Dialogika

Pope Benedict XVI

On Jewish and Christian Readings of the Bible

The following is a fair use extract of a section of chapter two, "Jesus' Eschatological Discourse," in Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two, Holy Week: from the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection  This excerpt, entitled for convenience on this webpage as "On Jewish and Christian Readings of the Bible, comes from a section called "The End of the Temple" on pp. 32-35.

For Judaism, the end of the sacrifice, the destruction of the Temple, must have come as a tremendous shock. Temple and sacrifice lie at the very heart of the Torah. Now there was no longer any atonement in the world, no longer anything that could serve as a counterweight to its further contamination by evil. What is more: God, who had set down his name in the Temple, and thus in a mysterious way dwelt within it, had now lost his dwelling place on earth. What had become of the Covenant? What had become of the promise?

One thing is clear: the Bible — the Old Testament — had to be read anew. The Judaism of the Sadducees, which was entirely bound to the Temple, did not survive this catastrophe; Qumran — which despite its opposition to the Herodian Temple, lived in expectation of a renewed Temple — also disappeared from history. There are two possible responses to this situation, two ways of reading the Old Testament anew after the year 70: the reading in the light of Christ, based on the Prophets, and the rabbinical reading.

Among the Jewish schools of thought prevailing at the time of Jesus, the only one to survive was Pharisaism, which acquired a new center in the rabbinic school of Jamnia and there developed its own particular way of reading and interpreting the Old Testament after the loss of the Temple, centered on the Torah. Only then did it become possible to speak of "Judaism" in the strict sense as a way of viewing the canon of Scripture as revelation and reading it anew in the physical absence of Temple worship. That worship no longer existed. In this sense, Israel's faith also took on a new guise after the year 70.

After centuries of antagonism, we now see it as our task to bring these two ways of rereading the biblical texts — the Christian way and the Jewish way — into dialogue with one another, if we are to understand God's will and his word aright.