- Greco-Roman Antiquity
- 1. Events
- 2. Antiochus IV
- 3. Centers of Conflict
- 4. Context
- 5. Authors
- 6. Focal Points
- 7. Impact of Literary Polemic
- 8. Studying Anti-Judaism
- New Testament
- 1. Terminology
- 2. Definition
- 3. Anti-Judaic Reading of the New Testament
- 4. Challenging the Anti-Judaic Reading
- 5. Traits of Anti-Judaic Enmity in the New Testament
- 6. Concluding Remarks
- Greek and Latin Patristics and Orthodox Churches
- Medieval Times and Reformation Era
- Modern Europe and America
- Other Religions
By the late 19th century, an enormous storehouse of anti-Jewish literature, art, and folklore had evolved throughout the Western world, especially in the Christian societies of Europe. At that point, late-19th-century political, social, and intellectual developments combined to foster innovative views that claimed a radically new understanding of the “Jewish problem” and that coined an original term – “anti-Semitism” – to capture the essence of this new understanding. The core insight advanced by this term was that the “Jewish problem” had over the ages been misconstrued through a misguided focus on religious issues. Christian-Jewish tensions had been erroneously perceived as a religiously grounded struggle between Christian societies and their Jewish religious minorities. Christians over the ages had opposed Jews and the dangers allegedly emanating from them as an outgrowth of religious faith and praxis. In fact, claimed the anti-Semites, the Jews were only secondarily a religious community. More fundamentally, they constituted a biological group – a community of racial Semites – locked in profound conflict with the dominant European community of racial Aryans. A biological struggle for supremacy lay at the core of the “Jewish problem,” not religious difference. Proper comprehension of the true nature of the historic and contemporary conflict would – it was further claimed – lead to the development of the appropriate Aryan weaponry with which to combat the Jewish threat.
Treatises to prove this alleged biological disparity and struggle multiplied. These treatises were steeped in the new genetic and racist science that emerged in 19th-century Europe; they strove to make a convincing case for the role of biology in general and to define specifically the nature and characteristics of the allegedly racial Jewish group. These characteristics were – it was argued – in part physical and thus relatively obvious; more importantly, they involved moral and spiritual characteristics that were somewhat less obvious, but far more significant and dangerous. These treatises often included historical components, advancing dense and convoluted interpretations of important historical events and personalities. Thus e.g., H. S. Chamberlain, in his lengthy and influential Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, laid out a detailed and complicated case to show that, while raised in the Jewish and hence Semitic environment of the Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth and his immediate followers were in fact not Semites, but were rather Aryans (Chamberlain 1912 ). It was obviously important for Chamberlain and fellow anti-Semites to remove from Jesus the stigma of Semitic identity.
Changing political and social realities stimulated this search for a new definition and understanding of Jews and Jewishness. In the wake of the American and French revolutions, European societies had attempted to move beyond centuries of religiously rooted strife and bloodshed by creating a new conception of the state as a secular entity, governed by rational rules that enable humans to live peacefully and productively with one another. Religion, which had long dominated the political arena, was to be relegated to the private sphere, thus insuring that citizens of differing religious identities could co-exist comfortably within the secular state. As this new political structure emerged, the Jews posed significant problems. The first was simply deciding whether the new secular states and societies would include Jews as an element at all. This question was fairly quickly decided in the affirmative. Then, more difficult issues of transforming heretofore segregated Jews into integrated and productive citizens were raised and debated. What eventuated was a set of demands on European Jews to acculturate effectively into 19th-century Europe, demands that were rapidly met by most Jews.
The result of all this change was that Jews were no longer readily identifiable in many European societies. Previously, Jews had lived separately, had engaged in restricted economic outlets, and had fashioned their own cultures. Now the edifice of separatism was dismantled. Jews lived among their non-Jewish fellow-citizens, spoke the same languages, engaged in a far broader spectrum of economic activities, and entered the cultural mainstream. While ostensibly these Jews were distinguished by their religious identity, in fact such distinctiveness was often extremely difficult or impossible to recognize in everyday life. In a sense, this was a major success for the new political order, as the demands imposed on Jewish citizens as the condition for their acceptance in the new states were in fact met. On the other hand, Jewish acculturation was highly problematic to some elements in European society.
Rapid social change is disruptive at all times and places, and 19th-century Europe proved no exception to this general rule. While many in Europe – perhaps a substantial majority – found the new situation a vast improvement, inevitably there was a significant minority discomfited by the changes. Many resented the new notion of a secular polity and were dismayed at the diminution of the role of Christianity in the life of society. For such Europeans, the reality of Jews as equal citizens, which obviously contravened the historic consensus in Christendom that Jews posed dangers and had to be rigorously segregated in order to minimize these dangers, was perceived as a striking deviation from the past, indeed a departure that now created an insidious threat to Europe and its Christian heritage.
Beyond this broad longing for the past and this sense of the historic dangers that Jews might pose, there were social and economic realities that were perceived as more immediately threatening. Historically in Europe, Jews – generally excluded from the broad spectrum of economic opportunities – pioneered in innovative areas of the economy, areas for one reason or another shunned by the Christian majority. The classic example of such pioneering was the Jewish role in the credit markets of medieval Europe. Resented by the masses, this role constituted nonetheless an important Jewish contribution to the economic maturation of Europe. Under the new 19th-century circumstances, Jews were no longer forced into limited niches in the economy. Nonetheless, Jews were not welcomed into all sectors of economic endeavor. Old and traditional areas of economic activity remained relatively closed to them, driving them – again quite usefully – into the new. Jews became prominent in a number of innovative sectors of the European economy, with some of them (like the Rothschilds) achieving heights of success and power. In this way, Europe’s Jews became emblematic of the changes that were so distasteful to some Europeans. Awareness of the Jewish role in the changes engulfing Europe reinforced resistance to the new. The traditional sense of Jewish danger, which had previously been combated by segregation and limitation of the Jews, reasserted itself, but required innovative conceptualization that would convey awareness of the new dangers and the need to combat them vigorously to the rest of the Christian majority.
Under the circumstances of 19th-century European life, appeal to older notions of the Jews as an oppositional religious group was no longer tenable. European societies had opted for the position that religious difference no longer spelled threat, that a variety of religious denominations could live with one another peacefully and productively. The question of whether Jews – as the major non-Christian group on the scene – might be accorded a place in this multi-religious tapestry had been raised and had been answered affirmatively. Thus, there could be no appeal to an argument that Jews posed a religious danger. It was under these circumstances that the new anti-Semitic insight became important. In the view of the anti-Semites, Jews did in fact pose a serious threat to Europe, but that threat did not flow from their religious identity, as earlier observers had misguidedly suggested. The threat came from a hitherto unsuspected direction – the Jews as a biological community hostile and dangerous to Aryan European societies.
This new insight quickly made its mark on the political scene. Armed with this new understanding of the “Jewish issue,” political movements grounded in racial theory in general and its anti-Semitic implications in particular began to spring up, in some instances achieving considerable popular support. Not surprisingly, the adherents of these anti-Semitic movements tended in general to come from the ranks of those opposed to the wide-ranging changes in European society, from those wedded to the past. The new place of Jews in Europe and the Jewish role in the innovative aspects of economic and cultural life combined to convince these disaffected Europeans that, somehow or other, the Jewish issue lay at the very core of the battle against the new and the hopes for revival of the old.
Ironically but not altogether surprisingly, the basic insight of this new theoretical and political thrust was rapidly negated in the court of popular opinion and writing. The locution “anti-Semitism,” coined to herald a radically new understanding of Jews and Judaism as a racial phenomenon and of Christian-Jewish tensions as a biological struggle, quickly evolved into a synonym for anti-Jewish sentiment and action over the ages. All that was claimed by its coiners as innovative insight was obscured, as the term quickly became utilized in popular parlance to refer to the widest possible range of anti-Jewish behaviors and thinking. Anti-Jewish thinking and behavior in Early Antiquity, Late Antiquity, and the Middle Ages were labeled anti-Semitic, thus undercutting the claim that anti-Semitism involved innovative understanding of Jews and opposition to them. The powerful new term, widely and proudly advanced by its adherents, was quickly reinterpreted, through an expansion of meaning that in effect undercut the innovative thinking that had led to its coinage.
There was, to be sure, more involved in this effacing of the innovative grounding of anti-Jewish sentiment than popular misappropriation of a new term. Serious observers saw in the purportedly new theories and movements obvious continuities from prior anti-Jewish thinking and behaviors. Most of the alleged biological propensities of the Jews were in fact merely restatements of earlier anti-Jewish perceptions and claims, perceptions and claims deeply rooted in the religious context of medieval Europe. Perhaps the most obvious example was the anti-Semitic claim of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy aimed at toppling regnant Aryan civilization. This notion was directly parallel to medieval theories of a Jewish conspiracy to harm Christians and medieval Christendom. The same was true for the attacks on Jewish economic activity. The anti-Semitic assault on Jewish economic activities as intended on the overt level to enrich Jews, with the deeper intention of destroying the old and sturdy underpinnings of European Christendom, were reminiscent of much late medieval and early modern castigation of Jewish economic activity as baneful. Thus for many observers, the purportedly innovative insight amounted to nothing more than older hatreds couched in a new terminology.
