yoder believed, could provide a “key to a renewed modernity in our witness,” helping Christians to articulate with greater depth “what has gone wrong with Christendom.” Yoder’s description of Rabbinic Judaism as “non-sacerdotal,” “nonhierarchical” and “decentralized” mirrored Yoder’s ecclesiological vision of a nonhierarchical process of “binding and loosing,” built upon a particular understanding of the “priesthood of all believers,” and Yoder’s persistent critique of what he termed “ritualism” as opposed to “sacrament as social process.” “Byzantine dogmatics and episcopal politics, ritualism and establishment,” Yoder claimed, “are the mainstream mistakes most easily identified by the cultured critics of our time.” Jews and free church Christians, Yoder believed, offer an alternative to these “mistakes” that could appeal to these “cultured critics.”
Yoder identified additional convergences beyond the supposed shared critique of “ritualism and establishment.” Both Jews and Anabaptists, Yoder noted, affirm “a possibility in principle-not an achievement in fact-of human behavior that pleases God.” This affirmation is not the product of a Pelagian belief in human goodness, but rather springs from a conviction about God’s ability to work through God’s creatures: to say, Yoder argued, “that obedience is possible is a statement not about me nor about human nature, but about the Spirit of God.” If obedience is possible, however, so is disobedience. Jews and Anabaptists, Yoder claimed, share an understanding that God’s people can-and do-engage in idolatry, that they can “abandon” God, even if God does not abandon them. Noting “the Jewishness of the very idea of apostasy,” Yoder observed that “for the radical reformers . . . the Church, any church, including their own, is radically defectible.” Here Yoder came closest to a discussion of election. God’s election of the people Israel-the Jewish people and the church-is not a guarantee of faithfulness or a divine stamp of approval on the actions of the elect. If “mainstream” churches “do not consider it as seriously possible that God might have been abandoned by the people claiming to act in his name,” Jews and Anabaptists take the possibility very seriously. “Indefectibility belongs . . . only to [God’s] promise,” Yoder insisted, “never becoming negotiable as our appropriation of it.” The apostasy and idolatry of God’s people do not prevent God from being faithful to God’s people, the divine, covenantal promise indefectible, an always extended gift to those who repeatedly spurn it.
Non-Missionary Judaism as a Product of Christian History
The Jeremian call to seek the peace of the city into which God has brought God’s people is a missionary call. By embodying an alternative way of life through faithful practices, the people of Israel attract others to God’s vision of shalom for the world. Diaspora Jewish communities from the exile onwards had welcomed, to varying degrees, “God-fearing” Gentiles attracted to the people’s worship. The loss of this missionary spirit, Yoder argued, is a de facto “Christianization” of Judaism (not, in this context, a compliment!). “The abandonment of the missionary vision and action is a kind of backhanded adjustment, not to the Gentile world in general, but to Christianity,” wrote Yoder. “Non-missionary Judaism is a product of Christian history. For Jews to be non-missionary means that they have been ‘Christianized’: they have accepted a slot within a context where telling the Gentiles about the God of Abraham is a function that can be left to the ‘Christians.'” Yoder viewed some parts of the development of Talmudic Judaism as reflective of a forsaking of missionary identity. “The Mishna backed away,” Yoder believed, from a “continuing missionary openness.” Yoder characterized restrictions in the Mishna on intervisitation and table fellowship as purely defensive reactions to the new missionary vitality of messianic Jewish/Christian communities. Efforts to draw and police borderlines on the previously fluid terrain of Jewish reality aimed at separating non-Messianic Jew from Messianic Jew and in the end contributed to a weakened sense of missionary calling as God’s people seeking the peace of the city. Yoder’s mourning for the loss of missionary spirit within diaspora Jewry and his assessment of the role of parts of the Mishna in that loss should not be equated with a wholesale dismissal of the Mishna as theologically valuable; while Yoder observed that the Mishna discourages intervisitation between Messianic and non-Messianic Jews, he also noted that “in the total bulk of that literature it is not an important topic.”
While loss of missionary vitality was an initial adaptation to Christianity by Judaism, more recent forms of Judaism’s “Christianization” include a) “the reciprocal acceptance of the Jewish minority and the Christian ‘establishment'” in which, according to Will Herberg’s model, Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism “are the three kinds of equally legitimate, socially functionally theism” and b) assimilation to the ideology of the nation-state in the form of Zionism. “If assimilation into pluralism signified the rounding out of the Christianization of western Jewry,” Yoder maintained, “the development of Zionism is its culmination.” Zionism and Judaism’s assimilation into Western pluralism are both, Yoder believed, symptomatic of a “refusal to admit a call to be different” (a refusal that plagues the church as well), and a refusal that constitutes “a denial of the Jewish vision on religious and moral grounds.” However, just as the church can be called back to faithfulness from compromises with empire, so can contemporary Judaism return to the Jeremian calling to embody a different form of political life amidst the world’s Babylons. “If,” Yoder suggested, “the successes and the excesses of Israeli nationalism have provoked a small but clear backlash of anti-nationalistic critique, even in the midst of beleaguered Israeli society, that is a powerful extension of the much older story I was telling about Judaism as the oldest and the toughest ‘peace church.'”
A Biased Reading?
Yoder anticipated criticisms of his reading of Scripture and of Jewish history that his was a biased, selective reading. “Is it not bias for us even to have an opinion as to who ‘the Jews’ ‘ought’ to be'” Yoder imagined critics asking. “Or who they are? Is it not both bad historical method and bad inter-community dialogue to choose one’s own picture of who the Jews must properly be, what image of Judaism one considers representative'” As will be seen below, Michael Cartwright and Peter Ochs, the Christian and Jewish scholars (respectively) who edited Yoder’s posthumous collection of essays, both level variations of this charge. To such criticisms, Yoder responded that “the problem of bias and selectivity” cannot be avoided, since “any reading of what can be called ‘Jewish'” is bound to be “a debatable selection.” Faced with “the vast melee of Jewish experience,” Yoder made no apologies for reading Jewish history in such a way that “Yochanan is more representative than Menachem, Abraham Joshua Heschel than David Ben Gurion, Arnold Wolf than Meir Kahane, Anne Frank than Golda Meir.” Yoder insisted that “what goes on here is not that I am ‘co-opting’ Jews to enlist them in my cause. It is that I am finding a story, which is really there, coming all the way down from Abraham, that has the grace to adopt me.”
CRITIQUES OF YODER’S “ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE”
The thrust of critiques leveled by editors Ochs and Cartwright is that Yoder does in fact “co-opt” Judaism. On the one hand, such co-optation, or constructive appropriation, to use a less negative phrase, forms an inevitable and proper part of religious reading and interpretation, in which one interprets the “Other” in the light of one’s fundamental religious convictions. On the other hand, however, Cartwright and Ochs believe that Yoder was in danger of reducing Rabbinic Judaism to a mirror of free church Christianity, leaving no room for the otherness of Judaism and implicitly denying that Christians have anything to learn from Jews about what it means to be the people Israel aside from what they (should) already know.
Ochs and Cartwright present their critiques of Yoder’s reading of Judaism from within a context of overall appreciation of Yoder’s work. Cartwright, a longtime student of Yoder’s work, considers the essays on Judaism to be Yoder’s “most ambitious” work (while also suggesting that the collection might be his most “deeply flawed”). For his part, Ochs, whose work on “textual reasoning” intersects in dynamic ways with Yoderian, Barthian and Lindbeckian hermeneutics, praises the “wonders” of Yoder’s work on Judaism. For example, Ochs urges readers to be “grateful for Yoder’s correcting Christian misperceptions of Jewish ‘law,’ as if Jesus opposed it” and for Yoder’s “innovative effort to identify the deeply exilic character of Rabbinic Judaism.” Ochs also welcomes Yoder’s emphases on communities nonconformed to the broader culture and on the local community as the primary locus for discerning God’s word through the study of Scripture. In addition to celebrating the “wonders” of Yoder’s work, however, Ochs also worries about what he identifies as the “burdens” of Yoder’s approach, burdens that also trouble Cartwright. In the following sections I summarize and engage the interrelated concerns of Cartwright and Ochs. While some of their critiques are, I believe, deeply flawed, a summary of their concerns will help identify enduring questions that emerge from Yoder’s work with which any Christian theology of Judaism must struggle.
