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Judeophobia - History and analysis of Antisemitism, Jew-Hate and anti-"Zionism"
The beginnings of Christian Anti-Semitism -
Judeophobia (Jew Hate) in Early Christian thought

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Chapter 3: The beginnings of Christian Anti-Semitism -
Judeophobia (Jew Hate) in Early Christian thought

Previous - Chapter 2: Judeophobia ('anti-Semitism',Jew Hate) in the Pagan Ancient World - Alexandria and Rome

See also - Anti-Semitism

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Main Page: Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism') - A History and Analysis of Jew Hate

Judeophobia ('anti-Semitism',Jew Hate) in the Pagan Ancient World

Judeophobia (Anti-Semitism, Jew Hate) in the Early Christian Church

Medieval Persecution of Jews I - Proselytization, Conversions and Ghettos

Medieval Persecution of Jews: II- Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions and Massacres 

Medieval Persecution of Jews: III- Blood Libels and other Myths

Persecution of the Jews Under Islam

Judeophobia ('anti-Semitism') in the Reformation

Judeophobia in the Enlightenment and 19th Century France

Germany: Racism and Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

Conspiratorial Theories and Russian Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

Marxism and Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism') in The United States

Contemporary Anti-Zionism

Holocaust Denial

Theories of the Etiology of Judeophobia ('Anti-Semitism')

The previous chapter concluded with the question of how can we consider the beginnings of Judeophobia to be in Christianity when we have already seen abundant Judeophobic evidence from pre-Christian times.

The answer is, basically: only with the inception of this new religion based upon Judaism, did hatred against the Jews become the norm, with widely and deeply penetrating roots, facilitating its monstrous growth, sprouting ideological and even theological fruit.

I must state from the outset that pointing out Judeophobia’s Christian roots does not imply the absurd generalization that Christians are necessarily Judeophobes. However, some basic facts remain that deserve attention and constitute the core of this third class.

The essence of the problem is as follows: the nascent church claimed to be the consummation of Judaism. Christianity emerged from Judaism and the first Christian church was Jewish in its leadership, membership, and worship. During the first period of Christianity, until the year 70, while the Jewish state was still in existence, there was no real antagonism between the two religions.

The first Christians conveyed their message to the House of Israel, but it soon became clear that the vast majority of the Jews would not become Christians. They were firm in their loyalty to biblical law and to an uncompromising view both of God’s transcendence and of the coming of the Messiah who will heal the world at the end of times.

Once doctrinal differences were obvious, the original harmony between the two faiths was doomed. The realization that the Jews would reject the new notion of the Messiah as “Son of God” was disconcerting to Christians, whose faith was built on the Jewish Scriptures and beliefs and therefore expected to win over the children of Israel. If they were to be the heirs of those beliefs and their true perpetuators, if Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, sooner or later some flaw had to be perceived in the independent continuity of the inherited religion. The ongoing vitality of Judaism questioned the legitimacy of the inheritance.

The break between the two religions was proclaimed by Paul, the Jewish-born true founder of Christianity, who resolved against the observance of law as stipulated in Judaism and established that true salvation comes only from faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish-Christians were the minority of Jews who accepted this dogma, but even they broke with Paul when they discovered that he was making no distinction between Jew and Gentile. These Jewish-Christians, who continued practicing Judaism, were seen by the new expanding faith as temporarily compromised (see Paul’s epistle to the Galatians 2:11-21 in the New Testament). But Paul had inherited Jesus’ love for his people. Neither he nor his immediate disciples wished to see Jews either degraded or destroyed.

The gradual composition of the New Testament was accompanied by a worsening of the Christian attitude towards Jews and therefore its earlier parts (Paul’s, around the year 50) are devoid of the Judeophobia present in the later parts (John’s gospel, 100). The earliest known canon of the New Testament was compiled in 140 by Marcion, who outrightly rejected the Hebrew Bible.

The discussion of how Judeophobic is the New Testament is beyond the scope of our course. Among Christian theologians, some claim it is as a whole (Rosemary Ruether) and some claim it is not at all (Gregory Baum).

The fact is that some verses in the New Testament describe the Jews in a positive way, attributing to them salvation (John 4:22) or divine love (Romans 11:28) while many others can be -and were- much used by Judeophobes. The two worst verses are those in which the Jews prompt Jesus’ crucifixion and say “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25) and when Jesus calls the Jews “children of the devil“ (John 8:44). These verses, and the whole gamut of accusations charged against the Jews during the growth and individuation of Christianity, were buttressed by constant repetition by people who had but scant acquaintance with Jews. Jerome, Anthanasius, Ambrose, Amulo, all echo that the Jews have devilish origins, or that they are tempted by the devil, partners with him, and ultimately his willing slaves and instruments.

THE REWRITING OF THE CRUCIFIXION

The main source of later Judeophobia from the New Testament is the story of the crucifixion, full of historical mistakes (this fact does not demean the New Testament either as a sacred book or as the theological basis of Christianity. We speak in historical terms alone).

