To understand how and why the Jews were chosen for elimination, What and why there was “Jewish Problem” to inspire secular Europe to conceive of the Holocaust it will be necessary to explore first the origins of Christian anti-Judaism in the most basic documents making up the theology of Christianity, the letters of Paul of Tarsus written several decades after the assumed crucifixion; and the canonical gospels which together constitute the Christian bible. But before looking at those documents we should first have some understanding as to why a messianic movement leading to Christianity arose from Judaism.
1. Jewish messianism and a resurrected god
The emergence of the Jesus movement cannot be understood without connection to events in
Herod replaced his father in court and, in 37 BCE was able to overthrow Hasmonean rule. With the support of
In public a Jew, Herod was an Idumaean by birth, and not considered Jewish according to most religious authorities. This, along with was his dependence on
As the iron fist of his rule loosened as he lay on his death bed in 4 BCE popular resentment surfaced again, the beginning of what would eventually grow into the Roman-Jewish war of 66-73. Bands of what the Jewish historian Josephus referred to as “bandits” rose up, targeting the symbols of pagan oppression, the upper class and the Roman legions themselves. While many of these bands existed only to provide food for their families, over the sixty years leading up to the war ideology increasingly became a primary motivator.
Messianism: A messiah in Jewish tradition typically refers to a person inspired by God to lead the people, a king, by definition one anointed with holy oil. During the decades leading up to and following the disaster of the war against
The disaster of the fall of
Crucifixion: Death by crucifixion was Rome’s execution of choice for rebels. Because death was excruciatingly slow those hanging on the cross provoked fear and revulsion, a hoped for deterrent. Over the six years of the war itself Josephus describes thousands of Jews crucified as rebels. The Romans caught and crucified as many as 500 Jews each day of the siege of
If during the war the rebels were motivated by the conviction that their desperate effort against the overwhelming might of
At the heart of pagan Mystery religions stands a god-man, Dionysus for the Greeks, Osiris in
Paul and the Kingdom of God
Christianity emerged as a messianic sect within Judaism during the First Century, a period during which Judea was occupied by Rome. It was a time of almost continuous turmoil and rebellion against the pagan occupier. Thousands of Jews were crucified as rebels (called “bandits” in the gospels) by Rome and some among the rebel leadership believed that by opposing the overwhelming might of Rome, that their desperate effort to liberate God’s Holy Land from paganism would result in Him intervening, provide them a leader in victory, a messiah. With the defeat of Rome God would then inaugurate a thousand year peace among all nations, the Kingdom of God.
With the destruction of
The salvational messianic sect of Judaism had little success in attracting Jews within
Paul’s letters to his communities of converts, guides to problems facing the new religious communities, were to become the cornerstone of what would eventually become the “new” testament. In several of his letters he attacks the Jews as blind to the messiah he believed God had sent them, at times referring to their rejection of Jesus as serving Satan. Whether his letters reflect a device to make his mission more acceptable to his pagan converts, or reflect real frustration and anger at “the Jews” for failing to accept his understanding of Jesus as Christ, barely two centuries later his letters would provide the theological foundation for Christian suprematism, that Christianity has replaced Judaism in God’s favor; that Christians are the “new” Israel, having replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people.
According to the new theology the Jewish scriptures are outdated and replaced, background to the New Testament. According to the emerging theology the only reason for the continuing existence of Jews was to suffer God’s punishment for their crimes, and to bear witness to the truth of Christ.
But Paul also was the first to place blame for the crucifixion on the Jews, “who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets (that is, those whom God previously sent to lead them along the right path),” I Thessalonians -15, a charge repeated in the gospels.
Had Paul’s description of the Jews as “blind,” even charging them with unwittingly doing the work of Satan, had that been the limit of condemnation then Christianity and Judaism might have had a continuing disagreement over which religion was truly chosen of God, but the argument would unlikely have inspired and laid the foundation for Shoah. The rationale for a lethal solution for Christianity’s Jewish problem required an “objective” reason. This was provided by the gospel charge of deicide, that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. In Matthew, for example, “the Jews” are portrayed as not only demanding his conviction and crucifixion, but accepting blame for the crucifixion not only for themselves, but for all generations to follow: Matthew 27.25-66, “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ So he (Pilate) released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.” A people portrayed as not merely rejecting, but choosing to murder God are not merely unwitting agents of Satan, but themselves diabolical and worthy of eternal punishment, of death. And to participate in their punishment, even in their murder, can be understood to be serving as God’s agent in their just punishment.
A second condition leading to a lethal solution to the Jewish problem, while not necessary as motivator, provided emotional energy to murder. That condition will be described a later chapter devoted to Christian doubt.
