A Response to Daniel Juster's "Review" of Daniel Gruber's Copernicus and the Jews
Several years ago Daniel Juster wrote a lengthy but rather dismissive review of an outstanding book by Daniel Gruber, Copernicus and the Jews, and posted it on his website. His article has remained on the web until now (June 2010). Unfortunately, it seems that a fair number of people continue to read Juster's comments about Copernicus and to be influenced by them. The main problem with this is that most of what he says has nothing whatsoever to do with the book. Rather, Juster used his "review" simply as a platform to promote his own interests and considerations, without engaging the book itself in any meaningful way. Though leery of giving Juster more exposure, I feel that someone who appreciates the actual content and arguments of Copernicus should finally provide at least some response to his supposed review of the book. My hope is to reduce the influence of his misguided evaluation by countering some of his misleading statements.
At first glance, Juster's article may seem like a "balanced review." The words he uses are a mix of complimentary and critical. The deeper problems appear only when one compares what he writes to the actual content of Copernicus. Most of Juster's bewildering "review" can be summarized as consisting of the following elements:
1) Positive comments "about the book" that bear almost no relation to the book's actual content
2) Negative comments "about the book" that bear almost no relation to the book's actual content
3) Self-serving allusions to his own viewpoints, writings, and activities
Juster's tendency to ignore the concerns of the book he claims to be reviewing, and instead "read in" his own questions and concerns, is evident from the very beginning of his article. In the first paragraph, he writes: "Though affirming the distinctive callings of Jew and Gentile, the book does not give any clarity concerning the distinctive callings of Gentiles, the legitimate creative work of the Church in history or the legitimate level of contextualization in various cultures in expressing the Gospel." This statement may be partly true. The book does not discuss those things very much -- mostly because that is not what the book is about. Copernicus also does not go into any great depth or "give clarity" about weather patterns in Japan or the feeding habits of elephants. But this can hardly be taken as a legitimate criticism of a book that concerns itself with errors of translation and theological systems, and their mutual influence on each other.
This early sentence from Juster's "review" also demonstrates another of his troubling tendencies. Over and over, he simply assumes the "legitimacy" of his own viewpoint and then criticizes the author of Copernicus for not expressing that viewpoint. Yet it would probably be safe to say that the author of Copernicus does not share Juster's views on these or a number of other issues. Though phrased in such a way as to imply serious weaknesses in the book, this part of Juster's criticism merely amounts to: "You don't agree with me!" Well, ok. That may be true much of the time. But whether or not an author agrees with Daniel Juster is not really the appropriate standard for evaluating the quality of his or her work. A more mature approach would be to consider whether the arguments presented in this or any other book correspond well to actual textual and historical evidence. (Incidentally, another "Messianic leader" is said to have reacted to Copernicus by saying: "It may be true, but that doesn't matter. It's not useful!")
The next sentence of Juster's article is no better: "In addition, the author does not seem to recognize the Body of Believers as not just the Israel Commonwealth of Nations (analogous to the British Commonwealth) but as something unforeseen by the prophets that is of a different order." Again, Juster simply assumes that his own view is correct, and then criticizes Copernicus for apparently not agreeing with his view. I would argue that the author of Copernicus has a right to his own opinion and should certainly not make his book a mimeo of one of Juster's.
In addition, Juster freely makes assumptions about the author's views that may or may not be correct. I don't believe the book discusses the question of whether the "body of believers" is "something unforeseen by the prophets that is of a different order." However, I can say that I personally am very wary of such an argument. I'm not entirely sure what Juster means by it; but if something does not line up with Tanakh, then in my view we should reject it. So if Juster's view of the "body of believers" is not in accordance with Tanakh and "of a different order" than what we already know to be Scriptural truth, I for one don't want anything to do with it. So I say: good on Copernicus for not going that route!
The final sentence of Juster's introductory paragraph reads: "Lastly, the book is weak on the nature of government in the New Covenant Body - seeming to have an anti-institutional bias - and the present manifestation of the Kingdom of God." Here we are dealing with the same thing yet again. For many years, Juster has held a very "strong" view of his own authority and that of religious leaders and organizations in general. In my opinion, his view is unbiblical and violates the spirit of Luke 22:25-27. Yet regardless of which of us is correct, Juster's perspective is so "pro-authority" (or in my view, authoritarian) that almost any other perspective could probably seem "anti-institutional" to him. So this discrepancy simply illustrates Juster's own biases, rather than revealing any weaknesses in Copernicus. Gruber's (refreshing) perspective in that book is simply that people rather than institutions and organizations make up the community that God is after. (Amen to that!)
