Orthodox Christianity is often accused of fomenting antisemitism because of its “supercessionist” conviction that Christianity overcomes and replaces Judaism.

Antisemitism is more accurately the product of the abandonment of orthodoxy. In a fine essay on Erich Auerbach , Arthur Krystal writes, “During the nineteen-thirties, many religious leaders in Germany traduced the Old Testaments authority, in an attempt to strip Jewish history of its original meaning. In 1933, Cardinal Faulhaber noted (disapprovingly) the widespread sentiment that a ‘Christianity which still clings to the Old Testament is a Jewish religion, irreconcilable with the spirit of the German people’ . . . .

In April of 1939, the Godesberg Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church concluded that the Christian faith did not arise from or complete Judaism but ‘is the unbridgeable religious contradiction to Judaism.’ The clergymen who signed the document were, in effect, echoing the Nazi propagandist Alfred Rosenberg, who blasted the Old Testament for turning normal people into ‘spiritual Jews,’ and who claimed that there wasnt ‘the slightest reason to believe’ that Jesus Christ was of Jewish ancestry.”

An apolitical Jew, Auerbach’s indirect response was to explore the Christian tradition of “figural” readings of the Old Testament. His essay, “Figura,” “conjures up an interpretation of historical events in which the first event ‘signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second encompasses or fulfills the first.’ Events in the Old Testament are reaffirmed in their significance when they can be shown to have prefigured events in the New Testament. By tracing the etymology of figura in patristic literature and stressing Augustines conception of the Old Testament as ‘phenomenal prophecy,’ Auerbach explored the deep bond between the Old and the New. And, by emphasizing that figural interpretation ‘had grown out of a definite historical situation, the Christian break with Judaism and the Christian mission among the Gentiles,’ he tacitly linked that break with the Nazis attempt to despoil Jewish law and theology.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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