Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

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Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?
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by Clifford Goldstein, Liberty, March/April 1992

What book depicts Jews as hypocrites, apostates, liars, and sinners? What book denounces Jewish leaders and the Jewish nation? What book scolds its priests, claims its Temple services are corrupt, and spews forth warnings that God's judgments will fall upon the Jews? What book - accusing the Jews of murder, corruption, greed, and robbery - declares that they have forsaken God?

Sounds like the New Testament, long indicted as the Perian Spring of Western anti-Semitism. Some believe the hands that signed the "final solution" simply finished the script begun by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Hitler, others claim, was the logical, inevitable result of Paul. Christian historian James Parkes writes that "more than 6 million deliberate murders are the consequences of the teaching about the Jews for which the Christian church is ultimately responsible, and our attitude to Judaism which is not only maintained by all Christian churches but has its ultimate resting place in the teaching of the New Testament itself."

"The New Testament," writes Harry Kimball, "is the primary source of anti-Semitism. "The authors of the Gospels," wrote Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz, "by putting these words of violent hatred against the preservers of Judaism into the mouth of Jesus Himself, stamped Him thereby as a relentless foe of the members of His own race who did not believe in Him by clung to their original faith."

Yet the book described in the opening paragraph is not the New Testament - it is the Old! Indeed, if the criteria for determining anti-Judaism in the New Testament were applied to the Old, it would be declared the more anti-Jewish of the two.

Incorrigible Villains:

Scholars have long debated about anti-Judaism in the New Testament, but rarely, if at all, anti-Judaism in the Old. It, after all, is a book written about Jews, by Jews who considered themselves loyal Jews. Yet except for Luke (not considered the most anti-Jewish of the Gospel writers), the New Testament was written about Jews, by Jews who considered themselves loyal Jews too.

The New Testament, tough, has pages of anti-Jewish calumny. "The New Testament contains 102 references to the Jews of [the] most degrading and malevolent kind," wrote Dagobert Runes, "thereby creating in the minds and hearts of the Christian children and adults ineradicable hatred toward the Jewish people."

In the Gospels, Jewish leaders, priests, scribes, and Pharisees play the role of incorrigible villains. Depicted as cold and heartless formalists, they appear pious outside but seethe with treachery inside. Jesus labels them hypocrites, deceivers, even murderers - words later used to help formulate a theology of anti-Semitism. "Nowhere is this theological anti-Judaism more apparent," writes Princeton religious historian John G. Gager, "than in the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees in {John} 8." Here, after telling Jewish leaders that they are not the true children of Abraham, and accusing them of plotting His murder, Jesus says, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning" (verse 44).

Matthew 23 is nothing but a denunciation: "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! ... Ye blind guides ... Ye fools and blind .... Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (verses 13-33).

The Gospel writers depict Jewish leaders as planning Jesus' death: "And the scribes and chief priests ... sought how they might destroy him" (Mark 11:18). Indeed, all the Gospels implicate the leaders in His death.

Jesus' denunciations not only of the leaders but also of the nation have fueled the anti-Semite's fire. In Luke 20, Jesus, symbolizing Israel as a vineyard, tells of a master who planted a vineyard and "let it forth to husbandmen" (verse 9). Later when the servants came to collect the fruit from the master's vineyard, the husbandmen beat them. He sent more servants, and they beat them too. Finally the master says, "I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him" (verse 13). Instead, the husbandmen killed him! Said Jesus: "What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others" (verses 15, 16). Luke recorded the leaders' response: "And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people; for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them" (verse 19).

Matthew has Jesus blaming the Jews for the murder of the prophets - "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee" (Matthew 23:37) - and leveling a judgment upon them: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (verse 38).

The Gospels depict Jesus as critical also of national religious rites and of the nation, including the worship at the Temple - criticisms gleefully seen as anti-Jewish polemics. At the start of His ministry Jesus cleansed the Temple from merchants who had turned it into an unsanctified flea market. "And [He] said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:13). He warns that even the Temple itself, the center of the Jewish religion, will be destroyed: "And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them. See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1, 2).

The New Testament, obviously, portrays many Jews in ancient Israel as corrupt, iniquitous, and separated from God. Does this description, therefore, mean that the book is anti-Jewish? For many scholars, both Jew and Gentile, it does.

A Sinful Nation:

A problem exists, though, with that conclusion: line for line, verse for verse, chapter for chapter, the Old Testament has more denunciations than does the New. If criticizing the spiritual ills of ancient Israel is anti-Jewish, then the most anti-Jewish section of the Bible is in not Greek, but Hebrew!

"Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity," says Isaiah about Judah. "A seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord" (Isaiah 1:4).

The prophet compares Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. ... How is the faithful city become an harlot. It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers (verses 10-21). The New Testament does speak harshly against corrupt leaders, but so does the Old: "O heads of Jacob," warns Micah, "and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off the" (Micah 3:1-3).

Jesus' denunciations of the priests were no worse than Malachi's" "O priests, that despise my name. Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar." "And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, ... I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces" (Malachi 1:6, 7; 2:1-3).

The Old Testament has more stories of corrupt leaders than does the New Testament. Ahab, Jehoram, Ahaz, and Manasseh are just a few of the corrupt kings of Israel denounced in the Old Testament. As in the New, rulers and priests are depicted as plotting, scheming, and killing off enemies, including prophets who spoke against them.

Because Luke and Matthew recorded Jesus' warnings of doom upon Israel, they are labeled anti-Jewish. But what about Jeremiah, who recorded the Lord's warning to Israel: "I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction. The lion is come up from his thicket ... he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant" (Jeremiah 4:6, 7).

What about Isaiah who proclaimed: "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger ... I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:5).