From early in the history of the term “anti-Semitism,” the effacing of the novel in the terminology was overtly denied by important authors who wrote their histories of anti-Jewish thinking and action under such titles as Anti-Semitism or The History of Anti-Semitism. The former title was utilized by B. Lazare in 1894 for his study of the historic trajectory of anti-Jewish activity that began with ancient Egypt and ended with the late 19th century (Lazare 1903 ). The latter was the title of the even more ambitious four-volume study of anti-Jewish behaviors penned by L. Poliakov, which began in antiquity – with a special focus on the emergence of Christianity – and ended with Poliakov’s own lifetime (Poliakov 1965–85 [1955–77]). In the process of course, both authors and many more like them negated any unique qualities to the term anti-Semitism and turned it into a generic designation for anti-Jewish attitudes and actions over the ages.
Yet another evolutionary change that overtook the term anti-Semitism was the shift from the original positive valence of the term – at least to its initiators – to a term of denigration. Anti-Semitism was, it has been noted, not originally a term of opprobrium fixed on the new tendencies by its opponents. The term was coined by anti-Semites to highlight the innovation in their grasp of the Jewish issue and was proudly affixed to a number of political organizations and publications. Organizations happily designated themselves as “leagues of anti-Semites” and publications took as their titles “journals of anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, the designation rapidly absorbed negative connotations and became a term of opprobrium, with the connotation of unfair, exaggerated, indeed irrational hatred of Jews. This tendency to negative connotation accelerated in the wake of Nazi ideology and genocide. Subsequent to World War II, the term “anti-Semite” has almost never been embraced by anyone with pride (as was the case earlier) and has instead become a vehicle for castigation, affixed polemically to darken reputations. Imputing the label “anti-Semitic” has become a mode of attack on individuals or organizations, suggesting egregious racism and destructiveness.
The accumulating negative overtones to the term anti-Semitism created a set of new problems. As all prior anti-Jewish sentiment became labeled anti-Semitic – a term now bearing inflammatory negativism, many observers felt that some of the phenomena caught in the new and broad net did not fit appropriately under the designation anti-Semitic. Especially problematic for such observers was the inclusion of traditional Christian-Jewish religious jousting under the rubric of anti-Semitism. To label such religiously grounded opposition to Jews and Judaism anti-Semitism, with its overtones of intense and unjustified antipathy, seemed to many Christian observers unwarranted and unfair. Internal distinctions within the large body of anti-Jewish materials bequeathed from the past seemed a necessity.
It was under these circumstances that the term “anti-Judaism” came into being. The new term pointed to the reality of Christian-Jewish tensions, but suggested that Christian opposition to Judaism as a religious faith was by no means racist, irrational, or destructive. Rather, the term “anti-Judaism” served to highlight the fact that there is a reality of inter-faith tension and polemic that is in fact quite normal and that does not deserve to be denigrated through application of the defamatory term “anti-Semitism.”
There has been considerable agreement as to the necessity of drawing distinctions within the broad spectrum of historic and contemporary anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors. The failure to do so represents a disservice to milder and less destructive forms of anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors; indeed, at the same time it vitiates the special force of the term anti-Semitism, with its overtones of radical hostility and irrationality. Despite this agreement in principle as to the need for a range of terminologies to designate anti-Jewish views and actions, creating that range of terminologies has proven extremely difficult. This is partially the result of the striking hold that the term anti-Semitism has on the popular lexicon; it is at the same time a result of the complexities of anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors of the past and present.
One solution to this quandary, somewhat popular in scholarly circles, has been to restrict use of the term anti-Semitism to actual instances of 19th- through 21st-century racially grounded writings and actions, while using other locutions for prior anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors. This scholarly technique runs counter, however, to the widespread appeal of a very popular term. For many, reluctance to identify the 13th-century blood libel as anti-Semitic constitutes an academic quibble and reflects the obtuseness of the scholarly world. More important, the reluctance to affix the label “anti-Semitic” to earlier manifestations of anti-Jewish thinking and behavior results – it is claimed – in failure to acknowledge properly the pre-19th-century roots of anti-Semitic thinking. Recognition of the earlier roots of anti-Semitic thinking is viewed by many as key to proper understanding of the allegedly new phenomenon of anti-Semitism and as a major element in the battle against its ongoing impact.
Similarly, the term “anti-Judaism” has encountered grave difficulties of usage. While lengthy argumentation around proper interpretation of biblical verses is clearly anti-Judaic, it has proven difficult to decide how far to extend the term. Does the popular imagery of Synagoga as blindfolded – widely reproduced throughout the length and breadth of medieval Europe – deserve to be identified as anti-Judaic, or does it reflect opposition less theologically rooted, more intense, and more harmful? Further along on the spectrum of anti-Jewish views, the notion that Jews regularly desecrated the host wafer, in wide circulation from the late 13th century on in Europe and often reinforced by papal support for the sanctuaries erected in memory of the miracles allegedly performed by the abused host wafers, hardly seems to fall into the category of merely anti-Judaic; it seems to exhibit much of the intensity and destructiveness associated with the more pejorative anti-Semitic.
The most ambitious effort to redefine the term anti-Semitism was that of the late G. I. Langmuir. In his numerous articles and in a major book-length study – History, Religion, and Antisemitism (Langmuir 1990), Langmuir attempted to draw a distinction among three types of conflict with “the other” – rational conflict, non-rational conflict, and irrational conflict. According to Langmuir, rational conflict involves the ubiquitous jostling among groups for real advantages in everyday life, advantages of resources, power, and prestige; non-rational conflict involves the struggle among religious groups over the non-rational doctrines and beliefs that form the essence of religious identity; irrational conflict involves exploitation of “the other” in order to buttress the doubts harbored by believers. Thus, for Langmuir, the term “anti-Judaism” is a valid term, which points to the reality of theological – i.e., non-rational – dispute between Christians and Jews over the ages. For Langmuir, the term “anti-Semitism” properly designates irrational anti-Jewish perceptions designed to suppress the doubts of believers, whether those believers were 12th- and 13th-century Christians living within a Christian religious context or 19th- and 20th-century anti-Semites living within the new secular context of European society. For Langmuir, the term “anti-Semitism” can be properly utilized for both periods, because there is in fact a commonality that links the two phenomena. Indiscriminate use of the term “anti-Semitism” is unwarranted and misleading, but careful and accurate use of the term can be highly illuminating, pointing to important and influential continuities from the pre-modern period into modernity.
Terminology notwithstanding, there has been a growing consensus that anti-Jewish thinking took a significant negative turn with the maturation of western Christendom during the 12th and 13th centuries. The factors in this turn have been identified in a variety of ways. These include: the development of broad persecutory tendencies in western European society at this juncture, fostered by a new class of functionaries intent on expanding their power and prestige as protectors of Christendom (Moore 1987); the growth of religious doubt in sectors of European society, with alleged Jewish crimes serving to quell those doubts (Langmuir 1990); the efflorescence of rationalism in western Europe, which suggested that non-Christians were essentially irrational and thus less than human (Abulafia 1995); the emergence of anxieties over a range of dangers to burgeoning western Christendom, with these anxieties leading to ever more irrational perceptions of the Jews and the dangers they allegedly presented (Chazan 1997). Whatever the specifics, all these analyses of 12th- and 13th-century Europe suggest that the roots of anti-Semitic projections of alleged dangers flowing from Jewish presence were nourished by a legacy of prior anti-Jewish thinking. This new look at medieval Europe suggests that the popular sense that the anti-Semites were not as innovative as claimed was by no means misplaced, that in fact there was a popular and inchoate understanding of continuities that the scholarly world continues to attempt to dissect and comprehend.
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II Greco-Roman Antiquity
In the debate on the anti-Jewish sentiments and actions reported in documents of Greco-Roman antiquity some scholars consider modern concepts (such as Anti-Semitism ) of little help in historical investigation of antiquity; others claim to recognize a unique ancient antipathy directed at the Jews specifically (for review of issues see Cohen; Yavetz; Langmuir; Schäfer: 1–8, 197–211). Methodologically the debate is plagued by a tendency to paraphrase ancient sources (instead of interpreting them), as well as proof-texting and apologetics. Often a Judeo-centric view of antiquity leads to selective discussion.
The evidence is complex: a great many of the statements are found in fragments; we do not know the occasion, the proper context or the original import of the remarks. Many of these statements are quotations in polemical texts and there are often questions regarding authenticity. If Josephus’ Against Apion had been lost, many of the most virulent anti-Jewish passages from antiquity would have been unknown to us.
