Although published in 1974 this outstanding, well argued work still needs to be read, digested and discussed by both Jewish and Christian scholars! Underlying this whole book is a sense of suspicion, doubt but intellectual firmness directed at the "source" of anti-Semetic thought; the New Testament. It becomes clear that once the reader has made their way through this fine work the issue is seen to be an intellectual/hermeneutical disagreement in how early sectarian Jews interpreted the OT in regards to Jesus of Nazareth. Such interpretations became the New Testament which therefore for Ruether misinterpreted traditional jewish Messianic longings in the first century. Indeed such writings of these sectarians became "the foundations of anti-Judaic thought... laid in the New Testament" (226) which gave rise to the necessity of affirming the internal Christian's self (94,228). To be more precise this "negative side" and origin of anti-Judaic rhetoric was due to "its christological hermeneutic" (64) she terms (according to the Preface's author Gregory Baum) the "left side of christology" (12). In other words, the Jesus preached by the church through faith in him, but disagreed in by traditional Judaism, now became the "new principle of salvation" (78). Such a stance created a "new people of God" superceeding "the Jewish religious tradition" which now "demanded a whole new garment" (79). The early churches' preaching about Jesus' "salvic role as Prophet-King-Son of Man" (78), due to many Gentiles coming into the church, soon found itself "paradoxically" rejected by Judaism (81).
Paul then, because he took up the task of informing Gentiles that Torah observance now had "no relevance" for them due to an unbelieving Israel, became the "story line" of the Gospels, John and book of Acts (87). But Ruether notes that such proclamation was not done by the Gentiles but "angry Jewish sectarians which believed it had the true midrash on the Scriptures" (94). What this means in my reading of Ruether is that anti-Semitic attitudes within the New Testament arose from within this newly formed sect of Judaism itself. Intra-Jewish sectarians simply had a different reading of Old Testament Messianic, Suffering Servant or a Son of Man which they had applied to Jesus. Indeed, most Jewish leaders had never "heard of such a Messiah" (70). Fact was, according to Ruether, Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah came about because it was being taught "only that community" which revolved around Jesus was THE "true people of God" and no longer the Jewish people.
Chapter one traces development of pagan anti-Sematic attitudes. And although anti-Semitic attitudes arose prior to the Christian era, a "new uniqueness" arose within Christian anti-Semitism which again owes its so called anti-ness to "the Messiahship of Jesus" (28). Launching into chapter two, which gets into the heart of the matter very quickly, Ruether can be summed up in this quote. "There is no way to rid Christianity of its anti-Judaism, which constantly takes social expression in anti-Semitism, without grappling finally with its christological hermeneutic itself" (116). Chapter 3 and 4 deal with Patristic "adversos Judaeos" writings where anti-Judaic writings can be seen to be cruel, prejudicial and politically social.
Her final chapter on the "theological Critique of the Christian Anti-Judaic Myth" seeks to heurestically unfold a necessary common ground between Judaism and Christianity. Some previous misunderstanding must be removed. Ideas that the Pharisees were hypocrites can "today only be read as a false vilification of that group" (231). For Ruether this means radically reinterpreting Matt. 23, for instance, which she gives no help in so doing except possibly by "retranslation" (232, though she here does not cite Mt. 23 per se). Further, Pauline interpretations of "realized eschatology" ( what Judaism understands as "Messainic Age") "rests on an illegitimate historicizing of the eschatological" which "has not taken place' and must be "reformulated" in the manner in which it arose within "its Jewish context"(246-248). Her final words call for an "unrepressing" which would lead essentially to a new Christian identity (251-257). But this could only happen if Christians admit and rediscover Judaism as the "true Israel' (260). She closes her book suggesting 6 reformulations for Christians: 1) Rethink so called obsoleteness of Judaism; 2) insert Rabbinic formulations into Nt and Jewish "blood-guilt" 3) Church historians teach Jewish persecutions 4) Redemptive Christian language be reworked 5) Church Seminarian dialog between Jews be increased and 6) and "above all" courses utilizing anti-Judaic language be overcome (259-260). Such overcoming of anti-Judaic thinking (fraticide) can therefore only be overcome by "identifying" with "Jewish identity" (261).
In conclusion let me say this about Ruethers excellent book. Anti-Semitism did not begin in the New Testament but in the Old Testament when Israel's prophets spoke againt the hard hearts of unbelieving Israel. What we have here is a contrast between believing Jews (those who trusted YHWH) and unbelieving Jews (those who did not trust YHWH). And so because the whole Bible (both OT & NT) were written by Jews, only an intra-Jewish polemic can be said to be the dividing line between any so called anti-Semitic thinking in the NT. Belief and unbelief are the real culprets of anti-Judaism; believing Jews against unbelieving Jews; that is, such as ones who so interpretes themselves!
But that leads to another issue; that of canonicity which Ruether does not adhere to concerning the NT documents. If she did she would not be calling for parts of the NT to be reformulated or that realized eschatology in the Pauline sense has not happened yet. Rather it must be stated that in fact the Kingdom of God has come. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God spiritually and that's how it was meant to be understood. Future physical actualization of the Messianic Age will come. But now for believers the Kingdom is spiritually here. The NT cannot be understood outside of this Pauline and Jesus' eschatological framework. Sadly Ruether cannot see nor admit that truth...