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Christianity and the Jews
Paul did not think of himself as betraying the Jews. To the end of his life, he thought of them as the chosen people of God. He simply believed that the Christian mission should be aimed at gentiles as well and that he was specially chosen for that work.
The conflict between the Nazarenes and Paul that divided the early Christian movement was settled by a stroke of history itself. The fierce Jewish-Roman War (A.D. 66 - 70), which destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and killed so many Jews, also dealt a devastating blow to the Nazarenes, from which they never recovered. Whatever traditions and writings the Nazarenes possessed were lost or forgotten. Instead, Paul's churches survived and prevailed. Because of their attention to gentiles, these churches were the foundation for a Christianity that 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 separate, fiercely competitive groups arguing over whether or not Jesus was the Messiah-Christ promised in the Hebrew scriptures, and over which group - Jews or Christians - represented the "true Israel." Furthermore, by the end of the first century resentment and mistrust of Jews were widespread, due to their first revolt against Rome. The young Christian churches in the cities of the Roman Empire tried hard to distance themselves from their Jewish roots.
This desire for separation explains why, in the gospels written at this time, there was such hostility toward Jews, toward their religion, and particularly toward the Pharisees, who were the leaders of Judaism. The gospels tell the story of Jesus in such a way that it seems as if Jesus's real enemies were not gentiles, or even the Romans who put him to death, but rather the Jews - the Pharisees, the priests, and the Jewish people in general.
The first of the gospels to be written - The Gospel According to Mark - illustrates this anti-Jewish bias. It was written in Rome shortly after the end of the Jewish-Roman War (A.D.70) when this resentment was especially strong. In Mark's gospel Jesus was persecuted at every turn by the Pharisees and priests of Judaism. In fact, this gospel claimed that the very first person to recognize the real worth of Jesus was not a Jew at all, but a Roman centurion present at his crucifixion who announced, "Truly this man was a son of God" (Mark 15:39).
Likewise, the Roman procurator who ordered Jesus's execution, Pontius Pilate, was pictured as someone who tried his best to be nice to Jesus. He tried 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). In this way, the gospel puts the responsibility for the death of Jesus on the Jews, not on the Romans.
Matthew's gospel took this blaming of the Jews even one step further. There, Pilate's wife warns him to have nothing to do with wrongdoing "that righteous man." Then, after the Jewish mob shouts for the death of Jesus (choosing to have the criminal Barabbas released instead), Pilate washes his hands in front of the crowd saying "I am innocent of this man's blood." Here Matthew put into the mouths of the crowd words that were to condemn later generations of Jews: "And all the people answered, 'His blood be on us and on our children!' " (Matthew 27:25).
The gospels of Luke and John also painted Jews and Judaism as the forces that persecuted and drove Jesus to his death. Combined with the letters of Paul and others, the gospels form the sacred writings of the Christians - the New Testament. In this way, the anti-Jewish attitude resulting from the fierce competition between Christianity and Judaism in the first century became a permanent part of the Christian Bible and later Christian teaching and ritual. Many generations of later Christians grew up influenced by the negative picture of Jews painted in these scriptures, which Christianity considers to be sacred and infallible accounts of history.
Not surprisingly, this negative picture of Judaism and the Jews continued in the writings of the Church Fathers who wrote in the second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries and who gave Christianity its basic shape. The example of one writer, the fourth-century bishop of Antioch, John Chrysostom, suggests the tenor of their attitudes toward Jews. John Chrysostom was widely respected as a "Doctor of the Church" and was later canonized as a saint. In his sermons, however, he attacked the Jews of his city. He called them "lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits...inveterate murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil." Their synagogue was a place of "shame and ridicule." Jewish religious rites were "criminal and impure." And why were the Jews so hateful? The answer, said the bishop, was in the gospels of the New Testament, which described how the Jews had killed Jesus. The Jews were hateful because of their "odious assassination of Christ."
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Dr. Charles Patterson has a Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia University.
He is the author of:
Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond
Excerpt - Chapter One
Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust
Excerpt from Chapter Three
From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall (co-author).
Read more about Dr. Charles Patterson