Antisemitism in the Bible?

Greetings, friends. To those of you who thought that I was not coming back to write, I apologize. I admit that I have not exercised discipline in this area; however, I have not been lazy. 

A couple of weeks ago I found a fascinating website called Yad Vashem, which means 'Holocaust Martyrs'. Yad Vashem, located in Jerusalem, is the world center for Holocaust research, education, research, and commemorating the people who died in the Holocaust. I have been reading as much information from the site as I can, though in relatively small doses. There is a wealth of information on this tragic and horrific time in history. 

For those who may not know, the Holocaust, according to The United States Holocaust Museum website, was "the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators." The Jewish people were not the only targets of Nazi hysteria. Millions of others died as well - Soviet prisoners, gypsies, Christians, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and anyone who did not agree with Nazi philosophy. 

I have studied the Holocaust since I first read "The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom when I was a child. I could not understand why people could treat others so brutally. As an adult I still do not understand, but I want to give those millions a voice whenever possible so that it does not happen again. 

Along with historical facts, Yad Vashem has many interesting articles about the Holocaust. One that caught my attention was:

Encountering the New Testament  by Gareth Lloyd Jones. the article's thesis is:

Since 1945 many detailed accounts have been written of anti-Jewish polemic in Christian literature. With few exceptions they begin with the major theologians of the second century CE. Spurred into action by the claim that there is a direct link between the Nazi Holocaust and the Church's negative attitude towards Judaism, scholars have subjected the views of the early Christian fathers to close scrutiny. Their research has demonstrated that antipathy towards Jews is never far from the surface in the writings of some of the most influential theologians. Consequently, this 'teaching of contempt', as the Early Church's presentation of Judaism has been aptly described, is regarded as containing the seeds of modern antisemitism.

Not only is there antisemitism in the literature of the early church fathers, but it exists in the New Testament as well. In the past, I have not seen antisemitism in the New Testament. I am not and never have been antisemitic, but after examining this article from Yad Vashem, I can see why Jewish people would think that it is riddled with antisemitism. Here are some examples from the article:

They (meaning Christians who are eager to find antisemitic references in the writings of the early church fathers but refuse to examine the New Testament)refuse to believe, for instance, that the hard sayings about the Pharisees attributed to Jesus in Matthew 23, the pointed remarks of Paul about the inferiority of Judaism, and the phrase 'His blood be upon us and upon our children', which, according to Matthew 27:26, was on the lips of the crowd of onlookers at Calvary, could in any way have augmented the sufferings of the Jews over the past two thousand years. They do not concede that one of the most belligerent references to Jews in all Christian Scripture, found in 1 Thessalonians 12:16 where the author states that they are the deserved recipients of God's wrath, may have been taken by countless generations of Christians as licence to harass and even murder their Jewish neighbours. They dismiss the antisemitic potential in Jesus' scathing description of his Jewish audience in John 8:44 as the children of the devil, and in John the Divine's reference to the 'synagogue of Satan' in Revelation 2:9.

Some Christian theologians agree on this matter as well - that the New Testament has bred antisemitism and the suffering that has resulted for the Jewish people. The problem, according to this article, lies within how one reads the scriptures. 

The Bible is Infallible - There is one group who say that the Bible is completely inspired by God and that there is no human element within. In other words, Isaiah, David, Matthew, John, Paul and all of the other "writers" of the Bible became transcriptionists for the Holy Spirit who dictated scripture word for word to them. The Bible, in this view, is inspired, infallible and cannot be questioned.

The Bible has a Human Element There is a second group who see the Bible as sacred but this group also recognizes the human element within. In other words, the writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit but the process did not evolve from divine dictation. The Holy Spirit used the unique personality of each of the writers and inspired them to write what they did. This view is similar to the creative process in which the person who is creating asks guidance from the Lord and is then inspired with ideas and thoughts that are well-suited to the task at hand. In this view of scripture, one must ask what the writer intended for the people of his time, weed out any cultural references that do not apply today and then ask what lessons are important right now.

For example, in Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees in Matthew 15: 3 - 9, we see that there are ideas for the people for whom it was written, outdated cultural references, and truth for today:

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
 their teachings are merely human rules.’”

What did the writer intend for the people of his time? To cause those who were not taking care of their parents and, instead, devoting everything to God, to rethink their position. 

What cultural references do not apply? Putting a bad-mouthed child to death

What applies to me right now, today? Honor my parents. Don't use the money I need to help my parents as a gift to God because helping my parents is a form of devotion to God. And, do not curse my parents. Even though I cannot be put to death for doing it, it is still not a good idea.