Misrepresentation/Dislocation of Rabbinic Judaism
One perceived “burden” of Yoder’s approach is a misrepresentation and dislocation of Rabbinic Judaism. One alleged misrepresentation involves Yoder’s appraisal of Jewish pacifism. Ochs endorses Yoder’s effort to correct “Christian tendencies to identify Jesus’ pacificism [sic] with his non-Jewish vision, as if ‘Old Testament’ Judaism were a Judaism of war, opposed to Christianity’s post-Jewish peace.” At the same time, however, Ochs understands the de facto nonviolence of diaspora Jewish communities to be a “limited pacifism” rather than a thoroughgoing pacifism, “a condition to be pursued within the limits of the earthly needs and realities of a landed people and a political entity.” Jews, from Ochs’s perspective, should not be “pacifists,” but instead “non-non-pacifists.” Both Yoder and Steven Schwarzschild, his close Jewish interlocutor, Ochs argues, overstate the case for Jewish pacifism, wrongly turning the rabbinic “sages’ striving for peace into a conceptually clear and distinct ‘pacifism’ that will sound to them less like Hebrew and Rabbinic thinking than like Greek and Modern thinking.”
Just as Yoder overstated the case for the nonviolence of Rabbinic Judaism, so too, to Ochs’s mind, does he claim too much for the “missionary” character of Rabbinic Judaism. “Even when it had missionizing tendencies,” Ochs maintains, “early Rabbinic Judaism was simultaneously protective of Israel as a separate people.” While not denying evidence that some rabbinic concern about mission emerged as a reaction to Christian missionizing, Ochs worries about a possible “delegitimizing” of “Mishnaic Judaism: judging its legal teachings and its protective care for the people Israel as mere reactions against the ascendancy of Christianity.” Cartwright states the charge more forcefully: “Yoder’s narrative,” he contends, “dislocates the Mishnah from Jewish existence by characterizing it as largely defensive and therefore implying that (for the most part) Rabbinical Judaism constitutes a mistake.”
Here the concerns of Cartwright and Ochs appear to be about the potential effect or implications of Yoder’s argument-more about what Yoder left unsaid than about what he said. Yoder, for example, never wrote that “Rabbinical Judaism constitutes a mistake,” but Cartwright fears that Yoder’s characterization of some of the Mishna as defensive will lead to a Christian refusal to see the Mishna as vital to Jewish identity. Yoder, contra Cartwright, never stated that the Mishna was “largely defensive,” but in fact noted that the parts of the Mishna about which he had concerns constituted only a small portion of Mishnaic material. That said, however, one must grant that Yoder was silent about the positive theological significance of the Mishna and the entire textual tradition of Rabbinic Judaism, a silence that understandably creates worries about those traditions being dislocated.
Monological Reading of Scripture?
Cartwright’s and Ochs’s concerns about Yoder’s understanding of Rabbinic Judaism relate to their fear that Yoder, with his strong emphasis on the exilic motif within Scripture, engaged in a “monological” hermeneutic that failed to do justice to the multivocality of the biblical text. “Yoder’s ever-present vigilance against the spectre of the biblical text becoming a ‘wax nose’ tended to foster,” according to Cartwright, “a monological hermeneutic that sought to limit the range of possible meanings of the text of Scripture (when registered within the Jewish tradition).” Ochs connects this hermeneutical issue with what he views as Yoder’s logic of “twos,” his “tendency to draw stark distinctions between true and false judgments,” between pacifism and nonpacifism, mission and nonmission, exile and landedness. As an alternative to this “logic of twos,” Ochs suggests a “logic of threes,” a logic of “relationality rather than of warring essences,” while Cartwright urges Christians to learn to read Scripture polyphonically, a skill he notes that can be learned by paying attention to rabbinic modes of interpretation. Ochs, ironically, sees more clearly than Cartwright that this critique touches on christological matters, noting that Yoder’s “tendency to uncompromising judgments” reinforces and is reinforced by “a doctrine of fulfilled or messianic time: that in Jesus Christians have the potential to live in fulfilled time.” Christological convictions-i.e., that Jesus is the promised Messiah in whom and through whom nonviolent witness is made possible-inevitably and properly shape the Christian’s reading of Scripture, with Christians interpreting the multilayered strands of the biblical text in light of God’s revelation in Jesus. Whether this must yield a “monological” reading of Scripture and whether or not Yoder engaged in such a reading, however, is highly debatable. In fact, one could argue, contra Cartwright and Ochs, that the radical, free church mode of scriptural interpretation favored by Yoder, in which Scripture is best read by the gathered community, is one that best gives play to the polyphony of Scripture.
In their critique of Yoder’s privileging of the Jeremian trajectory, a trajectory validated for Yoder because it is fulfilled in Jesus, Ochs and Cartwright also ignore corroborating voices in theological and biblical scholarship that support Yoder’s stress on the importance of exile. Oliver O’Donovan, a theologian at odds in many ways with Yoder, confirms the significance of exile and its importance for the unfolding biblical story, as does leading Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. Daniel Smith-Christopher’s groundbreaking study of biblical theologies of exile, while probably appearing too late for Cartwright and Ochs to note, provides a compelling reading of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel and wisdom literature that is broadly supportive of Yoder’s basic approach. Finally, Ochs and Cartwright do not discuss the convergence of Yoder’s reading of the biblical story with that of the leading Jewish scholar of early Judaism and Christianity, Daniel Boyarin. A brief sample of Boyarin’s work is suggestive of the resonance of his work with Yoder’s. “The stories of Israel’s conquest of the Land,” Boyarin writes, “whether under Abraham, Joshua, or even more prominently, David, are always stories that are more compromised with a sense of failure of mission than they are imbued with the accomplishment of mission, and the internal critique within the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) itself, the dissident voice which is nearly always present, does not let us forget this either.” My point is not that Boyarin’s is the only valid Jewish reading of Scripture. Far from it: it is not for Christians to decide what constitutes a valid Jewish reading of Scripture. Rather, I want to claim that the issue between Yoder on the one hand and Cartwright and Ochs on the other is not that one is “monological” in his approach to Scripture while the others are “polyphonic,” but instead that they offer differing readings of the multivocal biblical text, readings that have their source in differing theological convictions.
The Burden of Responsibility for the Land
Yoder, as noted above, viewed the modern political ideology of Zionism as a Jewish temptation parallel to the Constantinian lure besetting Christianity. Both Zionism and Constantinianism, for Yoder, abandon the mission of seeking the city’s peace through life as a creative, nonviolent minority that knows that it is “not in charge,” choosing instead to take charge of and “responsibility” for history, using violent force if necessary to establish security and peace. Cartwright and Ochs, while not wishing to defend every manifestation of Zionist ideology and practice, believe that Yoder’s critique of Zionism left him unable to articulate a positive theological vision for care of and responsibility for “the land of Israel.” For Yoder, Cartwright claims, “any attempt to include responsibility for the land of Israel” falls “within the framework of the ‘Davidic Project’ not the ‘Mosaic Project,'” with the “Davidic Project” functioning as an Old Testament version of the Constantinian temptation. Ochs concurs with Cartwright’s assessment, insisting that Jews “bear” a particular responsibility for the land not taken into account by the Jeremian vision of exile: Jews, Ochs maintains, would not “expect the radical reformers to bear the same responsibilities for landedness that Jews bear, just as they would not expect most Jews to bear the same responsibility for pacifism that the radical reforms bear.”
Setting aside for the moment the question of whether or not Yoder in fact abjured all “responsibility” for “landedness,” Ochs’s comment highlights key issues that must be addressed in a Christian theology of Judaism. First, consider Ochs’s use of the verb “bear.” As noted earlier, Ochs identifies multiple “burdens” of Yoder’s work, with “burdens” suggesting something negative: for example, Yoder’s work being allegedly burdened with conceptual “purisms” and a “binary” thinking. Here Ochs uses “bear” quite differently, pointing to the covenantal obligations borne by the Jewish people for the land. Identifying the harmful theological burdens that must be discarded and the burdens we must take up if we are to be faithful is a key question that Christians must confront when thinking through their approach to Jews and Judaism. Some (not, I should hasten to add, Ochs or Cartwright) in the contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue, for example, would suggest that the Christian claim that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises is a “burden” that Christians must give up; but what if it is a burden that Christians must bear if they are to be faithful, just as Ochs suggests Jews must bear a burden of responsibility to the “land of Israel” if they are to be faithful? Second, Ochs’s image of two different burdens borne by Jews and “radical reformers” pushes the question upon us of what it would mean for Jews and Christians to be the people of God, the people Israel, together. Does it mean, as Ochs’s text appears to imply, that Jews and Christians have two separate vocations? If so, are the vocations understood to be complementary? Or, as Ochs’s contrastive pairing of the burden of responsibility for the land with the burden of pacifism suggests, might the vocations be noncomplementary? Could it be the divine will that some of God’s people bear the “responsibility” of using violent force to care for the land while others of God’s people are not to use such violence? This question itself points to a third issue suggested by Ochs’s dense and fertile commentary: are pacifism and a responsibility for landedness incompatible? Must such “responsibility” be encoded in Nieburhian terms? Must it mean the (tragic, regrettable) willingness to use violent force? Can a Jeremian, exilic consciousness not persist in the promised land?
