Friday, July 12, 2013

The Anti-Semitism of the New Testament

The Anti-Semitism of the New Testament

By Adam Lee 

The history of anti-Semitism in the Christian church is a long, sad story. Ironically, this faith which began as a sect within Judaism has been responsible for many more atrocities against the Jewish people than any of their other enemies.
For centuries, Christian Europe reviled Jewish believers as Christ-killers, and Jews were accused of ludicrous crimes like “host nailing” (stealing consecrated communion wafers and driving nails through them, to crucify Jesus anew) or draining the blood of Christian children to bake in matzoh. Throughout the Middle Ages, thousands of Jews were tried and executed, or simply murdered by mobs, after wild accusations such as these incited Christian communities to frenzy. One of the most notable Christian anti-Semites was Martin Luther, who wrote a book titled On the Jews and Their Lies which argued that Judaism should be outlawed, synagogues should be burned down and Jews should be enslaved for forced labor.
At the root of all this anti-Semitic hatred and bloodshed lies a matter of first-century politics. At the time of Christianity’s origin, there was a necessity to blame someone for Jesus’ death. But blaming the Romans would not have been wise – Christians existed at Rome’s sufferance in any case, and depicting their founder as a criminal executed by the Romans for treason would have been inviting far worse persecution. The natural alternative was to cast blame on the Jews, whom the gospels depict as conspiring to murder Jesus with, at worst, the reluctant cooperation of the Roman authorities.
As Christianity cast off its Jewish origins, this story was found useful to serve other purposes. Finding few converts among the Jews, Christianity’s evangelists began targeting Gentiles for conversion. The depiction of the Jews as a stubborn, hardhearted people, cursed by God with blindness and unbelief as punishment for their sins, was readily integrated with the Gospel story and used to explain why these people had so widely rejected the faith that was born among them.
Consider some specific examples of biblical anti-Semitism. While all the gospels record Jesus as engaging in debate with the scribes and Pharisees, only the Gospel of John elevates these disputes to an accusation of corporate guilt against “the Jews” in general: “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him” (5:16). The fourth gospel also says of Jesus: “He would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him” (7:1) and adds darkly that “no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews” (7:13). In the crowning accusation, John depicts Jesus as accusing “the Jews” as follows:
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”
—John 8:44
When Jesus is tried before Pilate, John writes: “The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die” (19:7), and adds: “Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend” (19:12).
Ironically, the single most anti-Semitic verse of the gospels comes in the book that otherwise shows the most understanding and sympathy for the Jewish viewpoint, the Gospel of Matthew. In this bloodcurdling verse, the Jewish spectators demand that responsibility for Jesus’ death be placed on themselves and on all their descendants:
“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
—Matthew 27:24-25
The anti-Semitism continues in the Book of Acts, where the apostle Stephen is made to say what would become a common Christian refrain against the Jews – that they had always been a sinful and stubborn people with a history of killing prophets, culminating in the supreme atrocity of their killing God’s only son:
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.”
—Acts 7:51-52
The epistle of Titus adds another pervasive element of anti-Semitic lore, the Jews’ supposed obsession with money, and adds threateningly that “[their] mouths must be stopped”.
“For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.”
—Titus 1:10-11
The first epistle of Thessalonians, in what may be a later interpolation, alludes to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem as a deserved punishment from God:
“For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
—1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
And the Book of Revelation repeats John’s accusation that the Jews were secret demon-worshippers:
“Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.”
—Revelation 3:9
Rivers of innocent Jewish blood have been spilled through the ages because of verses like these. Today, to their credit, the mainstream Protestant churches have gone a long way toward banishing anti-Semitism to the shadows – but it is far from dead. It still has some prominent backers, such as John Hagee (as well as Mr. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” himself), and the Catholic church is intently moving backward.
However, Christian anti-Semitism has taken on a more subtle form: the so-called “Christian Zionist” movement, which encourages militant Jewish settlers to further expand their settlements in the occupied territory of the West Bank. What few of these people mention explicitly is that they encourage the settlers because they believe it will more swiftly bring on the End Times, in which one-third of Jews will be converted to Christianity and the rest will be slaughtered and then eternally condemned to Hell. This veiled wish for a new Holocaust, one condoned and directed by God, must be the most virulent manifestation of anti-Semitism to be found in all the dark history of Christianity.
About Adam Lee
Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His first book, Daylight Atheism, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

Jewish people, who have read the New Testament throughout the history of 
Christianity, became well aware of the numerous passages of vicious and 
defamatory anti-Jewish polemic within it. On the other hand, Christians, in general, 
have been insensitive to the offensive nature of these texts and to the damage that 
their usage has done to the Jewish people throughout the Common Era. When the 
Emperor Constantine became a Christian in the fourth century C.E. and installed 
Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, Jewish people became a 
primary target of persecution by "The Church". 