Is Luke's parable of Israel as a vineyard worse than Isaiah's? "I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down" (Isaiah 5:5).

The Gospels record Jesus speaking against corrupt practices in the Temple, but Ezekiel decries the sin of the people who had brought idols into the Temple area, where they prayed to other gods and even worshiped the sun. "Hast thou seen this...? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence" (Ezekiel 8:17), Jesus prophesied against the Temple; so did Amos: "And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every place" (Amos 8:3).

Bigots and Enemies:

If these Hebrew texts had been written in the New Testament, they would be added to the long list of other "anti-Jewish" vituperation. But they are from the Old Testament, and yet no one claims that the Old Testament is anti-Jewish.

Why? Because a writer who depicts the spiritual ills of his people can't automatically be branded anti-Jewish. If so, then Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, even Moses - almost every Hebrew prophet - would be labeled as anti-Jewish, an absurd claim. Why, however, do Jews such as Matthew and Mark become bigots and enemies when they chronicle the ills of Israel?

In the "Hebrew Bible," writes Jewish scholar Samuel Sandmel, "the prophets of the age before the Babylonian exile provide variations of a similar theme, that the Hebrew people had in their actions proved false to the religious-ethical standards expressed in a covenant with God and expected of a holy people. Accordingly, an Amos, and Isaiah, and a Jeremiah each speak with wondrous poetic eloquence about the shortcomings of the people, whether monarchs or priests or ordinary folk. Clearly these words by the prophets are denunciations from within; surely no one would ascribe to Amos, Isaiah, or Jeremiah that form of hostility which we call anti-Semitism .... It was out of loyalty to them and identification with the people and their religion that the Hebrew prophets spoke their sharp criticisms. When in the Gospels the Jew Jesus speaks in criticism of Jews, is it not reasonable that He too speaks out of loyalty and identification?"

The claim that the new Testament is anti-Jewish because it points out Israel's spiritual ills is as absurd as claiming that the Old Testament is anti-Jewish because it does the same thing. Both Testaments portray human nature as inherently bad. The greatest biblical characters have their spiritual and moral faults on display before the world. Whether Abraham taking Hagar to produce a son, Moses losing his temper, David fornicating with Bathsheba, Peter denying Jesus, or the apostles Paul and Barnabas bickering over John Mark - the sins of humanity are openly displayed. The motif of the sinfulness of man permeates the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. And because the Jews comprise the main biblical characters, because their lives occupy most of the pages, because Jewish history is the primary focus of the Bible - their dirty laundry has become the most prominent. Even if not as filthy as others, it is Jewish linen that hangs on the line for the world to see.

Blindness of Heart:

And yet the Bible doesn't speak harshly of just Jews. Jesus told His followers not to pray "as the heathen do," and not to pray for the things "the Gentiles seek." Paul writes: "Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols" (I Corinthians 12:2). In Ephesians Paul warns followers that "ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:17-19). In Thessalonians he warns followers to act "not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which known not God" (I Thessalonians 4:5). Is the New Testament, therefore, anti-Gentile too?

The Old Testament also denounces heathens. Israel's problem is that it followed the practices of the Gentile nations. The whole purpose of Israel was to be separate from the Gentiles so that the Jews would "learn not the way of the heathen" (Jeremiah 10:2). Their greatest sins occurred when they followed the sinful practices of the Gentiles. Obviously, sin was a bigger problem for the heathen than it was for the Jews.

Yet the New Testament shows the Jews as not only rejecting Jesus but killing Him, too - a teaching not found in the Old Testament.

No question, The New Testament implicates some Jews in Jesus' death. But whom does Jesus Himself implicate? Talking about the chief priests and scribes, Jesus says that they "shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him" (Matthew 20:19). Jesus says that the Gentiles - not Jews - will mock, scourge, and crucify Him. Though some scribes and chief priests were involved, the people who directly killed Jesus - according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - were Gentile Romans. If the New Testament is anti-Jewish because it implicates Jews, then it must be anti-Roman or anti-Gentile as well, because Gentile Romans were also involved.

Heroes and Villains:

While the New Testament shows that many Jews rejected Jesus, it shows also that many Jews accepted Him. Indeed, the heroes of the New Testament are Jews who accepted Jesus, while often the villains are Gentiles who rejected Him. Paul wrote epistles from prison, where he was jailed - by Gentiles. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were beaten by Gentiles. In Ephesus, because Paul's preaching hurt the religion of the goddess Diana, he and two companions were dragged into an amphitheater where for two hours the Gentiles - rejecting Paul's message - chanted, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:34). At Mars Hill in Athens, after Paul preached, he was mocked and rejected by Athenians - Gentiles. The early persecution of the church, mentioned in Revelation, was conducted by Gentiles. Paul was killed by Gentiles. John was exiled to Patmos by Gentiles. In Luke 21:17 Jesus told His followers that they "shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." "All men" includes Gentiles.

Is the New Testament, therefore, anti-Gentile because it depicts Gentiles as rejecting the gospel? Here, too, the claim of New Testament anti-Judaism is built on straw.

A Fertile Fount:

Even if the New Testament is not a bubbling source of hatred against the Jews, few deny that it has served as a fertile fount of anti-Semitism. Yet throughout history the Bible has been used to justify everything from slavery to Star Wars. Cutting, pasting, and patching verses together, the faithful have made to Bible sanction war, apartheid, celibacy, aid to the contras, genocide, not eating meat on Friday, castration, pacifism, Marxism, cuts in food stamps, the MX missile, sexual promiscuity, burning people alive - and yes, even anti-Semitism.

Indeed, the problem is not with the New Testament or even the Old - but with those who, though reading them, have never leaned the lesson of brotherly love taught within their pages.

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