26.11.11

Ecclesia and Synagoga Reformulated


Anti-Judaism in Feminist Religious Writings (Oxford UP, 2000). « Published in 1994, this book is dated but not outdated. It traces traces classic anti-Jewish stereotypes into feminist exegetical and theological writings.


Since Christianity began as a Jewish sect and had to differentiate itself from the Jewish mother faith, it incorporated an anti-Jewish myth which projected Jewish faith and people as the antithesis of Christian belief and values, blamed Jews for the death of Christ and made it into a scapegoat for various other evils. The anti-Jewish myth depicted Judaism as obsolete and a mere prologue of Christianity, and deliberately obscured the reality of Judaism as a vibrant and dynamic alternative to Christianity.
Feminist religious writings have inherited and at times intensified this anti-Jewish myth by portraying Jewish monotheism as the antithesis of women-friendly religion. Stereotypical representations depict Judaism as particularly patriarchal and oppressive to women. Some popular Christian feminist publications argue that Jesus liberated the women of the New Testament (who were Jewish) and was persecuted by the synagogue for his rejection of restrictive laws and rituals. Some Goddess theologians describe the monotheistic (male) God of Judaism as singularly responsible for the disappearance of peaceful matriarchal prehistoric Goddess cultures. Judaism is blamed for the origin of patriarchal religion and charged with persecuting Goddess worship and destroying polytheistic matriarchal religions. Such portrayals ignore the contributions of Jewish feminism and render the distinct perspective and contributions of Jewish women invisible. This book critically examines and disproves such arguments.

The art work on the cover of the book [above], as well as to the left, shows a popular anti-Jewish motif in Christian church art. The Crucified Christ [via The Living Cross] crowns the ecclesia who is sitting majestically on a lion while stabbing the synagoga who is riding a donkey with broken legs. Rosemary Radford Ruether aptly called anti-Judaism the "left hand of Christology." The "teaching of contempt" as Jules Isaac called anti-Judaism, is a poisonous Christian legacy that continues to inform traditional as well as progressive Christian theologies, including feminist, womanist, liberation, Asian and black theologies. » Katharina von Kellenbach (author).

Sculptures by Paula Mary Turnbull
Mary C. Boys, Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding, New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press/Stimulus Books, 2000. « The many medieval depictions of Ecclesia triumphant and Synagoga defeated clearly haunt Mary Boys as symbols of all that has been — and continues to be — wrong in the relations between Jews and Christians. Her search for a corrective to this sinful understanding drives her new book, to the point that she accompanies the book with a commissioned artwork, a new depiction of Ecclesia and Synagoga where both stand tall as representations of their faith communities. An essay on the symbolism embedded in these new figures will have to be reserved for a different venue, but it must be noted here that rather than looking at defeated Synagoga in triumph, the new Ecclesia, while still standing in relationship to her sister (marked by their similar styles of dress and hair), walks with her sister in parity and friendship as they together move forward.
As I read Boys’ book, I felt not only that Synagoga was being given the opportunity to walk alongside her sister, but that she was being invited to look over her sister’s shoulder as well. While Boys has written her book as a Christian educator for a Christian audience, much of what she writes needs to be known by the Jewish community as well. [...] Is Boys’ book perfect? Any synthetic and accessible presentation of many complex fields of scholarly inquiry is bound to have some problems. Although Boys acknowledges many expert readers in her introduction, I still find myself with a list of minor quibbles about her portrayal of Judaism. [...] My only major "quibble" is more fundamental. While the synagogue became an increasingly important institution after the destruction of the Temple, Jews never designated their community by its name because it represents just a single facet of Jewish communal life. Instead, Jewish self-identification, from biblical times, has been as Israel, the name God gave our ancestor Jacob and the name of the land that Jacob’s descendents call home. Medieval theologians projected the Christian ideal of religious community embodied in Ecclesia onto her sister Synagoga, ignoring (or rejecting) precisely these familial/national and geographical elements of Jewish theological self-identification and leaving only the religious. Boys, with her sensitivity to the symbolic, has done so much to make the attitudes embodied in the medieval depictions repugnant to her readers. I would encourage her to take one more symbolic step: eliminate the name "Synagoga" and call Ecclesia’s sister "Israel." » Ruth Langer (SIDIC Review 33/3: 30-31).

"What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD [Deuteronomy 6: 4]; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH' [Matthew 22: 37]. "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF' [Leviticus 19: 18]. There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12: 28-31

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