Juster's problematic introductory paragraph is followed by sections on "positive features" (468 words) and "weaknesses of the book" (2,734 words). Obviously I cannot deal with everything he includes in either section, so I will have to offer some generalizations and examples. The five "positive features" that Juster ascribes to Copernicus sound complimentary but in reality: a) often have little to do with the overall content of the book; b) usually constitute backhanded rather than genuine compliments; c) mostly provide an excuse for Juster to promote his own writings and thereby to claim, "I thought of this first"; d) demonstrate how seriously he misunderstands the basic theses of Copernicus.
It seems that Juster views Copernicus as a theological book, sort of like his own theological books but inferior to them. He then evaluates this book on how well it matches up with his own questions and answers. He did manage to find five areas in which he thinks it matches up pretty well; and these are what he calls the "positive features" of Copernicus. The sad thing is that he is not willing to consider the book on its own terms. Copernicus is a book that attempts to get people to think outside of "theology," to learn to read Scriptural texts accurately and logically instead of simply following "accepted" but flawed theological systems. Yet Juster insists on evaluating the book's arguments from within his own theological system; while what the book is arguing for is precisely the need to get out of such a mindset! In other words, Copernicus presents a "supra-systemic" view that simply cannot be evaluated accurately from within the very system it critiques.
Thus, Juster's section on supposed "positive features" is almost more frustrating to read than the undisguised criticisms he will put forward in the "negative" part of his article. Juster does not even follow standard procedure for a book review and first summarize the author's own points as objectively as possible. Rather, he simply ignores the bulk of the book's content, reshaping the parts he thinks he likes by forcing them into the mold of his own theological framework. The closest he comes to accepting the book on its own terms is when he says: "The author addresses the nature of translation problems, and in my view, he is mostly right on these issues." Although this is the foundation and main thrust of the entire book, Juster does not give even a single example of what these issues might be. Instead, he claims that he has already understood and presented the same points in his own works and then adds (about Gruber) that "sometimes he is splitting hairs." This is all he has to say with regard to the main topics of the book when he claims to be in agreement with the author!
As mentioned above, I cannot respond to everything that Juster writes against Copernicus in either the brief "positive" or the extensive "weaknesses" section. Whatever Juster thinks is good in the book he also (mistakenly) thinks he has already presented in his own works. This fact suggests that he simply may not understand many of the points made in Copernicus. The book undoubtedly comes from a markedly different perspective than anything Juster has advanced over the years. In fact, it would seem that he himself recognizes this on some level; otherwise why would he spend so much time arguing against the book?
One of Juster's criticisms in the "weaknesses" section -- and one about which he seems particularly offended -- is that, "No group is more attacked in the book than the Roman Catholic Church." Those of us who have actually read Copernicus are left wondering, Huh? The book certainly does point out some errors of Christian translations and theological systems. To the extent that the "Catholic" Church (as opposed to some other) was involved in these errors, it is also criticized. Yet Copernicus does not confine itself in any way to the Catholic Church; the issues discussed are just as relevant for Eastern Orthodoxy or modern Protestantism. And once again, Juster gives not a single example from the book of what he means! However, readers might be interested in a counter-example. At the beginning of Chapter 4, Gruber relates his conversation with a Polish Jesuit priest (a Catholic, obviously). He pays him a high compliment, saying that this man possessed the kind of real understanding of deep issues rarely found among any group of people.
So why would Juster level this particular "critique" against Copernicus? Almost certainly it is related to his own particularist interests in dialogue with the Catholic Church. He has in fact been active in this area for a number of years. Juster continues his article by quoting from the Catholic catechism at some length (the relevance to Copernicus is unclear). He then remarks: "One would never learn [from Copernicus] that the Roman Catholic Church absolutely repudiated replacement theology in Nostre Atate [sic] embraced by the Second Vatican Council in 1968." I see two main problems with this statement (aside from the bad Latin spelling):
1) Why in the world did he expect to "learn" this from Copernicus? It's at best tangential to the topic of the book. Copernicus didn't teach me about modern interpretations of Sun Tzu's Art of War, either; but to be honest, I'm not very upset or disappointed by that. A book about errors of translation and theology, and how they feed into each other, should not be expected to give an account of 20th-century Catholic-Jewish relations! If that's what you're looking for, I'd recommend reading a book about 20th-century Catholic-Jewish relations.
2) The statement that the Catholic Church "absolutely repudiated replacement theology" is a highly debatable one. My personal opinion is that despite Nostra Aetate and the "official" abandonment of the term "replacement theology," Catholic theology today is still essentially supercessionist. I.e., it is still replacement theology, whatever you choose to call it. Yet even this point is neither here nor there with respect to evaluating Copernicus. It's just not relevant to the content of the book. Nor is, say, the question of whether we should spend billions of dollars on space research (even though the historical Copernicus did work in the realm of astronomy and mathematics).
