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Reviewed by Mark Drogin

Rarely does a book cause a person to reconsider deeply held religious and political beliefs. Roy Schoeman's Salvation Is From the Jews  is one of those rare books.  In some ways, this book is more powerful that Mel Gibson's, The Passion of the Christ  , because the book examines questions behind the movie such as: "Is the Gospel anti-Jewish?" "Should we revise it to reflect the worldview of the 21st century?"

The Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate, states that in pondering her own Mystery, the Church encounters the Mystery of Israel.  Schoeman summarizes the role of the Jews and Judaism in salvation from Abraham to the present day.  His subject matter couldn't be timelier as a key new component of any fruitful dialogue between Jews and Catholics. For the conversation to continue and thrive, the Church must understand her own identity and Schoeman presents the Mystery of the Church in the proper Jewish perspective.

Judaism played an essential role in bringing the Jewish Messiah to the world: Jesus, His mother, and all of his Apostles were Jews. Every Jew who enters the Catholic Church proclaims that he has entered into the fullness of Judaism. Famous Jewish Catholics such as Edith Stein and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger and many others proudly proclaimed that they remain Jewish. The author is one of these Jewish Catholics and includes a brief testimony of his own spiritual pilgrimage of discovery.

The hotly debated document released by the U.S. Bishops' Committee in August 2002, "Reflections on Covenant and Mission," claimed to be a starting point for dialogue with and about the role of Judaism in salvation.  Schoeman's book serves as a much needed counter to some of the problems of that 2002 document. Schoeman's effort is a success: it is a good starting place for genuine reflections on the role of Judaism in our salvation.

Schoeman's conclusion

We may disagree with some of Schoeman's opinions but we should focus on his questions, especially one dominant question: Are we seeing the mass conversion of Jews that signifies the end times? This question ties the whole book together. The first part, chapters 1 to 4, discusses Judaism before Christ (beginning with Abraham), messianic expectations, Jewish responses to Jesus in the 1st century (including Jews who followed Him and Jews who didn't), and the idea of a "remnant."

The middle part, chapters 5 to 7, brilliantly examines events in the 20th century: the Holocaust, Nazi ideology, and post-Holocaust anti-Semitism (with a very controversial chapter about Islam). There is a broad leap from the 1st to the 20th century. The author loosely ties all this together in the third part, the last two chapters, on the Second Coming and the return of the Jews. Here he explains the battle between the economy of salvation and the economy of perdition.

A general thesis gradually appears at the end of the book: Salvation is from the Jews and the forces of perdition attack the Jews as a means of opposing salvation. Early in the book, he presents the idea that there will be a mass conversion of Jews before the Second Coming. Based on this assumption, the author theorizes that the forces of perdition resist the conversion of the Jews in an attempt to prevent the Second Coming. His presentation is fascinating and challenging. His conclusions call for further examination, they deserve further study.

Some of Schoeman's speculations are presented authoritatively. Though he presents a "disclaimer" near the end of the book, in most of the book the distinction between speculation and authoritative teaching is not as clear as such a profound subject requires. His belated clarification is worth citing in full:

As stated earlier, the purpose of this discussion is not to "prove" that the Second             Coming is near. Many of the proposed interpretations of the prophecies are             speculative. Yet cumulatively they      suggest that the Second Coming takes place    at a time when the Jewish people             have returned to Israel and formed a Jewish nation.  If this is, in fact, a precondition for the return of Christ, the concerted             efforts of the past century to eliminate the Jews and, failing that, to destroy the             nascent State of Israel, well might be part of a diabolical attempt to prevent the             Second Coming. (316)


Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah?

The author presents a genuinely Catholic perspective without apology. The book is primarily for Catholics -- not primarily for dialogue with Jews. It fills a need for the Church to better understand her Jewish roots before there can be a fruitful dialogue. Chapter One states: "God's ultimate revelation of Himself to man was in the coming of Jesus Christ. (15)" This is not a good opening for charitable dialogue.

