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Anti-Semitism

We have seen, in passing, Christian persecution of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. This was part of a more general, and deeply imbedded, Christian hatred of the Jews.

The New Testament Roots of Anti-Semitism

This hatred can be traced directly to the New Testament. The gospel of John, for instance, very often refers to the enemies of Jesus simply as "the Jews". One example:

John 5:16
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

In another passage Jesus is said to have called "the Jews" sons of Satan:

John 8:44-47
"You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

But the worst condemnation of the Jews came from the episode, in the gospel of Matthew, of Jesus' trial before Pilate. Pilate, unable to find Jesus guilty of any crime washes his hands and proclaims himself innocent of Jesus' blood. Whereon the Jews insisted on Jesus' execution and supposedly said:

Matthew 27:25
"His blood be on us, and on our children."

There is probably no other sentence, in the history of mankind, that has been directly responsible for so much atrocities and suffering. As we shall see, Christians throughout history has used this passage to justify their Jewish pogroms. Yet, as we have noted earlier, the whole episode was merely the invention of the author of the gospel!

From the very beginnings of the Gentile church, the Jews had always been treated with suspicion. For being the supposed chosen people of God, the Jews had inexplicably, to the Christians at least, rejected his own Son.[a] The destruction of Jerusalem probably served to confirm to the Christians that God's wrath was on the Jews. The gospels were written after this event, and after anti-semitism had already taken root. As we saw in elsewhere in this website, the gospels shifted the responsibility for Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews. It was to have profound consequences on the Christian conception of the Jew.

Thus from the earliest times the Christians considered the Jews to be the slayers of Jesus. The passage in Matthew above convinced them that the Jews accepted responsibility for Jesus' death.

The Church Fathers and Anti-Semitism

The early church fathers were passionate haters of Jews. St. John Chrysostom (c345-407) had this to say regarding the Jewish synagogue: "Let anyone call it a brothel, home of vice, refuge of the devil, citadel of Satan, corruption of souls, abyss of corruption and all mischief - whatever he may say, it will be less than what it has deserved." [1]

St. Jerome (c342-420) called the Jews "vipers" and "cursors of Christians". [2]

St. Ambrose (340-397) went down in history as a Christian who stood up for Christians against the emperor. The whole episode that gave rise to this reputation was not in the least bit flattering. In the year 388, a Jewish synagogue in Kallinikan, a town in by the Euphrates, was burned by Christians. Emperor Theodosius I (346-395) ordered the synagogue to be rebuilt at the expense of the Christian bishop. This was a fair ruling, for it was the bishop who instigated the burning of the synagogue in the first place. This, however, did not seem fair for Ambrose. He protested: "I declare that I set fire to the synagogue, indeed, that I gave them the command to do this, so that there be no place left where Christ is denied ... What is more important, the nation of order or the interests of religion?" He added, "Who cares if a synagogue - home of insanity and unbelief - is destroyed?" During a mass in which the emperor was present, Ambrose, who was the celebrant, interrupted the service and directly addressed the emperor, saying that he would not continue with the mass until the order to rebuild the synagogue is revoked. The emperor gave in and the Christian arsonists got off scot free.

St. Augustine (354-430), certainly the most influential Christian theologian (outside of Paul in the New Testament) likened to Jews to Cain. The first person in the Bible to commit murder (he slew Abel). When the Jews slew Jesus, like Cain, they were condemned to wander unhappily. In his Contra Judaeos, Augustine expounded his theology of the Jews being a wandering, homeless and rejected people. They were, according to him, accursed of God for committing the heinous crime of murdering Jesus and were, therefore irrevocably carnal, faithless and unable to accept the true teachings of God as revealed in the Catholic Church.[3]

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The Persecution of Jews in Christendom

With the conversion of the Roman emperors, the Roman Empire began to enact anti-semitic laws. Emperor Constantine (c274-337) imposed penalties on converts to Judaism and on Christians who married Jews. The Emperor Theodosius II (410-450) forbade Jews to hold any public office or to build any new synagogues. [4] The Emperor Justinian I (483-565) known for his "Code of Justinian" which was the authoritative statement of Roman Law, loss his sense of justice when dealing with Jews. He too, legislated anti-semitic laws. Under Justinian, the Jews lost many of their civil liberties. Their freedom to practice religion was also drastically reduced. He even encouraged the barbarian rulers to persecute the Jews. [5]

The Christian public persecuted Jews at every available opportunity and for the flimsiest of reasons. Thus during the crusades, the Christians who did not make the trip to the holy land, felt that killing Jews at home would be their contribution to the crusade. [6]

