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Books to give at Christmas 2 of 4

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Judaism Does Not Equal Israel
Marc H. Ellis
New York, London: The Free Press, 2009

With superb clarity Marc Ellis, has produced an engaging, easy-to-read study of great value, with "sticky" relevance for Jews, Christians and Americans.

In it he argues his case that Jews need to return to their original vision and prophetic identity. "Return" because the Holocaust has, in recent years, become their criterion for defining/polarizing themselves within the human community. Ellis holds that this Holocaust mentality emerged and took on its dynamism well after that event; it has become a radioactive "coin of the realm" for political purposes.

The consequences of Jewish trading with it are several and interwoven. Altogether they created the U.S.-supported nation-state of Israel that now is allowed to have its way in the Middle East. Why no intervention from western nations? Because any opposition to Israel is instantly decried as anti-Semitism, a label that touches the West's guilt nerve.

The author, himself a faithful Jew, challenges this post-Holocaust identity that demands uncritical support for Israel as the Jewish norm. He sees Israel as disengaged from authentic Jewishness and visiting upon the Palestinians what was done to Jews in the Second World War -- the victor become the victimizer.

Along with his poignant call for a return to the prophetic character of true Judaism, Ellis proposes a reasonable political solution for ending the Israeli-Palestinian horror. Hence, the book is an amalgam of historical events, politics, and Jewish religion. It deeply moved me and I recommend it without reservation.

* * * * * *

A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop
Rembert G. Weakland, OSB
Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009

Weakland cannily deals immediately with the unfortunate cloud of scandal under which he retired as archbishop of Milwaukee in 2002. With that out of the way he begins the broader story that, given his immersion in the mission and politics of the church at large, carries historical significance and rich fare.

For me, the greatest revelations concern Weakland's 1) visits as Abbot Primate to the every monastery of the Benedictine Order, 2) description of Paul VI's person and papal modus operandi, 3) nearly non-communicative relationship with John Paul II, and 4) astonishing array of ecumenical works. (His intended projects for reaching out to women and married priests in the Milwaukee archdiocese were, by papal reaction, rendered dead upon birth.)

Despite his dealings with many difficult, unappreciative personalities and despite his being left with unrealized goals during John Paul II's papacy, Weakland does not indulge in "payback." He details his multi-faceted life during Vatican II and in the post-Vatican II church. It is both an "on the ground" close-up of people and events, as well as an aerial view of church dynamics in this historical era -- an account revealing both the "pilgrim" and the "pilgrim church."

We see the "pilgrim" as a person of tremendous intellectual capabilities, progressive instincts, musical talent, spirituality … and loneliness.

* * * * * *

Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire
Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker
Boston: Beacon Press, 2008

Given that the death of Jesus by crucifixion is the primary symbol of faith for Christians, the authors of this scholarly work set out on pilgrimage to trace depictions of it in Christian art. To their surprise, they found none earlier than the tenth century. All church art dated prior to that time presents Jesus alive -- most as post-resurrection, but certainly not dead. This called for further sleuthing by the two.

What they discovered as the dominant image in early Christian sanctuaries was Paradise! However, it was not the Paradise of an afterlife in another "place," but a Paradise affirming life in this world.

The authors then located the era when the focus of faith shifted from "Paradise" to "Death of Jesus." Apparently this occurred when the pope offered heaven as an eternal reward for those who would go on the Crusades; thus, entry into Paradise was postponed until the time of death. In this twist, a theology of atonement emerged and the focus tilted toward salvation by the passion and death of Jesus, rather than baptism. The co-authors expand on the theological history and ramifications of this shift.

Brock and Parker have blended history, theology, liturgy, art, and spirituality in this scholarly treatise. They describe it as a work of love. It is that -- and a pleasure to read.

[Regina Schulte has a master's degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame and a doctorate in theology from Marquette University. Now retired from her academic (college and seminary) career, she continues her educational endeavors by writing and a variety of other endeavors. Regina's book reviews appear regularly in Corpus Reports.]

Other reviews in this series:
Books to give at Christmas 1 of 4

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