Juster continues: "We will not learn from Gruber of some of the Puritans who saw the Church as the Commonwealth of Israel and believed in the restoration of ethnic Israel." Here he is just plain wrong. The author of Copernicus has in fact taught extensively on this very topic. But Juster is right that Copernicus is not the best place to go to learn about this particular matter. The reason is that -- I'm getting tired of repeating it! -- that's not what the book is about. Much of the remainder of Juster's review also criticizes Copernicus for not addressing other topics that the author has in fact addressed in other contexts (just not in this particular book, which is about something else).
Another, related criticism advanced by Juster is that Copernicus is "anti-Church," "anti-Christian," promotes "Church bashing," and groups all Christians together as being anti-Israel. The best response to these inaccurate and inflammatory accusations is to allow the author to speak in his own words (from Chapter 1): "I am well aware that there are many individuals who call themselves Christians and do not define themselves in opposition to, or in separation from, the Jewish people. Their lives, and sometimes their deaths, testify of that. But it is the system itself that is at issue here, not the behavior of a very small minority in Christendom. The behavior of that small minority is often evidence that they have not accepted the system."
Juster expresses his final specific criticism as follows: "Lastly, the book is weak on the nature of government in the New Covenant Body and seems to have an anti-institutional bias. Yes, it is true that terms like bishop, archbishop and cardinal do have an aura found nowhere in the New Covenant Scriptures. Yet the New Covenant presents us with an institutional government." Once again, I find myself frustrated with this intentional or unintentional obfuscation on the part of Juster. The actual point in Copernicus is simply what Juster says he agrees with, just presented in a fuller and more precise manner! These terms (bishop, etc.) are not fit translations for original Jewish-Greek words in the Messianic Writings (i.e., the collection commonly misnamed the "New Testament"). The realm of meaning they carry is just so vastly different from the original context of first-century Israel and of Hebraic thought and vocabulary. These words instead give the impression of a completely new, foreign, "ecclesiastical" world; whereas in fact (according to Chapter 5 of Copernicus): "All of the forms of service that are mentioned in the Messianic Writings are also mentioned in Tanakh." That is the main point of the chapter, and it is a point with which DJ claims to agree!
So if he agrees, why does Juster list this as a "weakness" of the book and then go on to argue at some length against it? The answer is that he simply sets up a straw man by arguing, "Yet the New Covenant presents us with an institutional government." Well, I suppose it depends on what you mean by that. If you mean that there were people in the congregations charged with exercising authority in an appropriately humble and responsible manner, then I expect the author of Copernicus would agree. He essentially says as much himself. Yet Juster implies the opposite, apparently so that he can use the ensuing "critique" as an opportunity to promote his own views about authority. For instance, he argues: "Matthew 16, 18 and 21 clearly develop a view of a government that supercedes the Sanhedrin." That may be Juster's view; but it is, mildly put, a highly debatable interpretation! Many would disagree that this is what those chapters are "clearly" saying. Regardless, once again Juster's supposed criticism is merely tangential to the points of the book. It is almost as if he suspects that the implications of this admittedly correct argument (which are not spelled out in the book) might call his own view of "authority" into question.
Near the end of his article, Juster writes: "In sum, one might think that this review shows more of a negative evaluation. That is the nature of correction. However, I do state that I more agree with the book than disagree." This qualification begs several questions. If he agrees more than he disagrees, why is that not evident from the content of his article? And why does he not give any actual (specific) examples of good argumentation in Copernicus, so that readers of his review will benefit from some of those points with which he apparently agrees? Why did he not write a more positive review, so that people would want to read the book rather than avoiding it because of the tainted image he has presented? Also: why does he make his personal agreement or disagreement the prime standard for evaluating a book? Aren't there some more objective criteria we can employ?
Teachers frequently give their students the assignment of writing book reviews. On what basis should they assign good or bad grades for these exercises? Good teachers will consider such aspects as whether the student has accurately understood and fairly represented the author's perspective and arguments; the adducing of pertinent, illustrative, and interesting examples; the extent and caliber of any additional research; the strength of argumentation, regardless of whether the student agrees or disagrees with the book under review; the quality of writing; and so forth. Juster's review would fare poorly in such an evaluation. His paper would get a bad grade. He does not present the arguments in Copernicus accurately. Nor does he give relevant arguments based on specific examples from the book. He seems most interested in promoting his own books, rather than evaluating this one. It is not a question of him disagreeing with Copernicus. He is of course perfectly free to agree or disagree. But he must at least represent the book accurately and evaluate its actual arguments fairly with respect to the evidence. This he has failed to do. (The fact that such practices are not rare in book reviews does not make them right.)
