Sunday, October 29, 2006

Robert Sungenis & the Jews - An Update

On September 18, 2006, in response to Michael Forrest's analysis Sungenis and the Jews, Robert Sungenis published an "An Open Letter to the Patrons of CAI", in which he indicated in part:
As most of you know, CAI has been on a somewhat controversial path the last four years, ever since our critique of the Reflections on Covenant and Missions statement was issued in 2002. We began to focus on politics, culture and other peripheral issues that were not the frame and substance of our former work, which started in 1993. Although those areas certainly have their merit, they have detracted from the expertise we offered to the public in the area of biblical studies. Hence, we are retreating from those more controversial areas for the foreseeable future so that we can concentrate on our areas of strength.
So what has transpired on Catholic Apologetics International since the publication of Sungenis' letter to his readers? -- Besides the fact that the old material on the Jews remains intact on the website, the October 2006 "Q&A" -- responses from Sungenis on "Jewish hatred of Christians"; Sungenis' "Book of the Month" features "the Holocaust industry", and CAI News Alerts' distributes a somewhat-dated article, Pike's Report on the ADL and B'nai B'rith re: Internet Policing, asserting that "clearly, the Jewish leaders of Verizon and Comcast circulate within the highest levels of evil Jewish media leadership."

A persual of Pike's website, and radio programs like "Pedophilia: The Talmud's Dirty Secret" and news alerts like "Talmud: Wellspring of Jewish Pornography Industry" and "ACLU Top Heavy with Jews" is an indication that Sungenis is dipping into the same trough that sparked the intial controversy with Bill Cork back in 2002.

In January 2005, Sungenis bestowed the following "advice" to Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong "regarding the references on your site to [William] Kristol, [Ann] Coulter, et al":

If you have no political affiliation with these neo-cons, then I suggest you put a disclaimer on your site, otherwise people are going to get the wrong impression, and you can't blame them if they do. Any person with common sense who sees their names on your website would assume that you support the political views of the aforementioned unless you say otherwise.
Meanwhile, Sungenis's own website is populated with copious citations from Albert Hoffman, Ted Pike, Michael Piper, The National Vanguard -- with nary a disclaimer.

What follows are some links to articles and key events in the controversy over September/October 2006. If anything further develops it will likely be appended to this blog.

  • Sungenis responded to Forrest's web site with a 72-page tome entitled "Michael Forrest and the Jews: Let's Separate Fact from Fiction" -- in Sungenis and the Jews: Comments on a Controversy Jacob Michael responds to innaccuracies and outright falsehoods in Sungenis' claims about his relationship with Forrest and Michaels himself. According to Michael:
    Sungenis has made this necessary by spending the first 20+ pages of his rebuttal attacking Michael Forrest personally, and making certain claims about Forrest that amount to little more than character assassination. Therefore, it is only logical that these claims must be demonstrated to be false, using the black-and-white evidence at hand.
  • In late September 2006, Sungenis' "Vice President of Apologetics" Ben Douglass, with Sungenis' approval, contacted Forrest with a proposed truce, in which he offered:
    CAI will take down all of Robert's old articles on the Jews and Judaism, and the latest articles in response to your website, Robert will stop writing about Jews and Israel, and in the future I will handle all matters Jewish at CAI ... In exchange you and Jacob Michael take down your articles. (Douglass, email of Sep. 29, 2006)
    After obtaining confirmation from Sungenis that Douglass had "the authority to speak on Bob's behalf in order to reach an agreement," and that he had knowledge of the original proposal from Douglass, talks proceeded.

    It was during this time that Forrest, in a gesture of good faith, removed the website "SungenisandtheJews" were temporarily removed. Negotiations followed and on Oct. 3, 2006 an agreement was reached between Douglass and Forrest. Regretfully, the agreement was rejected in its entirety by Sungenis, who demonstrated his intent on maintaining the present course and chosen themes of Catholic Apologetics International. As Jacob Michaels concludes:

    At this point, there is not a single individual who contributed to Forrest's piece who believes there is any point in further negotiations with Sungenis. He has proven himself to be disingenuous and self-centered to a degree that makes it impossible to reach him, or bring him out of his delusions. He has taken his stand and is bent on defending it at all costs.
    For complete details see SungenisandtheJews: An Update on the Negotiations.

  • Sungenis and the Jews: David Palm's Defense of Michael Forrest, which offers, in addition to Palm's own analysis and rebuttal of Sungenis, the following helpful chronology:
    03/01/2005 - Forrest and Sungenis have two phone conferences in which Forrest tells Sungenis about the great many things that have finally broken the camel's back with regard to his tenure at CAI.

    03/05/2005 - Sungenis writes an e-mail to Forrest, hoping that Forrest will stay on at CAI but stating that CAI's present course will not be changing.

    03/18/2005 - Forrest lays out his latest difficulties for Sungenis in more detail and states categorically that he will be unable to continue at CAI unless core changes are made.

