For centuries, Jews were seen by Christians as little more than blind adherents of an Old Testament they could not readily understand, a text that had no independent meaning after Christ had come. According to the polemical expression of Saint Paul, a veil covered their minds, preventing them from comprehending: “their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.” (2 Cor 3:14).
This text has been depicted in art and sculpture as twin sisters, one the proud, empowered Ekklesia (Church), with her penetrating gaze, and the other Synagoga (Synagogue), forlorn, cast-down with her eyes veiled. The Church exercised a monopoly on interpreting the Old Testament by means of an allegorical exegesis that found Christ implicitly present everywhere in the Old, and made explicit in the New. Saint Augustine imaginatively compared the Jews to the Roman slave who walked in front of the son of his master, carrying his books on the way to school. The slave could not read the books but ensured that the books were made available. In his commentary on Psalm 56, he writes, “They have become our satchel-bearers, like those servants who carry the books of their masters. The servants become tired carrying them; the masters make progress by reading them.”
In putting an end to the widespread attitude of contempt for Jews and Judaism, transmitted for centuries by Christianity, the Catholic Church also seeks to eradicate this approach to the Jewish understanding of the Bible. Since the Second Vatican Council, the ongoing dialogue with the Jewish people has led Catholics to realize that Jewish understandings of the Old Testament have much to offer. The important 2001 Pontifical Biblical Commission document, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, pointed out: “Christians can and ought to admit that the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish Sacred Scriptures from the Second Temple period, a reading analogous to the Christian reading which developed in parallel fashion.