Christian anti-Semitism

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Historically, a number of Christians have practiced anti-semitism, although how severe and widespread the belief is has varied over time. At some times, anti-semitism has been widely accepted and even promulgated by Christian leaders and laypersons.

Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274) was one of the first to teach that the Jewish people were damned because they had slain Jesus, and the only way they could be saved was to renounce their faith and be baptized as Christians. This belief was to remain prevalent in Christianity almost until almost the present day.

In 1481, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, the rulers of Spain who financed Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World just a few years later in 1492, declared the Spanish Inquisition. All Jews in their territory were compelled to convert to Christianity or flee the country. While some converted, many others left for Morocco and North Africa. Estimates are that between four and eight thousand secret Jews (morraños) were burnt alive, as well as many Moriscos. It is arguable whether this constitutes anti-semitism in the racist sense, since it was directed at the religion of Judaism.

Many Christians have justified their behaviour by appealing to Christian tradition and scripture. One cause of this is the many New Testament passages that criticise or attack the sect of the "Pharisees", which Christians have historically read as "Jews". These passages have shaped the way that many Christians viewed Jews; like most Bible passages, they have been interpreted in a variety of ways.

Some have argued that anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament are not really targeting Jews as a whole, as the Pharisees were just one of several Jewish groups (with the Saducees, Samaritans, and Essenes, for example). The fact that in the time of Jesus the Pharisees were the largest and most dominant group of theologians and religious leaders does not prove that Jesus' words were aimed at every individual Jew, nor at Jews as a people. During the years that the New Testament became canonized, the other Jewish sects disappeared, leaving only Pharisaic Judaism (later known as rabbinic Judaism.) For all intents and purposes, all Jews today are Pharisees. (Members of the tiny Samaritan community still extant do not refer to themselves as Jews.) In that perspective NT passages about Pharisees could be read as passages about the Jewish people in general. Hence, the matter hinges on one's focus: initial intention, or interpretation through later developments.

Even before the existence of Christianity, anti-Semitic thought already existed; it likely was justified, rather than caused, by verses in the New Testament. The Romans considered the Jewish sect to be antisocial and the Jews to be religious fanatics. The Jews were nearly unique in the Roman world in insisting that their God was the only one. Romans in general were very tolerant of each region's religious practice.

Many suggest that an impartial reader should read Jesus's and Paul's attacks on Pharisees as specific charges aimed at the existing hypocrisy among certain Jewish leaders of that time. In this view, the New Testament does not condemn the Jewish people as a whole. Others disagree, pointing out that the passages as written do not condemn individuals, but actually target the Jewish people as a whole. In either case, historically, many Christians have believed the statements to be aimed at the entire Jewish people.

As time passed, the split between Christians (specifically, the followers of Paul and the other Apostles, all of whom were Jews) and Jews became more significant. By the time the gospels came into their final form, they included points of view that, if said by gentiles to Jews, would certainly be anti-Semitic. This may be where the real problem began - Christianity reached out to gentiles, and accepted them as eligible to become Christian without their first becoming Jewish. This was a direct result of a decision by the Christian leadership (who were predominantly Jewish) in Jerusalem. Thus a large number of non-Jews came into Christianity, which is based on the New Testament, and read many verses attacking Jews. It is clear that this interpretation of the New Testament was more commonly used after 1000 A.D. when used as proof that God hated the Jews. Until about 1000 A.D., there was an active Jewish component of Christianity. Lutheran Pastor John Stendalh has pointed out that "Christianity begins as a kind of Judaism, and we must recognize that words spoken in a family conflict are inappropriately appropriated by those outside the family.?"

One should consider other factors as well. For example, Christian law forbade Christians to lend money and reclaim it with interest; Jewish law likewise had the same restrictions. But during the middle-ages, European Christian nobility often forced Jews to take on this role; over time, some Jews naturally played an important role in the economies of the Middle Ages. On many occasions, when their high-powered debtors decided they didn't want to pay back their debts, they relied on the "Christ's murderers" tradition to expel the Jews and default on their obligations. To many, this would appear to be a case of misuse of Scripture and tradition to justify actions that would otherwise be condemned.

As with any other religion, Christianity is transmitted through the voices of men. The shape of anti-Semitism in the Christian world has changed so much according to place and time that it is unfair to say Christians teach anti-Semitism. However, it can certainly be said that Christian anti-Semites have often turned to Christian scripture to justify their actions.