From Ochs’s perspective, Yoder’s work-along with that of the early twentieth-century German Jewish playwright Stephan Zweig, whom Yoder approvingly cites-tends “to avoid the embarrassment, burden and unreasonable complexity of Israel’s landedness.” Yoder, Ochs believes, did not see a middle ground “between an ancient foreshadowing of modern nationalist sovereignty in [the land of Israel] and Israel’s forced separation from it in this world.” Ochs agrees that if “political Zionism as it is embodied in the conservative elements of Israel’s Jewish government” were “the only form of landedness, then we would have reason to be sympathetic to both Zweig’s and Yoder’s efforts to prophesy against it.” But, Ochs implies, might there not be other forms of “Israel’s landedness”?
“In its present composition,” Ochs acknowledges, the State of Israel remains “a product” of “late modern discomfiture.” But, he continues, so is the “German humanism” of Stephan Zweig. Yoder, one must concede, demonstrated little awareness of how the Shoah rendered humanist visions such as Zweig’s and life as a minority community “not in charge” of its own destiny deeply problematic, at best, for most Jews. While Christians, I would suggest, should hold fast to the conviction that God calls God’s people into an exilic relationship with land, recognizing the horrors brought down upon a European Jewry that was “not in charge.” Likewise, the yearnings of millions of refugees and displaced persons (including Palestinians) for return, for secure landedness, should mute any overenthusiastic celebrations of galut as calling.
Tradition, Theological Boundaries and the Conditions for True Dialogue
In agreement with much current historical scholarship, Yoder correctly recognized that “Judaism” and “Christianity” are constructions created by the imposition of what Daniel Boyarin calls “border lines” within the fluid terrain of Jewish reality in late antiquity. The “schism” or borderlines that Yoder underscored, not only “did not have to be” then but they do not have to be today. While Cartwright and Ochs, for the most part, do not question Yoder’s description of variegated streams of Judaism in late antiquity-including messianic movements-they disagree with the practical and theological implications Yoder drew from this historical insight. Yoder’s description of Jewish pluralism in the first and second centuries, Ochs argues, is “tendentiously egalitarian: as if the tendencies of late Second Temple Judaism that led to the Rabbinic movement also led with as much hermeneutical and theological consistency to Paul’s version of Nazarene or Christian Judaism.” Christians, I would suggest, must necessarily and properly affirm that “the tendencies of late Second Temple Judaism” lead with deep hermeneutical and theological consistency to Pauline Christianity: that a committed Jew would disagree is natural and expected. What is problematic, however, in Yoder’s approach for Cartwright and Ochs is what they perceive to be the attempted erasure of theological boundaries between Judaism and Christianity today, encompassing them both under the rubric of the Jeremian, exilic vision. “‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile,'” Cartwright claims, are, for Yoder, “(unstable) sociological constructions to be overcome, not constitutive identities that have stability that inheres in traditioned practices, narratives, etc.” This approach to tradition, Cartwright and Ochs believe, is severely damaging to the cause of genuine dialogue. Yoder erred in rejecting “the assumption of theological boundaries between Judaism and Christianity,” boundaries that are essential for appropriate theological competition. The denial of difference between Judaism and Christianity can and does, one should note, serve covert missionary ends, because if what Judaism should be is really Christianity without the fulfillment of Jesus, then what cause is there for remaining Jewish? It is appropriate, Ochs would agree, for Christians and Jews to compete theologically with one another, even to evangelize one another, but denial of any difference between the two is, he would insist, an inappropriate form of such competition.
Yoder “displaces the necessity for contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue,” Cartwright argues, by eclipsing “the difference between Christians and Jews in the name of a common destiny,” the destiny of an exilic, Jeremian witness. Constructing a Judaism with which he can converse, Yoder leaves no room for Jewish difference, for an otherness that could instruct Christians about what it means to be the people of God. Yoder’s “openness to new forms of Jewish-Christian sharing is,” in Ochs’s assessment, “closed down when he claims already to know in advance what that sharing should be.” As Christians relate to Jews, argues Cartwright, “the distinctiveness of their respective vocations and narratives of peoplehood must be preserved as these children of Abraham attempt faithfully to live out their theological understandings of covenant.” Is Judaism valuable only insofar as it embodies the exilic shape that Christian existence should take? Or, instead, does not the entire matrix of traditioned Jewish practices also differ from Christianity, in ways from which Christians might learn through true dialogue about what it means to be God’s people in the world’
AREAS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
The preceding pages have, I trust, given the reader a taste of the intellectual feast that Yoder’s essays on Judaism provide. As Cartwright’s and Ochs’s multiple critiques suggest, Yoder’s work has the potential to generate vigorous, fruitful conversation. The conversation about how Christians and Jews can be the people of God together is, I suggest, one that heirs of the Radical Reformation need to join; the publication of Yoder’s essays should spur us on to take up this task. As Mennonites and other spiritual descendants of the Anabaptist movement begin to ask, with Oliver O’Donovan, what it means to be clothed with Israel’s name, what are the theological and missiological issues with which we must grapple? I would identify three main topics for continued investigation and conversation, topics about which Yoder provided intriguing insights but which also require further communal reflection.
The Election of Israel and Salvation through Christ
Assuming, as Christians do, that the Old Testament promises to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus, and assuming, with Paul, that the church has been grafted into Israel, how should Christians theologically understand Rabbinic Judaism? Mennonites have often accepted the traditional assumption that Jews who do not name Jesus as the messiah have fallen out of covenant-relation with God. Roy Kreider, a Mennonite missionary who ministered for decades in Israel, wrote in 1964 of Rabbinic Judaism as a “foreign growth” onto “the old covenant religion” (in contrast to the New Testament witness). Over the past half-century a wide variety of Catholic and Protestant churches have begun to rethink and repudiate theologies that claim that God’s covenant with the Jewish people has been abrogated and that Rabbinic Judaism must therefore only be characterized negatively. What implications does such rethinking have for theology?
One way to rethink the church’s teaching on Judaism is to suggest that there are two covenants through which God offers salvation to humanity, one for Jews and another for Gentiles. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to impossible to square with the basic Christian conviction that salvation for all of humanity comes through Jesus. Can there be a reconciliation with Judaism, a new understanding of Judaism that does not negate God’s continuing covenantal relationship with the Jewish people, that does not sacrifice basic Christian belief? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, put the matter well: “can there be true reconciliation without abandoning the faith,” he asked, “or is reconciliation tied to such abandonment'” Ratzinger and other thoughtful theologians maintain that there can be denial of supersessionist teachings that erase God’s covenantal relationship with the Jewish people without a concomitant denial that Jesus continues and fulfills the story of the people Israel. Robert Jenson, noting that “rabbinic Judaism and Christianity are parallel claimants to be Israel after canonical Israel,” helpfully describes the church as a “detour from the expected straight path of the Lord’s intentions, a detour to accommodate the mission to Jews and gentiles.” While this “time of detour lasts,” he continues, “the embodiment of the risen Christ is whole only in the form of the church and an identifiable community of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. The church and the synagogue are together and only together the present availability to the world of the risen Jesus Christ.” Jenson’s approach (an approach I would argue is ultimately compatible with Yoder’s vision of Christians and Jews together embodying and exilic, Jeremian politics) affirms God’s continuing, covenantal relationship with the Jewish people while placing that relationship within a christological framework. There is one covenant, of which both Jews and Christians are a part. Jews should not, of course, be expected to agree with this Christian understanding of how Jews and Christians are the people of God together, based as it is on a christological affirmation, but they may appreciate how theological approaches such as Jenson’s-approaches that affirm basic Christian convictions about Jesus-make possible a renewed Christian appreciation for Judaism.
