But originally it was an internal debate within Judaism , not an attack upon Jews from the outside. In was an internal debate in the same way that the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, such as Jeremiah, often attacked the priests of the temple for missing the point.
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It is a horrible irony, then, that Christianity bears primary responsibility for historic antisemitism. Few ideas can have been as poisonous as, and inspired more murderousness than, the idea that Jews were the Christ-killers.
Jews Lacked A Motive for Killing Jesus
Of course, only the Romans had the legal authority to crucify someone: it was their signature way of dealing with troublemakers. But this fact became historically inconvenient for a religion that was eventually to place its global headquarters within Rome itself.
So what, then, about this unpleasant video recently released by the evangelical organisation Jews for Jesus, and widely dubbed as one of the most offensive religious videos ever made? Already watched by more than a million people, it shows Jesus, carrying a cross, being selected by Nazi guards for the gas chambers. Given the history of Christian antisemitism, using the murder of 6 million Jews as a pretext for converting Jews to Christianity is mind-bogglingly offensive. As Jews commemorate Yom HaShoah on Sunday, the only proper Christian response to the Holocaust ought to be one of contrition and an acknowledgment of the ways in which Christian antisemitism prepared its ideological ground.
Instead, the film That Jew Died for You uses the Holocaust for Christian propaganda, ending with a quote from the book of Isaiah that evangelical Christians have long used to explain the meaning of Jesus's death on the cross: "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we were healed.
The idea here is that Jesus's death is a punishment by God for human wickedness. He pays the price of human sin on our behalf. This understanding of what Christians mean by salvation — known technically as penal substitutionary atonement — was actually unknown in the early church, though some Christians seem to think it is the only way of understanding the cross. They ignore the fact that it transforms God into some sort of psychopath who murders his own son as a magical way of dealing with endemic human wickedness.
When set in the Holocaust, it doubles the offence by implying that the gas chambers are also a sort of payback by God for human wrongdoing. Even in terms of Christian theology, penal substitution is a mistake, not least because it doesn't give the resurrection any work to do in the economy of human salvation.
However, the future of Christianity did not remain long in the hands of these Aramaic-speaking Nazarenes. He had never met Jesus and wasn't greatly impressed by the Nazarenes he did meet when he visited Jerusalem. What won Paul over to the belief that Jesus was the Christos the Greek word for Messiah was a vision.
After his vision, Paul traveled all over the eastern Mediterranean preaching his own understanding of Christianity, which was rather different from the Nazarene version. Unlike the Nazarenes, who lived according to Jewish law in Jerusalem and Galilee, Paul took his message to gentiles as well as Jews. As a result of tireless work and extensive travel, he planted Christian congregations in Asia Minor and Greece. The differences between Paul's teachings and those of the Nazarenes back in Jerusalem and Galilee soon became apparent.
Not only did Paul preach to gentiles, but he also did not insist that these converts submit themselves to circumcision or to any of the other demands of Jewish law. The Nazarenes were outraged when they learned about Paul's negligence, and they summoned him to Jerusalem for an explanation. In Jerusalem before the Nazarene elders, Paul acted as a devout Jew, observing all the details of Jewish law.
Paul never changed his mind about his mission to the gentiles and his opposition to having these converts treated like second-class citizens. In letters he wrote to his churches now collected in the New Testament , he went so far as to claim that the law of Moses was no longer necessary, even for Jews, and that faith in Christ and his teachings was sufficient.
He also believed that everybody in the churches — Jews and gentiles, slaves and free persons — should be equal. When people from the Nazarene church in Jerusalem arrived at his churches to try to convince the gentile converts to obey Jewish law, Paul denounced them as "Judaizers. The conflict between the Nazarenes and Paul that divided the early Christian movement was decided by a stroke of history. The Jewish-Roman War C. Whatever traditions and writings they possessed were lost or forgotten. Instead, Paul's churches survived and became the basis for a Christianity that quickly became separate from and even hostile to the Judaism out of which it emerged.
By the time the Christian gospels were written in the latter part of the first century, Jews and Christians were fierce competitors arguing over whether or not Jesus was the Messiah-Christ promised in the Hebrew Bible, and over which group — Jews or Christians — represented the "true Israel. This desire to dissociate explains why hostility toward Judaism and Jews came to be written into the gospels. They told the story of Jesus in such a way that it seemed as if his real enemies were not gentiles, or even the Romans who put him to death, but rather Jews — Pharisees, priests, and the Jewish people in general.
Who Killed Jesus?
This anti-Jewish point of view is evident in the Gospel According to Mark , the first of the gospels written in Rome shortly after the end of the Jewish-Roman War in 70 C. In Mark's gospel Jesus is persecuted at every turn by the Pharisees and priests of Judaism. In fact, the very first person in the gospel to recognize his worth was not a Jew at all, but a Roman centurion present at his crucifixion, who proclaimed, "Truly this man was a son of God" Mark Likewise, Mark's gospel pictures Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator who ordered Jesus's execution, as someone who tried his best to be nice to Jesus.
According to Mark, Pilate wanted to have Jesus released but was prevented from doing so by a mob of bloodthirsty Jews the same people who cheered his entrance into the city several days earlier.
Overview of Christian Anti-Semitism
By telling the story in this way, Mark's gospel put the responsibility for the death of Jesus on the Jews, not on the Roman government that ordered his death. Matthew's gospel took this blaming of the Jews one step further. In this gospel Pilate's wife warns her husband not to have anything to do with wronging "that righteous man.
The other two gospels — Luke and John — also portray Jews and Judaism as forces that persecuted Jesus and drove him to his death. Combined with the letters of Paul, these four anti-Jewish gospels make up the bulk of the New Testament, which Christianity considers to be a sacred and accurate account of history.
The Jewish people: religion and culture
Not surprisingly, this negative picture of Judaism and the Jews continued in the writings of the Christians who followed. The fourth-century bishop of Antioch, John Chrysostom, widely respected as a "Doctor of the Church" and later canonized as a saint, preached fiery sermons against the Jews of his city, calling them "lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits The answer, said Chrysostom, was in the gospel story: the Jews were hateful because of their "odious assassination of Christ.
In the Middle Ages the gospel story about the "assassination of Christ" was enacted annually in Passion plays staged outdoors at Oberammergau in Germany and many other places in Europe. These plays — forerunners of the Gibson film — enacted for their audiences the passion suffering of Jesus in all its gory details. It is ironic and tragic that Christianity, which began as a Jewish sect, grew up to become such a dangerous threat to Judaism.
To their credit, some post-Holocaust Christians have been trying to come to terms with the church's anti-Semitic past and get beyond it.