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Date: 20 October, 2003

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'Different theological approaches to suffering from both religions are assessed, but it becomes clear that there are no easy answers.'


The Bishop of Oxford's book on post-Shoah Christianity and Judaism is a bracing and accessible lesson on theology and the history of religion, says Charlotte Haines-Lyon

The Chagall painting of "White Crucifixion" on the cover, and Harries' exposition, is worth the price of this book alone.

The French painter's depiction of the death of Christ, surrounded by scenes of brutality against Jews, reminds us that the suffering of Jews was also inflicted on the Christian God.

Harries starts with the Holocaust, or as he prefers to call it"the Shoah", due to the offence cause by "Holocaust" meaning a burnt offering.

The Shoah causes immense problems for Jews and Christians alike, not least because of questions raised when so many people suffer such evil.

Different theological approaches to suffering from both religions are assessed but it becomes clear that there are no easy answers, although Rabbi Hugo Gryn comes closest by saying, "The question in relation to Auschwitz is not where is God but where is man?"

As Harries catalogues the Christian pronouncements on Judaism over the centuries - not least the heresy that Jews deserve suffering because they are Christ killers - it becomes clear Gryn's question is most pertinent.

Despite the Nazis shunning Christianity, their behaviour was underpinned by Christian attitudes throughout history, that is to say that most Christian teaching did not challenge persecution of the Jews.

And it is not just the anti-Semitism that caused problems but the over emphasis "upon the duty of Christians to submit obediently to the ruling powers." It is this legacy that the Bishop challenges us to address.

If we can overcome the past (there is a fascinating chapter on the rights and wrongs of forgiveness), then how are the two religions to relate to each other today?

Harries argues: "Any religion worth its name will seek to have a coherent and consistent view of the whole universe, including the place of other religions within it."

Whilst addressing issues such as Israel, Jerusalem, evangelism and the Messiah, Harries models the way forward; to listen and learn from each other's religion, whilst maintaining our integrity.

It would have been useful to have more in-depth analysis of the Israel/Palestine conflict, but this is not a political book but a bracing, and accessible lesson on theology and history of religion.

Harries has provided an engaging and challenging book which is much needed during this time of suspicion and anti-Semitism.

After the Evil: Christianity and Judaism in the Shadow of the Holocaust, Richard Harries, Oxford University Press £16.99 239pp