Dialogue and Mission
Affirming the ongoing election of the Jewish people still leaves Christians with the questions of how to relate to Jewish difference, to the central fact, for example, that Christians make claims about Jesus that Jews do not accept. Should the Christian approach to Jews be one of evangelization? Of dialogue? Both?
Cartwright observes that Mennonites have experienced “tension in trying to hold interfaith dialogue and evangelism alongside one another.” I would suggest that this is a necessary tension, with mission and dialogue not forming divergent approaches but rather two mutually dependent movements. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger explains that “mission and dialogue should no longer be opposites but should mutually interpenetrate.” He continues:
Dialogue is not aimless conversation: it aims at conviction, at finding the truth; otherwise it is worthless. Conversely, missionary activity in the future cannot proceed as if it were simply a case of communicating to someone who has no knowledge at all of God what he has to believe.
Ratzinger’s explication of the interpenetration of mission and dialogue echoes LeRoy Friesen’s insistence that “interfaith dialogue with Jews is fatally flawed apart from the presenting of the claims of the Anointed One.” Dialogue with relativist assumptions, the orthodox Jewish theologian David Novak maintains, is not genuine dialogue. “The willingness of Christians to accept Jewish converts and the willingness of Jews to accept Christian converts,” Novak explains, “shows that both religions reject relativism,” as “religious conversion is an impossibility for a relativist, since for the relativist there is no essential, intelligible difference between one religion and another.”
Christians must approach Jews both ready to learn from Jews about what it means to be the people of God and to offer testimony to the Christian conviction that through Jesus the promises to Israel have been fulfilled. Christians must, Cartwright insists, “practice a politics that not only recognizes the ongoing existence of Jews as part of our theology of history, but also accepts the burdens of learning from Jews some of what it might mean to be the people of God, if-as we want to continue to claim-Abraham is our father.” For there to be such learning, one must acknowledge difference, for, as Kendall Soulen observes, “reconciliation does not mean the imposition of sameness, but the unity of reciprocal blessing.” This difference, however, unfolds within the unity of being the people of God together. Not only do supersessionist theologies deny the need for dialogue, so do two-covenant theologies that imagine Jews and Christians each having separate, self-enclosed vocations. “If Israel is replaced by the church,” Scott Bader-Saye explains, “then there is no need for Christians to listen to the contemporary witness of Judaism. Likewise,” he continues, “if Israel and church are traveling separate, parallel paths to God, then their callings are different enough to mitigate the significance of Israel’s witness for the gentile journey.”
Just as true dialogue presupposes difference, so does conversion. While Christians should reject the claim that Jesus and the church “supersede” Judaism, they must contend, in the words of Richard John Neuhaus, that “Christ and his church” both “continue and fulfill the story of which we [Jews and Christians] are both part.” Christians cannot, Neuhaus insists, avoid “the much vexed question of whether this means that Jews should enter into the further fulfillment of the salvation story by becoming Christians out of a desire to be polite, answer that question in the negative.” Cartwright observes that part of Yoder’s aim in his work on Judaism was to help Mennonites avoid “the pattern of ignoring Jews ‘as a possible target of [the Christian] missionary message.'” What concerns Ochs and Cartwright is not that Yoder would think it proper to evangelize Jews, but that his insistence that because the Jewish-Christian schism “did not have to be” it should not blur the difference between Christians and Jews today.
At this point the question of “Messianic Judaism” unavoidably emerges. For decades, personnel with Mennonite Board of Missions (now Mennonite Mission Network), with which John Howard Yoder worked as an administrator for several years, have ministered in Israel, nurturing disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) among the Jewish people. In the early years of this ministry, those who came to accept Jesus as the messiah, the Meschiach, called themselves “Hebrew Christians.” Today, however, most would insist on being called “Messianic Jews,” highlighting their ongoing self-identification as Jews (with the few Hebrew-speaking Catholic congregations for the most part an exception). Wolfhart Pannenberg suggests that Christian-Jewish dialogue will have to take note of “messianic Jews” who “intend to remain Jews while professing Jesus to be the Messiah.” Pannenberg believes that Messianic Jews have a role to play in Christian-Jewish rapprochement. Such a belief appears extremely optimistic, given the hostility of most Jews to the Messianic Jewish phenomenon. David Novak is representative when he underscores that “one cannot live as a Jew and as a Christian simultaneously.” The question of how to evaluate the “Messianic Jewish” phenomenon will persist as a vexing component of the Mennonite and broader Christian effort to learn from and witness to those with whom we are people of God.
Theological Understandings of Land and the State of Israel
How should Christians understand the land narratives and promises in Scripture? How do these relate-or not relate-to the modern nation-state of Israel? Mennonite Central Committee has been working alongside Zionism’s Palestinian victims for over fifty years, while mission board workers have accompanied Messianic Jewish congregations for almost as long, congregations generally enthusiastically affirming of the State of Israel and its policies. Dispensationalist, pro-Zionist theology, meanwhile, especially in its pop-cultural manifestations (e.g. the Left Behind novels), affects Mennonites along with the rest of North American evangelicalism. Much work remains to be done in developing a theological response to Christian Zionist theologies, a theological assessment of Zionism (to supplement ad hoc critiques of particular Israeli government actions and policies) and a theology of living rightly in the land (both Palestine/Israel and other lands).
Contrary to the critique offered by Ochs and Cartwright, I would maintain that Yoder’s work points towards helpful responses to these questions. In particular, Yoder gestured towards a theology of land that breaks nationalist logics that make exclusive connections between land and identity. “Those people are qualified to work at the building of the city,” Yoder argued, “who build it for others, who recognize it as not their own turf but God’s.” An overly-simplified reading of Yoder’s work might conclude that a focus on exile leads to indifference to the questions of justice and security in the land. In answer to this, one can maintain, with Yoder, that an exilic consciousness can and should inform any projects of “return,” any attempts to guarantee security or to achieve perceived justice on the land. Daniel and Jonathan Boyarin move in this direction with their proposal to take “diaspora provisionally as a ‘normal’ situation rather than a negative symptom of disorder.” For Israelis as well as Palestinians, taking diaspora seriously as a political category points in the direction of what Daniel Boyarin calls the “diasporized” state (or what Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Hannah Arendt conceived of as the binational state) and away from the nation-statist visions of Zionism or Palestinian nationalism.
The essays in The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited display the breadth and depth of John Howard Yoder’s scholarship, integrating biblical, historical and theological scholarship into provocative theses about multiple aspects of Christian-Jewish relations. As the commentaries by Cartwright and Ochs demonstrate, Yoder’s essays have the power to generate vigorous, and at times productive, debate. This book deserves a wide reading, well beyond the walls of academia. May Mennonites and others in the Anabaptist tradition do justice to these essays by allowing them to prod us into intense reflection and discernment about what it means for Christians and Jews to be the people of God together.
[*]Alain Epp Weaver is co-representative for the Mennonite Central Committee’s Palestine, Jordan and Iraq programs.
1. Mary Boys provides a concise, tabulated summary of the most important Catholic and Protestant statements in her study, Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding (New York and Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2000), 252-253.
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. Mennonite Board of Missions (now Mennonite Mission Network) has supported mission work among Jews in Israel since the early 1950s. For an overview of these mission efforts, see Marie Shenk, Mennonite Encounter with Judaism in Israel: An M.B.M. Story of Creative Presence Spanning Four Decades, 1953-1993 (Elkhart, Ind.: Mennonite Board of Missions, 2000) and Roy H. Kreider, Land of Revelation: A Reconciling Presence in Israel (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2004). For a narrative of Mennonite Central Committee’s work with Palestinians, see Alain Epp Weaver and Sonia Weaver, Salt and Sign: Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine, 1949-1999 (Akron, Pa.: Mennonite Central Committee, 2000). Michael Cartwright’s “Appendix B: Mennonite Missions in Israel and the Peacemaking of Mennonite Central Committee Palestine (1949-2002): Two Contexts for Locating John Howard Yoder’s Theological Dialogue with Judaism,” in John Howard Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, ed. Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003) [hereafter JCSR] is a useful overview of M.B.M., M.C.C., and Christian Peacemaker Teams (C.P.T.) work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Cartwright appreciatively observes that “the impact of Mennonite witness has been disproportionate to the numbers of persons involved and the quantity of money invested.”-Cartwright, “Appendix B,” in JCSR, 247. See also LeRoy Friesen’s overview and analysis of Mennonite work in the Middle East.-Mennonite Witness in the Middle East (Elkhart, Ind.: Mennonite Board of Missions, 1992; rev. ed. 2000).
