Anti-Judaism on the Way from Judaism to Christianity

Peter Landesmann, Anti-Judaism on the Way from Judaism to Christianity (Wiener Vorlesungen: Forschungen 5; Peter Lang: Frankfurt am Main et al., 2012). Pp. VIII+121. $33.95  ISBN 978-3-631-62132-5 (Softcover)

Peter Landesmann is associated professor of the Institute of Jewish Study at the University of Vienna, but Jewish studies is not one and only field of his research.  In 1952, he graduated as engineer at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in the capital of Austria.  Then, in 1994, he obtained his PhD in Judaic Studies.  In 2001, he became a Doctor of Protestant Theology, and in 2007 in Catholic Theology. The book of Peter Landesmann entitled Anti-Judaism on the Way from Judaism to Christianity can be ascribed into the scholar studies about the “parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity.  In the last two decades appeared several excellent books concerning this topic.  Some of them can be listed here: Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways A.D. 70 to 135 (ed. J.D.G. Dunn) (Wiessenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 66; Tübingen 1992); The New Testament and Hellenistic Judaism (ed. P. Borgen – S. Giversen) (Peabody 1997); A.H. Becker – A.Y. Reed, The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Text and Studies in the Ancient Judaism 95; Tübingen 2003); J. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity (London 2006); Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Development (ed. H. Shanks) (Washington, DC 2011); P. Schäfer, The Jewish Jesus. How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other (Oxford 2012).

The book of Landesmann is preceded by some reflections about the Wiener Vorlesungen at Vienna City Hall.  This is because the materials that content the book was earlier the subject of one of these interventions.  The initiative of Wiener Vorlesungen was born in 1987 and until now many of the best scholars in the world gave their speech in Vienna City Hall.  This initiative is flanked by nine series of books.  One of them is the Wiener Vorlesungen: Forschung, in which the book of Landesmann is published.

Landesmann begins his analyses with important statement: “If we strive to indentify the difference between Christian religious belief and Judaism, it can be found in the contradictory perception of the person of Jesus.  The issue that marked the beginning of the parting of the ways was messianity of Jesus.  We need to analyze the differing trends in Judaism that spawned the belief that God had sent a Redeemer in the person of the Messiah if we are to understand the origins of the term” (p. 3).  This statement is obviously true. Analyses of the differing trends in Judaism concerning the Messiah are needed, even necessary.  The problem is that the book of Landesmann contains rather elenchus of topics differentiating Christianity and Judaism than real analyses of these topics.  Nevertheless, a reader has to admit that this elenchus is quite well elaborated.  We can find here most of the New Testament themes, which are crucial for the Christian-Jewish debate and finally resulted in the “parting of the ways” between the two religions.  Of course, the author mentions only those trends of thought within Judaism that played a decisive role in molding Christianity.

The starting point for considering the split between Church and Synagogue is for Landesmann the case of “Mary’s virgin birth”, sustained by Christians (the author means virgin birth of Jesus, obviously).  Revoking Matthew 1:18-23, Landesmann puts attention to the quote from Isaiah 7:14 within this pericope.  Christians interpreted this quotation according to LXX version (parthenos), it means according to the translation made by Jews in III or II century B.C.E.  In rabbinic Judaism the Septuagint was not enumerated into the Jewish canon of the Scripture.  According to Matthew Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). The Holy Spirit is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 63:10-11; Psalm 51:11; Exodus 31:2-3; Numbers 24:2), but in Judaism His role was understood in quite different way than in Christianity (Jews attributed to the divine spirit first of all the power of prophetic announcements).  Hopes for the future are also different for Christians and Jews. In the New Testament Jesus is seen as the Messiah, but Jews still wait for His coming.