The crusaders themselves felt that it was their duty to kill some Jews before they leave for the holy land. Thus, Peter the Hermit (c1050-1115) killed hundreds of Jews in the Rhineland before leaving for the first crusade in 1096. At about the same time, another crusader Count Emich of Leiningen systematically attacked the Jewish communities in the German cities of Worms, Speyer, Mainz, Regensburg, Cologne, Trier and Metz. He believed that slaughtering the infidels that lived amongst Christians was a primary religious duty. True to his Christian spirit of charity, he gave the Jews two options: baptism or death. While some submitted to baptism, most Jews chose death. Emich and his men killed thousands of defenceless men, women and children. All traces of Jewish culture in these cities, the synagogues, the Torah and the Talmud scrolls, were completely destroyed. [7]

Another flimsy excuse for persecution of Jews came in 1144 when a young boy was found dead near Norwich in England. Rumors began to circulate that he was murdered by the Jews who used his blood for ritualistic purposes. The rumor was further fueled by the writings of a monk, Thomas of Monmouth, who alleged that the Jews, as a matter of routine, sacrificed children.

The whole of Christian Europe went into a murderous frenzy. In 1171, thirty eight Jews in France were burned to death for the (false) charge of throwing a Christian child into a river. In 1255, eighteen Jews were tortured and hanged in England for allegedly murdering an eight year old boy and using his blood for religious rites. In 1285, one hundred and eighty Jews were burned in Munich, purely on a rumor that they bled a child to death in the synagogue. In 1294, at Bern, Switzerland, Jews were killed or expelled because of the ritual murder rumor. In 1475, at Trent, Italy, almost all the Jews of the city were tortured and burned after a rumor started to spread that a boy named Simon was murdered by them. Spain, busy with the Inquisition, took time off to kill Jews on such rumors as well. It is worth noting that a commission set up to investigate the matter concluded in 1759 that no Jew was ever involved in the ritual sacrifice of children. All the executions were based on nothing more than myths. [8]

Another ridiculous myth that resulted in the death of many Jews was that of host-nailing. The equally ridiculous doctrine of Transubstantiation, which teaches that the host wafer during the mass was actually transformed into the body of Jesus, was the basis of the myth. In the thirteenth century, some Christians started spreading the rumor that the Jews, ever so evil, wanted to crucify Christ all over again. The Jews, they alleged, stole the wafers and drove nails through them. (It never occurred to these dim-witted Christians that the Jews, not being Christians, do not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation and driving nails trough wafers would have held no meaning for them.) Again Jews were slaughtered all over Europe. The slaughter started in 1243, when Jews were burned at the stake in Belitz Germany, for host-nailing. In Nuremberg, in 1298, six hundred and twenty eight Jews were killed for the same offence. While in Deggendorf, Bavaria. the entire Jewish community was burned for host-nailing. In 1370, in Brussels, hundreds of Jews (some estimates put it as high as five hundred) were tortured and mutilated for this alleged offence. The persecution of Jews for host-nailing continued until the late eighteenth century. [9]

The Jews were generally blamed for any calamity that befall Christians. One such case was the fourteenth century bubonic plague, more popularly known as the "Black Death". The disease plagued Europe for three years, from 1347 to 1349, causing the death of nearly half of Europe's population. The Jews, leading generally more hygienic lives than their Christian neighbors, were less liable to be infected. Rumors began circulating that it was the Jews who were responsible for the plague; by poisoning the wells. Again the Jews throughout Europe were hunted down and murdered. The historian Philip Ziegler estimated that there were three hundred and fifty separate massacres of Jews by Christians during the three years of the Black Death. At least twenty thousand Jews were murdered. [10]

Orthodox Christians were also guilty of anti-semitism. In one such outbreak, during the mid seventeenth century, a Ukrainian officer, Bogdan Chmielnicki preached a holy war against the Catholics and the Jews. His support from Orthodox priests and peasants alike, was overwhelming. He, and his holy army, first attacked Jews in the Ukraine. When the Jews fled into Poland he pursued them there. An estimated one hundred thousand Jews were killed. [11]

The Eastern Orthodox Christians were equally susceptible to ridiculous rumors as their Western Catholic counterparts. In 1801, one hundred and twenty eight Jews were murdered by Christians who stormed the Jewish quarter in Romania, after rumors began spreading that the Jews were drinking Christian blood in their rituals. [12]

While the Christian laymen were busy killing Jews, the leaders of the church were making rules to institutionalized their hatred of these infidels. The Lateran Councils of 1179 and 1216 and the papal decretals of Pope Gregory IX (c1148-1241) pushed the Jews further away from the mainstream of European society. Jews were forced to wear a distinctive clothing which separates them from the Christians. They were not allowed to appear in the streets on Christian holidays lest they contaminate the occasion. The Jews were also forbidden to own land and were excluded from all kinds of occupations except pawnbroking and moneylending. They were also ordered to be confined in a separate part of town, which later became known as the ghetto. [13]