The statement is, however, the foundation of our Catholic identity. The premise of honest dialogue is that the identities of the participants be well defined and not compromised for the sake of a false irenicism. Current discussions and explorations of Jewish-Catholic relations are inspired and driven by the documents of Vatican II.  Schoeman's starting point (that God's ultimate self-revelation is in Jesus) is stated explicitly and repeatedly in Council documents.

Schoeman brings the reader immediately to the most important question. In his Preface, he reveals his own presupposition -- a position vigorously supported by many Catholics today:

I claim that a Jew who has become Catholic is the best person to explore the true meaning of Judaism. To understand salvation history, one must be a Christian… a Catholic who is not from a Jewish background would necessarily have a more… incomplete understanding of Judaism than someone who grew up within Judaism. (9)

Schoeman is aware of difficulties caused by this premise. What "right" does an "apostate" have to represent Judaism?  He responds directly: "The issue is not whether one is an ‘apostate' or ‘real' Jew, but whether Jesus was the Jewish Messiah -- the Messiah long prophesied, expected, and prayed for by the Jews."

St. Paul and all the other Apostles had to answer this same question. Is Jesus of Nazareth the One Who Is To Come, the long expected Jewish Messiah?  Schoeman's hearty "yes" underlies the purpose of the book: "to examine the meaning of the words ["salvation is from the Jews"] from a Jewish perspective within the Catholic faith. (9)" This is a monumental task. Schoeman gives us a wonderful glimpse from this perspective. But, because he is discussing Mysteries of our Faith, he cannot give us the final word.

Two terms in need of definition

The phrase, "Salvation is from the Jews," occurs only in John 4:22. What is meant by "salvation" and what is meant by "Jews"? The first term signifies being saved from sin and death, saved from eternal punishment (damnation). The premise for much of Schoeman's book is drawn from the famous enigmatic Romans 11:26: "All Israel will be saved." The meaning of "saved," "salvation," and "savior," is clear.

Confusion arises, however, from the word "Jews." Schoeman cites the definition from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary on the first page of chapter one. But "Jews" remains problematic throughout the book because it is not used in the same sense theologically or in Sacred Scripture as it is used in modern conversation (defined by Webster's). The equivocal uses of this word present a much bigger obstacle than most people realize. St. Paul seems to make a strong distinction between "Jew" and "Israel" in the Epistle to the Romans. One of Schoeman's primary assumptions throughout the book ("the conversion of the Jews must precede Christ's return") inserts "Jews" when Paul deliberately says "all Israel." A careful examination of Romans 9 to 11 in the context of Paul's citations of the Prophets indicates that the phrase in 11:26, "all Israel will be saved," is not synonymous with "conversion of the Jews."

The interpretation of Romans 11:26 is central to Schoeman's entire book. Early in the book, he asserts, "the conversion of the Jews must precede Christ's return." (page 246) Schoeman supports his view with this citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by ‘all Israel' (Rom 11:20-26) (CCC #671)." Even though the statement in the Catechism is speculative and open to a variety of interpretations, Schoeman builds his theory on the assumption that this statement (in the Catechism) is synonymous with "the conversion of the Jews."

If the adversary's primary motivation behind the Holocaust was to prevent the Second Coming of Christ by exterminating all of the Jews, there was still a secondary way he could succeed even if some Jews survived. That would be by stopping the conversion of the Jews that must precede Christ's return.  And the Holocaust has certainly had a tremendous deterring effect on conversion of Jews to Christianity. (246)

The importance of interpreting "all Israel will be saved" in light of "Salvation is from the Jews" (Jn 4:22) calls for a much fuller discussion than space allows here. Briefly, from my own studies, I conclude that "all Israel will be saved" is understood as "remnants from all Twelve Tribes will be saved," rather than "widespread conversion of the Jews." "Remnants from all Twelve Tribes" is more consistent with the context of the Epistle. Maybe there also will be "widespread conversion of the Jews" but I don't think we can assume it from Romans 11:26.

We may or may not agree with all of his conclusions, but he deserves credit for the valuable service of identifying -- and intelligently presenting -- vital questions. Schoeman helps sort out the horrors of the 20th century that influenced the Second Vatican Council and its implementation. He suggests a theological interpretation of the Church's first two millennia -- in a coherent thesis -- to help direct us forward. We should study his work and revise what needs revision. We should incorporate into our catechesis all that is confirmed by the Holy Spirit.  Schoeman's arguments and evidence are all worth serious consideration.