To the best of my knowledge, no church in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition has undertaken a study of-or issued a statement on-Jewish-Christian relations. In 1985, however, Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities adopted a statement noting points of Christian and Jewish convergence and divergence. See “Mennonite Witness as It Relates to Jewish People,” Jan. 23, 1985. Individual Mennonite scholars have also tackled some of the issues pertinent to Jewish-Christian dialogue. See, for example, Perry Yoder, “The Importance of Judaism for Contemporary Anabaptist Thought,” MQR 67 (Jan. 1993), 73-83.
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. Roy Kreider, Judaism Meets Christ: Guiding Principles for the Christian-Jewish Encounter (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1960), 34. This book, it should be stressed, appeared near the beginning of Kreider’s missionary career; his later thinking may have changed from these early reflections.
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. A comparison of the desktop packet, which Yoder distributed under the same title, and the published volume shows that Cartwright and Ochs have done an outstanding job of bringing Yoder’s work into published form, remaining true to the spirit and content of Yoder’s work. Cartwright’s portion of the editor’s introduction is particularly valuable for tracing the relationship of Yoder’s essays to the work of his longtime friend Rabbi Steven Schwarzschild. The critical responses of Ochs and Cartwright also help carry forward a conversation for which Yoder clearly had much passion; the posthumous nature of the volume, unfortunately, prevents the reader from knowing how Yoder might have responded to the criticisms of his position leveled by Cartwright and Ochs. The best interpretation one can give to the decision to bracket Yoder’s work with two introductions, an afterword and commentaries following each chapter is that Ochs and Cartwright have tried to embody textually a polyphonic discourse, with Cartwright and Ochs offering midrash-style commentaries on Yoder’s work. One worries, however, that the effect of boxing in Yoder’s text with commentary that is at points sharply critical of Yoder’s work will not be the presumably intended one of embodying a critical, multivocal conversation in print, but instead of erecting a cordon sanitaire around Yoder’s work, warning the reader of the alleged theological contaminants within.
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. Yoder, JCSR, 34. The U.S. edition of the work, published by Eerdmans, retains the British spellings of the original S.C.M. edition (such as “centre”), spellings that diverge from Yoder’s original.
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. Yoder noted that “both in doctrine and in sociology the king is relativized. He is at best the servant of divine righteousness, not its origin.”-Ibid., 73. For Yoder, the Israelite temptation to kingship prefigures the Christian temptation of Constantinianism. Cartwright observes that for Yoder the “Davidic Project” of constituting “a monarchy in Jerusalem was prototypical of Christian forms of faithlessness.”-Ibid., 20.
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. Ibid., 184. Or also: “To be scattered is not a hiatus, after which normality will resume. From Jeremiah’s time on . . . dispersion shall be the calling of the Jewish faith community.”-Ibid., 183.
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. Yoder argued that “the reorientation of identity by the Jeremianic shift even comes back to give a new quality to the part of the story that returns to Eretz Israel.”-Ibid., 188. He further observed that with “Ezra and Nehemiah the return to live and worship in Judea was brought about without political independence or a king.”-Ibid., 71. At points Yoder went beyond this nuanced observation to an attack (unnecessary, to my mind) on Ezra and Nehemiah as relapses into unfaithfulness: see, for example, Yoder’s claim that Ezra and Nehemiah “need to be seen as inappropriate deviations from the Jeremiah line, since each of them reconstituted a cult and a polity as a branch of the pagan imperial government.”-Ibid., 194. For a helpful approach to Ezra and Nehemiah that stands in general accordance with Yoder’s approach even while extending it, see Chapter 6, entitled “‘Purity’ as Nonconformity: Communal Solidarity as Diaspora Ethics,” in Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), especially the portrayal of Ezra as an “Amish elder.”
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. Ibid., 70. While pacifist Christians may often be tempted by Marcionite-style theologies, I trust that my discussion makes it clear that Yoder was not. A. James Reimer and John W. Miller have repeatedly suggested that Yoder had a Marcionite approach to the Old Testament. A cursory reading of Yoder’s essays in JCSR-as well as many of his other works-should suffice to dispel this charge. Reimer and Miller’s charge of “Marcionitism” does little to advance the critical conversation about how Christians should read the multiple Old Testament narratives. For a recent version of this charge, see Reimer, “‘I Came Not to Abolish the Law but to Fulfill It’: A Positive Theology of Law and Civil Institutions,” in A Mind Patient and Untamed: Assessing John Howard Yoder’s Contributions to Theology, Ethics, and Peacemaking, eds. Ben C. Ollenburger and Gayle Gerber Koontz (Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House, 2004), 245-273. Reimer approvingly cites Waldemar Janzen, whom he portrays as lamenting “the Marcion-like tendency of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition (including Yoder) to think of the New Testament as having superceded the Old Testament if not outrightly replaced it” (256). To the best of my knowledge, nowhere in JCSR or elsewhere does Yoder depict the New Testament as superceding or replacing the Old Testament.
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. Ibid., 48-49 and 59. Yoder correctly identified the source of one debate being over whether or not Jesus was the Meschiach, the Anointed One, rather than over a sense that claims for Jesus as the “Son of God” threatened monotheism. The title “Son of God,” Yoder explained, “was an offence to anyone who did not want Jesus to be King; but not because it was either metaphysical nonsense or blasphemy.”-Ibid., 55.
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. Key works include the essays collected in The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, eds. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003); Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); and Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999). The “conversations” charted by Boyarin and others were, of course, often contentious arguments, but, as Yoder reminded us, “The fact that people argue against one another does not prove that they are in incompatible movements: it may prove just the opposite.”-Yoder, JCSR, 56.
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. Yoder insisted that it is an “erroneous assumption” to view “Judaism” or “Christianity” as “stable and autonomous” entities, identical with themselves throughout history.-Ibid., 150. On the one hand, Yoder was making a perfectly valid historical point: “Christianity” has taken a variety of shapes over time. On the other, Yoder’s claim is puzzling. Yes, one agrees, there are a multitude of groups claiming the mantle of “Christian,” but this descriptive point need not lead to the claim that there are not ways of being Christian that are more faithful than others: surely this is the thrust of Yoder’s decade-long argument with Constantinian Christianity. Similarly, Jews of varying theological dispositions will all want to argue that some ways of appropriating the Torah are more faithful than others.
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. Ibid., 81-82. Most “diaspora Jews,” Yoder claimed, “kept on living the life set up by the generation of Jeremiah, which Jesus said he had come to ‘fulfill’ (i.e., confirm), without ever being faced with a chance to accept or reject that claimed fulfillment.”-Ibid., 77.
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. Ibid., 191. Consider also this complementary list of the theological characteristics of Jewish pacifism: a. Blood is sacred and so must not be spilt; b. “The Messiah has not yet come,” so God’s people are not to try to do the Messiah’s work; c. to “properly learn the lessons of the Zealot experience” will mean recognizing the Zealot and Maccabbean adventures as moral (not only military) failures; d. the rabbis, Yoder argued, downplayed “the wars of the age of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges,” not viewing them as models for the present; e. “The wisdom with which God presides over the affairs of the goyim . . . is not revealed to us in any simple way”; f. “There is a place for suffering in the divine economy”; g. “The survival of Israel is promised by God.”- Ibid., 82-84.
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. The theology of diaspora existence, Yoder insisted, was “not, as some would have us believe, developed as a merely pragmatic expedient, out of the collapse of Jewish nationhood after the year 70 or 135. Those vital tragedies only settled and restated what had already existed in the messages of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and in the ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah.”- Ibid., 79.
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. Ibid., 109. For a historical study comparing the status of Jewish and Anabaptist communities in early modern Europe, see Michael Driedger, “Crossing Max Weber’s ‘Great Divide’: Comparing Early Modern Jewish and Anabaptist Histories,” in Radical Reformation Studies: Essays Presented to James M. Stayer, ed. Werner O. Packull and Geoffrey L. Dipple (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), 157-174. Driedger helpfully outlines how both communities faced occasional persecution and exclusion from mainstream political life while also at times being tolerated by the political authorities out of economic self-interest.