The Christian countries, unable to tolerate the Jews started expelling them. Thus Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306 and from Spain in 1492. [14]

Through all these, the theologians, and other Christian leaders, were busy refining and elaborating this anti-semitism. Thus, Pope Gregory IX, wearing his theological hat, decreed the Talmud a book as heinous as the Koran. The medieval theologian Albert Magnus (c1200-1280) was an active destroyer and suppressor of Jewish scholarship. Albert was one of the leaders of a commission that sanctioned the burning of two hundred and forty wagon loads of the Talmud in 1242. Pope Innocent IV, justified the burning as being due to the Jewish "fabrications about the most blessed virgin." King Louis IX of France (1214-1270), who was eventually canonized as Saint Louis, declared that should any Jew insult the Christian faith, the Christian should thrust his sword into the Jew's body "as far as the sword can go." [15]

Martin Luther, as we saw elsewhere, was an ardent anti-semite. He suggested that Jewish synagogues should be set on fire, that the Jewish holy books should destroyed, that they should be relieved of the property, deprived of safe conduct and that their rabbis should be forbidden to teach.

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The Holocaust

Thanks to Christianity, anti-semitism became entrenched in the European psyche. Thus Adolph Hitler skilfully tapped that energy of hatred when he took over power in Germany in 1933. He blamed the Jews for all the ills Germany was in; from the humiliating treaty of the Versailles to the mounting unemployment. Under the Nazi regime, the Jews lost their jobs and the citizenship, had their synagogues burned down and were finally herded into concentration camps. Hitler had a "final solution" to the Jewish problem: a complete extermination of the race. Judging by the results, he almost succeeded. Out of the nine million Jews that were living in Europe at the outbreak of the second world war in 1939, six million were murdered, most of them in the Nazi extermination camps. [16]

That Christianity is at least partly to blame for the Holocaust cannot be denied. As the theologian Clark Williamson admits:

Hitler's pogrom, for all its distinctiveness, is the zenith of a long Christian heritage of teaching and practice against Jews ... Christian anti-Judaism promoted the Nazi cause in several ways. It led the Nazis to focus initially on the Jews and created attitudes which permitted them to carry out their extermination program with little resistance. It made possible for Christians to justify either assisting or not opposing the Nazi efforts. Christian anti-Judaism is profoundly incriminated in the Final Solution.[italics mine-PT] [17]

In fact, according to historian Dagobert Runes, Hitler's methods were actually modelled on the Christian one:

Everything Hitler did to the Jews, all the horrible, unspeakable misdeeds, had already been done to the smitten people before by the Christian churches ... The isolation of the Jews into ghetto camps, the wearing of the yellow spot, the burning of Jewish books and finally, the burning of the people - Hitler learned it all from the church. However, the church burned Jewish women and children alive, while Hitler granted them a quicker death, choking them first with gas. [18]

A reader who has read this section on anti-semitism will not fail to agree with Dr. Runes conclusions.

Not only was Christian past incriminated in the Holocaust, the contemporary Christian churches were guilty as well. While there were some cries of outrage, on the whole Hitler's anti-semitic policies were not objected to by the Christian churches in Germany. Given below is a frank admission by the Catholic archbishop, Thomas Roberts:

The overwhelming impression left on me by a careful study of Dr. Gordon Zahn's "German Catholics and Hitler's Wars" is not so much shock at finding Hitler echoed all over the signatures of great Catholic names; it is more the realization that nationalism, mass hysteria, and above all fear, paralyzed Christian judgement ... The factual evidence seems overwhelming that German Catholics generally - bishops, clergy, people - supported the Hitler war effort. [19]

The Protestant churches in Nazi Germany had a similar record. Given below is the an excerpt from a declaration made by the leaders of the German Evangelical Church in 1941:

The National Socialist leaders of Germany have provided indisputable documentary evidence that the Jews are responsible for this war in its world wide magnitude. They have therefore ... taken the necessary steps ... to ensure that the life of the German nation is protected against Judaism.