Although the Holocaust, which caused the murderous annihilation of two-thirds of 
Europe's Jewish population, was in some ways different from previous historical acts 
of mass persecution and genocide of the Jewish people, it shared the motive of its 
precursors, the Crusades and Inquisitions, and the many pogroms and expulsions. 
Each of these events was fueled by anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jewish people, and 
was aimed at their murder and plunder. The Holocaust distinguished itself from the 
other events in the scope of its genocidal goals and the fact that it did not offer its 
victims the "option" of conversion to Christianity – there was no escape from death. 
An increasing number of Christian scholars and clergy have concluded that the root 
of anti-Semitism in the Christian world community is ultimately found within the New 

In his book, Elder and Younger Brothers: The Encounter of Jews and Christians, the 
late Professor A. Roy Eckhardt [former Professor of Religion at both Lehigh 
University (PA) and Oxford University (UK), and an ordained minister] asserts that 
the foundation of anti-Semitism and the responsibility for the Holocaust lie ultimately 
in the New Testament.

 In another book, Your People, My People: The Meeting of 
Jews and Christians, Professor Eckhardt insists that Christian repentance must 
include a reexamination of basic theological attitudes toward Jewry and the New 
Testament in order to deal effectively with the problem of anti-Semitism and its 

 The general message scholars such as Professor Eckhardt are trying 
to convey is that, using the New Testament as its authoritative source, "The Church" 
has stereotyped the Jewish people as an icon of unredeemed humanity; they 
became an image of a blind, stubborn, carnal, and perverse people. This 
dehumanization is the vehicle that formed the psychological prerequisite to the 
atrocities that followed.

In one of his sermons, the Reverend Dr. Frank G. Kirkpatrick, Pastor of the Trinity 
Episcopal Church and Professor of Religion at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, 
describes how anti-Semitism grew out of a passage in the New Testament (Acts 
13:44-52) that was to be read on that particular Sunday, as well as others like it.3
This passage proclaims that the Jews have brought damnation on themselves by 
rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, a belief that has caused Jews throughout the 
centuries to be persecuted, exiled, and which eventually brought on the Holocaust. 
Rather than speculate about and explore the reasons as to why the New Testament 
contains the racist defamatory anti-Jewish rhetoric, this essay considers some 
examples of such New Testament passages that appear in Christian lectionaries. 
Lectionaries are collections of Scriptural passages from Christian Bibles that are 
read during regular weekly Catholic and Protestant church services, and which are 
repeated on some cyclical schedule. As such, these lectionaries are widely used by 
many millions of Church-going Christians, and they are somewhat similar to Jewish 
prayer books, such as a Siddur. 

The material found in the lectionaries is, of course, only the "tip of the iceberg", but it 
suffices to demonstrate the plausibility of the assertion that the anti-Semitism among 
Christians is rooted in the New Testament. 

Much of the information in this essay has been extracted from an article by 
Professor Norman A. Beck, a New Testament scholar and Professor of Theology 
and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University.

 In his article, Professor Beck deals with texts found in six of the 27 books that comprise the New Testament, to which he refers as "… the specific texts identified as most problematic …" in some of his published works. Professor Beck identifies the offensive passages in the New 
Testament and indicates the instances in which all or portions of these texts are 

included in major lectionary series. Read More:

References for further study
[Selected material from some of these sources was used in preparing this essay] 
Internet Websites: 
The New Testament & Anti-Semitism ( - Several relevant articles may be found at this website. 
Jewish-Christian Relations ( - This website contains a 
wealth of scholarly materials that deal with all aspects of Jewish-Christian relations. 

Elder and Younger Brothers: The Encounter of Jews and Christians, by A. Roy 
Eckhardt, Schocken Books (1973) 
Your People, My People: The Meeting of Christians and Jews, by A. Roy Eckhardt, 
Crown Publishing Group (1974); ISBN 0-81290-4125 
Antisemitism in the New Testament , by Lillian C. Freudmann, University Press of 
America (1994); ISBN: 0819192953 
Removing the Anti-Judaism from the New Testament, by Howard Clark Kee and 

Irvin J. Borowsky, American Interfaith Institute, Philadelphia, PA

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