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Homolka, Walter


Jewish Jesus Research and its Challenge to Christology Today.


Leiden u. a.: Brill 2017. XII, 180 S. = Jewish and Christian Perspectives Series, 30. Geb. EUR 101,00. ISBN 978-90-04-33173-0.


Catherine Hezser

Neben dem angegebenen Titel in dieser Rezension besprochen:

Homolka, Walter: Jesus Reclaimed. Jewish Perspectives on the Nazarene. Transl. by I. Shafer. Foreword by L. Swidler. New York u. a.: Berghahn Books 2015. XXII, 144 S. Geb. US$ 39,95. ISBN 978-1-78238-579-0.

In these two publications Walter Homolka, rector of the Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam, reviews Jewish schol-arship on and literary engagement with Jesus from the nineteenth century until today. He focuses on the reception history (Wirkungsgeschichte) in a twofold way: the history of the Jewish reception of Jesus and the way in which Jewish engagement with Jesus was received or, mostly, not taken into (sufficient) account by Christian New Testament scholars and theologians. His review aims at re-viving the discussion about the impact of historical Jesus research for Christology. As he points out succinctly at the end of Jewish Jesus Research (henceforth: JJR), what is called for is a new Christian theology that rethinks Christian exclusivism and so-called dog-matic truths and, at the same time, recognizes the distinctiveness of all religious traditions, Christianity included.
The earlier book Jesus Reclaimed (henceforth: JR) is the enlarged and revised English translation of an originally German publica-tion, Jesus von Nazareth im Spiegel jüdischer Forschung (2009). In this book H. provides a brief summary of the Jewish reception of Jesus in antiquity and the Middle Ages before focusing on Jewish and Christian research on the so-called historical Jesus in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The last chapter is devoted to a discussion of Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedikt XVI) Jesus trilogy, which seems symptomatic of categorical distinctions between the Christ of faith and the Jewish Jesus, common among Christian theologians, a position that implies that »there is no substantial proximity between Jews and Christians« (106) so that Jewish-Chris­ tian dialogue becomes a vain undertaking. H. deplores the phenom­enon that »contributions from Jewish Jesus research have not usual­ly been viewed as helpful challenges to the Christian position or even as an invitation to dialogue« (103). He hopes that the theological significance of Jewish Jesus research will be taken seriously in the future and change Christological approaches.
A problem with the earlier book (JR) that is addressed and mend­ed in the later one (JJS) is the categorical distinction between »Jewish« and »Christian«, as if these were clear-cut and univocal terms. The discussion of early historical-critical approaches in chapter 2 distinguishes between the Jewish quest to »repatriate Jesus to Judaism« (46) and the Christian search for the historical Jesus that was always already based on the notion of a Christian religious superiority: »Christian theologians never studied the life of Jesus without also focusing on his significance as a savior and central figure of the Christian faith« (45). While this is probably true for much of 19th and early 20th century New Testament schol-arship, any serious historical study of Jesus and first-century Judaism by non-Jews is categorically denied here. In his more recent book H. acknowledges that the labelling of scholarship as »Jewish« and »Christian« is problematic: some scholars are secular or atheist, a »Jewish« perspective can also be adopted by non-Jewish scholars. Both Jewish Studies and New Testament Studies are academic disciplines that would, at least theoretically, be expected to develop an argumentation that is persuasive to other scholars who do not share one’s own ideology. He eventually states that »it can be difficult to distinguish between truly Jewish or truly Christian or even simply historical perspectives on the historical Jesus« (JJR, 88).
Whereas Christian Jesus-research seems to have been conduct­ed under a »dogmatic veil« (JR, 45), Jewish Jesus-research had an »apologetic« motivation (79). Judaism’s importance for under-standing the historical origins of Christianity could serve as an argument in favour of Jews’ integration into European societies. The difference between the approaches is the lack of any Jewish theological inter­est in Jesus, though. Therefore the Jewish quest for the historical Jesus is considered to be more objective, closer to »the same procedure of testing and verification as is expected in the secular sciences« (108). H.’s arguments lead one to question the academic context in which New Testament scholarship is conducted in Germany nowadays. The phenomenon that the churches are involved in academic appointments seems to preclude a truly critical historical scholarship. If the »correct« faith is a necessary requirement for becoming a New Testament professor, that faith will necessarily determine the ways in which Jesus is presented. The same obviously applies to a Jewish theological faculty within a university setting .
This leads us to an issue that is discussed further in the more recent book, namely, the suggested changes in Christian theology on the basis of (mostly Jewish) historical Jesus-research once it is taken seriously. The later book goes beyond the earlier one in re-viewing more recent »Jewish« approaches to Jesus but remains, admittedly, »eclectic« (JJR, 66). The approaches indicate a large di­versity in approaches, ranging from academic research to literature and art. Some of these studies focus on specific time periods and regions, others on personalities such as the reform Jewish thinker Abraham Geiger. Reform theologians like Geiger claimed that they understood Jesus better than Christians and argued for the super-iority of Judaism over Christianity (74). What H.’s book shows is that Jesus research was almost always used as a means to an end, whether this end was theological, political, or social. Both »Jewish« and »Christian« scholars and thinkers presented the Jesus who suited them most. Therefore the proposal to develop a new Chris­tology that is pluralistic as well as distinctive may, sadly, be an impossibility. Theology, whether »Jewish« or »Christian«, is always faith-based and therefore outside of the parameters of universal rationality. In the context of faith-based theological faculties, historical argumentation will necessarily be subservient to broader theological agendas.
At the beginning and end of Jewish Jesus Research post-colonial theory is mentioned. H. correctly argues that the notion of a »Judeo-Christian West« should be recognized as a »myth« that neither accounts for the suppression of the Jewish minority throughout most of European history nor admits the power structures that allowed a dominant Christianity to propagate the image of inter-religious and inter-cultural harmony: »Christianity, therefore, needs to relativize its absolutist claims if there is to be true Chris-tian-Jewish and Christian-Muslim dialogue and a West that is de facto, and not simply de jure, pluralistic« (113).
The books can be recommended to all New Testament scholars, Christian theologians, and their students. It provides a good overview of the most important »Jewish« approaches to Jesus, which can serve to initiate further discussions and theological rethink-ing.