Along with the Paul’s letters the gospels constitute what the Council of Nicea in the mid-fourth century designated the official documents of Christian scripture. Although only four were chosen, the gospel was a popular literary form of the time and many more were written in the first centuries of the new religion. According to Catholic scholar Paula Fredriksen the gospel was written to “function as community-building documents. They offer religious proclamation, not simple history.1” Three of the four gospels, those attributed to Mark, Luke and Matthew, were written between the years 70 and 100, following the fall of
Mark is generally considered the earliest of the four, written sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in 73. It also has the fewest references to the Jews in a manner likely to incite historical Jew-hatred. If the purpose of the Jewish revolt is recalled, it was to rid the land of the pagans, and their upper-class supporters, the Herodians. So the reference to the Pharisees plotting with the Herodians is at least historically incorrect.
3:6 And the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against him, how they might destroy him.
The most dangerous charge against the Jews appearing in the gospels, and most likely to incite to violence involved assumed Jewish responsibility for the trial and execution of Jesus. As compared to the description of those events in Matthew, Luke sounds almost matter of fact:
14:1 Now after two days was the feast of the Passover and the unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him with subtlety, and kill him:
15:1 And straightway in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes, and the whole council, held a consultation, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him up to Pilate.
The Matthew Gospel: Of the three synoptic gospels, those that were written between the years 70 and 100, that of Matthew is likely the most directly responsible for the centuries of anti-Jewish persecution that followed. In this gospel the Jews are not just responsible for the death of Jesus, but has the mob shout accept responsibility for the death also for generations in the future. As regards Pilate, a man described in historical documents of the time as cruel and disposed to excessive punishment towards Jews, his description in the gospel as defender of Jesus forced to accede to the Jewish mob, to the point of adopting the uniquely Jewish washing of the hands to make his point, this too serves to shift responsibility from Rome to “the Jews.”
Matthew, 27:19 – 27:26 And while he [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. But the governor answered and said unto them, Which of the two will ye that I release unto you? And they said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What then shall I do unto Jesus who is called Christ? They all say, Let him be crucified. And he said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out exceedingly, saying, Let him be crucified. So when Pilate saw that he prevailed nothing, but rather that a tumult was arising, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man; see ye to it. And all the people answered and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he unto them Barabbas; but Jesus he scourged and delivered to be crucified.
Luke again temporizes as compared to Matthew, more closely resembles Mark’s depiction of the event. In fact synoptic refers to seeing, the close relationship between the three earlier gospels.
Luke, 20:19 – 20:20 And the scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him in that very hour; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he spake this parable against them. And they watched him, and sent forth spies, who feigned themselves to be righteous, that they might take hold of his speech, so as to deliver him up to the rule and to the authority of the governor.
In John, the fourth of the gospels considered the word of God, we arrive at an attitude clearly more angry and competitive. In John the Jews are demonic, antichrists, intent on murdering Christianity as they did the messiah. For John the Jews, “are of your father, the devil." Later theologians, such as John Chrystostom, took up the theme and also described the Jews as of the devil, “the Synagogue is a brothel.”
John 8: 37-47 I know that ye are Abraham's seed: yet ye seek to kill me, because my word hath not free course in you. I speak the things which I have seen with my Father: and ye also do the things which ye heard from your father. They answered and said unto him, Our father is Abraham. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I heard from God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the works of your father. They said unto him, We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I came forth and am come from God; for neither have I come of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth 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 thereof.
John 19:12 Upon this Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend: every one that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.
John 20:19 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
The Church Fathers
The next step in the evolution of the theological justification for anti-Judaism is represented in the fourth-century tradition known as adversus Judeaeos. Two famous and influential representatives of the tradition are Bishop John Chrysostum, and the author of City of
Judaism continued an attractive competitor among early Christians as the following quote by Saint John Chrysostom, (c. 344-407) demonstrates, "But before I draw up my battle line against the Jews, I will be glad to talk to those who are members of our own body, those who seem to belong to our ranks although they observe the Jewish rites and make every effort to defend them. He then went on to attack the older religion and the Jewish people. In Orations Against The Jews he wrote, "The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing God there is no expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christians may never cease vengeance..." and later, “the Synagogue is a brothel, a den of scoundrels." While not originating with Chrysostom (the charge of deicide, hinted at in Paul (see above) and appears openly in the gospels, Chrysostom's language is both more eloquent and more violent. Propagandists and Nazi sympathizers quoted Chrysostom as historical justification in the persecution of the Jews.
For Augustine, as for Paul three hundred years earlier, Christianity stands only on the insecure foundation of faith absent materiality. As Paul sought to reassure the Galatians, so Augustine faced the same problem. The only evidence for Jesus ever having a physical existence rests on prophesy adduced by the faithful from the Jewish bible. Nobody, including Paul writing only thirty years after the presumed crucifixion, could provide first-hand experience of the person who was sent to save the Jews, Jesus the Messiah. 1600 years later, even with the documentary discoveries at Qumran across the