The episodes most discussed are the measures of Seleucid king Antiochus IV and his successors in Judea, the stasis (civil unrest) between Jews and citizens in the eastern Roman provinces, and the series of expulsions of Jews from Rome.
2. Antiochus IV
The infamous persecution of Judeans by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Seleucid ruler 175–164 BCE) should not be seen as straightforward hatred of Jews. Antiochus did not persecute the hundreds of thousands of Jews in other parts of his realm, notably in Syria and in Asia Minor. A series of political developments involving the Ptolemies, the Romans and various Egyptian and Syrian groups created the conditions within which the decision to oppress Jewish practices were taken.
Antiochus IV’s involvement in several struggles against the Parthians, the Ptolemies, and the Romans, as well as dynastic struggles within his own realm, created a need for money (abundantly available in the temple) which probably was the main incentive for involvement in the struggles in Judea. That struggle should probably be viewed as a civil war between Jewish factions. Hellenistic and nationalistic ideals combined with different notions about acculturation and traditional loyalties saw some Jews themselves involved with the grievous decrees (Grabbe: 246–56).
We must ask who, if not the extremist Jewish Hellenizers, informed the king about the religious situation in Judaea and advised him that the rebellion of the Jews could not be overcome except by the utterly unique method of religious suppression. (Feldman: 92).
3. Centers of Conflict
Certain privileges were granted the Jews by Julius Caesar and Augustus, which remained in effect after their time. In the words of the emperor Claudius: “… which customs I also have endorsed; and the Jews I explicitly command not to agitate for more privileges than they already possess…” (Papyrus London 1912, 87–91). Allowances for Sabbath and the extent of and involvement with military service clearly caused tensions in certain regions and at certain times (Sevenster: 145–79).
At Alexandria, Jewish aspirations to Greek citizenship whilst maintaining Jewish identity clearly caused tension. In 38 CE a mocking of King Agrippa I led to an announcement by governor Flaccus in which Jews were declared foreigners and aliens (see Philo, Flacc.). Mob action followed with severe and tragic effects for Alexandrian Jewry.
The connection of this anti-Jewish eruption to Apion, leader of the official delegation sent to argue before Caligula against Philo concerning the claims of abuse which were subsequently lodged by Jews, is unclear; surely the libelous charges ascribed to him must have fueled the conflict. Similar explicit anti-Jewish sentiments persisted under Trajan (P.Oxy. 1242) and Hadrian. The Jewish uprising of 66–70 CE provoked pogroms in Caesarea, Scythopolis, Ascalon, Ptolemais and elsewhere (Josephus, J.W. ii.457–68).
The violence against the Alexandrian Jews did not ignite spontaneously on the part of the Greeks, or even of the Egyptians.
It was a product of very specific circumstances in the pressure-cooker that Alexandria became under Roman rule, where status and privilege were scarce commodities, and one party’s gain was viewed by the other as loss. (Collins: 191)
According to Valerius Maximus (1.3.3; Stern 1974–1984: vol. 1, 357–60) Jewish missionaries were expelled from Rome in 139 BCE. The expulsion was ordered by the praetor peregrinus. The event seems connected to a reaction against popular astrological practices. The expulsion reflects the concern of the Roman ruling class about the diffusion of Eastern cults.
Though several collegia (political associations) were banned at various times (e.g., 46 BCE), the synagogues in Rome were specifically exempted (Josephus, Ant. xiv.213–16, esp. 215).
A serious conflict developed in 19 CE (Tacitus, Ann. ii.85.4; Suetonius, Tib. 36; Cassius Dio lvii.18.5) that resulted in another expulsion of Jews from Rome. According to Josephus (Ant. xviii.81), the whole Jewish community suffered because of the actions of four Jewish con men, who swindled money from a Roman matron. The situation was more complex: a considerable number of converts from the upper class seem to have been involved, raising suspicions of active proselytizing.
In the Roman world, religion and ethnic loyalties were inseparable. Thus converts to Judaism are seen as people who deliberately abandon their ancestral loyalties and exchange them for the antisocial company and exclusive religion of the Jews. (Isaac: 500)
Tiberius, an opponent to Oriental cults, had earlier the same year violently suppressed Isis worship (Moehring). Actions were taken against non-citizens, and about 4,000 Jewish men were conscripted into the military.
Expulsion also took place under Claudius, but several problems relating to the sources are difficult to evaluate (Smallwood: 210–16; Schwartz: 94–96; Botermann). Possibly, the Christian community could have grown large enough to cause conflict with the Jewish community towards the end of Claudius’ reign, drawing attention and consequent actions from Roman authorities. “Expulsions from Rome were the result of social stresses or even collective hatred, but they were expulsions, not killings, and they had no long-term effect…” (Isaac: 507).
In the Roman Empire urban crowds had little realistic scope for resistance, or to vent frustration. The most characteristic urban form of popular protest, for lack of a better term, is the “city mob” (Hobsbawm: 108–25): large public gatherings of common people coming together to seek redress from the ruling elite for some social or economic grievance, often expressing their dissatisfaction by means of riot or rebellion. Dangerously, “foreign” groups or “others” easily become targets, as the real tyrants cannot realistically be confronted.
The wider social context for anti-Jewish activities is the endemic violence of the so-called pax Romana. Despite official rhetoric, discord, feuds and factions characterized Roman urban conditions. Continuous rivalries between associations, and the precarious supply of food often led to social instability, marked by riots and lynching.
Proto-racism was rife in Greco-Roman antiquity, consisting of systems of classifying people according to stereotypes and denying individuality and variation (Isaac). These correlated with the theory of natural slavery and related attitudes towards foreigners which formed the framework in which imperialism could flourish free from moral restraint.
The fear of being conquered by the vanquished is part of the imperial mentality, and it typically has the characteristics of many forms of group hatred. It is an attitude that satisfies both fantasies of superiority and fears of inferiority, explaining whatever happens in reality, and it can be used to justify aggression. It is well represented in Roman sources, suiting the Roman preoccupation with the decline of civilization and at the same time making outsiders responsible for such disastrous developments. Greeks and Romans feared the real success of Jews in the midst of society; Jewish exclusiveness provided ample pretext for charges and actions against Jews in terms of a supposed monstrous conspiracy against Romankind and the values shared by Roman civilization.
Greco-Roman authors were concerned, mainly, with the curious features of Jewish belief in God and Jewish practices and rituals (diet, Sabbath, circumcision). Their comments represent a broad spectrum of ethnographic traditions and ancient prejudices; these biases differed according to historical and social contexts. Exclusively negative attitudes are not dominant.
6. Focal Points
The central themes in the literary polemic regarding Judaism are the origin of the Jews in Egypt (interpreted as the expulsion of lepers), their special religious concepts, and their way of life characterized by monotheism, abstinence from impure foods, the Sabbath and circumcision. Their withdrawal from the gentile environment led to accusations of general misanthropy and xenophobia, as well as unbelief and superstition.
The roots of this polemic lie in pre-Hellenic Egypt; broad literary testimony of this motif can be traced from Hecataeus of Abdera (ca. 300 BCE) onward: Apollonius Molon, Diodorus Siculus, Lysimachus, Apion, Chaeremon (see Gabba; Feldman: 123–76; Stern 1976).
Worship in the temple at Jerusalem was alleged to be the worship of an ass, involving human sacrifices. In Roman times, considerable ire could be detected in the reproach of Jewish proselytism, expressing fear of the destruction of Roman customs by the Jewish minority.
A detailed catalogue of such common anti-Judaic views is found in Tacitus (Hist. v.2–5). Extensive specifics are provided by Josephus (Against Apion ). The propagation of these images of Jews can be analyzed with the methods applicable to the formation of legends, motif transfer, invention of bias and the invention and development of traditions in general.
7. Impact of Literary Polemic
It is clear that the Jewish claim to be chosen was not understood; the Greek and Roman perspective focused on external behavior in cultural, political, daily and economic life. The crimes supposedly inherent in Judaism – misanthropy, atheism, abhorrent cultic practices – could easily and perfectly well have been investigated; few intellectuals and/or authorities did.
Not all the intellectuals of the Greco-Roman eras agreed on viewing the practices and beliefs of the Jews negatively; a remarkable number among the philosophic schools (especially of the neo-Pythagoreans and neo-Platonists) admired them. With the possible exception of the Alexandrian riot (38/39 CE) none of the slander of ancient authors led to an organized physical attack on Jews. The influence of the various authors on rulers or institutional authorities was minimal. As far as can be determined, persons such as Cicero, Seneca or Tacitus – who were all involved in politics – did not translate their anti-Jewish opinions into political or other measures against Judaism or Jewish adherents. The relationship between rulers and Jewish people remained by-and-large unaffected by the speeches or writings of senators, teachers, poets or satirists.
