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Transforming Relations: Essays on Jews and Christians Throughout History in Honor of Michael A. Signer, edited by Franklin T. Harkins. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010.  476 pp.  $50.00.

Transforming Relations is a collection of insightful essays that speak on the interaction between Jews and Christians in antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern era. It honors the important work of Michael A. Signer, the Adams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture at the University of Notre Dame from 1992 until his death in 2009. The chapters treat various aspects of the Jewish-Christian relationship through the centuries, including the centrality of and departure from scriptural law in antiquity, reflections on Christianity in the Talmud and Midrashim, medieval Christian hermeneutics and Hebraism, and the appreciation of Judaism in modern Christianity. The essays focus on issues that permeate Signer’s own scholarly work, namely, that shared scriptural texts and commentary serve simultaneously as a point of convergence and divergence for Jews and Christians, and that meaningful contemporary interfaith Jewish-Christian dialogue recognizes similarity and difference by participants who draw from separate but equal streams of monotheistic traditions.

To honor the memory and work of Michael Signer, editor Franklin T. Harkins has assembled a cadre of friends and colleagues, admirers all of the honoree and his contribution to scholarship. The book’s front matter contains a dedicatory poem in memory of Michael by Cyril O’Regan, a foreword by John van Engen, and an introduction by Franklin T. Harkins on Signer’s study of historical Jewish-Christian exegesis. The volume is divided in two parts. Essays in Part One (“Ancient and Medieval Perspectives: Exegesis, Polemic, and Cultural Exchange”) begin with Arnold Band’s personal reminiscence of the professor-student relationship and the seeds of textual methodology planted at UCLA in the early 1960s. David Novak focuses on the centrality of Torah from Sinai and its historical role in the parting of the ways and dialogical healing between Pharasaic Judaism and Pauline Christianity; and Israel Jacob Yuval speaks of the merits of “parallelmania” not the polemics and apologetics, when early Christian texts mix with rabbinic literature.

The next essays deal with personalities and schools of Jewish and Christian exegetes and teaching in twelfth century northern France. Grover A. Zinn discusses the multiple ways that Psalms affected the spiritual life and theological education affecting the canons of the Parisian Abbey of St. Peter. By dissecting the theoretical framework of Hugh of St. Victor, Dale Coulter shows interpretive similarities (plain meaning, history connected to narratives affixed to events, word and syntax interpretation) between Victorines and their Jewish counterparts. Likewise, Boyd Taylor Coolman and Franklyn T. Harkins engage in similar activity in researching Hugh’s students, Richard of St. Victor and Andrew of St. Victor, respectively. All three chapters reflect pivotal texts that exemplify borrowing, polemics, and advancement. Deborah L. Goodwin contrasts the literal and allegorical approaches of Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) and Peter Comesrer in reading the narrative of Rebekah’s children, Esau and Jacob (Gen 25–27) Rashbam’s commentaries on Lamentations and the Song of Songs is the focus of Sara Yapet’s chapter. E. Ann Matte elaborates on the overlapping eschatological layers of the Wandering Jew in medieval Christianity (killers of the Lord, testifiers to his Second Coming and fulfilled in ecclesiastical conversion). Leslie Smith concludes that the Postlila in totem bibliam (commentary on the whole Bible) is the collaborate scholarship of the Dominican master and administrator Hugh of St. Cher’s and Mendicant scholars. Arjo Vanderjagt posits that the mastery of Hebrew by Wessel Gansfort (1419–1489) was not for dialogue but for the conversion of Jews and to enhance piety and devotion by Christians to Jesus. Finally, Jeremy Cohen probes a story narrated by Solomon ibn Verga in his Shevet Yehudah that speaks of the nefarious charge of blood libel in sixteenth-century Spain and Portugal; the price to overcome was separation in body, space, and Jewish-Chritian scholarly encounter.

Part Two presents a variety of ways that Jews and Christians encounter and entangle in recent times. Peter von der Osten-Sacken addresses the basic imperative to know, understand, and respect the other by applying the Buberian doctrine of Ich und Du to the words of a nineteenth-century German Jewish chaplain. Angela Kim Harkins constructs the danger involved when longstanding Christian theology replaced the historical Jew by the “hermeneutical Jew” thus continuing the horrific Adversus Judaeos tradition. David Ellenson surveys the opposing responsa of influential Israeli Sephardic Rabbis Hayyim David Halevi and Ovadia Yosef concerning the relationship between Jews and Christians related to issues of ideology, theology, and visitation to sacred spaces. Peter Ochs observes that Signer’s plain-sense (p’shat) exegesis in medieval Jewish and Christian texts suggests an acumen for strong historical-textual studies, which, in turn pays dividends in contemporary Jews and -Christians repairing their faith in self and in visions of the other. John Pawlikowski appreciates Signer’s attempt at interconnectedness between the Church and the Jewish people by way of the Hebrew Bible; yet, he advises use of New Testament sources and wonders what lasting impact Church Christology and Shoah catastrophe have on said interrelationship. Finally, the last essayists, David Fox Sandmel and Hanspeter Heinz delve into positive and regressive perceptive changes of American Protestantism and Roman Catholicism towards Jews and Judaism in recent times—for example, Evangelical acceptance of Jewish traditions in belief and worship, Pope Benedict XVI’s approval of the Tridentine Good Friday rite that calls for the conversion of the Jews, etc.

In sum, a fine tribute to the memory and work of Michael Signer. As anticipated, some chapters are more personal and reflective than scholarly. Quality writing throughout though chapters on medieval exegesis and thought are less accessible to the non-specialist. A labor of respect and scholarship.

 

Zev Garber

Los Angeles Valley College