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. Ibid., 46. It is instructive, for example, to compare Yoder’s understanding of the “non-sacerdotal, non-hierarchical” character of Rabbinic Judaism with the notion of “priesthood” developed in The Fullness of Christ: Paul’s Revolutionary Vision of Universal Ministry (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1987) and the notion of “sacrament as social process” in the essay by that name in The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical, ed. Michael G. Cartwright (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 359-373. The polemic against “ritualism” also appears in a characteristically Yoderian opposition of “history” and “religion,” an opposition that is most likely influenced by the Barthian contrast between “faith” and “religion.”-Yoder, JCSR, 108. What one misses from Yoder’s critiques of hierarchy and “episcopal politics” is an acknowledgment that in the real lives of churches the distance from being “non-hiearchical” to a rejection of any binding authority in the name of individual autonomy proves perilously short.
One should stress that for Yoder the critique of “Byzantine dogmatics” is not anti-trinitarian argument. Aware that historically Jews have found trinitarian doctrine to be an offense against monotheism, Yoder asks: “were they conversing with the most careful theologians, who argued most carefully to distinguish Trinitarian monotheism from tri-theism'”-Yoder, JCSR, 56. Rather, Yoder’s point about “Byzantine dogmatics” most likely reflects Yoder’s perennial worry that too-abstract Christologies are in danger of losing the particularity of Jesus’ story. One might add that they are also in danger of losing the particularity of Israel’s story. R. Kendall Soulen perceptively observes that the omission of Israel’s story “is reflected in virtually every historic confession of Christian faith from the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople to the Augsburg Confession and beyond.”-R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 32. For a discussion of Yoder’s complex relationship to Christianity’s classical creeds, see Alain Epp Weaver, “Missionary Christology: John Howard Yoder and the Creeds,” MQR 74 (July 2000), 423-439.
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. Ibid., 140. Douglas Harink makes a persuasive case that Yoder’s theology, if it is to cohere, relies on an implicit understanding of God’s election of a people. See Harink, Paul among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology beyond Christendom and Modernity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2003) and “The Anabaptist and the Apostle: John Howard Yoder as a Pauline Theologian,” in A Mind Patient and Untamed: Assessing John Howard Yoder’s Contribution to Theology, Ethics, and Peacemaking, eds. Ben Ollenberger and Gayle Gerber Koontz (Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House, 2004), 274-287. As Harink writes, “Yoder . . . shows almost no interest in the doctrine of Israel’s non-superseded election, even as he at the same time also seems to assume it.”-Harink, “The Anabaptist and the Apostle,” 283-284. A radical, Yoderian ecclesiology, I would argue, requires a doctrine of election if it is to withstand the forces of commodification and compartmentalization generated by liberalism and capitalism. As Scott Bader-Saye observes, “election challenges the universalizing epistemologies of modernity as well as the political priority of individual autonomy.”-Church and Israel after Christendom: The Politics of Election (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999), 28. One could argue that Yoder’s emphatic stress on the “voluntary” character of the people of God obscures the extent to which a Yoderian ecclesiology depends upon an account of God’s prior work to call and shape a people. Cartwright, for example, argues that “Yoder’s consistently held assumptions about the ‘voluntariness’ of Jewish identity runs [sic] into conflict with the thickly woven practices of Jewish communities, including but not limited to the rabbinical conversations about observance of (halakhic and haggadic) Torah.”-Cartwright, “Afterword,” in Yoder, JCSR, 266. For a discussion of Yoder’s account of the “voluntary” in light of critiques by Oliver O’Donovan, see Alain Epp Weaver, “After Politics: John Howard Yoder, Body Politics, and the Witnessing Church,” The Review of Politics 61 (Fall 1999), 637-673, esp. 658-659.
Cartwright and Gerald Schlabach perceptively observe that Yoder’s conception of election (underdeveloped or not) and his stress on the “voluntary” character of God’s people are bound up not only with questions of how Christians should understand Judaism but also with Anabaptist/Mennonite narratives of the “fall of the church,” narratives that Schlabach and Cartwright see as producing a “supersessionist” attitude on the part of Anabaptists towards Christendom.-Cartwright, “Afterword,” 213-214. Yoder’s brief discussion of the “indefectibility” of God’s calling of God’s people as opposed to the radical defectibility of our appropriation of that call suggests tantalizing ways forward in ecumenical conversation, but to flesh out this argument would go well beyond the bounds of this paper.
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. Ibid., 106. See also the following: “The Judaism of the Mishna, being post-schism, is committed (in some but in fact very few of its parts) to being non- or anti-messianic” (60). I take the image of “border lines” from the most recent work of the challenging Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin, whose problematizing of the “parting of the ways” model bears instructive similarities to Yoder’s work.-Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).
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. Yoder, JCSR, 106-107. Also: “The culmination of the Christianization of Judaism is the development of Zionism” (154). Compare this to Daniel Boyarin’s more strongly-worded claim that “Zionism leads to the ruination of rabbinic Judaism.”-Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 256.
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. Ibid., 86. “A tiny but growing number of Jews with strong roots in the theology of Jewish existence before Auschwitz,” Yoder observed, “have since the beginnings of Zionism seen Israeli statehood in the same terms in which Jotham (Judg. 9) and Samuel (I Sam. 8) saw Canaanite kingship: not as an absolute evil which it should be possible to reject completely, but as an accommodation, regrettable, to the ways of the Gentiles, an innovation which will disappoint, which will not deliver on its promises.”- Ibid., 84-85.
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. Ibid., 115. Yoder contended that “instead of pretending to avoid the danger of seeing the Other in the light of our own identity, the right way forward must rather be a constructive appropriation of the other’s identity.”-Ibid., 115.
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. Peter Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 2, in Yoder, JCSR, 89, 90. Ochs concurs with Yoder that a proper understanding of law involves a “world affirming recognition that we could possibly imitate God’s life here in this physical world.”-Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 5, Ibid., 131.
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. Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 5, Ibid., 132. Ochs appreciatively observes that Yoder’s Anabaptism properly “displays a Christianity that neither fears nor condemns life apart.”-Ochs, “Editors’ Introduction,” Ibid., 2.
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. Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 9, Ibid., 180. Cartwright agrees with Ochs that Yoder’s linking of Rabbinic Judaism’s “nonviolence” with the “pacifism of the messianic community” does “not aptly characterize the deviance of the ‘pacifism’ of rabbinical nonviolence.”-Cartwright, “Editors’ Introduction,” in Ibid., 23-24.
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. Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 2, in Ibid., 92. Ochs’s linking of this point to his larger critique of what he views as Yoder’s “binary thinking” displays a misreading of Yoder’s account of Christian pacifism. Ochs appears to believe that for Yoder Christian pacifism is primarily about rule-following: either one adheres to the categorical imperative of pacifism or one does not. For Yoder, however, Christian pacifism is not so much to be understood in terms of rule-following as a doxological response to and participation in the cruciform work of the Triune God in the world.
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. Ochs, “Commentary” to Chapter 4, Ibid. Yoder, Ochs argues, froze a historical insight about the emergence of parts of the Mishna “into the strongly overstated dogma that ‘Mishnaic judaism’ allowed itself to be defined by its rejection of missionizing religion.”-Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 3, Ibid., 102.
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. Ochs, “Editors’ Introduction,” Ibid., 39. Yoder, according to Ochs, “appears to reason or argue in such a way that divides the world of thought and of belief into radically opposing positions.”-Ochs, “Editors’ Introduction,” 6. This approach, Ochs continues, creates “purisms” that “retain too much of the conceptualism that marked the colonialist philosophies of western civilization, even if they are offered beautifully and virtuously on behalf of God’s gracious compassion for human suffering.”-Ochs, “Editors’ Introduction,” 4.
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. Ibid., 6; Cartwright, “Afterword,” Ibid., 217. Ochs contrasts Yoder’s supposed “logic of twos” with the “logic of threes” he sees operating in the work of various Christian theologians, including Stanley Hauerwas. If there is a case to be made that Yoder and Hauerwas differ in any appreciable way on the question of how the multiple strands of the Old Testament are to be read by Christians, or on how pacifist Christians are to read the multiple voices in Scripture on the question of violence, Ochs does not make it.