Fulfillment: not "supercession"

"Supercession" is another "hot-button" word. It urgently needs clarification. This is another rare instance where Schoeman is ambiguous when even more clarity is required. In the last pages of the book, Schoeman identifies a serious error:

At the very outset of Christianity, many held the mistaken belief that one must be a member of the Old Covenant to participate in the New. This error was quickly corrected, but was soon followed by another known as "supersessionism" -- that the Old Covenant had been entirely replaced (or superseded, hence "supersessionism"), made null and void, by the New. This view dominated Christian theology for much of the past two thousand years. It has only recently been definitively rejected by the Church [here Schoeman cites several Church documents]. With its rejection, however a new and perhaps even more pernicious error has emerged -- that the Old and New Covenants are two "separate but equal" parallel paths to salvation, one for Jews, the other for Gentiles. (352-353; emphasis added)

This explanation of "supersessionism" is minimal. Appearing only at the end of the book, it is almost too little, too late. Early in the book (in chapter 3), we find what appears to be a direct contradiction of the above quote from page 352-3: "Jesus makes clear that although Jews were the ones initially chosen to receive the Gospel, Gentiles could supplant them by showing greater receptiveness and faith." (53)

There may be a significant distinction between "supplant" and "supersede." One key to understanding this question is the Sermon on the Mount: "Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (Mt 5:17)" And Paul wrote: "For the whole Law is fulfilled [not supplanted nor superseded] in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Gal 5:14)" In Schoeman's last chapter, he includes many testimonies of Jews who found the fullness of Judaism in Christ. Judaism is not supplanted but fulfilled. This helps clarify chapter 3. I think it is more helpful to say there is a new Law to replace the old Law and there is a new Way of Salvation to replace the old Way. But Judaism is more than the Law and more than the Way. Judaism is not supplanted nor replaced but fulfilled. This is a difficult concept and requires a careful explanation.

Schoeman's book is a valuable contribution to the Church, even though the lack of clarity in the early chapters about supplanting and supersession is one of the book's rare defects.

There are not two Messiahs

Another question touched very briefly by Schoeman is this: What were the Jewish messianic expectations 2000 years ago? This question is implied throughout the Gospels: Is Jesus of Nazareth the Jewish Messiah? Historically, there were many different opinions on this question, and ancient Jewish traditions regarding the messiah are uncertain.

The primary doubt about Jesus' messianic credentials was raised by His suffering and death. Most Jews expected a glorious triumphant royal Davidic King. Schoeman points out that the Talmud refers to the suffering messiah as "Son of Joseph," and the triumphant messiah is referred to as "Son of David." But the Talmud says these two cannot be the same person. Schoeman concludes, "The apparent contradictions between a Messiah who suffers and dies and one who comes in power and glory, were resolved by the Talmudic Rabbis proposing two Messiahs rather than one. (118-119)" Schoeman sees these two ancient messianic traditions remaining distinct when applied to Jesus: the suffering messiah describes the first coming, glorious and triumphant describes the second.

Although Schoeman's research is admirable, I think his conclusion here is too simplistic -- the Gospel reality is not exclusively "either/or." Son of Joseph and Son of David are one in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is one Person with one identity yesterday, today and forever. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the glorious triumphant Royal Davidic King are two descriptions of the same Person. This is a primary theme of the Gospel.

Mark Drogin, MTS

Executive Director, Remnant of Israel

Mark Drogin lives in Irving, Texas.

Response by the Author

Response by Roy Schoeman to Mark Drogin's Review of Salvation is from the Jews



First of all, I would like to thank Mark Drogin for his enthusiastic review of my book, and for the additional enthusiasm he showed in sending out a newsletter to the entire mailing list of Remnant of Israel exhorting them to read the book.  As can be expected when dealing with such a complex and subtle topic, Mark and I hold some different views, and I am happy to address some of the specific areas of disagreement.


