Saturday, 3 December 2016

No Trace of Christmas? by Christoph Dohmen

Christoph Dohmen, translated by Linda M. Maloney, No Trace of Christmas?: Discovering Advent in the Old Testament, 1998 Liturgical Press, Minnesota

An appropriate topic for Advent season, this book surveys the Old Testament background of the Nativity, showing the typological shadows of the Christmas story. This is a book I expected to enjoy and is certainly a subject that would be of great value for many lay Catholics. However, I found myself rather disappointed with it.

You can tell this book is a translation from German as the phrasing of many sentences is very clumsy and awkward. At times it feels a little too preachy in tone, coming across like a set of printed homilies rather than a book of Old Testament introduction. I don't think he explains the Old Testament material well and could have spent more time putting it into context for the benefit of readers whose Bible knowledge is limited. He tended to jump too quickly from the Old Testament texts to his own theological interpretations and conclusions.

There is a somewhat problematic passage on page 39, where our author says that the shepherds who witnessed the Nativity were not to become Christians, but to remain in their Judaism. It seems bizarrely anachronistic to talk about people becoming Christians before Christ's ministry had even begun. Dohmen seems to be taking the view commonly held among modern Catholic theologians that because the covenant with Israel is eternal, Jews have no need to convert to the Christian faith. The problem with this view is that Jesus' ministry was directed to the Jews and Paul and the Church began with the Jews. Central to Jesus' ministry was a call to conversion directed at the Jewish people. To abandon this call to the Jews to believe in Christ is to nullify the very heart of the New Testament's message.

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