"We can be robust in putting our point across, but in this instance we acknowledge that some of the words we have chosen may have been misunderstood, which created an anxiety in the Jewish community." So states the introduction to the revised version of the Church of Scotland's "The Inheritance of Abraham," in a careful acknowledgement of the outrage that the original report, released earlier this month, caused among Jews in Britain and elsewhere.
"Robust" is probably not the word that most Jews would select in describing the original version, which sought to deny, just as the new version does, any linkage between Jewish scripture and a right to possession of the Land of Israel. In the new version's own words: "The 'promised land' in the Bible is not a place, so much as a metaphor…To Christians in the 21st century, promises about the land of Israel shouldn't be intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory."
The great majority of Jewish readers would most likely plump for that rather unfashionable, much maligned term, "anti-Semitic". They would do so because the report's initial iteration was a breathtaking exercise in the kind of replacement theology that most of us thought had been dispensed with long ago, thanks to the efforts of influential Christian scholars like James Carroll, who has argued that Judaism and Christianity can retain "an intimate bond while being different". Choice observations like these – "Jesus offered a radical critique of Jewish specialness and exclusivism, but the people of Nazareth were not ready for it," "[Jews] must be challenged...to stop thinking of themselves as victims and special" – led to the inescapable conclusion that the Church's real target was not Israeli policy, or even the Zionist movement, but Judaism itself.
As a result of protests from the Israeli Ambassador to the U.K. and from representatives of the Jewish community in Scotland, the Church withdrew the report a few days after it was posted online, and then issued a new, apparently sanitized version. Now, it is true that many of the provocative words and references in the original report which the Church disingenuously says were "misunderstood" have been excised from version two. But the supersessionist thrust of the report remains intact.
Anyone who cares to can compare the two reports – the new version lives on the Church of Scotland's website, while the original can be found on the website of Stephen Sizer, a fanatically anti-Zionist Anglican vicar who is, one might say, a particularly "robust" advocate of replacement theology. For my part, I was struck by the following:
The use of the term "Hebrew Bible" is common to both reports. And this is not a term that Jews use, in much the same way that Muslims won't refer to the "Muslim Holy Book," but the Qu'ran. Why not talk about the Torah, or the Tanakh? In my view, it's because using authentically Judaic terms is a step too far for the Scottish Church, which retains its belief that Judaism is a particularist, ethnocentric faith that should have been toppled by the universalist message of Christianity.
The persistence of that belief is borne out in the new version of the report, which endorses the theology of Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization, and its founder, Naim Ateek. The principle movers behind the "Kairos" document – an earlier, equally radical manifesto that accuses Israel of "ravaging our land in the name of God" and argues for the Jewish state to be dismantled. Both Ateek and Sabeel are firm believers in replacement theology.
Just as the original version relied heavily on the work of marginal Jewish anti-Zionist figures in staking its moral and theological orientation, so does the new one. Within the Jewish community, the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss is regarded with a mixture of derision and contempt; nonetheless, the Church of Scotland want to persuade us that it's an authoritative source on both the political and religious aspects of Judaism. Readers will search in vain for a quote from a mainstream Jewish thinker, whether that's the Rambam, Rashi, or U.K. Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks.
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