8. Studying Anti-Judaism
Antagonism and social tensions cannot be reduced to a single cause, and must be considered from a variety of points of view, as many areas of life are involved (customs, religion, commerce, ideals, as well as group and individual interests). Much of the anti-Jewish action in the Greco-Roman era was sporadic, often limited and connected to localized conflict. Reports about these conflicts are shaped by discourses of a general xenophobic “anti-barbarism” with forms of “proto-racist” attitudes prevailing towards other groups and cultures as well.
Difference is essential to group conflict, but difference does not always result in conflict. At stake is what the Greek and Roman authors made of alterity; tragically we find an unwillingness to acknowledge it and a lack of effort to establish meaningful group relations. It is this attitude which characterizes Anti-Semitism.
Investigation reveals not so much a history of Anti-Semitism as a history of ignorance and intellectual laziness; a lack of effort to consider the other’s point of view. Assumptions not based on empirical observation or objective reasoning, but on belief and self-interest, proliferated.
To speak of anti-semitism as if it were some kind of ahistorical virus is only the obverse of the genuinely anti-semitism tendency to find the cause of conflict in the Jewish, or semitic, character. It is also to fail to appreciate the contingent character of history. (Collins: 201)
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III New Testament
There is an ongoing scholarly debate about an appropriate term to characterize the phenomenon of enmity towards Jews and Judaism through the ages. Most controversial is, whether the neologism “anti-Semitism” is applicable to the NT or to pre-modern anti-Judaic enmity in general. Since it was coined in the 1870s to integrate political and social oppositions (initially in German speaking countries) against the process of emancipation on the basis of ideological constructions of the Jews as an pretended inferior and dangerous “race,” some scholars retain it solely for modern racist (and genocidal) manifestations of anti-Judaic enmity. The term, however, is a misnomer because it presupposes something that never existed except in the imagination of Jew-hatred: the false pretense that there are scientific reasons to distinguish a Jewish “race.” Some therefore use an unhyphenated term “antisemitism” or prefer another neologism, namely “anti-Judaism,” especially in reference to antiquity and in particular to the Greco-Roman world and early Christianity. But the problem is that hostility in the ancient world was directed against the Jewish people (“Jewry”) as well – and not only against its religion and culture (“Judaism”), let alone that it implied proto-racist aspects. Some again assign “anti-Semitism” solely to ancient Greco-Roman enmity and “anti-Judaism” to early Christianity (Gager: 8). Recently the term “Judeophobia” has come into usage, but not only as a term for ancient pagan anti-Judaic phenomena (Yavetz; Schäfer). It denotes the delusional character of enmity against Jews, but does not cover its “rationale.” All kinds of anti-Judaic discourses pretend to be based upon true knowledge about Jews and Judaism and carry forward a history of contempt and vilification embodied in a nearly inexhaustible reservoir. Some therefore again regard “antisemitism” as an umbrella term, since it is used in everyday speech for all different kinds of enmity against the Jews and Judaism through the ages.
A comparable complexity is to be found in regard to definition. Among various others, most helpful is the description offered by Helen Fein. She defines antisemitism as “a persisting latent structure of hostile beliefs towards Jews as a collective manifested in individuals as attitudes, and in culture as myth, ideology, folklore and imagery, and in actions – social or legal discrimination, political mobilization against the Jews, and collective or state violence – which results in and/or is designed to distance, displace, or destroy Jews as Jews”(Fein: 67). Although referring primarily to modern phenomena, the definition could nevertheless cover pre-modern and ancient ones, too, since it presupposes the existence of “discourses,” i.e., of bodies of knowledge, or “cultural codes” (Volkov) manifested in certain prejudices and stereotypes about, and in actions against Jews. It should not be misunderstood, however, that antisemitism is directed against Jews as Jews only in that sense, that it construes a collective “Jew,” that is it invents a (distorted and delusional) image of Jews or a “chimerical” Jew, to use Gavin I. Langmuir’s term. But as applicable as Langmuir’s characterization is, his contention is nevertheless inaccurate, that “chimerical” hostile assertions do not start until as recently as the Middle Ages. Horror stories about Jews already are to be found in antiquity (Schäfer: 197–211). And when he distinguishes between “realistic,” “xenophobic” and “chimerical” versions of anti-Judaic attitudes – only the latter category he calls “anti-Semitic” for its obvious lack of a “kernel in truth” – one wonders what amount of hatred could be called “realistic” or “xenophobic.”
3. Anti-Judaic Reading of the New Testament
The use of the NT as a source of categorical or essentialist enmity and of historically contingent polemics against Jews has a long and deeply-rooted history. Although books of the NT have also been read as evidence which suggests how entrenched the Christian faith is in Judaism and how close both religions are, the anti-Judaic reception has more or less shaped Christianity’s attitude to Jews and Judaism through the centuries. In fact, it is this very ambivalence that often characterizes hostile Christian attitudes towards Jews and Judaism. There are probably only a few chapters and verses of the NT which did not experience any anti-Judaic interpretation or use in the course of history. Thus Christian discourses on Jews and Judaism have created on their part a construction (and distortion) of the Jew and of Judaism, which leaned to a “negative myth” (Ruether). It consists of various single topics, motives and stereotypes, but performs always a sample of them to paint a total disparaging or vilifying image. A lot of the components of that latent body of anti-Judaic “cultural code” (Volkov) are taken from NT texts – for example the obdurate and blindfolded Jews, the Christ-killers and the murderous Jews in general, the self-righteous, boasting and hypocritical Jews, the Jews who are stubbornly disobedient to God’s revelation, the unbelieving Jews, the misanthropic Jews who are rejected by God and are under God’s wrath and curse, the Jews as children of the devil, the Synagogue of Satan and so on and so forth. Read canonically and in an already established anti-Judaic context the NT has indeed forced readers from late antiquity until today to hold hostile attitudes towards Jews and Judaism in everyday communications, in commentaries, sermons, theological tractates, let alone in books of the special literary Adversus-Judaeos-genre. Negative projections were even read into texts, where those abating τόποι do not occur literally. A lot of verses and passages of the New Testament’s books obviously seem to fit smoothly into a discourse of “stigmatization of the Jews” (Katz: 323). From many books were drawn theological “teaching of contempt” (J. Isaac) like these ones: Christianity is the replacement of Judaism, Christendom is the true and spiritual Israel, the Christian religion has superseded or replaced Judaism, it has the true and better divine (namely spiritual) cult or service, the Synagogue is the old covenant destined to pass by, Christianity is the new and better covenant, Judaism is an inferior religion and has inferior ethics, Judaism and the Jews are rejected, etc. Not to forget the various horrible violent actions against Jews perpetrated by Christians against Jews, which were often justified by reference to the NT, especially to the myth of the Jews as pretended Christ-killers.
4. Challenging the Anti-Judaic Reading
It is only after the Holocaust and increasingly since the 1960s that this reading was questioned categorically and on a pronounced hermeneutical basis, mainly in three regards. Historical criticism puts into question whether one could speak of polemical assertions directed against Jews or groups of the Jewish people and their practices and beliefs in the NT as evidences of anti-Judaism or even of anti-Semitism. Do these denotations not cross fade a historical culture of conflict within Judaism with a later Christian bad habit of abating Jews and Judaism from the outside? The hermeneutical query challenges, above all, whether the disparaging Christian construction and distortion or ultimately the demonizing of the Jews and Judaism in Christian tradition is really the “subsistent meaning” (Adam: 2) and intended reading of the New Testament’s books. The decisive question is, if it is possible to read a book “without an anti-Jewish reading effect” (Adam: 67). But even if it is impossible, it is argued that on moral, theological and political grounds, Christianity must denounce those anti-Judaic discourses altogether.
5. Traits of Anti-Judaic Enmity in the New Testament
New Testament texts could be classified on the whole as the point of intersection or “interface” between the prior and ongoing pagan stigmatization of Jews on the basis of ethnic/religious prejudices and the subsequent new type of Christian enmity which also takes up (prophetic) intra-Jewish critique or polemics and molds a new (Christian) type of hatred. In fact all three versions are to be found in 1 Thess 2 : 15. It combines what later became the heart of the Christian accusation of the Jews, namely that they have “killed the Lord Jesus,” with the intra-Jewish polemic that they have “killed the prophets” (again combined with the accusation, that they have “persecuted us,” sc. the apostles, like the prophets) and the pagan anti-Judaic stereotypes that they do “not please God” and are “adversaries to all mankind” (misanthropy ). Further Greco-Roman τόποι are also found in Phil 3 : 2 (circumcision as mutilation), Rom 2 : 22 (temple robbery/ἱεροσυλεῖν as allusion to Ἱεροσόλυμα/Jerusalem), Gal 4 : 25 (borned slaves) and perhaps misanthropy also in Matt 5 : 43 (“love your neighbor and hate your enemy”). Although rare, the receptions of and allusions to Greco-Roman stereotypes certainly serve an established anti-Judaic discourse. Connected with the setting of intra-Jewish polemics the accusation of the Jews as those who have “killed the Lord Jesus” in 1 Thess 2 : 15 can only amplify the sweeping argument. Supported by a context, which states that the “wrath/punishment” has finally come over the Jews (1 Thess 2 : 16), a possibility to read this passage – whether authentic Pauline or not – without an anti-Judaic effect is inexistent, the more so as it is directed to a Gentile audience as “implied reader.” Irrespective of the conflict with Jews which might stand historically behind this passage it indubitably belongs to an anti-Judaic discourse. The so-called passion narratives of the Gospels have had a similar effect, since they accuse more or less (the ) Jews and Jewish authorities as responsible for Jesus’ execution by the Romans.
