“Shalom, Shalom, Shalom Israel!” Jews and Judaism in Helmut Gollwitzer’s Life and Theology

I mentioned previously that I would be presenting a paper at this year’s Princeton Barth conference. Well, it is time to move that into the past tense. The conference took place about a week ago, and I presented a week ago today. It was a great conference – lots of good papers, lots of good conversation partners, lots of good conversations. It was also my first trip back to Princeton since my dissertation defense, and it was neat (if a little disorienting) to see the new library.

My paper was on Gollwitzer, with whom regular readers of DET have become increasingly familiar. Hopefully I’ll be able to entice a journal into publishing the whole, but I did not want to leave you – gentle reader – entirely bereft. So here is the introduction so that you might discern the broad strokes.
Helmut Gollwitzer was one of Barth’s most significant students for a number of reasons, and not least among these was his deep-seated commitment to establishing a positive relationship between Christianity and Judaism. This relationship had been poisoned in Gollwitzer’s own lifetime by the horrible actions of Germany’s Third Reich. But Gollwitzer also rightly recognized that the seed of anti-Semitism, which all too easily flowers and has flowered into devastating forms of oppression, had long been planted in and nourished by established patterns of Christian discourse. Gollwitzer relied heavily on what Andreas Pangrtiz refers to as Gollwitzer’s “genius of friendship” in his efforts to repair this relationship. In his ability to be with others in true solidarity, Gollwitzer embodied in his life the sort of rapprochement necessary between what he preferred to think of not as two different religions but as two “confessions” or “denominations” (Konfessionen) of a single faith. A consideration of Gollwitzer’s biography reveals the complimentary point that Gollwitzer came to these convictions through his propensity for friendship. What follows will bring Gollwitzer’s biography together with key intellectual moments in his engagement with the question of Jewish-Christian relations to illumine how important relationships and experiences factored into his thought on the topic. A conclusion offers brief reflections on Gollwitzer’s significance for Jewish-Christian dialog today.

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