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‘The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’: Markus Barth's awkward hostility to critics of his theology of reconciliation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 December 2023

Mark Lindsay*
Trinity College Theological School, University of Divinity, Melbourne, VIC, Australia


Markus Barth (1915–1994) is best-known for his pioneering work in Jewish-Christian dialogue, and his Anchor Bible commentaries. Convinced that Ephesians 2:14–16 is the core of Paul's gospel, Barth concluded that the ‘one new man’ in Christ not only necessitates an indissoluble solidarity between Christians and Jews, but entails that all enmities have been negated by Christ's reconciliatory work. Ironically, this conviction provoked in him an antagonism towards many of his Jewish interlocutors. Their refusal to ‘forget Auschwitz’ caused Barth to accuse them of not being sufficiently conciliatory, and in turn led him, with sadly supersessionistic logic, to eschew reconciliation with them, because he did not think they took reconciliation seriously enough.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 See e.g. Brändle, Rudolf, ‘Markus Barth Gestorben’, Basellandschaftliche Zeitung (5 July 1994), p. 21Google Scholar.

2 Herman Halperin to Guido Kisch, 16 October 1972. Markus Barth Papers (Princeton) [hereafter MBPP]. Series II. Correspondence. Box 19, file 502.

3 Rashkover, Randi, ‘Markus Barth: The Jews Are Our Brothers’, Journal of Reformed Theology 14 (2020), p. 263CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Ibid., p. 264.

5 Ibid., pp. 263–4.

6 Barth, Markus, Der Augenzeuge: Eine Untersuchung über die Wahrnehmung des Menschensohnes durch die Apostel (Zollikon-Zurich: Evangelisher Verlag, 1946)Google Scholar. K. L. Schmidt was at the time dean of theology at the University of Basel. However, due to an acrimonious falling out between Schmidt and Barth towards the end of Barth's candidature, the doctorate was ultimately awarded by Göttingen.

7 See Markus Barth, The Broken Wall: A Study of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1959); Markus Barth, Ephesians, The Anchor Bible, vols. 34–34A (New York: Doubleday, 1974); Markus Barth, Colossians, The Anchor Bible, vol. 34B (New York: Doubleday, 1994); with Helmut Blanke, Philemon: A New Translation, with Notes and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000).

8 Helmut Blanke, ‘Markus Barth Biografie’, Markus Barth (Lindsay) Collection [hereafter MBL]. Series II. Box 1, p. 2.

9 Richard Cerretti, lecture notes (verbatim). MBPP. Series V.

10 Blanke, ‘Markus Barth Biografie’, p. 3. The Epistle to the Romans represented, because of its emphasis on justification, a ‘foreshortening’ (Verkürzung) of Paul's theology.

11 Barth, Ephesians 34:4 (emphasis added). It should be noted that in holding this opinion Barth differed from his father Karl's assessment. In Karl Barth's mind, Luther was quite correct to say that it is in his Letter to the Romans that St Paul ‘give[s] a short summary of the whole of Christian and evangelical doctrine…’ See Karl Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans (London: SCM Press, 1959), p. 12.

12 Markus Barth to Leonard Swidler, 27 January 1967. MBPP. Series II – Correspondence. Box 13, file 380 (emphasis added).

13 Markus Barth, ‘Traditions in Ephesians’, New Testament Studies 30 (1984), pp. 18–9, 22–3.

14 Barth, The Broken Wall, p. 123.

15 Ibid., p. 125.

16 Ibid.

17 Barth, Ephesians 34:310.

18 Ibid., p. 311.

19 Barth, The Broken Wall, p. 160.

20 Ibid., p. 44.

21 Post-Holocaust Jewish–Christian dialogue was initially driven by the churches through the 1960s–70s. Only from the 1980s did it become part of critical enquiry within the academy. Rolf Rendtorff, ‘Der Dialog hat erst begonnen’, in Manfred Görg et al. (eds), Christen und Juden im Gespräch: Eine Bilanz nach 40 Jahren Staat Israel (Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1989), pp. 41–55; also K. Hannah Holtschneider, German Protestants Remember the Holocaust: Theology and the Construction of Collective Memory (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2001), p. 37. As early as September (?) 1962, Barth was invited by Stephen Schwarzschild to speak to the Massachussetts Board of Rabbis on the topic of Jewish-Christian dialogue. MBPP. Series II. Correspondence. Box 8, file 310.

22 Markus Barth to Willem A. Visser't Hooft, 10 August 1963. MBPP. Series II. Correspondence. Box 9, file 314 (emphasis added).

23 ‘Jüdische Zuhörer verliessen den Saal’, Der Bund (27 June 1974), p. 17.

24 M. Kunz to Markus Barth, 26 June 1974. MBPP. Box SF21, file 3.

25 Switzerland had closed its border to Jewish refugees in the summer of 1942, thus rendering it illegal to offer material assistance to any such refugees. Paul Grüninger (1891–1972) serves as an example of what the Swiss authorities could, and sometimes did, do to violators of these anti-Jewish laws. See

26 Rose Marie Barth, ‘Rundbrief’, November 1956, p. 4.

27 See for example the following letters: Markus Barth to Marc Tanenbaum, 28 February 1971; Marc Tanenbaum to Markus Barth 13 April 1971; Cornelis Adriaan Rijk (Vatican Office for Catholic-Jewish Relations) to Markus Barth, 14 June and 10 September 1971; Markus Barth to M. Tanenbaun, 6 November 1971; Johan Snoek (World Council of Churches) to Markus Barth, 13 April 1972. MBPP. Series Correspondence. Box 25, File 617.