A central one is where we might be with respect to the Second Coming.  I confess that I can't help hoping that we are not far off.  In the book I do see some of the events of our day as lending themselves to that interpretation, but without presuming to assert it as a fact.  What I try to do is simply lay out and juxtapose some relevant "building blocks", including scripture prophecies, Church teaching, and recent events, to see what pattern may emerge, and leave the reader to his own conclusions.  I am reminded of the very sage advice given to me by a spiritual director when I asked him whether it was alright for me to feel the second coming was near -- his response was "Of course!  Saints starting with Paul have consistently -- and incorrectly -- drawn the same conclusion for the past 2000 years."


I am gratified that Mark sees the book as a valuable tool for Catholics to understand their own roots, but that is not the only -- perhaps not even the primary -- motivation for my writing it. It is certainly true that the majority of the enthusiastic responses to date have been from Catholics, many of whom have said that it rekindled their faith and opened their eyes to the meaningfulness of the Old Testament and the Jews.  Yet I wrote the book with an eye, as well, to bringing about the conversion of more Jews -- not out of cultural imperialism or religious chauvinism, but because as a Jew I know that the Jewish longing to know and love God cannot be fulfilled without knowing Jesus and receiving Him in the sacraments.  And in that it has already had some success.  A number (not many, but some) Jews have written to me about how it opened their eyes to the Jewishness of the Catholic Church, and at least one so far has made the trip to the Baptismal font.  Equally significantly, dozens of Catholics have given the book to Jewish friends, doctors, and in-laws, where it has received a warm reception.  Many more Catholics wrote that the book unleashed a fervor to pray for the conversion of the Jews, that they might receive the grace of the Truth and the joy of the sacraments.   Mark writes that the book "is not a good opening for charitable dialog", but what better opening could there be than Truth and Grace?


The major scriptural difference I have with Mark is over our interpretation of the key passage in Romans 11:26 "…a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved."  The passage deals with a deep mystery of salvation, and it is in the nature of things that there should be no single, unambiguous possible interpretation.  I certainly do not presume to assert that the interpretation I give to this passage, that prior to the Second Coming there will be a widespread conversion of the Jews, is the only possible one!    The alternative one Mark gives in his review is entirely plausible.  Where I take issue, however, is in his blithe dismissal of mine as though it were a personal idiosyncrasy, when it is the interpretation shared by the Church fathers, by Ott in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (p.486) and by the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 671).  I do not think it is fair to simply dismiss the exposition given in the Catechism by saying "the statement in the Catechism is speculative and open to a variety of interpretations".  I was unaware that the Catechism represents mere speculations, and if the Catechism's statement is "open to a variety of interpretations", none is as straightforward and untortured as the obvious one which I give it.


Some other, relatively minor points raised in the review, such as whether I should have spent more time on the history of supersessionism or the meaning of the word "Jew", I will leave to the reader to decide.  The final substantive clarification I would like to make is on discussion in my book on the "Messiah ben Joseph" and Messiah ben David" in the Talmud.  The"either/or" distinction that the review imputes to me seems to be a misunderstanding.   When the Talmudic sages had difficulty reconciling the two apparently contradictory sets of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament -- the "suffering servant" ones and the "glorious King" ones -- they assigned them to two distinct Messiahs, the suffering "Messiah ben Joseph" and the victorious "Messiah ben David". I was simply pointing out that these two Messiahs of the Talmud are quite appropriately named and correspond well with Jesus at His First Coming and Jesus at His Second Coming.  I certainly was not implying that Jesus of Nazareth Himself is anything but "one identity yesterday, today and forever"!


It is quite natural that in a book that revolves around a deep mystery of salvation and has the scope of Salvation is from the Jews, an intelligent, thoughtful reader who has spent his life pondering the same mysteries will not, in every case, agree with the author. (Nevertheless, the noted Jewish-Catholic philosopher Dr. Ronda Chervin began her review: "This will not be the first time Ignatius Press has come out with a ground-breaking book everyone needs to read, but it is probably the first time I have read a book in my own area of expertise where I wouldn't want to change a single line!"). I can only thank Mark for his thoughtful reading, review, and enthusiastic endorsement of my book, and his eagerness to see the questions it raises further explored.