Does this passage say that Jews are hypocrites? Not necessarily. In this passage, Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, but does not mean that all Jews for all time are hypocrites and that all Jews would rather give to God and abandon their parents. It is just not possible that all Jews could be this way. This is a life lesson that meant something to the people of the time (like the Pharisees being hypocrites) and also brings wisdom and guidance to us today. There are no racial statements here. 

Unfortunately, it is those in the first group, who interpret the Bible as inerrant, infallible and unquestionable who may see this passage and others like it as an indictment to the entire Jewish race. We have seen this more directly when the Bible has been used to justify slavery and other forms of human abuse, disrespect of others, and outright hatred. Despite their position regarding inerrancy and infallibility, this group never takes the Bible as inerrant, infallible, and unquestionable ... the very selectiveness of their 'literalism' shows this.

Jones writes:

The debate between these two standpoints is essentially concerned with authority. The central question is: Have we the right to criticize our religious traditions? Are we justified in repudiating certain New Testament passages because they are damaging to Jews? Those who use such terms as 'inerrant' and 'infallible' in relation to the Bible will deny the existence of such a right.  Our Christian forefathers, however, had no qualms about engaging in subjective interpretation of their own Scriptures. The Early Church pressed selected portions of the Hebrew Bible into service to prove the superiority of Christianity, while neglecting the rest. Appropriate passages were used as a quarry for messianic prophecies and used to prove that the Messiah had come in Jesus of Nazareth, whereas laws governing diet and circumcision, to take but two examples, were given a meaning other than the literal. Such selectivity and reinterpretation was not confined to the Hebrew Bible; it was applied to the New Testament as well. The stipulations about nonretaliation, almsgiving, self-denial, celibacy, and the role of women in the Church have been either ignored in practice or spiritualized by most Christians. If some aspects of New Testament teaching can justifiably be repudiated, in the sense of their not being regarded as binding the contemporary Christians, cannot the same principle be applied to passages that have proved injurious to Jews for almost two millennia?

In answer to that question, yes, we can and we should. Why would we want to hurt God's people? Many use the excuse that Paul said that the Christian church has replaced Israel but in Romans 11, Paul says that God has not rejected Israel. He also tells the Gentiles to not be arrogant. How I wish Christians would take that advice to heart today! Arrogance seems to run rampant in the church today and there is a disgusting display of this on many Internet discussion forums.  

If we can put the contents of the New Testament in its "correct historical and sociological context", as this article suggests, our walk with God will grow deeper and we will love more fully. Jones closes by writing:

To take but one example, the importance of discovering the context of John's Gospel for understanding the author's negative portrayal of Jews has at least three significant ramifications. First, it mitigates the harshness when we appreciate that the early Christians were on the defensive and that vilifying others  was a way of defining themselves. Second, it reminds us that John expresses time bound prejudices against the Jews of his own age, not global anti-Judaism valid for all time. Third, the recognition that the Gospel contains the meditations of a devoted disciple on the Jesus tradition reminds us that John's views of Judaism are his own and not necessarily those of Jesus. If preachers and teachers over the past two millennia had taken such considerations into account and had wrestled, as we now must, with the limitations imposed on the Bible by the circumstances under which it was 
written, the Christian perception of the Jew would have been far less negative. 


Modern Motherhood - Mama Eve - the Ultimate Survivor

Our society loves reality television. For some reason, people are attracted to what others do "behind the scenes" of their lives. While I do not care for the most popular shows such as "Survivor," "Keeping up with the Kardashians," "Orange County Housewives," and "American Idol," I do get a kick out of "Duck Dynasty." I think this is because they give the impression of an honest, hard working family that is successful without letting it go to their heads. I also like their goofiness. One of my favorites was when they tried to get honey by using a shop vac to suck the bees out of their hive. It failed miserably. I knew it would, but it was funny nonetheless.
The fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

In a short study of the popularity of these shows on the web, it appears that "Survivor" is one of the all time highly rated reality shows on television. I couldn't believe it when on Thanksgiving one year, my dad said that he had to watch "Survivor" that night to find out what was happening. Then, I was really amazed when Mike's daughter's family piled on the couch to watch it with him. I settled down in my chair to find out what they were so excited about and ended up making sarcastic remarks most of the way through.

All that aside, I find that the greatest survivors in our world are mothers; yet, most of them do not and would not make it to television. This was certainly true of the first mother in Genesis, Eve. At first, Eve had it made. She lived in a beautiful lush garden with dinner pre-made on all of the trees, she didn't have to worry about a wardrobe and she was perfect because she was made in the image of God and because she was truly innocent. She also had a perfect husband. 

