A Tragedy of Errors – a look at “Christian” Antisemitism

Steve Maltz

The history of the Jews has indeed been a tragedy, many steps forwards in terms of achievement but many more steps back in terms of knock-backs. OK, so we know that the World has never liked us very much, that’s what anti-Semitism has been all about. But the biggest tragedy in Jewish history has been that brand of anti-Semitism that has come from the established Church. This is the definitive “tragedy of errors”. I am ashamed to say it but more acts of anti-Semitism have been committed in the name of Christianity than any other cause in history. A cold look at the facts would suggest that It is one of the greatest ironies of history that a faith based on the life and death of a Jew and spread first by fellow Jews, would be by far the most vicious persecutor of the Jewish race! And all in the name of its Jewish founder!

We must therefore conclude that the writings of Christianity are at least as anti-Semitic as the preachers and followers of this faith. Or do we? If I were to leave the discussion at this point then I present myself as a puzzle to you. Why would I, a Jewish Christian, follow a religion that hates me enough to kill me, let alone write an article defending it! Now believe me when I say that I have read the New Testament (the Brit Hadashah in Hebrew) many times and I haven’t once thought about calling myself a dirty Jew or Christ-killer, or even embarked on a campaign of self-loathing! I haven’t found a single anti-Semitic statement in it at all, but I can see how it can be used by those who are already driven by hate to start with. The key to this is a handy little device used by many people through the ages, whether Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses, or even your average anti-Semite. This device is known as ‘taking things out of context’.

Did you know that Jehovah’s Witnesses have rewritten the Bible, changing key passages to make the words fit their doctrines. David Koresh, the lunatic ‘Messiah’ at the heart of the Waco siege, identified himself with the Persian King Cyrus from the Book of Isaiah and totally corrupted the scriptures to fit in with his paranoia and megalomania. Countless cult groups such as those two and the Seventh Day Adventists etc. have discerned the date for ‘the end of the world’ countless times from scripture only to be proved wrong again and again. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were so confident that the Jewish Patriarchs were returning in the 1920s that they built a luxury mansion for them to live in. When the date came and went their big Boss didn’t want to waste all the efforts and selflessly moved in himself!

Returning to the early Christians, once the Church had moved away from its Jewish origins, the Church Fathers were keen to show the world how the favours of God had moved from the old flesh-and-blood natural Israel to the spanking new spiritual Israel, the Church. They reasoned that the Jews had had their chance, and failed. “Didn’t they bring it on themselves?”, they argued. “For surely they not only rejected Jesus, their Messiah, but they killed him as well!”. Let’s see how much truth-twisting needed to be done to get to this conclusion.

So, who killed Jesus?

The two passages of the New Testament that have been used most to condemn the Jews are found in the Book of John (or Yochanan in Hebrew) and the Book of Matthew (Mattityahu).

If you read the first passage, found in John 9:44, you read “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire … He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” From these words some early Christians said, “the Jews are of the devil, therefore they are our enemies and an offence to God”. But, if you read the verses in the context of the whole chapter you get a different flavour. What is being condemned here is not the Jews as a people, but just the stubbornness of the religious leaders, or in fact anyone, Jew or Gentile, who resist the message, including many so-called ‘Christians’ throughout history. If you want to take words out of context then how about earlier in the same book when it says “Salvation is from the Jews”. To Christians, one’s salvation is of the utmost importance, but here the very person (Jesus) who is apparently condemning the Jews, is also telling Christians that they owe everything to them. One can also take it further and interpret the verses where Jesus likens Gentiles (non-jews) to “dogs” as a rule to encourage Jews to keep their Gentile “brothers” in kennels and feed them only on the best quality sheep hearts and kangaroo entrails!

The truth is that it suited these early Christians to have a low opinion of the Jews, who rejected their Jesus and therefore must be rejected by him. So to justify themselves they scoured the scriptures and pulled out the phrases that seemed to agree with their position, conveniently ignoring the many places where the very opposite is told. In one such place, in one of the more famous New Testament passages, in Romans, we read the words, “Did God reject his people? By no means!” You can’t get a more explicit statement. Yet the blindness of hatred knows no bounds and under this condition people will read what they want to read from scriptures.

The second passage is found in Matthew 27:25 The scene is the end of the Roman trial of Jesus, just prior to his death. The Jews present proclaim, “let his blood be on us and our children”. This verse has been the one verse that has fuelled the most senseless hatred of Jews and earned them the proud title of “Christ-killers”. That may be the fact of history, but, in retrospect, there are at least 5 great big holes in this argument:

1) It was the Romans who actually killed Jesus. They were the occupying powers of the land and this death was just one of many Jewish crucifixions carried out by them. Should we not condemn their descendants, which, incidentally includes most of the Popes, as well as Luciano Pavarotti?

2) Reading the whole story in its context we read that it was the chief priests who stirred up the crowd to make this proclamation. Perhaps they threatened them, or offered them reward. Whatever they did it was clear that the Jewish mob certainly weren’t an impartial jury and were clearly under duress!

3) Anyone who knows anything about the Christian religion knows that without the death of Jesus there would be no Christian religion! Someone had to kill him! Perhaps they should be thanking the Jews for taking on this burden!

4) As he was dying Jesus actually forgave all those who were involved in his death by saying, “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. As a central part of Christianity is forgiveness, wouldn’t it have been more consistent if Christians follow the words of their founder. If he could forgive the Jews and Romans, shouldn’t other Christians do the same?

5) Jesus knew well in advance of his death and even spoke about it, saying “I lay down my life … No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”. He knew all along of his willing death. You can no more blame the Jews for his death than you can blame a cliff for the death of a lemming!

So, in summary, perhaps Christians should listen to and follow the lead of their Lord and founder. Forget the words of an emotional ( and probably scared) mob. Rather than commenting on the words of the Jewish mob perhaps it would have been more ‘Christian’ to offer the forgiveness that Jesus offered the Jews.

If we go back to the start of Christianity, Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile, both considered themselves part of ‘Israel’. The Gentiles saw themselves as grafted into Israel rather than replacing Israel. The Church was in balance, made up of Jews and Gentiles, exactly as the New Testament writers intended. But by the second century this had changed, the Gentiles had taken control and the process of removing Jewish influences, or de-Judaizing had started, sowing the seeds of Christian anti-Semitism.

In conclusion, the most important thing of all concerning ‘Christian Anti-Semitism’ is that it should never have existed. There is nothing in the Christian Bible that promotes it. Jesus always said that the core of their faith was love and forgiveness, not hate and vengeance. Even the Catholic Church, the main villians of the piece, have finally admitted their error, officially announcing at Vatican Council II in 1965 that the Jews “should not be presented as rejected by God or accursed”. Historically, when you look at Church history from the Early Church right through to Martin Luther and what was known as the Reformation, one important fact sticks out – the common person was never given a Bible to read! Bible reading and interpretation was in the hands of the leaders and teachers, who had their own agendas to fulfil and used the Bible to justify their own vices, be it lust for money, power, or just good old-fashioned lust! As soon as the Bible was put in the hands of the masses, people read it and, at the very least, saw no basis for anti-Semitism and at best saw many justifications for a positive attitude towards their Jewish brethren. And this is still the case. Christians today are not like ‘Christians’ of yesteryear. Anyone who reads the Bible would have no excuse for reading Anti-Semitism into it, unless their judgement is clouded by their own desires. Thankfully, these days the vast majority of Christians are sensible and only take out of the the Bible the messages that were originally put into it.