Although apparently not embedded in existing pagan anti-Judaic reading formations, the Gospel of John leans towards a kind of demonizing of the Jews (esp. John 8 : 31–47). The global picture of the Jews (οἱ Ἰουδαίοι) as dangerous enemies of Christ (and his followers) and as traitors of their own religion, let alone as the villains in a drama of cosmic dimensions (cf. Reinhartz) presented in the text establishes its own anti-Judaic “reading formation.” Presumably reflecting a social-historical context of bitter conflicts, in disparaging and vilifying the Jews John hardly expects the reader to receive its message without an anti-Judaic effect. And it is not conceivable that implied readers should consider themselves, as followers of Jesus, to be “(true) Jews,” even if the reader is imagined in the text as one who erstwhile belonged to the Jews (as proselyte?) or sympathized with them as a God-fearer (mainly the latter presumption could fit to the “put out of the synagogue” for Christ-believers in John 9 : 22; 12 : 42; 16 : 2). By the same token, however, the Gospel argues on the basis of a symbolic universe which is deeply-rooted in (Hellenistic) Judaism and explicitly refers to the Jews as the origin of the “salvation” (John 4 : 24).
Regarding other books, above all on Matthew, Luke-Acts and Hebrews (but also on John), however, there are highly controversial scholarly debates where the question of an anti-Judaic reading is concerned. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Gospels are clearly intended for an audience outside of a Jewish context. Others argue insistently against this idea. These antithetic interpretations depend mostly on the respectively assumed historical situations, the empirical authors and readers and the discourse-formations of the books. Hebrews for example is taken by Samuel Sandmel as an anti-Judaic “exposition of the conviction that Christianity is the ideal religion.” But he admits, that “Judaism is not vilified … nor are Jews aspersed”. Of course Hebrews was read as if it was speaking about a new and better “religion.” But it is argued that this reading defers a Platonic-apocalyptic discourse (within Judaism) on a new and better “covenant” to an anachronistic framework of an already existing Christianity, which defines itself as a religion over against and hostile to Judaism. Comparable is the discussion on Matthew and other books. Notwithstanding the fact that all have had a pronounced anti-Jewish usage, this debate calls attention to the hermeneutical shift in the frame. Anti-Judaic readings are today not self-evident but have to be justified on a basis of historical and literary criticism. Thus a lot of anti-Judaic readings of NT texts have been challenged and others have been put in more complex contexts. Paul’s letter to the Romans for example is read as a partly anti- and intra-Jewish polemical discourse, which nevertheless displays a soteriological conception for the people of Israel as a whole (Rom 11 : 25–32). Although some of them do not share the faith, Paul seems to explain this as the result of a divine action (“hardening”) and directs admonitions to Gentile Christ-believers not to “brag against” those Israelites who do not take part (Rom 11 : 11–23). And when he refutes a teaching according to which God has “cast off his people” (Rom 11 : 1–2), he opposes a one-sided, anti-Judaic reading of his letter.
6. Concluding Remarks
One cannot deny that there are texts in the NT which intentionally served anti-Judaic reading-formations. However, whether they were already culturally established or newly created by the emerging Christian movement makes a difference. The indubitable fact that the NT has been time and again an integral part of Christian enmity and hatred towards Jews and Judaism in various forms and patterns would not have been possible without the hostile context within which the emerging Christian identity developed historically, over against the Jews and Judaism. So NT texts on their part suited Christian concepts of the Jews as enemies more or less smoothly. Obviously Jews and Judaism have never been marginal for Christianity and Christians, since their self-definition is rooted in Jewish origins both historically and also theologically, by reason of the Christian Holy Scripture, the double canon of the Old and the New Testament. Therefore one can speak of Christian enmity as a tragedy of nearness. Dismissing the Marcionite rejecting of the Hebrew Bible as part and parcel of Christian self-concept, Christian discourses again and again tended to take the form of a kind of self-assurance face to face to and mostly over against Judaism and the Jews. Apparently this configuration is the reason why contingent historical conflicts represented in the NT gained essentialist weight. Maybe that explains why Christians almost permanently felt a kind of coercion to constitute themselves as the true heirs of the biblical salvific history at the cost of disparaging or actually demonizing Jews and Judaism, even then or just then, when Christians became dominant majorities. The New Testament’s polemics thus were used as if its historical contexts exist as long as Jews exist, howsoever marginal their minorities in Christian societies were.
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A Greek and Latin Patristics and Orthodox Churches
Three distinct tributaries fed the great river of anti-Judaism that coursed through Christian theology in the 2nd through 5th centuries. Hostile ethnographies by Hellenistic and Roman writers expressed disdain and dislike for Jews as a people and (thus) as a religious culture. Extravagant accusations justified this disdain: Jews, these pagan authors charged, sacrificed humans, or ate them; they were both lazy and sexually profligate; sickeningly savage in war, unreliable in peace, Jews hated all outsiders and looked after only themselves. But Classical ethnographers, dividing the world between “us” (virtuous and civilized) and “them” (barbarian), said equally scurrilous things about Persians, Egyptians, and Parthians, about Germans, Gauls, and Celts: these authors, in their original pagan context, were equal-opportunity xenophobes. Their specifically anti-Jewish rhetoric has an exaggerated presence in our evidence because it was preserved and deployed by later Christian writers (see Isaac).
Jewish writings, most especially the LXX, also fed Christianity’s anti-Jewish rhetoric. Later Jewish texts, also in Greek, contributed as well: apocrypha and pseudepigrapha (e.g., Lives of the Prophets ), the letters of Paul, and various accounts of Jesus’ life and death. All these literatures preserved heated polemics by their Jewish authors against other Jews (even when these other Jews were also fellow Christians, e.g., 2 Cor 11 : 22–23; Matt 7 : 21–23). By the late first and early second centuries, however, as forms of Christianity migrated further from their Jewish matrix, gentile Christian authors transformed these intra-Jewish disputes and criticisms into condemnations of Judaism itself.
Philosophical paideia, finally, particularly its Platonizing strains, set the terms of learned theology, and thereby contributed crucially to Christian groundswells of anti-Jewish rhetoric. Most ancient Christian theologians, whether heretical or orthodox, adopted philosophy’s definition of the high god – perfect, changeless, utterly without body – and identified that god with the father of Christ. Some, especially Gnostics, assumed, therefore, that the active god described in Genesis was a lower god, a demiurge or kosmokrator. For Valentinus or Marcion, this lower god, the god of the Jews, was Christ’s opponent; for Justin, this lower god was Christ, active in history before his incarnation (Dial. 56–62). All took for granted that matter, the unstable substratum of the visible cosmos, was in some way defective, whether materially or morally. (Consistent allegiance to this point of view framed Christology as docetic and salvation as purely spiritual.) Accordingly, theologians also praised and valued sexual renunciation over sexual activity, associating the former with “mind” or “spirit” and the latter with “body” or “flesh.” Serving as binary opposites, these paired terms also coded hermeneutics: to interpret a text or teaching “correctly” was to understand “according to the spirit;” to do so “incorrectly” was to understand “according to the flesh.” (Thus, interpretive positions or religious practices attributed to Jews were invariably identified as “fleshly.”) Finally, adopting and adapting the intra-pagan arguments originally deployed by the Academy against traditional Mediterranean cult, Christians authors denounced Jewish sacrifices as an offense to piety and to God.
The arsenal provided by these three traditions is displayed, mid-2nd century, in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho. The old Mosaic law, Justin explains there, was not a privilege but a punishment, earned by the Jews’ stubborn sinfulness: understood “spiritually,” Jewish scripture actually encodes allegories or typologies of Christ (e.g., Dial. 11–14, 18, 21–22, and frequently). Israel’s temple service, unspiritual in itself, had served merely to temper the perennial Jewish tendency to worship idols (32). The heroes of Jewish scripture – Moses, David, the prophets – had actually spoken about Christ; but the Jews, interpreting in a “fleshly” way, misunderstood this reference. Once Christ, the lower god active in Jewish scriptures, finally did appear in the flesh, Jews rejected his teachings and murdered him, just as they had done to the prophets before him. Jews ever since, Justin concluded, because of their sin in killing Christ, would live in perpetual exile (16).