    03/22/2005 - Sungenis writes in response to Forrest's claims. A few e-mails of lesser length follow this one, getting more and more emotionally distraught. For this reason, Forrest opts not to send a last response he had written to all of Sungenis's complaints.

    Interim - Sungenis continues to publish problematic material on Jews and Judaism, including citations from white supremacist Web sites and more shoddy scholarship. Forrest decides that the time has come to publish a full-blown, public critique of Sungenis's treatment of Jews and Judaism.

    09/11/2006 - Forrest posts his study "Robert Sungenis and the Jews" at www.sungenisandthejews.com (Hereafter "RSATJ").

    09/18/2006 - Sungenis posts an "Open Letter" in which he "apologizes" for inciting offense with "some" of the sources he has used - he never specifies which sources, or who was offended.

    09/22/2006 - Sungenis posts a lengthy "rebuttal" to Forrest entitled "Michael Forrest and the Jews: Let's Separate Fact from Fiction" (Hereafter "MFATJ").

    09/29/2006 - Jacob Michael posts a defense of RSATJ and Michael Forrest entitled "Sungenis and the Jews: Comments on a Controversy" (Hereafter "SATJCC").

    09/29/2006 - Sungenis e-mails a response to Jacob Michael's piece entitled "Jacob Michael and the Jews" (Hereafter "JMATJ"). This is not posted on the CAI Web site as negotiations commence.

    09/29/2006 - Ben Douglass is given permission by Sungenis to negotiate with Forrest. Douglass e-mails Michael Forrest with a proposal for negotiations. The parties involved agree to take down RSATJ, MFATJ, and SATJCC while negotiations proceed.

    10/03/2006 - Agreement is reached between Forrest and Douglass.

    10/05/2006 - Sungenis e-mails a rejection of virtually all of the negotiated truce agreed upon by Forrest and Douglass (Hereafter "Negotiations"). The history of these negotiations may be found here.

    10/12/2006 - Michael Forrest re-posts RSATJ and Jacob Michael re-posts SATJCC, along with an additional piece documenting the proceedings of the negotiations and Sungenis's nullification of them.

  • The topic is being vigorously debated on Catholic Answers Forums.

Update! 11/01/06

Ben Douglas informs me from the combox that "My article on the Talmud is finished, and available here. I have little interest in debating the finer points of what ugly things Jews might have said about Jesus way back when. (Come to think of it, Christians have said some pretty ugly things about Jews as well). Anyway, somebody else already inquired as to my impression -- for the sake of convenience I'm just going to excerpt from personal correspondence:

The Talmud is an important element to the life of a religious (orthodox) Jew, but whatever the Talmud has said about Jesus, it figures very remotely in a contemporary Jewish encounter with Christianity. What is usually the subject of discussion in Jewish-Christian dialogue is not centuries-old polemics but more central and familiar theological questions: the divine sonship of Christ in relation to the Shemah ("Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One" -- a focal point in Jewish liturgy), the idea of the Trinity, the understanding of revelation, etc. So at least Ben admits that:

Not all of the Talmudic doctrines listed below directly reflect the beliefs of even Orthodox Jews; some may have been modified or eliminated by later Jewish Halakhah.
But I'm finding myself wondering: what's the point? -- I can only picture the bemused expression on the face of a Jewish reader who happens across [Catholic Apologetics International] and finds a 24-year old "Catholic apologist" laboring intently on demonstrating how rabbinical Judaism adopts a carefree attitude toward adultery (with gentiles), paedophilia, sodomy and bestiality.

God forbid a Jewish reader should come to the conclusion that this is what "Catholic apologists" do as a profession or even a pasttime.

If Sungenis or Douglas wanted to know how Jews really behave, they could probably do no better than to read Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin's To be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Everyday Life.

If they wanted to examine a contemporary Jewish encounter with Jesus, I might suggest a critical reading of Rabbi Jacob Neusner's A Rabbi Talks with Jesus -- praised by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as

"By far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade. The absolute honesty, the precision of analysis, the union of respect for the other party with carefully grounded loyalty to one's own position characterize the book and make it a challenge especially to Christians, who will have to ponder the analysis of the contrast between Moses and Jesus."
But you know, I just don't get the sense they're interested in a genuine discussion with contemporary religious Jews. Ben clearly states his intent in the footnotes, on desiring that
this study should serve its stated purpose of moving Jews to reconsider their Judaism, even in those who already know that they don’t believe in everything in Halakhah.
However true it may be (and if it is true -- I'm not qualified to say), although I'd be curious what a Talmud scholar would make of Ben's "study"), dredging up all that is nasty and ugly in Jewish tradition (which one could readily do with any religious tradition) is hardly the best strategy for evangelization.

CAI reminds me of the website "rotten.com" -- think of the online equivalent to the film series "Faces of Death." I don't recommend visiting the website, but its basic premise is to dredge up the very worst in humanity and put it on display.

Douglas, Sungenis, E. Michael Jones, Thomas Herron -- they seem to relish doing the same with Jews and Judaism. "Apologetics-by-repulsion" -- perhaps that should be their motto?

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