In Eve's early existence, what she did not have was unnecessary. Unless she thought about that dang tree in the middle of the garden. The one her husband Adam said that God said they couldn't eat or even touch or they would die.

At that time Eve did not know what death was, but she knew it was bad. Real bad. Otherwise Adam would not have been so insistent. Right?

We do not know how long Eve stared at that tree before the snake noticed her interest. But by the time he did take notice, it was easy to convince Eve that eating the fruit would not kill her. What Eve found out, unfortunately, is that yes, she would eventually die physically, but the real death came because of her disobedience and her distrust in God, her creator. This began the slow task of sin infecting her soul. She would have to fight it now for the rest of her life so that it didn't kill her. 

Can you imagine the guilt and sorrow that Eve must have felt? First, she disobeyed God. Then, her life changed drastically. She now had to wear clothes, she and her family were kicked out of the garden and were forced to live where growing food was hard. We do not know for sure if Eve produced children before the Fall but some rabbis posit that Mother Eve was having multiple births every time she went into labor. Now that labor produced incredible pain. Along with her physical pain, Eve also had to endure tremendous emotional pain, especially when her son Cain murdered his brother Abel. For me, there is a clue from this verse at the end of Genesis 4:

"Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth,saying, 'God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.'” 

Even though she'll never make it to a reality television show, Eve proved to be a survivor. I am sure that the Lord was close to her and gave her strength because he does that for everyone, but, like us, Eve had to accept that strength. Although the scripture doesn't say, I am sure that God and Eve came to terms over what she had done. God's forgiveness gave her the strength to endure all of the difficulty that lied ahead. 

Modern mothers have strength as well. It may not show in everyday life, but when true hardship comes along, mothers seem to have a reserve of strength that they use to cope and also share with others. This happened to me when my first husband died of pancreatic cancer. I had never dealt with terminal illness before and somehow God gave me the strength to handle a very sick husband, three boys, a dog, the hospital, emotional turmoil, loneliness and even a flat tire to boot. I could not have handled the logistics without the help of some very kind people, but inside, instead of melting down, my emotions were strong and I was able to keep it going for 18 months. Now, I fall apart at happy events like graduation

Whatever your reason for discontent, depression, anxiety, realize that the Lord is there for you. Take the strength he offers and determine to live for God no matter what takes place. 


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Henri Nouwen asks how Christians should live in the world

Have you heard the expression that Christians are to "be in the world but not of the world?" I say "expression" because there is no actual Bible verse that states this word for word. These verses make mention of the concept:

Romans 12: 2

John 15: 9

John 17

For centuries, Christians have asked how they were supposed to be in the world but not of it. Denominations  and sects are even formed around what believe the concept means for them. Think of the Amish - Christians who use 19th century methods to travel, farm, dress in order to not be part of the world. Others choose not to drink, smoke, chew (or go with girls who do! Sorry, I'm a Nazarene, it's our joke; I had to do it), go to movies, associate with certain people, dance, dress in a certain way, etc., etc., etc., in order to live out this concept. Christians get into debates, even arguments, over the issue. The issue can and does separate us.

The real question should be how can we Christians live like Jesus wants us to in a world system that is bent on not following God? 

When spiritual writer and priest Henri Nouwen lived in Latin America for six months, he asked that question: "The Christian is called to live in the world without being of it. But how do we know whether we are just in it, or also of it? My feeling is that every Christian who is serious about his or her vocation has to face this question at some point." Nouwen wrote this in his journal "Gracias! A Latin American Journal."

For many years, Latin Americans have struggled with deep oppression. There was and might still be a wide divide between the upper classes and the poor. There is some middle class like we mentioned in our last post, but the controlling factor in Latin America's economic and governmental structures was largely in the upper classes. Rampant capitalism marginalized the poor and worsened their condition. In the 1960s after Vatican II, leaders of the Catholic Church in Latin America and of Protestant denominations began discussing the problem and what to do about it. What became known as Liberation Theology became a  movement of consequence in Latin America. Unfortunately, that meant that Catholics and Protestants supported some tenants of Marxist philosophy, but the pendulum of capitalism had swung so far to the right that radical social change was needed in order to bring balance to the situation. Many church leaders became involved in political causes, leaving some to wonder if the Latin American church was becoming too political. For example, in Nicaragua, four priests who participated in the revolution became part of the Sandinista cabinet.

When Christians participate in a revolution for social change, because of the nature of revolt, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether or not they are doing what Christ would do.