Anti-Semitism in some Eastern European still remains a substantial problem, especially in Poland. The entry on Anti-Semitism in Poland discusses the current state of how the predominantly Catholic Polish population views Jewish people. Anti-Semitism exists to a lesser or greater degree in many other nations as well, including: Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and Syria. While in a decline since the 1940s, there is still a measureable amount of anti-Semitism in the United States of America as well, although acts of violence are quite rare.

Attempst to convert all Jews to Christianity

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the US, is currently attempting to end the Jewish religion by converting all Jews to Christianity. Many other Protestant groups are similarly raising funds for a massive effort convert Jews. Jews view these efforts with great distress, and some see them as anti-Semitism. In contrast, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Roman Catholic Church have ended their efforts to convert Jews.

Southern Baptist views on Judaism and other faiths

Attempts to covert Jews to Christianity, and responses

Reconciliation between Christians and Jews

Over the last century there has been much reconciliation between Jews and Christians. In many nations there has been a remarkable decline in anti-Semitism after the horrors of the Holocaust were made public to the larger world population. Anti-Semitism among Christians has not died out, and acts often considered to be anti-Semitic have been perpetrated by purportedly Christian leaders. Nonetheless, the leaders of many Christian denominations have developed new positions towards the Jewish people over the last 30 years, and much progress in inter-faith relations has occured.

Many elements of the Jewish community have responded favorably. Rabbis from the non-Orthodox movements are involved in inter-faith dialogue with many Christian churches, and even the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America was indirectly involved in talks with the Roman Catholic Church during the 1960s. Recently over 50 rabbis from the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism signed a document called Dabru Emet ("Speak the Truth") that has since been used in Jewish education programs across the US. Some Modern Orthodox rabbis have made statements in agreement with this document as well, but have not signed. This is because Orthodox_Judaism is more strict than the other denominations in regards to the Jewish religious prohibition against inter-religion theological dialogue. (In the past such dialogues were forced, and had as their sole motive the conversion of Jews to other faiths.)

While affirming that there are differences between these two religions, the purpose of Dabru Emet is to point out the common ground between these two religions. It is not an official document of any of the Jewish denominations per se, but it is representative of what many religious Jews feel.

Dabru Emet Relations between Christians and Jews

Verses criticising Jews in the New testament

The following list of apparently anti-Semitic verses in the New Testament was compiled by Norman A. Beck, professor of theology and classical languages at Texas Lutheran University. On this subject he has written an article available online at the Jewish Christian Relations website. ( Most modern day Christians, who have never read the New Testament all the way through, are unaware of the existence of all these verses. Some find it difficult to read these verses and still believe that Jesus himself did not teach anti-Semitism, despite the fact that Jesus was a Jew speaking to a predominantly Jewish audience. [Removing Anti-Jewish Polemic from our Christian Lectionaries]

In the article Dr. Beck suggests that many passages in the New Testament are inherently racist or sexist, and should therefore be removed from public usage. Many, if not most, Christians would consider any such suggestions of inherent racism not as a component of the scripture but as a severely flawed interpretation of scripture. Many Christians would see the suggestion that selected verses be avoided on such grounds as a rejection of Christian tradition, and an attempt to edit the text of the Bible to fit the author's ideas.

Dr. Beck identifies about 40 anti-Semitic polemics in the Gospel of Mark.

3:6 The Jews are said to have begun to plan to destroy Jesus
7:6-13 Condemnation of the Jews for rejecting the commandments
8:15 Beware of the yeast of the Jews
10:2-5 The Jews are said to be hard-hearted
14:55-65 The chief priests and council condemn Jesus as deserving death
15:1-15 The crowd demands that Jesus, not Barabbas, be crucified.

Dr. Beck identifies about 80 anti-Semitic polemics in the Gospel of Matthew.

3:7 The Jews are called poisonous snakes
12:34 The Jews are called evil poisonous snakes
15:3-9 Condemnation of the Jews for rejecting the commandments
15:12-14 The Jews are called blind guides leading the blind
16:6 Beware of the yeast of the Jews
19:3-9 The Jews are said to be hard-hearted
19:28 The disciples of Jesus will judge the twelve tribes of Israel
22:18c The Jews are called hypocrites
23:13-36 The scribes and Jews are repeatedly vilified as hypocrites
23:38 The house of Jerusalem is to be forsaken and desolate
26:59-68 The chief priests and council condemn Jesus as deserving death
27:1-26 The people demand that Jesus, not Barabbas, be crucified
27:62-66 The chief priests and Jews request a guard at Jesus' tomb
28:4 The guards tremble and become like dead when the angel appears
28:11-15 The chief priest bribe the guards to lie about their actions.

Dr. Beck identifies about 60 anti-Semitic polemics in the Gospel of Luke.