Copernicus was written to demonstrate that Jerusalem and Israel remain the center of God's purposes in the earth, and that Christianity, the Church, and the theological constructs associated with them cannot be derived from the Scriptures themselves. The book contains ample scriptural, linguistic, and historical evidence for all the points made in it. Unfortunately, Juster does not refer to any of the claims made in the book, nor does he refer to any of the evidence. He does not cite anything at all in the book, and he does not present any evidence of any kind in opposition. Strangely, all he presents is his own opinion about things he thinks should have been in the book! Why he thinks that these things — which are not relevant to the subject, purpose, or claims of the book — should have been included is a mystery, since he never even expresses what he thinks the subject, purpose, or claims of the book are.
Juster opened his "weaknesses" section by stating: "I was troubled by the sometimes arrogant tone of the book." This reader did not find any arrogance in Copernicus. Some chutzpah, yes, of the good kind -- the kind that Copernicus himself also possessed. We desperately need Davids willing to take on those Goliaths all around us, the many false but entrenched worldviews that are constricting countless human lives. By contrast, Juster does display some arrogance of his own when he writes, "That is the nature of correction." With this statement, he places himself (in his own mind) "above" the author of Copernicus, claiming probably a kind of spiritual seniority or superiority that would make him the evaluator and "corrector" of anything related to Scripture. He does not view himself as a person who has a different opinion than Gruber; he views himself as an authoritative leader with the right and responsibility to "correct" Gruber, like a parent corrects a child. In my opinion, that is the evidence of arrogance, the pitfall of hubris.
At the end of his "review," Juster cites Einstein's theory of relativity as a reason to believe that "not in all ways did Copernicus displace the earth as the center! …So also, not in all points did Gruber provide us with a balanced correction of the Church." I am not confident that Juster really understands relativity (or the heliocentric model) quite so well as he thinks he does. But whether he does or not, he is seemingly blind to the most important elements of the Copernican revolution, which completely transformed the entire globe! Out of this one challenge to an accepted scientific "truth" grew the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, unprecedented new ideologies and lifestyles, the computer age -- in sum, everything that we think of as "modernity." Please don't misunderstand me: Copernicus was not himself the only cause of all this. No historian would say so. But what one man did led in time to greater acceptance of the idea that people should be allowed to think, that they should in fact reason for themselves. It led to broader practice of the notion that people should not simply accept whatever their "institutional leaders" tell them. Such a revolutionary idea opened up a veritable floodgate of new understandings, discoveries, and inventions on a scale never before seen in human history. So if Juster thinks the author of Copernicus and the Jews has done "only" as much as Copernicus himself, then that is no criticism at all!
To find fault with a book on the grounds that it does not discuss subjects that interest me, but that do not fall within the scope of its topic, is decidedly unfair. To judge the strengths and weaknesses of a book solely or primarily on the basis of whether I personally happen to like the arguments presented is intellectually dishonest (though common). Juster's article illustrates that the Copernican revolution has still not gone far enough; that too many people are still bound within the trap of Christian theologies (and many other entrenched systems). They cannot see their way past all the dogmas they have been taught in order simply to read a text for what it actually says. To use the analogy of Socrates, perhaps most are just unwilling to leave the familiarity of the shadowy cave. Juster's "review" is a clear example of the kind of response that the writings of Copernicus himself received from the experts and defenders of the system he challenged: no facts, no examination, just an unthinking defense of the sacred system in which they were invested, a system that was built upon compounded error.
The book Copernicus represents an attempt to get people to think, to study, and to reason in such a way as to better approach the truth. I highly recommend reading it. You will not get an accurate impression of its contents from reading Juster's "review." Nor, for that matter, will you get it from reading this response to Juster, since for the most part I have only been trying to counter some of his red herrings. What you should do is to read Copernicus and the Jews for yourself. I expect you will be enlightened and challenged, whether you agree or disagree with the author's opinions. Three of the promotional quotes on the back jacket, all written by experienced academic Ph.D.'s, read as follows:
"Copernicus will surely stimulate a good deal of good discussion. Much of the research is ground-breaking and even when the reader wants to dissent, the discussion is always well worth pondering."
"I can't remember when I've enjoyed a book more, or disagreed with one more."
"This is a serious book for the serious reader. It is for all those who love the truth and are willing to have their views challenged. For such readers, this carefully written and well-researched volume offers much food for thought, and while you may not agree with every point, you will certainly come away enriched. In a day when many lightweight and even sensationalistic books are being written in the name of 'New Testament restoration' or 'Jewish roots', this heavyweight study stands out as worthy of attention and discussion."
Almost a century after Mikołaj Kopernik proposed the heliocentric theory, Galileo Galilei was condemned as a heretic and forced to recant for suggesting that people should consider it. It took much longer for the correct view to triumph. Don't wait as long to think about the arguments in Copernicus and the Jews. We need truth in our own lifetimes.
Happy reading. :-)
Daniel Gruber's Copernicus and the Jews is available at elijahnet.net and elsewhere.