"Will we ever know whether we are living witnesses to the light or serving the prince of darkness?" Nouwen asked.

This question is relevant for today. How far can Christians, or the church, for that matter, get into politics before it no longer is a witness for Christ in the world. We see this today with the pro-life movement and the unfortunate murders of doctors who perform abortions. We see it with the Christian Right who are willing to give false information about the history of the United States and to whip everyone into a state of panic with false e-mails, web sites and exaggerated new stories in order to have Christianity "restored" as our national religion ("...this is a Christian nation ..."). It is certainly good for individuals of faith to enter politics as long as they have mentors and prayer and accountability partners to keep them on the straight and narrow, but for a church? An institution that is supposed to lead people closer to God? Yes, I believe a church can address moral issues but telling its people who to vote for, or otherwise becoming politically partisan does not sit well with me. 

Sadly, this phrase is true:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely in such manner that great men are almost always bad men."  John Dalberg-Acton

Throughout history, politics have corrupted the church and vice versa. The Bride of Christ must be careful about who she chooses to befriend.

I do like how the church in Latin America stood up for the the poor and enacted social change so that they could participate in society at large. As Christians we must stand up for the poor and marginalized in our societies. But how do we do this and not become corrupted by the power in politics that can easily entangle us?

Nouwen wrote this and it is good advice:

"How, then, are we to find the right answer for ourselves? Here we are called to discern carefully the movements of God's Spirit in our lives. Discernment remains our lifelong task. I can see no other way for discernment than a life in the Spirit, a life of unceasing prayer and contemplation, a life of deep communion with the Spirit of God. Such a life will slowly develop in us an inner sensitivity. We certainly will make constant errors and seldom have the purity of heart required to make the right decisions. We may never know whether we are giving to Caesar what belongs to God. But when we continuously try to live in the Spirit, we at least shall be willing to confess our weakness and ask for forgiveness every time we find ourselves in the service of Baal."

What do you think?

Source: A Concise History of Liberation Theology by Leonardo and Clodovis Boff


New Series - Modern Motherhood and Connecting with our Past

Modern Motherhood is a new series that came to mind the other day while I was studying the book of Genesis. I thought to write some blog posts on motherhood and relate the modern woman's plight to that of ancient society.

Firmin Baes - Sweet dreams

That sounds like a paradox. How can the mothers in Genesis who lived in a patriarchal society that viewed them as property, relate to the modern mother who is able to vote, work outside the home and enjoys increasingly equal status with her male counterpart, even though society in some respects has not caught up with the concept of equality?

The women of Genesis were considered property. They had no legal rights. Their husbands could order them about as though they were indentured servants, and even mistreat them if they disobeyed. These women worked from before sun up to sun down doing the laundry, gathering food and raising their children. They spoke a different language, knew nothing about appliances and wore clothing that was completely made by hand. A woman living in that patriarchal society suffered ruin if she was raped, meaning that she would never get married. If she became pregnant out of wedlock, she could be killed along with her baby - never mind the man who put her in that position. If a woman married, she would probably be one of several wives and it was her job to have children. Women who did not have children suffered ridicule from others and also dealt with psychological pressure based on the importance of bearing children in their society. A woman who was widowed could face starvation and death if there was no one to take care of her.

Yet, women have survived and have flourished despite the obstacles surrounding them on every side.

For a modern woman, life is a bit easier. She is not considered property by most governments. In many countries, a woman has full legal rights. She can vote. She can own a business, own a house, she does not have to get married in order to survive or garner status. She can gain an education, work outside her home, have sex without worrying about getting pregnant (I'm just stating fact. I'm not saying that it is right). If she is raped or otherwise abused,  there are many resources available who are ready to help her both psychologically and physically. She may even see her rapist brought to justice. If she marries, she can expect to be the only wife and she and her husband can choose whether or not they will have children; they can wait and they can decide how many children they want to have. Women who cannot have children do not face ridicule; however, women who have children outside of wedlock may face some societal disapproval. Life is difficult for them, but the government has food stamp programs and work programs so they will not face starvation. If a woman becomes a widow, the government (in the U.S.) will make sure that she and her children receive her husband's Social Security benefits. In comparison to the past, life is pretty good for the modern woman, in many societies.

Motherhood has not changed much over the years. In this regard, we have much in common with the women of Genesis.
There are other traits that we modern women share with the women of Genesis as well and we will think about them as we progress. So I hope you enjoy this series. I will also be relating my own experience as a mother of three boys, ages 20, 18 and almost 15. They are turning out well so I hope that my experience can add something positive to the discussion. 


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