On this day: The Pope's New Book

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection, by Pope Benedict XVI, will be published by Ignatius Press. To read compelling excerpts, scroll to the links at the bottom of the publisher's page.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote to Pope Benedict: "I commend you for forcefully rejecting, in your recent book, a false charge that has been a foundation for the hatred of the Jewish people for many centuries."

The book comes at a time when the ancient tide is rising again. A review of "The Merchant of Venice" in the New York Times last Saturday began with these words: "If you've scanned the headlines recently, you have no doubt been freshly reminded that the toxin of anti-Semitism has hardly been eradicated from contemporary culture."

Very true. Also on Saturday, David Baddiel's article, "How Anti-Semitism Entered the Zeitgeist", appeared in The Telegraph. He writes about the Pope's new book and "what gives anti-Semitism a somewhat ambiguous status with the Left".

It is disturbing to see how casually and confidently anti-Semitism is expressed these days, even in liberal Catholic publications. Some liberal Catholic writers say they're not anti-Semites, only opponents of Israel, but they never explain how Israel can be destroyed without killing Jews. Others see no need to justify their solidarity with those whose stated goals are the "eradication" of Israel and the "extermination" of the Jews.

In the Office of Readings this morning, there is the story of a Pharaoh "who knew nothing of Joseph" and who was determined to destroy the Hebrews. He "spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other Puah. ‘When you midwives attend Hebrew women,’ he said, ‘watch the two stones carefully. If it is a boy, kill him; if a girl, let her live.’"

The two stones were the birthing bricks used in ancient Egypt. "A woman would deliver her baby while squatting on two large bricks, each colorfully decorated with scenes to invoke the magic of gods for the health and happiness of mother and child."

--See "Ancient 'Birth Bricks' Found in Egypt", by John Noble Wilford, New York Times, August 8, 2002.

Shiphrah and Puah disobeyed Pharoah, and "since the midwives reverenced God he granted them descendants. Pharaoh then gave his subjects this command: ‘Throw all the boys born to the Hebrews into the river, but let all the girls live.'"

The second Reading is from a sermon on almsgiving by St. Leo the Great. Pope Leo, like many other Doctors of the Church, was hostile to the Jews. His remark about the temple veil in another sermon was quoted by Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi: "'To such an extent, then,' says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, 'was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as Our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom.'"

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