Chapter Three, Christian Insecurity: the Heart of Darkness
Anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 94)
It is commonly accepted by scholars of the period that a major contributor to early Christian anti-Judaism was the need for the new sect to distinguish itself from the parent religion while retaining Judaism as precedent. While the pagans generally viewed Judaism as atheistic for its invisible and single god, it was still respected for its long history. Nascent Christianity needed this history to compete with Judaism for converts. Among the many “Christian” sects to emerge from exilic Judaism, the one descendent directly from Paul’s mission both saw themselves as inheritor and fulfillment of Judaism, the “new” Israel. Marcion, for example, offered an alternative path, that Christianity represented a wholly new and separate religion from Judaism. According to Bishop Nichols, “Marcion’s views were extremely popular, gaining the allegiance of substantial proportions of Christians… If, like Marcion, the church had dispense[d] with the Jewish Scriptures, it would not have been necessary … to adopt a position so opposed to the Jewish people.” According to the bishop even today “voices are occasionally heard suggesting that [the Jewish Scriptures] should now be dropped altogether.”
But Jesus as a Jewish messiah presented several problems to Christianity’s claim as the “new” Israel. According to Jewish tradition a messiah is a person inspired by God to lead the people in times of crisis. Certainly the Roman occupation was a time of crisis for the Jews, and many longed for, hopelessly fought the Romans in order to bring about, perhaps to force God to provide a deliverer. But Jesus-as-messiah represented several problems. Within the pagan religions of the time it was not uncommon for gods to be born of women, but that definitely was not a Jewish concept. Another common pagan belief, also alien to Judaism, was that gods could die and resurrect. By importing the Jewish Scriptures as the “Old Testament,” Christianity imported also very significant problems in identity and credibility.
For example, how explain that Jesus, the son of God, was sent as savior by god the Father to the Jews, only to have His “gift” rejected? How explain that God, all-knowing, failed to appreciate and foresee that His people, the Jews, fighting for their lives, temple and independence would not recognize a salvational messiah, one who offered the consolation of victory of life after death, instead of victory over the Roman oppressors, of life on earth? Not only would such a “gift” be inappropriate and completely outside of expectation, under the circumstances it would have been mean-spirited and so unrecognizable.
Having adopted the Jewish Scriptures for historical and theological foundation, as the “new” Israel Christianity had then to explain the inconsistencies between the old and the new. If, for example, Jesus was a man born of woman, son of God spreading a revolutionary message, why is there no historical record of his mission, why no contemporary reference to the man? Certainly the Romans were meticulous record keepers and would have noted someone so visible as to he crucified as “king of the Jews.” Pontius Pilate was said to have sat in judgment of the man, yet not even this appears in contemporary historical record. (Are there Roman records of such trials?) The single non-theological reference to Jesus as Christ appears in Josephus, who was writing as historian in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem, forty years or more after the crucifixion. And even this reference is widely recognized as a much later insertion due to its lack of continuity to what precedes and follows the reference. Linguistically also it is not Josephus, and is assumed the product of a forth century monk tasked with transcribing the document (Eisenman, etc.).
In response to apparent doubts regarding Jesus as Christ, as the resurrected messiah, Paul writes, “Now if Christ be preached, that he arose again from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?... And if Christ is not risen again then is our preaching in vain, and your faith also is in vain.” (Corinthians 15:12, 15:17).
Nor is it established that Jesus was an existing man who walked the earth; that there was a historical Jesus. According to Christianity Jesus lived and died and ascended to heaven. Considering his impact on events of the time he should appear somewhere in the historical record. Certainly the Romans kept meticulous records, were important historians. But no contemporary record exists. The earliest written documents are by Paul, are recorded in and the gospels. And Paul, the earlier source, only appeared decades after the fact. Both Paul and the gospels are recipients of an oral, not written tradition. How explain that the only written reference to the Jesus of Christian tradition appears in Josephus, a transparent insertion by a much later, likely a monk of the 4th century tasked with transcribing the document.
As with Paul three hundred years earlier, Augustine also had to respond to doubts among the believers. But Augustine senses that Christianity stands only on the insecure foundation of faith, absent materiality. And, as Paul sought to reassure the Galatians so Augustine sought to reassure the doubters within his flock.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was a relative “moderate” in the struggle to define and protect 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. The conversion of the Jews, according to the evolving theology, those for whom it was God’s mission to save, was a necessary precondition to the second coming.
