These pieces continue the train of thought which I began in my articles on How to Dominate a Dialogue.
During these months of preparation for Son Of Synod this autumn, it seems to me that our essential Jewishness is something which we must constantly bear in mind. And this was emphasised most brilliantly in the first published volume of Jesus of Nazareth by our Holy Father Benedict XVI. If, after your initial enthusiastic perusal of its pages, it has more recently been rather gathering dust on your shelves, I beseech you to get it up and running again. Indeed, if there were no Synod threatening us at all, I would still urge you to turn to the very fine section (I shall return to it in the second part of this piece) where Joseph Ratzinger deals with the Sermon on the Mount; and does so by engaging with one of the most distinguished historians of Jewish thought in the world today, Rabbi Jacob Neusner.
In Northern Ireland they are convinced, not only that the dogs in the streets are either Catholic or Protestant dogs, but that the very atheists are either Catholic of Protestant atheists. They mean, of course, very intelligently, that a man may claim to be an atheist, but that his mindset, the matrix especially of of his antipathies, may have been formed by a cultural background which is differently doctrinaire from his current position of dogmatic atheism. English atheists, for example, often have minds befuddled by a world view which is little other than the old, ranting, Fox's-Martyrs-in-a-sauce-of-Charles-Kingsley-with-a-dash-of-Kensit Protestantism, all in the reassuring clothing of a friendly atheistical sheep.
Jewish scholars who venture into 'Christian Origins' tend very often, I fear, to be Liberal Protestants in sheep's clothing. That is what makes Neusner so exhilarating to read. He does not have that sort of crypto-Protestant agenda. Let me start with one example: the old Liberal Protestant superstition, such a comfort to the anti-Catholic mind, was that the Eucharist started as a simple fellowship meal which, probably under the influence of Hellenistic Mystery cults, was perverted into the Catholic Mass. Neusner, on the other hand, is free to follow the obvious track which leads from the 'Cleansing of the Temple' (in which Christ emptied the Temple of those who, by changing money or supplying certified animals, enabled the Temple cult to happen) to the conclusion, documented from his profound knowledge of first century Judaism, that Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as abolishing that sacrificial cult on the Temple Mount because of His intention, on Maundy Thursday, to erect in its place the new sacrificial system of His Eucharistic self-oblation in His Body and Blood.
To be continued.