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. See also Perry Yoder’s linkage of Jewish and Anabaptist “paradigms and methodologies in theology, ethics, and hermeneutics.”-Yoder, “The Importance of Judaism for Contemporary Anabaptist Thought,” 82.
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. “It would be difficult to exaggerate the significance of the Babylonian experience for Israel,” argues O’Donovan. “One could even say that it became the paradigm of Jewish existence thereafter, even with the resettlement of Judah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.”-O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 83. Here we have a claim basically identical to Yoder’s argument for the ongoing significance of exile, even in narratives of “return” such as Ezra and Nehemiah. Walter Brueggemann, in the foreword to the second edition of his influential study of land in the Old Testament, asserts that “the deportation lingers as definitional for Israel’s faith.”-Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, 2nd ed.(Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002), xvii.
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. Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002). Smith-Christopher’s important, groundbreaking work should receive a wide hearing within the worlds of biblical and theological scholarship.
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. Cartwright summarizes Yoder’s position thus: “Jews and Christians [according to Yoder] can exercise their choice to live as an alternative to the Constantinianism of both Christendom and Zionism.”-Cartwright, “Appendix B,” in Yoder, JCSR, 257.
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. Cartwright, “Afterword,” Ibid., 218. I quote Cartwright here as an illustration of the view that “responsibility for the land” is somehow incompatible with the Mosaic/Jeremian vision that Yoder sees fulfilled in Jesus. Yoder’s discussion of Ezra and Nehemiah as describing “return” to the land without involving “kingship” and “statehood” indicates that Yoder believed that one could have an exilic consciousness within the land. Only if one believes that “kingship” and “statehood” are the only ways to embody responsibility for the land is Cartwright’s characterization of Yoder’s position coherent.
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. Ochs insists that “to be burdened with the land of Israel is not simply to apply a very modernist notion of national-political-ethnic sovereignty to the land.” Jews, Ochs argues, “cannot be encouraged by Yoder’s failure to think of the question of Israel beyond the stark either/or that stands between ‘anti-Zionism’ and the particular Zionism of Israel’s right-wing nationalists.”-Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 9, Ibid., 180. All well and good: blanket condemnations of “Zionism,” when proponents of binationalism such as Judah Magnes and Hannah Arendt could be called Zionists, are not necessarily productive. Ochs, however, does not acknowledge that in the real history of its thought and practice, Zionism-and not only in its Revisionist/Herut/Likud streams-has been about applying modernist notions of national-political-ethnic sovereignty onto Mandate Palestine, about ideologies of “transfer” shared by the left and right before 1948, about discriminatory legislation and practices regarding access to land and natural resources, about discourses and practices designed to counter a perceived “demographic threat” posed by the non-Jewish Palestinian Arab population both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories. Could Jewish responsibility for the burden of the land of Israel be exercised in the future in the context of one, binational state shared by Palestinians and Israeli Jews alike? If yes, then I would suggest that fundamentally no disagreement exists between Yoder and Ochs (or Ochs and me). If no, however, then I would suggest that Ochs’s Zionism, his political conception about what it means to be “burdened with the land of Israel,” has not escaped the “very modernist notion of national-political sovereignty.”
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. I am not suggesting here that Yoder himself was overenthusiastic or glib in his championing of the exilic, Jeremian model of witness. Yoder’s failure, however, to acknowledge how the Shoah made the humanism of a Zweig or life as a minority appear difficult at best to untenable at worst, weakens his otherwise helpful framing of Zionism. Zionism, of course, predates the Shoah; however, the visceral support for the modern State of Israel and for Zionist ideology among many Jews, in Israel and worldwide, cannot be understood separate from the Shoah.
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. Ochs, “Editors’ Introduction,” Ibid., 4. Ochs urges readers to be “wary” of Yoder’s moving from historical description of the plurality within first-century Judaism (and beyond) to “his use of this claim to equalize the legitimacy of the Jesus movement, as if Jesus and then Paul’s followers were as central to the normative centres of first- and second-century Judaisms as the followers of Hillel and Akiva.”-Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 1, in JCSR, 68.
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. Cartwright, “Editors’ Introduction,” Ibid., 11. Ochs accuses Yoder of “a modern tendency to mistrust all inherited traditions, which means, in Cartesian or Lockean fashion, to place an excessive trust in immediate or direct disclosures of knowledge.”-Ochs, “Commentary” on Preface, Ibid., 39. Ochs, I believe, misrepresents or misunderstands Yoder’s approach to tradition. Yoder believed that new truth can always break forth from Scripture as the community gathers to read it. These new insights must then be tested against Scripture and against the community’s received knowledge. The conviction that God’s people can be radically renewed through communal readings of the Scripture does not, contra Ochs, mean “an indifference to history and tradition.”-Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 6, in JCSR, 143. Yoder is quite clear that “the event of ‘restitution’ is not a new start ‘from scratch,’ going ‘back to GO.'”-JCSR, 138. Heirs of the Radical Reformation do, admittedly, always stand in danger of displaying indifference to or repudiation of tradition, and such dangers are compounded by modernity’s “excessive trust in immediate or direct disclosures of knowledge.” Yoder’s theology of history, I believe, is more complex than suggested by Cartwright or Ochs. See, for example, Yoder’s treatment of history in “The Ambiguity of the Appeal to the Fathers,” in Practiced in the Presence: Essays in Honor of T. Canby Jones, eds. Neil Snarr and Daniel Smith-Christopher (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1994), 245-255; “Primitivism in the Radical Reformation,” in The Primitive Church in the Modern World, ed. Richard T. Hughes (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 74-97; and “The Burden and the Discipline of Evangelical Revisionism,” in Nonviolent America: History through the Eyes of Peace, eds. Louise Hawkley and James C. Juhnke (North Newton, Kan.: Bethel College, 1993), 21-37. That said, Yoder’s failure to discuss the positive theological significance of how rabbinic tradition in its diverse textual manifestations shapes Jewish identity opens him up to this misunderstanding.
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. Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 1, Ibid., 68. Ochs believes that at points in his reading of Scripture, Yoder ceases drawing “new and unpredictable conclusions” and begins “drawing Jews and non-Anabaptist Christians into a sphere of already completed interpretive conclusions.”-Ochs, “Commentary” on Chapter 7, Ibid., 159.
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. Cartwright’s and Ochs’s critiques of Yoder on this score have helped me to see that Yoder’s writings, insofar as they do not explicitly address the question of election, can produce “neo-neo-supersessionist” effects (i.e., can contribute to the assumption that Israel’s peoplehood is valuable only insofar as it mirrors free church Christianity). In my initial writings on Yoder and Judaism I failed to see this gap in Yoder’s work and so overstated the case for Yoder being a theologian who escapes “supersessionism.” Despite my critiques of Cartwright and Ochs throughout this paper I readily acknowledge that they have identified problematic holes in Yoder’s theology of Judaism. I first examined Yoder’s theology of Judaism in my paper, “Constantinianism, Zionism, Diaspora: Toward a Political Theology of Exile and Return,” MCC Occasional Paper #28 (Akron, Pa.: Mennonite Central Committee, 2001). For Cartwright’s critique of my discussion of Yoder, see his “Afterword,” pp. 213-214.
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. These are, of course, only some of the many issues involved in a Christian theology of Judaism. I should also stress that while I do not address the issue in depth here, I believe that Mennonites and other Anabaptist heirs should engage in examinations of confessions, hymnals and liturgical materials similar to the studies undertaken by other Christian bodies in order to counter expressions of anti-Judaism in our corporate worship and confession. We should not assume that simply because Mennonites have rarely held political power over Jews that we have not been affected by Christian anti-Judaism.
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. “The New Testament must be shown as the necessary completion of the old covenant religion, and not a foreign growth, as rabbinic Judaism is.”-Kreider, Judaism Meets Christ, 50. Or elsewhere: “Rabbinic Judaism does not point to Him. True Mosaism did point to Him-so also does the religion of revelation declared by the prophets. But the degenerate Judaism of later Old and New Testament times pointed away from Him” (26). Kreider also notes disapprovingly “the empty and burdensome traditions of Rabbinism” (14). Kreider’s negative appraisals of Rabbinic Judaism stand in tension with other parts of his text that speak appreciatively of Judaism, praising it as a “revealed religion” and for “a real discernment of God.” “Building a bridge of understanding does not require a smoothing over of the religious diversity between Jew and Christian,” Kreider writes, “but it does require a fair-minded attempt to see both Judaism and Christianity as revealed religions, speaking and witnessing to each other” (65). “There is in Judaism,” Kreider affirms, “a real discernment of God in an immediate relationship, and a basic consciousness that God’s redeeming power is at work everywhere, a redemption experienced and yet longed for” (59).
