Rabbi David Novak, a founding board member of this magazine’s parent foundation, has a fine essay on the Public Square blog today. I added the following comment in response to some of the other kibitzers:
I was heartened by Rabbi Novak’s spirited defense of Judaism.
He is entirely correct to reject the thesis that the majority of Jews in antiquity converted to Christianity. They could not have done so, for they were killed by the Romans after the Bar Kochba rebellion in the second century. Roman sources put the Jewish dead at half a million, Jewish sources at considerably more. In the Greek world, moreover, Jewish communities were slaughted upon the outbreak of the First Jewish War in 66 C.E. Imagine that Hitler had won the Second World War and buried evidence of the Holocaust, as a popular novel and film represented. Future historians might suggest that the disappearance of European Jews was due to conversion. No: we were slaughtered, and we do not accept the posthumous insult to those who died to sanctify God’s name.
Regarding the “tribal” issue, this comment by Henri de Lubac is relevant:
“To St. Paul the Church is the People of the New Covenant. Israel according to the Spirit takes the place of Israel according to the flesh; but it is not a collection of many individuals, it is still a nation albeit recruited now from the ends of the earth, ‘the tribe of Christians,’ says Eusebius, for instance, ‘the race of those who honor God.’
‘Just as the Jews put their trust for so long not in an individual reward beyond the grave but in their common destiny as a race and in the glory of their earthly Jerusalem, so for the Christian all his hopes must be bent on the coming of the Kingdom and the glory of the one Jerusalem; and as YHWH bestowed adoption on no individual as such, but only insofar as he bestowed universal adoption on the people of the Jews, so the Christian obtains adoption only in proportion as he is a member of that social structure brought to life by the Spirit of Christ.”
In de Lubac’s notion of the People of God, incorporated into the Magisterium through Vatican II, Christians strive to become a “tribe” after the fashion of Israel. To counterpose Christian “universality” to Jewish “particularly” is misguided, for Christianity itself is an effort to adopt individual Gentiles into the particular tribe of God’s people.