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Markus Himmelbauer

New Testament Exegesis in Vienna
In Vienna, biblical scholars are in the fortunate situation that the Faculty for Protestant Theology and the Faculty for Catholic Theology are housed in the same building and share the same library. But ecumenical thought is not only a question of staying in the same house — even if the Greek word oikoumene basically has a meaning just like this! Ecumenical thought here in Vienna can be experienced in the good climate between Protestant und Catholic scholars, who often engage in mutual scientific projects and exchange. So, the "Viennese Biblical Society" offers a platform of research where the latest scientific projects of individual members are enriched in a cordial process of discussion and reflection.

Without any doubt, the New Testament cannot be interpreted in an appropriate way, if it is not understood within the context of Early Judaism. Jewish studies must be seen as basic for the correct understanding of the New Testament. Vienna University also runs an Institute for the study of Judaism — in the immediate vicinity of the Protestant and Catholic faculties. This offers the chance for scholarly exchange and for joint scientific projects.

Historically, Vienna always has been a crossroad between Northern and Southern Europe and between East and West of the continent. Already in the time of the old Habsburgian monarchy, this city became home to a multitude of nations, religions, and confessions. Here people learned, that this diversity means spiritual and cultural richness for all those who join in the dialogue. "Dialogue" is the keyword of Holy Scripture, in which God seeks contact with men and offers the possibility to all participants to become brothers and sisters. So, here in Vienna, "biblical exegesis" does not only work for dialogue, but already practices this dialogue between the different biblical confessions and religions.

Markus Tiwald, University of Vienna

Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Vienna:
The Austrian Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation

The Organization
The Austrian Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation was founded in Vienna fifty-one years ago, in 1956, as a branch of the Catholic peace movement "Pax Christi." Later, it was constituted as an inter-denominational association in which Christians and representatives of the Jewish communities have joined together. It is the only formal inter-religious association in Austria where members of different faiths cooperate on an equal status. Looking back in our history, we have to name two extraordinary personalities to whom we owe much, Prof. Kurt Schubert and Sr. Hedwig Wahle from the order "Our Lady of Zion." Both were instrumental in founding our organization.

The Committee is a member of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ). In 2006, it hosted the ICCJ Annual Conference. Its theme, "Encounter with History - Learning for the Future," focused on the main themes the organization is dealing with.

A Significant Place
We do our work at a very significant place: Vienna. The Jewish community here was the third largest in the world before 1938. Because of this, there were many possibilities for contacts between Christians and Jews and for fruitful encounters. But anti-Semitism was also a part of Vienna's society at the end of the nineteenth century, and it contributed much to the extermination of Jews during the Nazi era. The experience of the Nazi time, in which many Austrians were involved in the forefront, is painfully present still. It is a challenge to remember this time and to educate new generations.

That, however, was not the only horror Jewish communities had to undergo in the course of history: three times before, since the Middle Ages, Jewish life in Vienna had already been extinguished (1196/ 1420/ 1670).

In contrast to the historical importance of Vienna for Christian-Jewish relations, the actual organization is rather small: it has only about four hundred members all over Austria. But this is no obstacle to the relevance and acknowledgement of our presence by the Churches, the Jewish community and political bodies. Currently there are two persons employed on a part-time basis. The wide range of activities can be carried out because of a good number of volunteers who support our work with their interest and competence.

Inter-Religious Outreach
Having grown out of the shock and dismay about the Shoah, the Coordinating Committee endeavors to take stock of and analyze available material on enmity against Jews. It develops methods for cooperation between Jews and Christians in pedagogy, theology, and politics. Therefore, our Committee is fostering a change of attitudes since Nostra Aetate.

The report of activities lists more or less the same work as all of our partner organizations: organizing conferences, preparing lectures, editing a quarterly magazine, and running a website. We set up a specialized library that can be visited and used by the public. In addition to theological questions under the historical aspect of Christian anti-Semitism, other themes of conferences and seminars are globalization, social and educational questions, and xenophobia. A focus of these activities is the cycle of lectures "Church and Judaism" in the framework of the Jewish Institute for Adult Education in Vienna; they are held each semester.

Scholarly Pursuits
Although the activities of the Austrian Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation are mostly in the field of adult education, we run a scholarly documentation project on the representation of Jews and Judaism in Christian art, in history and in the present, in Austria. We try to heighten awareness of anti-Semitic expressions in art, but particularly present positive examples too. The awareness of these pieces can be a starting point for discussing the achievements of Christian-Jewish renewal in the Churches since Vatican II. An exhibit "Ecclesia and Synagoga" was organized in 2003, showing negative representations of Judaism in Christian art beginning in the tenth century up until our time. It was shown at the Museum of the Archdiocese of Vienna and was a great success.

The library of the Christian-Jewish Information Centre in Vienna, containing about 3,500 volumes, is consulted by students and scholars who appreciate the significance of the material we provide. In 1998, our organization supported a survey among Catholic priests in Austria on their attitude to Jews and topics of Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Our quarterly magazine, Dialog-Du Siach / Christian-Jewish Information, is one of the few publications on Christian-Jewish relations in the German language, and the only one in Austria. It imparts aspects of the worldwide scholarly discussion and ecclesiastical statements to the readers in Austria and points to their relevance for teaching and preaching.