3:7 The multitudes are called poisonous snakes
4:28-30 The members of the synagogue in Nazareth try to kill Jesus
7:30 The Jews are said to have rejected the purposes of God
11:39-54 The Jews and Torah scholars are repeatedly condemned
12:1b Beware of the yeast of the Jews, which is hypocrisy
13:14-17 The ruler of the synagogue is condemned as a hypocrite
13:35a The house of Jerusalem is to be forsaken
22:63-71 The chief priests and council condemn Jesus as deserving death
23:1-25 The people demand that Jesus, not Barabbas, be crucified.

Dr. Beck identifies about 130 anti-Semitic polemics in the Gospel of John.

5:16-18 The Jews are said to have persecuted Jesus and wanted to kill him
5:37b-47 It is said that God's word and God's love is not in the Jews
7:19-24 It is said that none of the Jews do (what is written in) the Torah
7:28d It is said that the Jews do not know the One who has sent Jesus
8:13-28 It is said that the Jews know neither Jesus nor the Father
8:37-59 The Jews are said to be descendants of their father, the Devil
9:13-41 The Jews and other Jews are condemned as guilty
10:8 The Jews are said to be thieves and robbers
10:10a The Jews are depicted as those who steal and kill and destroy
10:31-39 The Jews are said to have picked up stones to throw at Jesus
11:53 It is said that the Jews realized that they would have to kill Jesus
11:57 It is said that the chief priests and Jews wanted to seize Jesus
12:10 It is said that the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus and Jesus
12:36b-43 It is said that most Jews loved the praise of men more than of God
16:2-4 (The Jews who) kill Jesus' disciples will think they are serving God
18:28-32 The Jews are said to have demanded that Pilate sentence Jesus to death
18:38b-40 The Jews are said to be demanding that Jesus, not Barabbas, be crucified
19:4-16 The Jews are depicted as insisting to Pilate that Jesus be crucified.

Dr. Beck identifies about 140 anti-Semitic polemics in the Acts of the Apostles.

2:23b Peter tells the men of Israel that they crucified Jesus
2:36b Again Peter tells the men of Israel that they crucified Jesus
3:13b-15a Peter tells the men of Israel that they killed the originator of life
4:10a Again Peter tells the men of Israel that they killed Jesus
5:30b Peter tells the members of the Jewish council that they killed Jesus
6:11-14 Some Jews are said to have brought false accusations against Stephen
7:51-60 Stephen shown as condemning the Jews for betraying and killing Jesus
9:1-2 Paul is depicted as planning the arrest of disciples of Jesus
9:23-25 Jews are said to have plotted to kill Paul
9:29b Jewish Hellenists are also said to have tried to kill Paul
12:1-3a It is said that the Jews were pleased when Herod killed James
12:3b-4 Herod is said to have seized Peter also to please the Jews
12:11 Peter is said to have realized that the Jews wanted to kill him
13:10-11 Paul is said to have condemned the Jew Elymas as a son of the Devil
13:28-29a It is said that the Jews had asked Pilate to crucify Jesus
13:39d It is said that Jews cannot be forgiven by means of the Torah
13:45-46 Jews are said to have spoken against Paul
13:50-51 Jews are said to have encouraged persecution of Paul and Barnabas
14:1-6 Many Jews opposing Paul and Barnabas and attempting to stone them
14:19-20 Jews are said to have stoned Paul, thinking that they had killed him
17:5-9 Jews are said to have incited a riot, looking for Paul and Silas
17:13 Jews are said to have stirred up turmoil against Paul
18:6 Paul said to have told the Jews, "Your blood will be on your own heads!"
18:12-17 Jews are said to have brought accusations against Paul
19:13-19 Jewish exorcists are shown to be condemned
21:27-36 Jews are depicted as seizing Paul and as trying to kill him
22:4-5 Paul says that when he was a Jew he had persecuted Christians
23:2-5 Paul is said to have condemned the chief priest for striking Paul
23:12-22 Jews are said to have plotted to eat nothing until they kill Paul
23:27-30 Paul is said to have been nearly killed by the Jews
24:9 The Jews are said to have accused Paul of many crimes
25:2-5 Jews are said to have plotted to kill Paul
25:7-11 Jews are said to have continued to bring accusations against Paul
25:15-21 Jews are said to have spoken repeatedly against Paul
25:24 All Jews are said to have shouted that Paul must be killed
26:21 The Jews are said to have seized Paul and tried to kill him
28:25-28 Paul is said to have condemned the Jews for never understanding God.

Link: Christian anti-Semitism

Link: Jewish-Christian dialogue