We are told: during Passover, the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish political, religious and judicial body in Judea during the Roman period) tried Jesus and condemned him to death. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate attempted to side-step the death penalty, but eventually gave in to an insistent Sanhedrin. Pilate “washed his hands” and let Jesus be crucified by Roman soldiers.

In Solomon Zeitlin’s Who Crucified Jesus? you can find a complete account of the story which shows, among others, the following inaccuracies: the Sanhedrin never met during festivals, and it seldom applied death penalties (the Talmud has it that “a Sanhedrin which puts a man to death once in seven years is called a murderous one” -Makkot 1:10- and rabbi Eleazar Ben Azaryah added: “...or even once in seventy years”).

And in the case of Jesus, we are surprised by a quick death penalty decreed upon a Jew -whose crime according to Jewish law is no crime at all. (There were crimes that according to biblical law deserved capital punishment, but to claim to be the son of God appears nowhere in the Bible as a crime!). Moreover, the Sanhedrin could carry out capital punishment without any Roman intervention. Why would they request the “help” of their worst enemy in order to carry out their law? (Four methods of judicial execution were stated by Talmudic law: stoning, burning, slaying and strangling, in contrast with crucifixion, which was typically Roman).

Besides that, the role of Pilate is highly unlikely. Why would a man who was in charge of suppressing the Jews, a man who had ordered the crucifixion of thousands of them, unexpectedly strive to defend one of them? The way Pilate chooses to express his lack of involvement is also suspect -it is called ‘Netilat Yadaim,’ the old Jewish custom to wash one’s hands as a sign of purity, which Orthodox Jews still practice. Why would a Roman warrior resort to a Jewish practice?

The answer to these questions is that it is probable that the New Testament tells us a true story -with changed over protagonists. The Roman announced his intention to execute a Jew who seemed to be unusually popular, and warned the Sanhedrin not to react. The Rabbis remained passive (a large group of which opposed rebellion against Rome; the more rebellious party prevailed only four decades later). As was the norm, the Romans wrote the reason for the crucifixion on the cross. In the case of Jesus, INRI (“Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”) it is clear that they imply a political crime: sedition.

The reason for which the crucifixion was retold by the Gospel writers with these changes is logical. The new religion needed consolidation. Accusing the mighty empire of having murdered God would have been perilous. However, whitewashing Rome and at the same time accusing the weak Jews, who competitively claimed the same sources as their own, the Gospel stood to gain newfound strength and acceptance.

Moreover, the Christians could not evangelize by spreading the word that Jesus was the Messiah, because this argument was meaningless to the pagans. The only convincing claim was that Christianity was the original religion, the universal truth for mankind. For that to be the truth, Christianity had to exclusively possess the history of Israel.

At the end of the first century, the “Letter of Barnabas attempts to show how Jews misunderstood what Christians call the Old Testament, which, the writer asserts, was never intended to be observed literally, since all therein is but a prefiguring of the Church.

As the start of the second century, Ignatius of Antioch summarizes their view: “Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.” Thus a fertile theme originated: the Church is, and always was, the true Israel. The problem was that the people the Church claimed to have supplanted, continued to co-exist and, more importantly, laid claim to the same sources of faith, asserting its anteriority and its ownership of the “Old Testament.”

A whole anti-Judaic literature developed, according to which the Church antedates the Old Israel, going back to the faith of Abraham and even to the promise made to Adam. The Church is “Eternal Israel” whose origins coincide with humanity itself. The Mosaic Law was only for the Jews, who were punished for their unworthiness and their cult of the golden calf by the burden of the Law. The Mosaic prescriptions hence were a yoke imposed upon the Old Israel because of its sins. The Jews are an apostate nation, deprived of its providential role of the chosen people. And so on.

The most complete Christian tract against the Jews during early centuries was the “Dialogue with Trypho by Justin, which puts forward the ominous theme that Jewish misfortunes are the consequence of divine punishment.

But the worst myth arising during that time is “deicide,” the murder of God, which was raised for the first time by Melito, the bishop of Sardis, around the year 150. This sinister accusation, which was repeated for years, decades, centuries, was never the official ideology of the Church. But it became so rooted in Christian sermons that the Church had to officially reject it during the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

THE DEMONIZATION OF THE JEW

The anti-Judaic literature developed while Jewry was weak, humiliated, defeated, when it posed no challenge to Christianity. In the misfortunes of the Jewish people, in the dissolution of the state and in subsequent Jewish defeats, the Christians found definite confirmation of their belief that God was displeased with the Jews and no longer wanted their continuation. The Christians took it for granted that Judaism would ultimately absorbed into their new religion.

However, after the disasters of 70 and 135 (terrible defeats at the hands of the Romans) Jewry gradually recuperated vitality and influence, and the Christian reaction was new literary attacks. We should have in mind that between those two years Christianity became a definitely gentile movement.