As members of that same German nation, the undersigned leaders of the German Evangelical Church stand in the forefront of this historical struggle to defend our country, because of which it has been necessary for the national police to issue a statement to the effect that the Jews are the enemies of the German nation and of the world, just as it has been necessary for Luther to demand, on the basis of his bitter experience, that the severest measures be taken against the Jews and that they should be expelled from all German countries. [20]

One character that needs to be mentioned in connection with Hitler is Pope Pius XII (1876-1958). While it was true that the Vatican gave refuge to about five thousand Jews escaping from the Nazi persecution, it was also true that the pope knew about the atrocities the Nazi's were perpetrating on the Jews and that he did not voice any condemnation. [21] As Barrie Ruth Strauss said in her book The Catholic Church:

the lost chance to provide the world with a firm moral stand clouds the reign of Pope Pius XII. [22]

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), after all the Christian mistreatment of Jews throughout history, had the audacity to suggest that Jews will only be forgiven if they reject the generation that killed Jesus! [23]

Modern Fundamentalism and Anti-Semitism

Nowadays mainstream Christian churches have toned down on their anti-semitism, the fundamentalist evangelical churches remain as blatantly anti-Jew as ever. Like their spiritual fathers, these Christians read the New Testament as an inerrant work, and swallowed the anti-semitic elements in it wholesale.

One such example is Bailey Smith, President of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early eighties, who made the comment that, "God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." [24] It is no wonder that American Jews are vary of this resurgence of the religious right. Rabbi Alexander Schindler, President of the American Hebrew Congregations said recently that it was "no coincidence that the rise of right-wing Christian fundamentalism has been accompanied by the most serious outbreak of anti-semitism in America since world war II." [25]

After all this it cannot be denied that anti-semitism is an inherent part of Christianity, as theologian Robert Wilken admits:

Christian anti-semitism grew out of the Bible, i.e. the New Testament, as it was understood and interpreted by Christians over centuries. The roots of Christian anti-semitism need be traced no further than Christianity itself, Christians have been anti-semitic because they are Christians. They thought of themselves as the people of God, the true Israel, who have been faithful to the inheritance of ancient Israel. Judaism, in the Christian view, had no reason to exist once Christianity came into being. We must learn ... to live with the unpleasant fact that anti-semitism is a part of what it has meant historically to be a Christian, and is still part of what it means to be a Christian. [26]

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Notes

a.It is amazing how fundamentalists today are still ignorant of this historical evolution towards anti-semitism. Take for instance this remark below by Robert Gundry[27]:

[W]hy should we not think of a literal understanding of Jesus' resurrection leads to a loving Christian evangelization of the Jews rather than anti-Semitism? It certainly did in the case of the first Christians who were themselves Jews...If judgment was to come on unbelieving Jews, it was to come on them for their unbelief, not for their Jewishness, and from the hand of God, not from the hands of Christians.

The passage above makes me shudder, because such ignorance of the historical origins of anti-semitism, more so coming from a fundamentalist "scholar", means that anti-semitism looks set to continue within Christian fundamentalism.

It was because the Jew resisted "loving" Christian evangelization that led the gospels to put the blame of Jesus' death on the Jew. It is true that the first followes of Jesus were Jews but they were never Christians but Nazarenes. One of Paul main theological battles in the early years of Christianity was with the actual followers of Jesus, including Peter. Furthermore punishing someone for their unbelief is precisely what anti-Semitism had been all about. It was because they were not Christians and were blamed for Jesus' death that the Jews suffered untold misery in western Christendom. And of course, the gospels attributed the fall of Jerusalem to God's punishment on the Jews. (See Mark 12:1-9) And, as we can see in this page, good Christians were not above giving God "a little hand" when it comes to "punishing the Jews".

References

1.Knight, Honest to Man: p97
2.Haught, Holy Horrors: p43
3.Ibid: p43
Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: p59-60
Wistrich, Anti-Semitism: p18-19
4.Knight, Honest to Man: p97
5.Roberts, History of the World: p303
6.Armstrong, Holy War: p74
7.Ibid: p72-74
Haught, Holy Horrors: p19-20
8.Ibid: p44-47
9.Ibid: p49-52
10.Haught, Holy Horrors: p69-71
Knight, Honest to Man: p98
11.Haught, Holy Horrors: p125-127
12.Ibid: p47
13.Armstrong, Holy War: p416-417
Haught, Holy Horrors: p49
Knight, Honest to Man: p98
14.Ibid: p91
15.Armstrong, Holy War: p435,440
Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: p179-180
16.Lowe, Modern World History: p105-106
17.quoted in Haught, Holy Horrors: p159-160
18.Ibid: p163
19.quoted in Knight, Honest to Man: p103
20.Ibid: p103-104
21.Strauss, The Catholic Church: p163
22.Ibid: p163
23.Armstrong, The First Christian: p103
24.quoted in Ehrenreich et. al., Remaking Love: p138
25.Haiven, Faith, Hope, No Charity: p47
26.Wilken, The Myth of Christian Beginnings: p197
27.Gundry, R.H., Trimming the Debate from Copan & Tacelli, Jesus' Resurrection: p112-113

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