Chapter One: Catholic anti-Judaism (2434)
Anti-Judaism, parent to its secular daughter antisemitism, has a 2,000 year long well-documented history. In pre-Christian times the Hellenistic states, pagan by religion and mutually tolerant to each other’s gods, looked upon the Jews as oddities, atheistic for positing a universal and invisible god. Within the Roman Empire it was common for major cities to have a polyglot of ethnic population centers mostly with the exception of the Jews, pagan. But diversity encouraged tolerance and this extended to the Jews. Roman law also protected the practice of the Jewish religion, exempting Jews from, for example, emperor worship and working on the Sabbath.
Paul and the Kingdom of God
Christianity emerged as a messianic sect within Judaism during the First Century. A period of occupation by imperial Rome, Jews were in almost continuous guerilla warfare against their pagan occupier. Thousands were crucified as rebels by Rome and Jews, believing that fighting against the overwhelming might of the pagans from the land God assigned them would god’s intervention, that a God- inspire a leader, a messiah, would appear to lead the Jews to victory and bring on the Kingdom of God.
With the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, with the dispersal of the Jews as slaves throughout the empire, some sought consolation in a non-traditional spiritual rather than material messiah, one who would deliver them not from their earthly enemies, but would provide consolation in the life beyond. Yeshuah (Jesus), roughly translated as “savior,” was a fairly popular name during this period of national stress and social upheaval.
The salvational messianic sect of Judaism had little success in attracting Jews within Israel. It fared better in the Diaspora, again not so much among active Jews but among those known as God-fearers, pagans attracted to Judaism, attending services and celebrating the holidays, but not willing to commit to all of the demands of full conversion, particularly circumcision among the men. Paul of Tarsus was the self-appointed emissary of the salvational sect to the gentiles. During his conversion activities Paul became the first theologian and father of what was to become Christianity in all its forms. Since most Jews, most importantly the Palestinian leadership of the sect, disagreed with Paul about his mission and his claims regarding Jesus as “Son of God,” over time he grew estranged from Jerusalem. His letters reflect his increasing identification with and protection of his gentile converts, his growing distance from the Jerusalem leadership who insisted that his God-fearing converts fully convert first to Judaism, become Jews. The two positions were irreconcilable, and the rift between the two communities grew increasingly, their competition for converts another irritant.
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 2:14-15, 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 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.
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 God, St. Augustine.
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.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was a relative “moderate” in the struggle to define and insulate Christianity from the parent religion. While Christianity was the true inheritor of Judaism, the “new Israel,” he argued that the Jews should be preserved as witnesses to the true faith. Augustine argued that God allowed the Jews to survive, debased and in dispersion, as a warning to Christians: they “bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ.” (St. Augustine) 20. “The Jews who slew Him, and would not believe in Him,” were punished by God, their temple destroyed, Jerusalem leveled. “By their own Scriptures [Jewish survival is] a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.” According to Augustine, Judaism and the Jews have no purpose in continuing to exist except as a negative adjunct to the true faith. But his use of the word “forged” is interesting. It throws a bright light on what was and remains a serious problem, validating its existence absent credible evidence for the existence of Jesus the Man (see chapter two).
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 cricifixion, 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 Dead Sea and Nag Hamadi, with a single questionable reference to the person in Josephus nowhere is reference to the man to be found. And this, I suggest, was and remains a source of doubt and insecurity for Christianity, the heart of the two-hundred year long search for the Historical Jesus; a major source for Christian anti-Judaism, and inspiration for secular antisemitism, inspiration for two-thousand years of persecution, expulsion and murder leading up to the twentieth century effort to, once and for all time, solve Christendom’s Jewish Problem, the Holocaust.
The High Middle Ages, from about the year 1,000, was a period of radical change and turmoil in Europe. There was great expectation surrounding the anticipated return of Christ, great letdown with the failure to occur. Europe entered a long period of social stress and superstition heightened by a series of catastrophes from hurricane to Black Plague. Satan was believed to be behind the catastrophes and the Jews, with a tradition of association with the devil going back to the church fathers and Paul, were believed in league with the anti-Christ.
This was also a period of a political change and increasing local autonomy. Kingdoms emerged, cities expanded, and Europe’s population grew. With economic development came the need for capital. But Church doctrine forbade Christians to lend money. So, with few possibilities for livelihood, Jews were encouraged to take on the tasks of collecting rents and taxes for church and landlords. Jews also became the lenders of capital needed to feed the expansion. As tax collectors Jews became the focus of resentment, targets of rage by the general populace. As “usurers” they were subject to expulsion as a form of debt forgiveness.
This was also a period in which the church expanded its influence within and to evict Islam from Europe.