The tropes of this anti-Jewish rhetoric did double-duty. They initially provided proto-orthodox Christians with an apology vis-à-vis contemporary critics, whether pagans, heterodox Christians, or Jews, to explain why their community reverenced the LXX while foregoing most of the practices that it enjoined (“fleshly” circumcision, food laws, Sabbaths, and so on; see Efroymson). But these arguments had an even longer future as a weapon of choice within entirely Christian debates, especially after Constantine, when imperial efforts to unify the church resulted in an explosion of internal arguments and in heated exchanges of anti-Jewish accusations between warring individuals and doctrinal camps. Thus Athanasius condemned his Arian enemies, in a conflict over the date of Easter (see Brakke); thus Jerome condemned Augustine, in a debate over how to read Galatians (Fredriksen 2008: 290–302). To call a Christian opponent a “Jew” was to call him, in the most profound and definitive way possible, an un-Christian, indeed, an anti-Christian. In all forms of orthodox literature and, from the fourth century on, in Imperial legislation as well (see Lindor), this “rhetorical Jew” found a prominent place as a constitutive element of orthodox Christian identity itself.
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B Medieval Times and Reformation Era
Although many historians have argued that Christians and Jews coexisted fairly peacefully in western Europe until the 11th century, a careful reading of doctrinal and legal texts from the early Middle Ages suggests otherwise, namely that the legal and soteriological status of Jews in Christian polities was constantly deteriorating over this period. The concrete fate of the Jews in the following period is a matter of record, from the Rhineland massacres during the first Crusade (1096–97) though the murder of thousands of Jews, blamed for the Black Death in hundreds of towns and cities (1348–52), to ritual-murder and host-desecration trials, as well as widespread expropriations and expulsions. How this well-known story of bloodshed and dispossession might relate to Christian understandings of Jews and Judaism, based on particular readings of the Bible, is less a matter of record and more a matter of speculation and argument. The idea that “Christianity” (or at least “Rome”) was responsible for the sufferings of Jews in the Middle Ages has found a broad audience, from medieval (and contemporary) Jews through Martin Luther, Voltaire, Marx and many secular modern intellectuals. However, it was not that simple. The fact that relatively long periods of seemingly peaceful co-existence were punctuated by episodes of violence in pre-modern Europe does not necessarily mean, as some scholars – esp. of Spanish Jewry – have claimed that Christians and Jews lived together based on mutual tolerance or even convivencia; rather, as the anthropologist Robert Hayden has suggested, they may well have co-existed in a perpetual state of tension that he calls “antagonistic toleration,” which explains both peaceful periods and violent outbursts.
The Middle Ages saw a gradual drift from the position expressed in Rom 9–11, where Paul argues that Jews could be oppressed but not slaughtered or forcibly converted, to a more missionary and dismissive position, exemplified in Galatians and Corinthians (Stow). Furthermore, the ecclesiastical monopoly on the interpretation of Scripture – long thought to have been broken by Luther and the Reformation – was already waning by the 12th century. The appearance of the Albigensians and Waldensians towards its end exemplified lay attempts of the period to come to grips with Scripture via new vernacular translations. By the 14th century, Wyclif and the Lollards were reading English Bibles, Hus and the Hussites Czech Bibles, and numerous German and French Bibles were in circulation, not merely among the clergy and nobility, but also among educated burghers. Increased lay knowledge of Scripture coincided with the spread of ideas that cast contemporary Jews as “heretics” who had deviated from the temple-based Judaism prescribed in Leviticus and other books of Hebrew Scripture. Indeed, approaching rabbinic Judaism from the perspective of Scripture only, without reference to the talmudic corpus that made the practice of Judaism possible in the absence of the temple at Jerusalem, could not fail to yield dubious results.
Learned theology and exegesis meshed with sub-theological (or “popular”) conceptions in the belief that Judaism was an obsolete and broken religion, an idea advanced by Paul (e.g., in Rom 7, or in the dream of the net, Acts 11) and throughout the New Testament, and codified by Augustine. In the Middle Ages, an expanded version of that supersessionist reading came to dominate popular perceptions, particularly in the cities and towns of Europe. The papacy, however, insisted on the protections afforded Jews by official doctrine and Roman law, and repeatedly condemned the blood libel, ritual murder and host desecration accusations as well as the persecution of Jews for “well-poisoning” during the Black Death. Such condemnations were contained in multiply re-issued versions of traditional bulls known (after their first words) as Sicut Iudaeis non, the first of which dates to as early as 1119, reiterating the position found in Romans: no persecution or forced conversion; Jews as witnesses to Truth; eventual conversion. However, Rome was unable to hold back popular anger when townspeople and nobles chose to blame Jews for unfortunate accidents, natural disasters or other catastrophes, nor could it police local laws, judicial practice or culture.
The many vernacular versions of Scripture that circulated among the laity – Bibles moralisées, Gospel harmonies or diatessera, “historiated” Bibles (based largely on the late 12th-century Latin Historia scholastica ) and many other devotional works that recounted Bible stories in the vernacular – were not overly concerned to report the contents of Scripture in complete and unadorned detail; rather, they retold scriptural stories, paralleling the vernacular translations that seem to have been of more interest to educated layfolk than to the common people (at least up to the time of Luther’s translation). An increased emphasis on the sufferings of Christ in the 14th century was encouraged and transmitted by the lesser clergy and monastic writers in particular. Images of Jews as enemies of Jesus proliferated and were reflected in stained glass windows and in Last Judgement scenes in the west portal of churches. In sub-theological versions of the Bible, esp. retellings, Jews were often depicted as enemies, even “Christ-killers,” based on the Passion narratives of the Gospels.
Bible retellings, composed mainly by members of the lesser clergy, also contained elements of legend, fantasy and literary motifs from classical and Christian periods. These retellings shaped medieval lay understandings of the Bible and its “teachings” to a great extent. The Historia scholastica and its vernacular emulations (such as the famous 13th-century Rijmbijbel of Jacob van Maerlant) were widely read in the Middle Ages. These books and the images they contained (and inspired) depicted Jews as actively participating in the trial and Passion of Christ, as hostile to Christianity, and esp. as eschatological threats in the form of the Ten Lost Tribes. The latter, confused with the apocalyptic peoples of the book of Revelation “Gog and Magog” (a version of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the king “Gog, from the land of Magog”) had supposedly been enclosed by Alexander the Great behind great mountains to prevent their breaking out to devastate Christendom. The Ten Tribes (or, in a German-language version of that story, the evil, cannibalistic “Red Jews”) would break out at the end of time to devastate Christendom, sometimes following a “false Messiah,” understood by Christians as the ‘Antichrist’ (another product of literary fantasy applied to biblical texts). When the Tatars threatened Europe in 1240/41, Mathew Paris wrote that the Jews, both real ones in Europe and the legendary Ten Tribes, were in league with these Asiatic hordes, harbingers of the End. Biblical, imaginary and contemporary Jews were thus identified with each other in various ways, much to the detriment of the latter.
Later medieval readings of the Bible, including Luther’s, continued to insist on the culpable role of Jews in Jesus’ Passion and death, and on ideas that Gavin Langmuir has called “chimerical.” These licensed violence against Jews, and dispossession and expulsion throughout the remaining area of Jewish settlement in the west.
In 1492, the Spanish Jews were expelled. Almost three centuries of persecution awaited those who stayed, based not so much on the Bible as on racist laws (limpieza de sangre, purity of blood), by both the Inquisition and secular authorities alike. Luther’s pamphlets of 1543 called for Jews to convert or be locked in their synagogues and burned alive; Pope Paul IV confined Rome’s Jews to a ghetto. Luther has often been blamed for later German anti-Semitism (e.g., via the Nazis’ use of some of Luther’s writings), an ex-post-facto explanation that does not do justice to Luther’s complex relationship to Judaism. In the main, he stuck to the late-medieval supersessionist ideas that had helped justify expulsions of Jews from German cities. Specific passages of the NT might be invoked to justify such persecution, but the causes were multiple. The exclusion of Jews from western European society that had begun in the 11th century was largely concluded and sealed in the 16th century.
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C Modern Europe and America
The creation of new forms of Christianity accompanied by new interpretations of the Christian Bible in the early modern era brought about more variegated attitudes towards Jews in Christian European Society. Protestant opinions on the Jews have, from the beginning, been diverse and complex with different Protestant groups and thinkers developing different opinions on Judaism and Jews. While Protestants offered new translations and interpretations of the biblical texts, most mainline Protestants followed the historical arguments of Christianity against Judaism and retained the cultural perceptions of European Society on Jews. For the most part, Christian groups, both old and new, insisted that the only means to obtain justification and salvation was through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself on the cross to atone for human sins. While taking a renewed interest in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, many Protestants agreed with the Orthodox Christians and the Roman Catholics that Christianity inherited God’s covenant with Israel.