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.” Augustine’s use of the word “forged” is interesting. It throws a bright light on what was and remains a serious problem, Christian insecurity regarding its interpretation of Jewish Scriptures in light of the rejection by the Jews, by whom his mission is defined, of Jesus as messiah. But the problem of legitimacy goes even deeper, questioning whether the figure around whom the religion grew ever took human form.
The only evidence for Jesus ever having a physical existence rests on interpretation of prophesy adduced by the faithful from the Jewish bible as described above. 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. Seventeen hundred years after Augustine, even with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the gospels and other documents from Nag Hamadi, with but a single questionable reference to Jesus Christ in Josephus, nowhere is contemporary reference to the man to be found. And this, was and remains a source of doubt, of insecurity for Christianity, the heart of the two-hundred year long search for the Historical Jesus. And the question of existence throw into doubt also the “truth” and “promises” of Christianity. Christianity’s insistence that Jesus the Jew was the messiah sent by God to save the Jews; that their interpretation of Jewish Scripture as prophesying Jesus as messiah; Christianity’s insistence on being the “new Israel” requires Jewish acceptance The failure of Judaism to accept the Christian interpretation of Jewish Scripture acceptance and conversion in order to validate the claims. Minus this Christian claims are in doubt, and the Jews are the cause of Christian insecurity, the major source for Christian anti-Judaism.
For Augustine the Jews, despite their “crimes,” must be preserved as witness to Christianity’s truth. With the secularization of Europe steeped in and recipient of two thousand years of religious anti-Judaism, the need to preserve the Jews, a source of Christianity’s millennia-long Jewish Problem, lost its meaning. This opened a whole new era of persecution for the Jews. Now merely outsiders, Other, by nationality or race, Christendom could now arrive at its final solution to its Jewish Problem.
“Where the man “Jesus” is concerned-as opposed to the redeemer figure “Christ”….we have mainly the remains of Hellenistic romance and mythologizing. The brother relationship (James) may turn out to be one of the early confirmations that there ever was a historical Jesus. (Eisenman, Robert, in James, the Brother of Jesus, 1999, p. xxiii)
Reuther, Rosemary Radford, Faith and Fratricide, The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism, 1974, The Seabury Press, New York
“The anti-Judaic tradition in Christianity grew as a negative and alienated expression of a need… to legitimate its [interpretation] of Jewish Scriptures... As long as “the Jews” continue to reject this interpretation, the validity of the Christian view is in question,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 94)
“Until Jewish religious tradition itself accepts this [Christian interpretation of Jewish Scriptures] as the ‘real meaning’ of its own Scriptures, ‘the Jews’ must be kept in the status of the ‘enemies of God,’ in order to ward off that unthinkable alternative, suppressed at the very beginning, by the decision of faith upon which Christianity was founded[interpretation] of Jewish Scriptures,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 95)
“The most fundamental affirmation of Christian faith is the belief that Jesus is the Christ. He is that Messiah whom the prophets “foretold” and the Jews ‘awaited.’ On this affirmation, everything else in Christian theology is built. To ask about this affirmation is to ask about the keystone of Christian faith. For Judaism, however, there is no possibility of talking about the Messiah having already come, much less having come two thousand years ago, with all the evil history that has reigned from that time to this (much of it having been done in Christ’s name!), When the Reign of God has not come. For Israel, the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the Messianic Age are inseparable. They are, in fact, one and the same thing,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 247)
“Anti-Judaism was originally more than social polemic. It was an expression of Christian self-affirmation,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 228)
“…we must analyze the psychopathology represented by Christian anti-Judaism,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 245)
“The Jews represent that which Christianity must repress in itself, namely the recognition of history and Christian existence as unredeamed,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 245)
“…Christian anti-Judaism is the suppression of the unredeemed side of itself,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 245)
*William Nicholls wrote in his book Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate:
"...the very presence of the Jewish people in the world, continuing to believe in the faithfulness of God to the original covenant ... puts a great question against Christian belief in a new covenant made through Christ. The presence of this question, often buried deep in the Christian mind, could not fail to cause profound and gnawing anxiety. Anxiety usually leads to hostility."