The Crusades, 1096-1272. On their way to Jerusalem the crusaders left a path of death and destruction behind in Jewish communities along the Rhine and Danube. Why, one is recorded as asking, "should we attack the unbelievers in the Holy Land, and leave the infidels in our midst undisturbed?" On May 25, 1096, about 800 Jews were murdered in Wurms, Germany while many others chose suicide rather than subject their families to torture, rape and murder. In Regensburg Jews were thrown the Danube, "baptized," according to another chronicler of the time. In Mainz, Cologne, Prague and many other cities, thousands were killed and their possessions plundered. During the nine crusades spanning nearly 200 years tens of thousands of Jews were massacred, their property destroyed or stolen. Thus began the long period of persecution, expulsion and murder which only began to ease, if temporarily, with the gradual secularization of Europe beginning in the 17th century.
The Crusades mark a shift in anti-Jewish persecution. For centuries previously anti-Judaism had been encouraged by the elites; with the eleventh century the “the atrocities committed against the Jews sprang from the people.” (The Causes and Effects of Anti-Semitism, 1978, p.120)
The Black Death devastated Europe in the mid-14th century, annihilating between a third and half of the population, Christians and Jews. Although Jews also suffered, rumors accused the Jews of poisoning Christian wells in order to spread the disease. Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed throughout Europe. In Strasbourg, a city not yet touched by the plague, 900 Jews were burned alive. Although on several occasions popes condemned the violence, Clement VI, for example, driven by fear and superstition the mobs were uncontrollable.
A rumor developed out of the plague that continues to haunt the Jews today. A cabal of rabbis were believed engaged in an international conspiracy to exterminate the Christians. According to the myth Jewish communities throughout Europe were instructed to poison Christian wells. Five hundred years later the myth would reappear in the form of The Protocols of Elders of Zion.
Blood libels accused Jews of drinking of blood of Christian children, or murdering them to use their blood in the making of matsot. The accusation held that the victim, usually a pre-pubescent boy, would be tied or nailed to a cross in mockery of the Christian Eucharist. Simon of Trent, who was supposedly murdered in 1475, was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. A cult developed around Simon that continued until 1965 when disbanded by Pope Paul VI.
Blood libel accusations continue to excite the imagination of some Christian communities. The most celebrated modern case involved a Russian Jew, Menahem Beilis, arrested on July 21, 1911 for the murder and mutilation of a Ukrainian youth. Acquitted after spending two years in jail, the peasant making the charge confessed that his accusation followed tutoring by the police. And one year after the liberation of Auschwitz, of the more than 24,000 Jewish residents of pre-war Kielce, Poland, 200 survivors returned only to be faced with a pogrom inspired by a blood libel. Thirty-five Jews were murdered, and another two who happened to be on a train passing through the city also lost their lives.
The Spanish Inquisition
The Inquisition was created through a papal bull at the end of the 12th century, intended to root out heresies. The Spanish Inquisition was created to unify Spain and consolidate power under the monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella following the defeat and expulsion of the Moors. The Jews were given the choice of expulsion or conversion. That the conversions were not fully voluntary raised doubts in the church regarding the sincerity of the conversions. In the early years the inquisition was most concerned with establishing the credibility of the conversions. As the years went by suspicion remained and even, and particularly those conversos who rose in the church hierarchy came under suspicion, insulating the church from Jewish influence became the priority. The inquisitors tortured suspect converts to confession, then would burn them at the stake for confessing their sin. Estimates vary regarding the actual number who died at the hands of the inquisitors. Based on, statistics drawn from the records of Autos de fe, the low estimate is around 2,000. But some estimate the number to be closer to 8,000.
In addition to ridding the church of what were determined to be insincere converts, the Inquisition also arrived at a new and novel definition of who is a Jew. Limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood. “Now Jewishness is… a permanent inborn characteristic that even baptism does not remove, (Nichols, 1993, P. xxi). “Those who wished to hold public office had to present a certificate … showing that they were free of… mala sangre, bad blood (i.e., Jewish descent), (Nichols, pps. xx-xxi). Conversion and assimilation “were no longer a guarantee against prejudice and persecution. The Jewish taint survived and contaminated. In this sense the Inquisition (was) the intellectual and historical precursor of the racial anti-Semitism of the 19th and 20th centuries epitomized by Nazism,” (ibid, Grosser and Halperin, p. 154). Four centuries later the principle of Limpieza de sangre would enter German law, would become the determining factor regarding who would live or die.
Nicholls, William, Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate, 1193, Jason Aronson Inc. Northvale, New Jersey
Grosser, Paul E. & Halperin, Edwin G., The Causes and Effects of Anti-Semitism, the Dimensions of a Prejudice, 1978, Philosophical Library, Inc., New York