Baker Academic

Friday, December 1, 2017

You Should Read This Book (I Did)

I've just finished Bruce Longenecker's "wonderful book" (these are Anthony Le Donne's words, and I can't improve on them), Hitler, Jesus, and Our Common Humanity: A Jewish Survivor Interprets Life, History, and the Gospels (Cascade, 2014). At 183 pages of text, written in an accessible and engaging style, this book opens a window primarily onto one prominent New Testament scholar's relationship with and estimation of a Jew who felt the need to make his life matter when so many of his contemporaries, "whom Fate or Fortune robbed of their dream," had their lives denied them (from Rolf Gompertz's diary, 21 October 1949, recounted on p. 150).

There is much to learn from Longenecker's and Gompertz's writings here. More importantly, there is much to experience. This book makes me want to fly out to LA, to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance, in hopes (i) that Gompertz is still giving his speech, "Snapshots" (see pp. 123–37) for a text of this speech), and (ii) that I might get to experience him deliver it while it still can be experienced.

Longenecker provides touchingly detailed surveys of Gompertz's life and, especially, of his book, A Jewish Novel about Jesus (2003; originally published as My Jewish Brother Jesus [1977]), which he wrote "to create understanding between Jews and Christians, so we may live together, side by side, respectful of one another, in dignity and peace." Longenecker also provides substantial excerpts from Gompertz's three diaries, which intermittently span the years from his graduation from high school (winter, 1945/46) to his fiftieth birthday (December, 1977), as well as the text of his "Snapshots" speech. The book concludes with a brief apologia answering why a non-Jewish NT scholar should write a book such as this, a wonderful and suggestive re-reading of the problematic passage in Matthew 27:25 ("His blood be on us and on our children!"), and suggestions for further reading.

I do have one caveat lector. Having just finished Longenecker's book, I think I need to order Gompertz's Jewish Novel about Jesus. I also plan to purchase Barbie Zelizer's Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera's Eye (University of Chicago Press, 1998). It may also be time to revisit Elie Wiesel's classic, Night.

If you give an academic a book . . .

I close with a quotation from Gompertz's speech, "Snapshots":
There were those who resisted, there were those who helped, in ways small and large, individually and collectively, at the risk of their lives, at the cost of their lives.

Collective hatred is wrong, collective guilt is worse." (Rolf Gompertz, "Snapshots" [p. 133])

[This post follows up on my previous post.]

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