(JTA) — Jewish organizations are hailing Pope Benedict XVI’s unequivocal repudiation of the claim that the Jewish people can be held forever responsible for the death of Jesus.
The Vatican already rejected the claim in general terms in 1965 with the landmark Nostra Aetate document issued by the Vatican II Conference, opening the door to formal Catholic-Jewish dialogue. But in a new volume of his book, "Jesus of Nazareth," Benedict employs a detailed scholarly analysis of Catholic teaching to make the point clear.
The Anti-Defamation League called it “an important and historic moment” in Catholic-Jewish relations that would build on Nostra Aetate.
Excerpts of the book, which is due out March 10, were released Wednesday.
"Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death?" Benedict writes in a passage regarding Jesus’ condemnation to death by Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
Noting that the Gospel of St. John states that it was "the Jews," he asks, "How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus’ death?" John’s use of the term, he writes, "does not in any way indicate — as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it ‘racist’ in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers."
What John meant by "the Jews", Benedict writes, was the priestly "temple aristocracy."
In another passage, Benedict explicitly rejects the notion that the expression reported in the Gospel that "His blood be on us and on our children" meant an eternal curse against the Jewish people. Instead, the pontiff writes, "It means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation."
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, said the pope’s book marked "a landmark moment" in Catholic-Jewish relations.
"Pope Benedict’s theological repudiation of the deicide charge not only confirms the teachings of Vatican II, which formally rejected collective Jewish guilt, but seals it for a new generation of Catholics," Steinberg said.