Some Protestants, however, developed a new interpretation of the Jews and their role in history, viewing the Jews as the chosen people and the objects of biblical prophecies about a restored Davidic kingdom in the Land of Israel. The translation of the Bible into the vernacular had a strong effect on the English Protestant mind. Reading the Christian sacred scriptures in Elizabethan and Stuart England stirred new eschatological thinking, which became especially prevalent among those influenced by the Reformed Tradition. While some thinkers identified the English with ancient Israel and believed that Jerusalem could be built in England, many also paid attention to the prospect of the return of the Jews to Palestine and their conversion to Christianity. Another Christian group that developed similar attitudes towards Jews came about in central Europe at the turn of the 18th century. Pietists too related to the Jews as people who were God’s chosen and put special efforts into evangelizing that people. The expression of good will towards the Jews, based on a Christian biblical faith, in Pietist and evangelical circles manifested itself in the rise of Christian Zionism, support for Jewish restoration in Palestine motivated by a Christian messianic faith. The more appreciative Christian attitudes, however, were also not devoid of elements of anger at the Jewish refusal to accept Jesus and of negative stereotypes of Jews, which had become strongly rooted in Christian culture. Suspicious or hostile sentiments towards Judaism and Jews determined actual policies towards that people, influencing the civil status of the Jews and the designation of their places of living and their professions. At the beginning of the modern era a number of Christian rulers and cities restricted Jews to ghettos, specific Jewish quarters, or forbade their settlement in their midst altogether. Such policies were in many parts of Christian Europe well into the 19th century, and in Russia until 1917.
Since the late 18th century the Enlightenment, modernization and secularization have also impacted the attitudes of Western Christian societies towards the Jews. Anti-Jewish polemicists transformed older Christian arguments against Judaism and Jews into secular ones, attacking Jews on social, political and ideological grounds. Even in a more secular era, Christian thinkers related in strong terms to the Jews. The Christian understanding of the role and place of the Jews in God’s plans for humanity had been decisive to defining the Christian tradition. With the Enlightenment, modernity and the emancipation of the Jews, Christian perspectives on the Jews and their place in society expressed their understanding of the relationship between Christian identity and the character of the modern nation state. Christian Enlightenment thinkers did not always complement Judaism, finding it easier to direct much of their criticism of the Christian tradition towards the Jewish sacred texts. European academic scholarship tended to cast doubt on the biblical Hebrew narrative and presented Israelite monotheism as an outgrowth of other Near Eastern traditions. Only in the late 20th century did major Christian groups and thinkers grant Judaism theological legitimacy. All throughout the modern era Christian writers, and since the 20th century Moslem polemicists too, have published anti-Jewish tracts, exposing the alleged wrongs embodied in the Jewish faith and in Jewish character. Since the 18th century, such anti-Jewish inciters have also taken advantage of newspapers to circulate their views. At the turn of the 21st century, they have posted much of their claims on the World Wide Web. Anti-Jewish polemicists have also used caricatures to express their hostility towards the Jews. Their art and drawings deliberately perverted features of the Jews to demonstrate the alleged inherent moral degeneration of that people. In addition to older grievances and negative stereotypes, in many Christian societies popular sentiment came to blame the Jews for the painful consequences of modernization, urbanization and the rise of a capitalist technological society. Many also resented the social standing of Jews: the outsiders became insiders and often beat their Christian counterparts at their own professional and cultural games. It was in that atmosphere of antagonism against the emancipated Jews that Wilhelm Marr (1819–1904), a Protestant German intellectual, coined the term “anti-Semitic” to designate his and others’ inherent distrust of Jews. In the latter decades of the 19th century theories on race and peoplehood also affected attitudes towards the Jews, reconstructing the dynamics of Christian-Jewish relations in new racial and nationalist terms. European thinkers invented the “Aryan race,” which comprised Northern and Atlantic Europeans, viewing the “Semitic race” including the Jews, as allegedly inferior. Popular hostility towards the Jews had been such that a number of European politicians found it advantageous to include anti-Semitic incitement in their political campaigns. Anti-Semitic policies reached a peak under the Nazi regime in Germany, 1933–1945, as well as a number of fascist allies of the Nazis. The policy of annihilation of the Jews caused such revulsion in the post-World War II period that open brutal anti-Semitism became unacceptable in polite enlightened societies, but has nonetheless persisted in more covert forms or in non-mainstream settings. A number of Christian thinkers concluded that there was a need for an inherent change of attitudes in relation to Judaism and the Jews in order to insure that such brutalities do not repeat themselves. Such a breakthrough in the attitudes of Christians towards Jews and Judaism occurred in the 1960s, both contemporaneously with and in the wake of Concilium Vatican II, the major Roman Catholic council that transformed Christian life in the second half of the 20th century. In 1965 the council came out with an historical reconciliatory declaration on Christian-Jewish relations, and other Christian churches pursued the theme further, offering a greater amount of legitimacy for Jewish existence alongside Christianity. Anti-Semitism has persisted well into the 21st century, although much of the negative incitements occur today in non-European nations.
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When discussing anti-Judaism and Islamic societies, it is essential to differentiate between Islamic texts that can be interpreted as anti-Jewish and modern forms of anti-Semitism. While the first category includes, e.g., medieval polemical debates, modern anti-Semitism is based on secular, nationalistic and racial ideologies that gained a foothold in the Muslim world from the second half of the 18th century.
Some verses in the Qurʾān have been interpreted and used in support of anti-Judaism, especially S 2 : 65; 5 : 60 and 7 : 166, which mention the transformation of “sinners” among the Children of Israel into apes and pigs. For some Muslims this is an indirect reference to Jews. Another example is the ḥadīth report, sometimes called “the promise of the stones and trees,” found in Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj’s Ṣaḥīḥ. The text reads:
Ibn ʿUmar reported that Allāh’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) had said: ‘You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding behind me); kill him’ (Book 52, Kitāb al-fitan wa-ashrāṭ as-sāʿa, Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj 1990: 392).
During the medieval period, it was usually easier for Jews to live under Muslim than Christian rule, for although pogroms did take place in the Muslim world, notably in Granada in 1066, expressions of anti-Judaism were less frequent. For Muslims, Jews belong to “The People of the Book” (Ahl al-kitāb ) and were the “protected people” (Ahl al-dhimma ), entitled to certain political, judicial and religious rights, though these were often conditioned and restricted by Muslim rulers.
When local Muslim leaders circumvented this system, tensions between Muslims and Jews grew quickly. For example, prior to the pogrom in Granada in 1066, the Muslim jurist Abū Isḥāq composed an ode (qaṣīda ) against the Jews, which complained about the favors shown by the Berber ruler Bādīs bin Ḥabbūs to the Jews and the Ha-Nagīd family. The poem, which is preserved by the 14th century author Ibn al-Khaṭīb, illustrates clearly how the Qurʾān and the ḥadīth literature were used to criticize the Jews:
Do not choose a servant from among them but leave them to the curse of the accurst! For the earth cries out against their wickedness and is about to heave and swallow us all. Turn your eyes to other countries and you will find the Jews there are outcast dogs. Why should you alone be different and bring them near when in all the land they are kept afar? (Lewis 1999: 169)
Although Abū Isḥāq had personal reasons for his hostility – he had lost his influential position at the Zīrid court to the Ha-Nagīd family – his poem is written against Jews in Granada. According to Bernard Lewis, Abū Isḥāq’s aim was to create hostility between Jews and Muslims and to encourage the Berber Muslims to fight the Jews. Although it is difficult to see it as the only explanation for the outburst of the pogrom in 1066, it is clear that Abū Isḥāq’s ode is an example of medieval anti-Judaism. It presents Jews according to an anti-Jewish stereotypical scheme as infidels, “the vilest ape,” rich, powerful and disloyal.
The Qurʾān stresses that Muslims should respect earlier revelations and hold the biblical prophets in high regard. The “sincere” followers of Judaism and Christianity are even to be rewarded:
Surely those who believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabaeans, whoever believes in God and the last day, and works righteousness – their wage awaits them with their lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow. (S 2 : 62)
But the Qurʾān also emphasizes that the Jews and Christians have altered or corrupted their revealed message from God, and it is only the Qurʾān that contains the complete revelation. However, according to Sachedina the Muslim idea that the Qurʾān supersedes Christianity and Judaism by abrogation is an influence from Christian debates (Sachedina: 303).
It is also clear that the current Arab form of anti-Semitism has adopted and translated the “Antisemitic stereotypes, images, and accusations of European and Christian origin” (Milson 2004: 1). For instance, The Protocol of the Elders of Zion, a “classic” anti-Semitic text which argues that the Jews are striving for world domination, was translated into Arabic in 1927. Furthermore, the Jews are often accused of ritual killings and portrayed as Christ-killers, though the latter accusation is very odd from a Muslim point of view, because the Qurʾān states that Jesus never died on the cross (S 4 : 157).
Modern anti-Semitism was introduced by Christian communities and strengthened by the colonial system. The shift in power created suspicions and hostilities among Muslims. It is therefore correct to say that the situation had changed dramatically for the Jews in the Middle East by the turn of the 20th century. At this point several factors contributed to an increasing tension between Jews and Muslims. For example, the Zionist movement was started, racism was on the rise in Europe, and the Balfour Declaration was signed in 1917. With the rise of Arab nationalism and the outbreak of the Second World War, Nazi propaganda was also circulated and supported by many Arab leaders. Besides its political impact, Nazi ideology transformed Judaism from a predominantly religious category into a racial one.
