Blu Greenberg, "The Holocaust and the Gospel Truth," Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 4:3 (1989) 273-282

Abstract by Jerry Darring


Greenberg starts from the conviction that "the Shoah is not a freak event vis-a-vis Christian Gospels but, rather, the expressed culmination of a suppressed rage against the Jews embedded within its words" (p. 273). For Jews, then, the straight reading of the Gospels is a fearsome matter, even when it is done by 'good people.' The problem is that the Gospels truths are so powerful because of the respect Christians have for the Gospels. New approaches to the Gospels have developed in recent decades, but they have not filtered down to the ordinary Christian and remain in the domain of scholars.

Perhaps Christians should should learn from the Jews and the way they have added on to their scripture layers of interpretation that have taken on a quasi-scriptural authority. Jews have come to rely not only on the written Torah, which maintains its primacy, but also on an oral tradition. They hardly ever study only the Torah but also the commentary, the interpretation, the 'oral Torah.'

The development of the oral tradition within Judaism has been based a many principles, and Greenberg highlights a few of them: reversal of a legal teaching that, taken literally, could have a negative moral impact; the broad interpretation of a category in scriptural text; the narrowing of a category; incorporating historical change that renders an inherited principle inoperative; the suppression of contradictory evidence in order to expand personal rights; and the rabbinic paint brush applied to biblical characters to heighten or level their personalities.

Greenberg says that it is too much to hope that Christians would edit their Gospels to make them less threatening to Jews. So what is needed is the development of a Christian Talmud and a Christian Midrash that would soften the rough edges of the Gospels. Christians of the future should not be able to read or teach first century Christianity without these quasi-scriptural texts. Christian children of the future would not know where scripture leaves off and the quasi-scripture begins, and they would not need to know.