CHRISTIAN ANTISEMITISM [I]
By Shlomoh Sherman
Much of the material herein is borrowed from a booklet by Samuel Sandel written in 1946, commisioned by the Division of Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and published by Fortress Press, a Lutheran publishing house.
Jesus became central in a religion that had Jewish roots but which separated from Judaism and became a religion for and of gentiles. If Jesus had not been a Jew, and if Christianity had not arisen out of Judaism, the New Testament writings would not have contained the antisemitic passages that one finds in its pages.
The New Testament writings present us with quarrels and controversies between Christians and Jews and between Christians and Christians. The heart of these controversies and quarrels is centered in such questions as: How Jewish should Christianity be? There were those who advocated discarding certain elements of Judaism from the Christian religion. That there was a sentiment of dropping aspects of Judaism was and is a Christian statement of criticism. It is a criticism of the nature of Judaism (whatever that might be). So from the very begining, Christianity contains within itself as AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT a criticism of Judaism. Christianity therefore convinced its adherents that it is BETTER (whatever that means) than Judaism. At times the Christian writings denigrate Judaism, at others it is Jews themselves that are denigrated. There seems to be a difficulty in separating the two.
Christianity was brought to both Jews and gentiles by its leaders. At first, the apostle Paul was only one leader among many. Because of his pyschological makeup, he found Judaism a difficult way of life to follow. This was his own personal failure. None of the other Christian leaders felt the way Paul did, and there is ample documentary evidence still unedited in the New Testament itself to show that not only did the Jerusalem Christian leadership continue to practice Judaism (among them James, Jesus' own brother) but that most of the other Christian leaders were ever in conflict with Paul regarding his views on the Jewish religion, and some of this conflict broke out into open hostilities between him and them.
Thus Paul's opponents strongly believed that all gentile converts to Christianity had to first convert to Judaism and follow the TORAH completely. On the other hand, Paul believed that gentiles did not need to follow the TORAH in order to accept Jesus as messiah. Soon afterward, he intensified this belief to the extent that he came to believe and preach that even Jews did not have to follow the TORAH. Accordingly he began to criticize the TORAH.
At first, his criticism involved his own inabilty to follow it (Romans, chapter 7), but later he criticized it because he did not wish his own converts to follow it. His criticism of the TORAH is in effect a criticism of Judaism. Since Paul's writing ultimately became the basis of what is called the Christian religion today, the criticism of Judaism remains a constant factor in the Christian's assessment of Judaism. That is to say, given the context of their own religion, Christians do not look at Judaism objectively and then make a rational decision about it based upon its own intrinsic value or lack of value. Rather they already accept what the founder of their religion (Paul) has to say about it as THE deciding factor in their evaluation of it. In other words, they judge the book, not by ever having read it themselves, but by the "book report" of a person who lived 2000 years ago and who had a personal bias against it.
If Paul's atttitude toward Judaism (and ultimately Jews) is looked at honestly, one sees that he not merely annulled the TORAH for his converts but that he actively taught them to feel the very same CONTEMPT for it that he felt, a contempt born out of his own feelings of inadequacy and inability to live up to its ideals.
The Jewish Bible clearly states that Jews became convenanted to G-d as a special people through accepting the TORAH at Sinai. Paul controverts this and maintains that the basis for the relationship between G-d and His People is thorugh promises made to Abraham. The Bible clearly states that the TORAH was given to Israel but Paul claims (Galatians, chapter 3) that it was given by angels through an intermediary. Where he got this idea from cannot be known. There is no MIDRASHIC source for such an idea. Moses is clearly not seen as the intermediary of angels in any sense by the Bible.
Since Paul sees something he calls "salvation" as arising out of G-d's generosity to the believer, he sees any attempt on man's part to follow a G-dly Law as man's self-reliance, and Paul believed that man could not rely on himself for "salvation" but only on G-d. In fact Paul believed that man's attempt to rely on the TORAH in order to save himself was an impediment to his salvation. Paul says not only that the TORAH is nullified, and hence an "Old Testament". He says that it "kills" (2Cornith 3:6) and is a "curse (Galatians 3:13). Paul's anger in both epistles was a reaction to his hearing that his converts both in Galatia and Corinth had been successfully convinced by other Christian leaders to convert to Judaism and follow the TORAH, and he looked upon this as a personal betrayal. In another place, he symbolizes both the TORAH and those who follow it (Jews) as the slave woman Hagar, Abraham's concubine, while Christians are symbolized as Sarah, the lawful wife (Galatians, chapter 4). Moreover he goes so far as to say that the Jews who observe the TORAH are NOT THE REAL JEWS (Romans, chapter 2) but that only those who are believers are the true Israel.
When Paul's converts wondered why the Jewish people whose messiah Jesus was supposed to be, according to Paul, did not accept Jesus, Paul's response was that the Jews are "blind" (Romans 11:25) and therefore G-d's favor has now passed from the Jews to the Christians (Galatians 6:16). He further states, very paradoxically, that althouogh they are "blind", the Jews are the enemies of the gospel (Romans 11:28) and if they are beloved by G-d at all, it is only for the sake of their illustrious ancestors, NOT FOR THEIR OWN INITRINSIC SELF-WORTH. This is some lesson for Christians to learn, and it has been passed down in Christendom for 2000 years.
In certain places Paul speaks about specific Jewish observances commanded in the TORAH in a very negative way. For example, understanding that circumcision is the key that separates Jews from non-Jews, he condemns circumcision in violent language (Philippians 3:2), and wishes that they who encourage it might themselves be castrated (Galatians 5:12). This is not a very nice sentiment for one who is supposed to be a loving Christian.
These few brief examples are a good indication of his entire tone regarding Judaism. It is less than charitable. When Paul speaks about Judaism, he is contemptuous. Throughout the Christian Era, Paul has been seen by Christians as the apostle par excellence. They have equated his words with the words of G-d Himself. They have emotionally experienced his judgment of Judaism, and by extension, of Jews as G-d's own judgment. This emotional experience has become a natural part of the Christian language, of the Christian vocabulary, and Christians have accepted this view without challenge, without doubt, and without going to the source themselves.
I will make a general statement. When the average Christian thinks of Jews and Judaism, he is not tinking about real people and about a real religion. He is thinking about some cartoon characters and a cartoon theological system that in no way corresponds to reality. Paul has set the stage for the evangelists who came after him. The setting is Paul's religion in the light of ABSOLUTE TRUTH TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL OTHER TRUTHS. Paul both said and implied that Judaism is the best religion but Christianity is better! It is better than the best and therefore the best is not right. If Christianity is right, Judaism must be wrong, and hence, those who insist on continuing to perpertrate it are also "wrong". The evangelists who came after Paul made it their life-work to prove and show how wrong Judaism and Jews are for no other reason than their morbid need to prove how right they and their religion are.
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