Deicide and the eternal covenant

Deicide and the eternal covenant January 21, 2011

There is a fascinating interview with Joseph Weiler of NYU Law at the National Catholic Reporter today.  Weiler is the attorney who represented the state of Italy in its defense of keeping crucifixes in public school classrooms, pro bono; he is also a deeply religious Jew.

In the interview he discusses a forthcoming book which I am very much looking forward to reading.  His focus is on the trial of Jesus: not specifically the death or the theology of the cross per se, but rather the trial itself.  Let me quote one of his three theses:

I believe Deuteronomy chapter 13, verses 1-5, is the key. It’s an extraordinarily strange thing. The first verse says, ‘This is my law. You will not add to it and you will not detract from it, forever.’ Then it says that if one day a prophet or a dreamer should come to you giving ‘signs and wonders’ … that’s code in scripture for somebody sent by God. So, if a prophet giving signs and wonders comes along and says to stray away from God, not to follow his law, you have to know that I’m testing you. This is the theologically baffling part: I am putting you to the test, and you must resist. Even though it’s a prophet, even though it’s signs and wonders which means it comes from God, you must put this man to death.

Weiler addresses the question of deicide, and takes the remarkable position that the Jews are responsible for Jesus’ death, and that they put him to death precisely because of God’s command in Deuteronomy.  God’s eternal covenant with them, he avers, involved holding both parties to the implications of the  covenant, including God’s people putting to death one that God himself should send.

I encourage anyone to read the entire interview.  It is a fascinating look at someone who has clearly given the question of Jewish-Christian relations a great deal of thought and prayer.  My initial reaction is positive; the thesis strikes me as consistent with the Biblical evidence and realistic about both history and the contemporary challenges of both faithfulness to our respective traditions and the desire for friendship.  Weiler’s thesis strikes me as a kind of contemporary “Gamaliel moment”  (See Acts 5:39).  It will likely generate a good deal of controversy.

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