Frank Talmage, "Christian Theology and the Holocaust," Commentary 60:4 (October 1975) 72-75



Abstract by Jerry Darring


Talmage reflects on three recently published books: Rosemary Radford Ruether's Faith and Fratricide, A. Roy Eckardt's Your People, My People, and Franklin H. Littell's The Crucifixion of the Jews. He shows how they represent a radical departure from previous Christian post-Holocaust literature which had been well-meaning but continued to deny any validity to contemporary Jewish religion. These three authors, by contrast, insist that the church must create "theological space" for Judaism. Judaism has not been superseded, they write, and in the words of Eckardt, "all Christian theologizing about the Jewish people must be somehow transcended."

After tracing the history of Christian antisemitism, Ruether seeks to rethink Christianity and connect it to its Jewish roots. The old dichotomies of law-grace, letter-spirit, Jew-Gentile, Old Testament-New Testament must give way to new understandings, for example, of the resurrection as pointing to future redemption.

Eckardt's book is a severe book, critical of nearly every group involved in the post-Holocaust discussion: Christian liberals, Quakers, the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, fundamentalists, Jewish and Israeli writers, and especially Christians involved in making empty gestures towards the Jews, such as Cardinal Bea.

Littell traces the history of Christian antisemitism but focuses on modern attitudes, especially those attitudes that seek to "avoid the reality of Jewish peoplehood" (p. 74).

Talmage asks if these radical thinkers might be causing more harm than good, suggesting that "such a radical turnabout in Christian self-understanding hardly seems likely" (p. 75). He notes that the three authors call for a broad-based educational effort to help reposition Christians vis-a-vis Jews, and he calls for rigorous interfaith dialogue on the part of the best Christian and Jewish scholars.