Mary C. BOYS, Redeeming Our Sacred Story: The Death of Jesus and Relations between Jews and Christians. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013. pp 387. $29.95. ISBN: 9780809148172. Reviewed by Eric W. HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026.
Boys’ fifth text on the central, dynamic relationship between Judaism and Christianity delves into the troubling waters of anti-Semitism present within the sacred texts that transmit the early testimonies of Jesus. It combines some cutting edge biblical scholarship along with the author’s own experiences in Jewish-Christian dialogue over the last quarter-century, on both a national and international level. In digging up the seeds of bias and rhetoric that engendered the historic persecutions of the Jewish people by Christians, she presents a fresh sensitivity and clear wisdom that challenges Christians to reject toxic interpretations of the New Testament for both an ethical and theologically-compelling post-Holocaust understanding that actually promotes a lived reconciliation between Jews and Christians.
The text itself has three major divisions: Part One, “A Trembling Telling,” recounts the author’s personal experience of dialogue as impacted by the sacred stories of Christianity – both rightly and wrongly told – and cautiously suggests the Cross as an apt mirror of the Jewish experience – a people who have suffered deeply throughout their history. Part Two, “A Troubled Telling,” recounts the tragic consequences of sacred texts that have been interpreted as the raw material for anti-Semitic hostilities across the last two millennia; Boys describes what she has identified as “the consistent refrain and deadly accusation” of the collective Jewish people as “Christ-killers.” Part Three, “A Transformed Telling,” reminds readers that the Crucifixion story was actually cast against the backdrop of the historic brutality, oppression and systematic domination by the Roman Empire; with this stress more properly situated, Boys argues that Christians have an ethical obligation – not to rewrite these sacred texts, but to reread them and reinterpret them in honest scrutiny and unsparing confrontation with the tradition’s past prejudices and sins – a perspective that enables readers to gain a more nuanced understanding of Jesus as a Jew, who teaches others about the compassionate reign of God.
There are several features to this text that make it particularly attractive for use with a wide range of students coming from particularly Christian backgrounds: first, Boys’ bold approach to the different types of anti-Semitism is well articulated in the interplay between Protestants, Catholics and the Third Reich of Nazi Germany (chapter five); second, she deeply examines the major continuities and discontinuities evident within Christianity’s troubled understanding the Holocaust itself (chapter six); third, she describes some of the primary consensus thinking on the apostle Paul and his complicated understanding of his own identity as a Jew (chapter eight); fourth, she raises some very good questions regarding a growing need for interfaith sensitivity toward Jews and Judaism within the rituals, liturgical prayers and sacramental celebrations of the various Christian churches (chapter nine). Boys rounds out her fine and careful study with comprehensive endnotes and a bibliography that I found to be particularly helpful for university students – especially those previously unfamiliar with the full range and impact of Jewish-Christian dialogue.
Overall, Boys’ fifth contribution to Jewish-Christian understanding is a very readable text that remains bold in approach throughout each of its chapters, and refreshing in its honest and often critical assessment of the anti-Semitism that is still present across the Christian ecumenical spectrum. I foresee its adoption in courses exploring Contemporary Christologies, Interreligious Dialogue, and/or Contemporary Jewish-Christian Understanding. I believe it would be a very appropriate addition to any related course syllabi, and highly recommend it.