Even though it is difficult to find one single explanation for anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in the Arab world today, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is of great importance. But the Jews are often used as scapegoats in Middle Eastern politics to explain local, regional and global problems, conflicts and political failures.
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VI Other Religions
Outside the Christian world, anti-Judaism was virtually unknown in medieval times. In the modern and postmodern world, both religious anti-Judaism and racial anti-Semitism can be found in societies where few Jews live. Japan provides a notable example. Late 19th-century Christian missionaries used the Bible to portray Jews as a wicked and despised people. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been available in Japanese since 1924, and provides a major source of anti-Semitic writing by Japanese of many religious persuasions, including not only Christians but also Shintoists, Buddhists, and members of New Religious Movements. Although Jews are stereotypically described as dominating international finance and controlling the media, many Japanese admire rather than hate and fear them. In many Japanese writings, this caricature of Jews enables authors to describe, explicitly and implicitly, their own ideals of the Japanese national character and racial purity.
The beginning of a more positive understanding between different religions, based on a more positive and historically informed understanding of Judaism and of Jewish-Christian history, is recorded in Ucko’s book. Like Jews in Christian society, many Asian Christians have lived as a small minority and have struggled to live their faith freely and faithfully. This book’s authors argue that Jews and Asian Christians have much to learn from each other. The next step is surely to draw members of other Asian religions into debates derived from the Bible about, inter alia, being a minority or a majority, concepts of religious identity in plural societies, and how to challenge the religiously mandated misrepresentation and even persecution of others.
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We will not be concerned with literary representations of the Jew after the early modern period. Not that such representations cannot be found: far from it. Rather, the end of this period marks the transformation of caricatures based upon biblical types and traditions – our field of interest – into stereotypes “based on the Jews’ purported biological difference” (Nochlin/Garb: 23). It is the racially oriented phenomenon that is dubbed anti-Semitism (now used of all forms of hostility towards Jews) while anti-Judaism is reserved for theologically framed antagonism (basically, denigration of the Jewish religion). But this distinction will not be pressed. Classifying literary constructions of the Jew in relation to what is in fact proves to be a contentious terminology can lead to a trivializing debate about rubric. Instead, we shall simply characterize some key conceptions of the Jew in western culture and mention some more recent responses to them.
Broadly speaking, the Jew in literature has been a Wandering Jew: ubiquitous; various; a continuing witness to otherness. According to the legend, which itself wandered throughout medieval Europe in a variety of forms, a Jew who refused to let Christ rest on his way to the cross is cursed to roam the world forever. Sometimes the Jew is named, sometimes he is given a profession; often he is said to have forsaken his Jewish faith. Definitively, however, he remains a Jew and so exemplifies the role given all Jews in the literature of Christendom and since – that of the outsider within.
In early Christian literature the Jew represents both the vehicle of revelation and its rejection. Jewish traditions are revered as Holy Scripture, but Jews themselves are deemed incorrigibly antagonistic towards God (Origen, Cels. ii.75; Augustine, Adv. Jud. 5 and 7). In effect, the refusal of Jews to worship Jesus is treated as evidence that they have forfeited their place within a sacred history once their own (Irenaeus, Haer. iv.14; Justin, Dial. 34; Tertullian, Adv. Jud. 1).
The separation of Jews from Jewish heritage continues in the popular Mystery or Corpus Christi plays of medieval Europe. In the Chester cycle the biblical patriarchs are indistinguishable in idiom from the Christian tradesmen who play them. Salvation history – now, ostensibly Christian history – is inaugurated through Abraham in a Eucharistic rite presided over by “Melchysedeck”, a priest and king of non-Jewish lineage. Jews are only identified as a distinct group on stage when they feature in the life of Christ as his enemies who, among other things, attend in place of Roman soldiers at his crucifixion. By wearing distinctive pointed hats these “biblical” Jews are linked to medieval Jewish merchants. In the Frankfurt Passion Play they are even given the names of local Jews.
The Jews’ refusal to relinquish their distinct faith and practice was interpreted as violent hatred of all things Christian and “good.” This in turn gave rise to stories in which Jews are said to be sacrificing Christian children. While many such examples from medieval literature can be ignored as the distasteful sediment of an unenlightened past, others have currency in the present as part of a corpus of still “canonical” texts. Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale, e.g., in which popular piety is expressed in relation to the demonization of Jews, is indistinguishable in kind from many other tales of its time. In this instance, Satan incites the Jews to murder a child for singing songs to the Virgin. However, since it is a fictionalized Chaucer who reports the Prioress’ story, readers have been able to recruit his ironic language as a politically safe perspective from which to criticize the Prioress whilst preserving the literary and moral merit of the author.
A similar strategy is used in relation to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1596). Again, it can be argued that the play’s literary tone mitigates its otherwise unpromising content. Shylock’s practice of usury (money-lending) and his demand for a pound of Christian flesh as the bond for a loan tap into the popular idea of the Jew as parasite-cum-cannibal. But when his daughter deserts him (throwing out his money and swapping his wife’s ring for an ape) it is difficult not to be affected by his plight. Certainly, in Shylock Shakespeare transforms the stock character of the villainous Jew (which includes Barabas in Marlow’s 1592 The Jew of Malta ) into an un-stereotypically complex individual who elicits sympathy from the spectator. Nevertheless, it is moot whether the result is really anything other than “an extremely uncomfortable mix of romance and racism, in which the quality of mercy is decidedly strained” (Wood: 205).
Shylock’s required conversion suggests that difference is finally (though forcefully) erased and that the outsider is thus obligated to settle within. It is at this moment in history, however, that the Jew begins to be racially rather than religiously defined. Rather than being similarly assimilated, it seems, Shylock’s heirs will continue to represent the outsiders within Western culture, to be exploited and vilified on new terms.
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Anti-Jewish stereotypes were incorporated on stage already in medieval passion plays. Jews were blamed collectively for the death of Jesus and were looked upon as the most dangerous enemies of Christ and of Christians. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) naively incorporates traditional anti-Jewish motifs in its mystic and gory representation of the Passion, seeking to assert a specific image of Jesus. In the process, the fact that Jesus himself was a pious Jew is entirely obfuscated. Gibson’s film can probably be considered the first fundamentalist Jesus-film for Christian fundamentalists. For centuries, the Christian church interpreted the Bible in a way hostile to Jews in the manner of Gibson. The explicitly anti-Semitic National Socialist propaganda films of the late 1930s and early 1940s radicalized Christian anti-Judaism along racist lines. The documentary film Der ewige Jude, commissioned in 1940 by the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda and directed by Fritz Hippler, portrays Jews as rats that need to be exterminated. Veit Harlan’s film Jud Süß, also produced in 1940, recounts the story of the so-called “court Jew” Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, who carved out a career in 18th-century Württemberg, only to be later accused of treason and executed. Jud Süß reacted to the film also titled Jew Süß that had been produced in Great Britain in 1934 by Lothar Mendes, who portrays Oppenheimer as a positive figure and the victim of an unenlightened and prejudiced society. The American film House of Rothschild (1934) by Alfred Werker underwent the same anti-Semitic “revision” by the Nazis through the film Die Rothschilds – Aktien auf Waterloo (1940), directed by Erich Waschneck. In it, wealthy Jews are portrayed as representatives of soulless capital – money-grubbing, lewd, perfidious, and willing, like Jesus’ disciple Judas, to commit any betrayal for gain. In combination with the traditional anti-Jewish motifs of host desecration and world conspiracy, social ills of every kind were blamed on the Jews. They were considered “children of the devil” (cf. John 8 : 44) and were perceived, in racial anti-Semitism, as the very incarnation of evil. An inner-Jewish controversy and the polemics surrounding it were thus transformed into anti-Judaism as a matter of principle. Verses like John 4 : 22: “for salvation is from the Jews” were not heard. The demonization of Jews in films went hand in hand with their destruction by the Nazis. Beginning in mid-1939, with the war at its inception, a series of explicitly anti-Semitic films was produced, e.g., Robert und Bertram, Leinen aus Irland (1939), Über alles in der Welt, Carl Peters, Ohm Krüger, “… reitet für Deutschland” (1941), and the Bismarck-film Die Entlassung (1942). They all had in common the hate-inspired, contemptuous portrayal of Jews. Film had become one more means in a murderous undertaking, fanning the flames of hatred and anger towards Jews.
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- Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception
- Anim – Atheism
- Herausgegeben vonEdited by
- Hans-Josef Klauck; Volker Leppin; Bernard McGinn; Choon-Leong Seow; Hermann Spieckermann; Barry Dov Walfish; Eric J. Ziolkowski
- De Gruyter | 2009
- Anim – Atheism (Vol. 02)