Kreider worked for decades among Jews who believed in Jesus, believers who in the 1950s and 1960s called themselves “Hebrew Christians” and today refer to themselves as “Messianic Jews,” “Jews for Jesus,” etc. Within the “Messianic Jewish” movement one finds differing assessments of the theological significance of Rabbinic Judaism. Daniel Juster, echoing Kreider’s comments, argues that “Rabbinic Judaism is the rejection of the prophetic Spirit that forms the essence of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Covenant Scriptures.”-Juster, Jewish Roots (Shippensburg, Pa.: Destiny Image Publications, rev. ed., 1995), xii. Mark Kinzer, in contrast, speaks of “the legitimacy of other forms of Judaism, as well as our [Messianic Jewish] dependence on them.”-Kinzer, The Nature of Messianic Judaism (West Hartford, Conn.: Hasivenu Archives, 2000), 14. “A strict construal of sola scriptura as denying Rabbinic tradition any role in determining Jewish teaching and practice,” Kinzer writes, “cannot succeed in the long run” (9). “The fact that Jewish tradition has rejected the claim of Yeshua’s Messiahship,” Kinzer continues, “does not preclude Messianic Jewish identification with that tradition, even to the point where the Jewish people and Judaism (always interpreted through a Messianic lens) serve as the primary locus of social identity” (43). I am grateful to Prof. Jon Olson of the University of Massachusetts for drawing my attention to this Messianic Jewish conversation. See Olson’s article, “Reflections on Michael Wyschogrod’s Critique of Jewish Christianity,” forthcoming in Kesher: A Journal of Messianic Judaism.
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. Robert Jenson, “Toward a Christian Theology of Judaism,” in Jews and Christians: People of God, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 5, 7, 13. Jenson’s depiction of the church and synagogue as together forming “the present availability to the world of the risen Jesus Christ” is a more christologically focused, and thus theologically more helpful, formulation of Mary Boys’s claim that “Synagoga” is “Ecclesia’s” “partner in waiting for the full redemption of the world.”-Boys, Has God Only One Blessing’, 266. Cartwright observes that Yoder sought to help Mennonites avoid “the pattern of engaging Jews as if they are already constituted as a people of God in some unitary sense.”-Cartwright, “Appendix B,” in Yoder, JCSR, 256. Jenson’s approach, which presents Christians and Jews together as the people of God, also avoids this pattern.
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. Cartwright, “Afterword,” in JCSR, 255. Cartwright correctly notes that over the past five decades there has been no “unanimity among Mennonites about how to engage Jews in the context of missionary endeavor.”-Cartwright, “Appendix B,” Ibid., 253. Cartwright also suggests that Mennonites have not “come to grips with the compartmentalizing effects of their missionary and peacemaking efforts.”-Cartwright, “Appendix B,” Ibid., 259. The differing institutional mandates of M.C.C. and M.B.M., coupled with the fact that M.C.C. operated in the West Bank while M.B.M. worked inside Israel, and were thus physically separated until 1967 (and psychologically separated post-1967) also contributed to such “compartmentalization.” It is important to recognize, however, that M.C.C. and M.B.M. personnel have, throughout the decades of work in their respective contexts, been in communication and dialogue with one another and have, at times, undertaken joint study processes (of which LeRoy Friesen’s book Mennonite Witness in the Middle East is a product). These dialogues and study processes did not (perhaps unsurprisingly) result in one, comprehensive missiological vision, but they did underscore the commitment of the two bodies and their workers to learn from one another.
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. Ratzinger, Many Religions-One Covenant, 112. Orthodox Jewish theologian David Novak makes a similar claim when he asserts that true dialogue “must not lead to any distortion of what each tradition, itself separately, teaches as the truth.”-Novak, “What to Seek and What to Avoid in Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” in Christianity in Jewish Terms, ed. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, et al. (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000), 2.
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. Novak, “What to Seek and What to Avoid in Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” 5. See also Novak’s insistence that neither Christian nor Jews “could abandon proselytism” if they want to be faithful. “Christians must hope that everyone will accept Christ . . . And Jews need proselytes to remind us that being chosen is best appreciated when our chosenness is what we would want for ourselves, over and above the necessity of our birth to a Jewish mother.”-Novak, “From Supersessionism to Parallelism in Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” in Jews and Christians: People of God, eds. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 112.
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. Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, 170. Cartwright and Ochs, as discussed above, worry that Yoder imposed sameness on Jews and Christians by encompassing them both within the exilic, Jeremian trajectory. While there are some textual grounds for this worry, in particular Yoder’s failure to offer a positive account of the Rabbinic Jewish textual tradition, I would argue that Yoder’s work need not be understood as an imposition of sameness. Rather, Yoder could be understood as pointing to the convergence of some Jews and some Christians on the model of an exilic politics, while leaving room for difference. A consideration of different ways to understand one of Yoder’s favorite texts, Ephesians 2, is instructive. The claim by the writer of the letter to the church at Ephesus that Jesus Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, making them one, can be read, on the one hand, as a description of reconciliation within the church, within the fellowship of those who name Jesus Christ as Lord. It seems clear that this was a reading with which Yoder often operated. But can the Ephesians text not also be open to a parabolic interpretation, one that celebrates the reconciliation of Jews and Christians as distinct peoples but also as the people of God together, a reconciliation outside the walls of the church marked by mutual learning and shared action for justice? Different understandings of what reconciliation in Christ means could account, at least in part, for differing missiological assumptions and strategies among various Mennonite agencies.-See Cartwright, “Appendix B,” in Yoder, JCSR, 257-263.
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. Richard John Neuhaus, “Salvation is from the Jews,” in Jews and Christians: People of God, eds. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 72.
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. Kreider’s book, Judaism Meets Christ, consistently uses the term “Hebrew Christian.” Kreider approvingly cites the claim that “The convert should rank as a Christian pure and simple” (70), stressing that the “Jewish convert” must “feel his oneness with all other Christians” lest he “feel that he is a Christian of a special variety” (58). One wonders if the shift from “Hebrew Christian” to “Messianic Jew” encodes the message that the convert is in fact “a Christian of a special variety.”
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. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “A Symposium on Dabru Emet,” in Braaten and Jenson, Jews and Christians, 185. For an overview of Mennonite work with Messianic Jewish congregations, see Friesen, Mennonite Witness in the Middle East. Friesen provides a helpful summary of characteristics common across the variations of Messianic Judaism (63). Messianic Jews conceive of themselves as bridges between Christians and Jews, as embodied arguments against supersessionism. “Messianic Judaism, properly understood,” claims Russ Resnick, “is a decisive counter to supersessionism; it embodies the truth that God has revealed himself and his purposes within the story of the Jewish people and does not need to set them aside to bring mankind to its destination. Jews should remain Jews when they believe in Messiah, not in some technical or token sense, but in practice and outlook, in family life and community involvement.”-Resnick, in Defining Messianic Judaism (Albuquerque: Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, 2002), 8. I am grateful to Jon Olson for this reference.
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. Novak, “What to Seek and What to Avoid in Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” 5. David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod state the case more strongly, noting that for a Jew to become a “Jewish Christian” is to opt “for the dissolution of the people God wants to remain his eternal people.”-Berger and Wyschogrod, Jews and “Jewish Christianity” (Hoboken, N.J.: KTAV, 1978), 66. Novak, of course, would affirm that the Jew who converts remains a Jew if he or she had a Jewish mother. What Novak denies is that one can be a believing Jew and a believing Christian at the same time; the Jew who converts may remain a Jew according to the flesh but is an apostate (min) in spirit.
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. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 334, fn. 30. Boyarin presents a compelling response to the complaints of Cartwright and Ochs that Yoder breaks the “triad” of “God-people-land.” Noting that while “ethnicity and religion are inseparable in Judaism,” Boyarin proceeds to argue that there is no “necessary connection between ethnicity, religion and territoriality. Moreover, a people can be on their land without this landedness being expressed in the form of a nation-state, and landedness can be shared in the same place with others who feel equally attached to the same land!”-Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 335 fn. 41.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
John Howard Yoder on Jewish-Christian Relations
MQR 79 (July 2005)