Why did we choose the image of Charles River bridge crucifix in Prague for our podcast?

One of the elements of New Creation In Christ’s mission statement is to contribute to a healthy and honest dialogue between various faiths, especially Christians and Jews. In fact, our ‘Law and prophets’ program specifically addresses the study of the weekly reading of the Torah – as it is read in the synagogues – but from a Christ-centered perspective.

 

Over the years that we have been teaching in this method, the very existence of such a studyhas been  – and still is – a subject of joy, curiosity and admiration to some and a subject of concern, offense and antagonism to others – few are left indifferent to it. Though we pursue this program without any intent of offending anyone, we also feel that it is important to express our sincere belief that Judaism and Christianity are sister-faiths – two branches of the same tree. They share much more in common than is usually granted by their adherents. The antagonism to any expression of this common source is invariably rooted in ignorance of the other faith and, frankly, of the roots of one’s own faith as well.

 

Some Christians are outraged at the idea of Christians following an order of Scripture readings as it is practiced in the Jewish synagogues – a study which includes references to Jewish religious holidays and their symbolism and liturgical practice. This outrage betrays primarily an ignorance of Christianity’s own roots – when Jesus Christ, Himself being Jewish, and His followers, where were primarily Jews, not only observed Jewish holidays – but also read the Law and the Prophets every Sabbath in the synagogue!

 

Likewise, some Jews are outraged that Christians should “appropriate” the reading cycle of Parashot as it is practiced in the synagogues – seeing that this goes to the very heart of the Jewish liturgical life. This too betrays an ignorance of the origins of history and the understanding that Christianity began as a second-temple Jewish movement in whose writings – namely, the New Testament – we find the very first mention in history of the practice of reading the Parasha and the Haftarah (the Law and the Prophets).

 

A similar rock of offence is found in the Charles river crucifix in Prague. This crucifix shows Christ on the cross with an inscription in Hebrew in golden letters proclaiming: “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Sabaoth”. The crucifix also has two darkened figures on either side of it: Mary mother of Jesus and John the Evangelist – both of them Jewish – which were added at a later date.

 

According to legend, the Hebrew inscription was added to the crucifix as punishment to a Prague Jew named Eliass Backoffen who was accused of desecrating the cross and therefore to humiliate him. Whether the legend in the case of this particular crucifix  is true or not is irrelevant. It is a fact that throughout Europe vile antisemitic sentiment often resorted to various objectionable means of humiliating the Jewish population. This crucifix became the subject of contention in the early 2000’s as a result of the objections of an American Rabbi from New York. Finally, in 2009, a plaque was put beside it to explain the scene. Some Christians were offended by the “concessions”  made to the Jews while some Jews were offended by the “appropriation” of one of Judaism’s central liturgical elements. 

 

Whether or not this crucifix had this inscription added to for objectionable reasons which are certainly worthy of condemnation, it is also a fact that these words – which are taken from Isaiah’s vision of the seraphim before the throne of God (Isaiah 6:3) – are central to the Jewish faith just as much as they are to the Christian faith, and have been so since its inception (Revelation 4:8).

In our view, the Charles river crucifix as it currently stands – from a theological and ecumenical perspective – is a monument that condemns antisemitism (in spite of what might have been the intentions of its designers) since it shows just how much Christianity owes to its roots in Judaism. At the same time also it condemns all religious fanaticism and extremism in that is stands as a monument that has to be understood through knowledge of the other faith. From the view-point of those who see Judaism and Christianity as siblings and pray continuously for brotherly love, prayerful communion and mutual understanding between these two faiths – this crucifix is a symbol of hope, a key to dialogue and an opportunity for greater peace and understanding.

For more about this crucifix and the complexities surrounding its reception, please read Kadosh Sanctus.

May God bless our two faiths and may He work in the hearts of Jews and Christians alike to proceed in the path of acceptance, love and respect – setting aside the traps of fear, suspicion and hate. 

About the author, NCIC

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