According to Origen, the first Christian scholar to study Hebrew, Christians respected the Law more than the Jews did, who interpreted it in a fantastical manner, and whose practices were trivial; their rejection of Jesus had resulted in calamity and exile. “We say with confidence that they will never be restored to their former condition. For they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Saviour of the human race....”

By the end of the third century the image of the Jew was of an unbeliever and a competitor. At the end of the fourth century, the Jew had been transformed into the deicidal, satanic figure, cursed by God and discriminated against by the State. The very term “Jew” was an insult.

The full flowering of the theology which prescribed Jewish miseries as divine punishment for Jesus’ crucifixion was one of the reasons for the deterioration of the Jewish image and status. By the time Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire (the year 323), the foundation of its Judeophobia was already laid; it was the natural outcome of theological necessity as well as defensiveness against the danger of a relapse into Judaism. It was an inevitable by-product of Christian propaganda, which had to assume that Judaism was dead, even while Judaism steadfastly refused to die. The Church did not recognized that Judaism was a distinct religion; it saw it as a distortion of the only true religion, a perfidia, a stubborn rebelliousness against God. Thus wrote the Church Fathers.

In the year 338 a Christian mob led by the local bishop burned down the synagogue of Callinicus in Mesopotamia. The emperor Theodosius ordered the synagogue to be rebuilt and the incendiary punished. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, intervened with a letter to the emperor: the synagogue was “home of unbelief, a house of unpiety, a receptacle of folly.” Only out of negligence had he himself not set fire to the synagogue of Milan. Imperial power must be used in the service of the faith. In the cathedral the emperor was threatened with refusal of the sacraments, and he eventually ceded to Ambrose. Other synagogues were destroyed in Italy, North Africa, Spain and even the land of Israel, where a group of monks under Barsauma massacred Jews.

John Chrysostom (d.407) brings Judeophobia to its highest point within all “Adversus Judaeos” literature. In his sermons in Antioch he says: “the Jews most miserable of all men... lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits, inveterate murders, destroyers, men possessed by the devil. They know only one thing, to satisfy their gullets, get drunk, to kill and maim one another... They have surpassed the ferocity of wild beasts, for they murder their offspring and immolate them to the devil...”and much more. Chrysostom and all the Judeophobes among the Church Fathers and their successors were over many centuries revered as saints by the Catholic Church.

Augustine wrote at the same time and his original contribution to the Judeophobic arsenal is the theory of the witness-people. The reason for which Jews subsist is to probe the truth of Christianity. Like Cain, he explains, they carry a sign but are not to be killed. Jews were not only wrong but evil.

And the theological gulf grew wider and deeper. As the Anglican theologian James Parkes puts it, the Church did not claim the Hebrew Bible in its entirety, only its heroes and virtuous characters, God’s promises and praise. The rest, the villains and the idolaters, the stubborn and the unbelievers, were left for the Jews. Curses and accusations were for them. And that was the description of the Jews supposedly written by God. Variations of this theme were preached in writings and from pulpits, Sunday after Sunday, century after century, whenever Jews were mentioned.

So, by saying that Judeophobia was born with Christianity, we are not overlooking the hostility of the Greek Egyptians. We are adding proportion. Christian Judeophobia was incomparably stronger. Joseph Eötvösz, a Hungarian nobleman, would say in the 1920’s that “an anti-Semite is one who hates the Jews... more than necessary.” This was not true for the pagan world, generally tolerant to the Jews, even if did have many Judeophobes. But once Christianity took hold, Judeophobia became the norm, God’s will, a theological platform with laws, contempt, calumnies, animosity, segregation, forced baptisms, appropriation of children, unjust trials, pogroms, exiles, systematic persecution, rapine, and social degradation.

On the basis of all the above, Jules Isaac unabashedly calls his 1956 book “The Christian Roots of Antisemitism.” We will study the offshoots of these roots in the next chapter.

Gustavo Perednik

Next - Christian Persecution of the Jews in Europe: Proselytization, Conversions and Ghettos

Start - Judeophobia - A History and Analysis of Jew Hate or so-called Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

Gustavo Perednik


Acknowledgement

These pages are adapted by the kind permission of Dr. Gustavo Perednik.They  are based on a twelve-lecture Internet course prepared for "The Jewish University in Cyberspace." During 2000 and 2001, the book by Gustavo Perednik "Judeophobia" was published in Spanish. This course summarizes the core ideas of the book. It presents a comprehensive and unique analysis of the development of Jew hate (Judeophobia or anti-Semitism) throughout history. It tries to answer the question "why the Jews?" - why have Jews been particularly singled out for ethnic, racial and religious persecution, and it traces the relationship between anti-Zionism and racist Judeophobia or so-called anti-Semitism.

Zionism and Israel Information Center is grateful to Dr. Perednik for his permission to popularize his works.


History of anti-Zionism External link: Antisemitism


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Reproduced by permission. This work is copyright ©1997-2005 by Gustavo Perednik. Please do not copy it in any form without direct permission from the author.  All rights reserved

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