Wednesday

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.