28 Michael Wyschogrod to Markus Barth, 1 January 1975. MBPP. Series II. Box 21, file 545.

29 Fackenheim's 614th Commandment was this: that Jews must survive ‘as Jews’; must always remember the martyrs of the Holocaust; must never despair of God; and must never despair of the world. To break this fourfold commandment would be, in his view, to grant Hitler a posthumous victory. According to Fackenheim's own recollection, he first articulated this publicly at the ‘Jewish Values in a Post-Holocaust Future’ symposium, which was held in New York on 26 March 1967. He had, however, already spoken of it in a letter to Markus Barth four months earlier. Emil Fackenheim to Markus Barth, December 1966. MBPP. Series II. Box 13, file 375.

30 For details, see my two articles: Mark Lindsay, ‘Jewish-Christian Dialogue from the Underside: Markus Barth's Correspondence with Michael Wyschogrod (1962–84) and Emil Fackenheim (1965–80)’, Journal of Ecumenical Studies 53/3 (2018), pp. 313–47; and idem, ‘Jewish-Christian Dialogue in Review: Markus Barth's Correspondence with Emil Fackenheim (1965–1980)’, Journal of Reformed Theology 14/3 (2020), pp. 246–62.

31 Markus Barth to David Demson, 13 August 1979. MBPP. Series II. Box 25, file 601.

32 Markus Barth to Emil Fackenheim, 18 December 1966. MBPP. Series II – Correspondence. Box 13, file 375.

33 Emil Fackenheim to Markus Barth, 21 April 1967. MBPP. Series II – Correspondence. Box 13, file 389.

34 Markus Barth to Norman Porteous, 15 July 1969. MBPP. Series II. Box 16, file 427.

35 Bob Wilcox, ‘Inter-communication Critical, Says Rabbi’, Miami News (5 February 1970), p. 32.

36 Bob Wilcox, ‘Church Council Might Back Israelis’ Rights in Mideast’, The Miami News (4 February 1970), p. 8.

37 Wilcox, ‘Inter-communication Critical, Says Rabbi’, p. 32.

38 Barth, Markus, Jesus the Jew, trans. Prussner, F. (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1978), p. 93Google Scholar.

39 ‘Jüdische Zuhörer verliessen den Saal’, p. 17. In a letter to Emil Fackenheim two years previously, Barth had already spoken of Israel retaliation to the Munich terrorist attack as a ‘crime of worse dimensions.’ Markus Barth to Emil Fackenheim, 10 October 1972. MBPP. Series II. Box 19, file 500.

40 ‘Jüdische Zuhörer verliessen den Saal’, p. 17. As an aside, it is worth noting that just six months before this ill-fated lecture in Berne, Barth had, in effect, theologically de-legitimised the State of Israel. Writing to Samy Abboud, Barth spoke of Israel as being as much ‘an enemy to true Judaism as…to the Palestinians and the Arabs.’ Markus Barth to Samy Abboud, 4 February 1974. MBPP. Series II. Box 21, file 528.

41 Ernst Simon to Markus Barth, 6 August 1974. MBPP. Series II. Box 21, file 535.

42 Zwi Werblowsky to Markus Barth, 4 May 1975. MBPP. Series II. Box 22, file 553.

43 Michael Wyschogrod to Markus Barth, 31 January 1983. MBPP. Series II. Box 28.

44 Michael Wyschogrod to Markus Barth, 29 January 1969. MBPP. Series II. Box 14, file 416.

45 Markus Barth to David Demson, 11 January 1975. MBPP. Series II. Box 21, file 544.

46 Markus Barth to David Demson, 22 July 1976. MBPP. Series II. Box 23, file 573.

47 So, for example, Greenberg's now-infamous comment that ‘no statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of [the] burning children.’ Greenberg, Irving, ‘Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust’, in Fleischner, Eva (ed.), Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era? (New York: Ktav, 1977), p. 23Google Scholar. See also Rubenstein's uncompromising either/or: ‘We can either affirm the innocence of Israel or the justice of God but not both. If the innocence of Israel at Auschwitz is affirmed, whatever God may be He/She is not distinctively and uniquely the sovereign Lord of covenant and election. If one wishes to avoid any suggestion, however remote, that at Auschwitz Israel was with justice the object of divine punishment, one must reject any view of God to which such an idea can plausibly be ascribed.’ Rubenstein, Richard, After Auschwitz: History, Theology, and Contemporary Judaism (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 172CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Ritschl, Dietrich, The Logic of Theology (London: SCM Press, 1986), p. 128Google Scholar.

49 So, Metz: ‘What Christian theologians can do for the murder of Auschwitz, and thereby for a true Jewish-Christian ecumenism is, in every case, this: Never again to do theology in such a way that its construction remains unaffected, or could remain unaffected, by Auschwitz.’ Metz, Johann Baptist, The Emergent Church (New York: Crossroad, 1981), p. 28Google Scholar. See also Rumscheidt: ‘Christian theology and church do not discover Jews, their history and their fate nor the necessity of dialoguing with them except in full and open embrace of the fact of Auschwitz.’ H. Martin Rumscheidt, ‘Professional Ethics After Auschwitz’, in 30th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the German Churches and the Holocaust, 4–7 March 2000, p. 253.

50 Barth, Markus, ‘Biblical Preaching Today’, Review and Expositor LXXII/2 (1975), p. 166Google Scholar.