Why the Pope’s Rejection of Jewish Blame for Death of Jesus Matters

Source: Time, Reuters, 3-3-11

Pope Benedict XVI waves during his Wednesday general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on March 2, 2011

When Pope Benedict XVI writes that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, what’s important is less the passage itself than the man who set it down on paper.

By tackling the subject in a book to be published March 10, Benedict, who has struggled in his relations with the Jewish community, doesn’t so much state something new — the affirmation that the Jewish people as a whole were not responsible for the crucifixion is an old one, uncontroversial in the modern Catholic Church — as lend the idea the ecclesiastical equivalent of a celebrity endorsement. “The significance is in the author,” says Joseph Sievers, professor of Jewish history at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. “He brings together an awareness of the issues in the texts themselves with the history of how these texts have been interpreted through the last 2,000 years.”

Indeed, the Catholic Church has considered the Jewish people free from blame since at least 1965, when the Second Vatican Council wrote that while “the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”

The difference this time is that rather than being buried deep in a document of dense text, where it can easily be overlooked or ignored, the argument is being laid out by a man whose every word is pored over as an indication of church doctrine. “Most Catholics don’t read the church’s documents,” says Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs at the New York–based American Jewish Committee. “The book will certainly be far more widely read.” Benedict’s most recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, was a best seller when it was published in 2007. The passage about the crucifixion will appear in its sequel, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection….READ MORE

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