Ministerial Outreach
Inspiring and supporting the Christian-Jewish renewal of the Churches is the core issue of our Committee. Sermons, as well as lectures in parishes and Christian communities, are a regular task since the founding of the organization. Additional introductory and advanced seminars for teachers are scheduled every year. Especially during the last years guided walks through Jewish Vienna offer a strong impetus to better understanding of various topics of Christian-Jewish relations.

In the open-minded atmosphere of the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II, represented by the late Cardinal Franz Koenig, the Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation could contribute much to the Christian-Jewish renewal of the Church in Austria. In 1965, even before Nostra Aetate, it presented first proposals for new versions of textbooks for religious education, an activity that continues up to the present.

Furthermore, the Committee has intensively cooperated with the Catholic Synod of the Archdiocese of Vienna and supported declarations of other Christian Churches in Austria concerning the process of Christian-Jewish reconciliation. In 1989, the Coordinating Committee published guidelines for a sensible celebration of the Passion Week under the premise of Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Stimulated by the Coordinating Committee for Christian Jewish-Cooperation, since 2000 a "Day of Judaism" is kept each January 17th by all churches in Austria upon the decision of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria. Each year, the Committee proposes texts for the religious service on that day, reminding Christians of all denominations of the Jewish roots of their faith.

The Committee also submits introductory texts for services and passion-readings during Holy Week and points to the inappropriateness of a "Christian Seder." In 1999, we presented a twelve-part series on Christian-Jewish relations in Catholic Church newspapers in Austria. Never before in German speaking countries has there been published such a widespread introduction to this theme addressed directly to the faithful.

Other Activities
Given the role of Austria as a bridge-building country in Central and Eastern Europe, the Committee during the last years has considered as one of its most important tasks to initiate and promote Christian-Jewish dialogue in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary by building networks and regularly organizing joint conferences. These serve to strengthen the young initiatives in these countries and to transfer our knowledge and experience in theological questions regarding religious education.

The Committee has initiated and organized the restoration of Christian graves at the Jewish Cemetery of the Vienna Zentralfriedhof. Christians and persons of no creed were buried there because they were considered Jews, non-Aryans, by the NS regime according to the racial laws at that time.

Markus Himmelbauer, University of Vienna

Old Testament Studies in Vienna
The city of Vienna is well known for building bridges: bridges across the river Danube and bridges between people from different social backgrounds and religious denominations. Located in the heart of Europe, Vienna has always been a place of building bridges between North and South, East and West. This bridge-building is visible in Old Testament studies as well.

Standing in the tradition of historical criticism, Old Testament scholars in Vienna integrate literary criticism and newer approaches in their research. Thus, bridges between classic historical criticism and literary criticism, reader-oriented approaches, concepts of intertextuality, etc., are visible in their research and teaching. The often observed gap between diachronic and synchronic readings of the Hebrew Bible can be transcended by an association of both. For the future of the discipline of Biblical Studies, it is important to combine the historically influenced approaches, particularly, of German-speaking Bible scholarship, with Anglo-American literary approaches.

One example of this bridge-building between American and European Old Testament Studies is a special Viennese project: in the "Wiener Alttestamentliche Studien," books and articles of Bible scholars from the English-speaking world are translated into German. The aim of this project is to make such contributions more accessible to German-speaking students of theology.

Being located in the same building and sharing a common library since September 2006, Old Testament scholars in the Faculty of Catholic Theology and the Faculty of Protestant Theology have better opportunities to cooperate more intensively. One example of already existing bridges is the organization of university teachers called "ARGE ASS," publishing "Protokolle der Bibel" ( ).

Especially in Austria, with its anti-Semitic past, it is important to strive towards a better understanding between Jews and Christians. One area of research in which such better understanding has already started and is to be developed is biblical scholarship. The Jewish-Christian dialogue in this field has great impact on work in the churches and religious congregations. The interpretation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh, is a place where many old bridges of prejudice between Jewish and Christian approaches have fortunately been dismantled, and new bridges of better mutual understanding are being built. Although historical criticism strives towards objective, neutral analysis of texts, different contexts always influence interpretation. Contrary to a long tradition of disregard and misappropriation, we are striving towards an awareness of Jewish hermeneutics in Christian exegesis. Aspects of literary criticism, especially reader-oriented intertextuality, can open perspectives to see these multi-faceted approaches to the Hebrew Bible in a new light. One example of reflection about common ground, as well as differences, will be the Section "Jewish and Christian Approaches to Psalms" at the upcoming SBL International Meeting in Vienna.

Bridging the gap between the ancient biblical texts in their historical contexts and (post)modern readers and their worlds is a vital hermeneutic issue. Hermeneutics is a central focus of biblical scholarship in Vienna. One such project, in which several scholars from Vienna are involved, is the "Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik," to be published in 2009 ( ). The various historical and literary, Jewish and Christian approaches to Old Testament texts play an important role in research and teaching in Vienna.

Marianne Grohmann, University of Vienna

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Citation: Marianne Grohmann , Markus Himmelbauer , Markus Tiwald, " Biblical Scholarship in Vienna," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited June 2007]. Online:


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