The next part of Landesmann’s book is dedicated to the titles given by God to agents acting on God’s behalf (pp. 18-25): angels, the Son of Man, the Messiah as a King and descendent of David, the Son of God.  The author revokes not only the biblical passages (and interpretation of those passages given by Christians and Jews), but he also quotes apocryphal literature and the sectarian texts from Qumran.  Then he puts his attention to Christian and Jewish doctrine of wisdom and the understanding of the term “logos” in the Hebrew Bible, Greek philosophy, by Philo of Alexandria and John the evangelist.  Very important for the understanding the parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue is to understand the statements made by Jesus about Judaism.  To this problem is dedicated the next part of the reviewed book (pp. 34-37).  Landesmann quotes especially some passages from Matthew and John.  Then, he draws attention to the titles bestowed on Jesus, such as the Rabbi, the Teacher, the Prophet, the High Priest, the King, the Savior, the Lord, the mediator between God and the people, the Son of Man and the Messiah (these two titles are considered once again, but from another point of view; cf. pp. 18-24), the Lamb of God, the second and last Adam, the “logos” and the God.  Reader has to appreciate this chapter of Landsmann’s book, because the author in a very short, but precise way describes the role of the titles bestowed on Jesus not only in the New Testament, but also in the patristic literature.

In the next part of his reflections the author takes into consideration the question of Jesus’ crucifixion (“Why was Jesus crucified?”), giving the Jewish (pp. 57-58) and Christian (p. 59) answer.  The passages quoted from Josephus Flavius are very helpful to understand the Jewish point of view on Jesus death on the cross.  Several pages are dedicated to the resurrection of Jesus (pp. 60-66).  The author revokes not only the New Testament testimonies about the resurrection, but also shows the way of understanding the fact of empty tomb of Jesus by Fathers of the Church.  Landesmann shows the Gospels text about resurrected Jesus in the large perspective of Greek and apocryphal literature (1 Enoch, The Book of Jubilees, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocalypse of Zephaniah, The Apocalypse of Abraham, The Fourth Book of the Sybilline Oracles) concerning the raising from the death.  In a natural way the next topic after resurrection of Jesus is the expectation of his imminent return, with special attention to the delay in this return (pp. 67-68).  Other topics presented in the book are as followings: the redemption, the sacrifice of Jesus as atonement, the forgiveness of sins through baptism, individual peace, the congregation of Jesus following his crucifixion (around 30 AD), the problem of gentiles coming in the Church, the problem of meat sacrificed to idols and the question of circumcision.  Treating these themes, Landesmann interprets first of all the New Testament passages, comparing them with the data derived from Jewish traditions.  He is conscious that some of these topics were problematic not only in the Jewish – Christian debate, but also within the Christian community (e.g. circumcision or meat sacrificed to idols).  Finally, the tension between Jews and Jewish Christians resulted with the disassociation of the Jews from the community of the believers in Christ.  After all the split between Jewish Christians and Judaism became the fact.

Landensmann’s book contains three and half pages of bibliography (pp. 106-109), mainly in English and German.  The author also added abbreviations of the books of the Bible, what suggests that the author did not intend to write a deeply elaborated theological work, because all the theologians are pretty familiar with the abbreviations of the book of the Bible, as well as with the abbreviations of non-canonical books, pseudo epigraphic books, and works of Philo or rabbinical treatises.  Instead of footnotes on every page of the book, a reader finds endnotes, forming the last part of the book.  The work also contains several illustrations, e.g. a mosaic from the apse of St. Zeno’s Chapel in Santa Prassede in Rome, a fresco “Crucifixion” by Fra Angelico, mosaics on the west wall of the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome, a mosaic in the apse of Santa Prudenziana in Rome, and two mosaics from the chapel on the Mount Nebo.

Concluding, the book by Peter Landesmann is not – as one could expect – an analytical study of themes that caused the controversy between Christians and Jews and in effect led to the split between the Church and Synagogue.  It is rather a rich elenchus of topics that raised this controversy.  As such, the book can be very useful for the beginners in research on the “parting of the ways” field, both for theologians and historians as well.

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