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April 12, 2013 4:31 pm

Not My Bible

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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I am not amongst those who consider it a religious crime to live outside Israel. After all, since the days of the Babylonian Exile (actually even earlier the Judean kings established an Israelite garrison and temple at Elephantine) large numbers of us have lived beyond our ancestral borders. But I do believe in the idea of Galut, Exile. And by that I mean the profound sense that one is fundamentally at odds with the prevailing culture. And sadly one can often feel a sense of Galut within present day Israel’s borders, where so many seem to want to imitate the very worst aspects of Western pop culture.

But here in America I have recently been feeling it more than ever. Even though for Jews in the Diaspora I cannot think of a better place for us to live in peace and harmony. Although you only need to read “FDR and the Jews” by Richard Breitman and Allen J. Lichtman to realize how vehemently we were hated and excluded even in the USA.

The most popular television show in the US at the moment is the History Channel’s “The Bible.” It is watched more than the trashiest reality shows, the banal talent competitions, and the series about zombies and vampires (all good reason for banning television from any sane household). The History Channel, on the other hand, usually deals in facts rather than fantasies. Not this time.

My issue is not that the part that deals with our Bible is badly researched and full of anomalies and anachronisms. It is when it gets to the New Testament that I realize why anti-Semitism is still so prevalent and persistent all around the world and why I feel so culturally alienated. The current incremental rise of anti-Semitism is mainly driven by Muslim and neo-fascist thugs. But it is the subtle undercurrent of negativity, perpetuated by holy texts, that gives a patina of justification for the antipathy.

I am amongst those who think that Pauline and later Christianity developed a series of myths based on earlier popular ideas rather than on a specific, living human being. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, unless it leads to torturing and killing those who do not agree with you. We too have our earlier Canaanite horror stories. Both Christianity and Islam wanted to supersede what came before. To do this they had to show how their religion was so much better. And to hammer it home they had to present the Jews as primitive, hypocritical, corrupt betrayers of truth which the new religion was going to put right. The very distinction between Old Testament and New Testament that make up the Christian Bible is a clear statement that we oldies are now out of date and out of touch.

In the Christian world, for thousands of years Jews have been cursed and pursued for the “crime” of rejecting Jesus and the greater crime of causing his death. In some quarters we are still blamed for “killing God,” ridiculous as such a claim might sound to you and me. As for the myth of Jesus being accused of heresy, you will not find anywhere in Jewish law any hint that it is heresy to say ” I am the King of the Jews,” “I am the Son of God,” or indeed to claim “I am God.” One might think you are a lunatic, but hardly a rational heretic. And if trying to make Judaism more popular and humane were a crime, then the great Hillel who lived a generation before would have been in trouble. So would all the many faith healers who abounded at that time. And If the crime were a political one, like saying I am the President, or King of the Jews, if the Romans had an issue with that, we certainly didn’t. The proof of the pudding would lie in achieving the goal of actually getting appointed and then seeing off the Romans. Otherwise he’d be no greater a threat than Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is possible that factions within the Jewish community supported Roman rule and had an interest in suppressing opposition but then why not just say it is was? The whole narrative is so improbable and unhistorical.

The directors of “The Bible” protested that we were not propagating Jew-hatred by having the Jewish priests accuse Jesus of heresy and handing him over to the Romans. But this series inevitably propagates the “official version” of the emergence of a new, clean, honest religion to replace a corrupt, petty, hypocritical one identified with Jews today. This message is hammered home visually by having the Jews wear a modern, immediately identifiable tallit. There are not very subtle messages of Jews as the bad guys, the evil moneychangers in the Temple, reminiscent of Wall Street (who in fact were simply currency exchangers providing a service to pilgrims to cash in their local travelers checks to pay for accommodation at the King David Hotel or a quick sacrifice to atone for whatever). But it is now a cliché to accuse Jews of being moneylenders.

I cannot condemn Christians in what is predominantly a Christian country for propagating their myths. Every few years another similar version hits the big or little screen. But can you blame me for feeling a cultural dissonance? There are still plenty of crazy missionaries out there, and others, apparently sane, telling us Jews we will not get to Heaven unless we repent.

Perhaps those who identify with Jesus might secretly think I’m one of the Devil’s Squad? How else can you explain the persistence of that other myth that around 12 million Jews control the billions of others in this planet? It can’t be logic. It must be myth. Who, pray, is responsible for that? Oh yes, they’ll tell you, it is all our fault!

The period of mourning called The Omer that we observe between Pesach and Shavuot is a period of mourning largely because historically after Easter the Crusades began and peasants poured out of churches after incendiary sermons against the Christ-killers, eager to avenge the death of their savior by killing as many local Jews as possible. Thankfully, times have changed. But for too many, the narrative has not.

Israel is still the only place on earth where Jews can feel culturally at home and not be aware of the prevalence of competing theologies and myths. But then, of course, we know Israel has other problems.

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  • BH in Iowa

    When are we going to stop begging for love and start earning fear and demanding respect?

  • Esther Sarah Evans

    Be careful about taking life outside Eretz Yisrael lightly. Just because it was practised a lot, it does not have HASHEM’S seal of approval. It is literally a crying shame that it took the Shoah to bring Yidden back home, and it is clear that still many have not grasped the message. Part of our problems here beAretz are due to the insufficient numbers of Olim here with a faith in HASHEM that is underlined by efforts to observe HIS Mitzvot, HIS Torah and the guts to say the Emes: this Torah is Torah and Nakh, not bible. My appeal to all of us is to avoid using that word bible, for that word includes that other Brit in which we Jews do not believe. We do not have to stoop that low to communicate. This is another form of assmilation and an extremely dangerous one. I have been harping on that subject for some time now – one on which a mentor rav of mine from many years ago used to insist also.

    • Jeremy

      Yes thats a practicle solution. We should rather use Tanach. And of course I agree ideally we should all live in Israel but the sad fact is that many of us for all sorts of reasons, some good, some not so, will not. All my siblings and many of my grandchildren do. That’s just reality but by all means we should encourage Aliyah.

    • Jeremy

      Yes thats a practical solution. We should rather use Tanach. And of course I agree ideally we should all live in Israel but the sad fact is that many of us for all sorts of reasons, some good, some not so, will not. All my siblings and many of my grandchildren do. That’s just reality but by all means we should encourage Aliyah.

  • non jew

    OR maybe acting as a collective to further jewish tribal interests at the expense of the citizens of the host country could have something to do with it,OR the anti christian hate filled talmud which is your guide MIGHT have something to do with it.

    • Jeremy

      Non Jew

      Would you like to point out the so called Hate Filled parts of the Talmud you are referring to? Derogatory, perhaps but even then heavily disguised.I suspect you have have been well and truly infected by the virus of anti-Semitism.

      But frankly even if there were, you could hardly blame them, suffering persecution, torture and death from much of Christianity for so long.There are always two sides.


    • Yeshayhu Hollander

      Dear Non-Jew, Thank you so much for your remark. FYI, there are still too many forgeries of statements made in the Talmud, some listed here:

      The Babylonian Talmud, by the way, was developed in Babylon, and Christianity was hardly an issue that bothered Jews in Babylon at the time. The Christians living there during the Talmudic period were living in peace with the Jews.

      The Palestinian Talmud [which] was developed mainly under pagan Romans. Before the time that Christianity became important, the academies of Palestine were nearly closed. In any case, The Palestinian Talmud the was in the main lost, and had practically no influence on the development of Judaism.

      The first comment was unkind, and also economically wrong: wherever Jews came, and were allowed to be economically active, the whole country – including the non-Jews flourished. That is the reason the Polish princes invited Jews Poland. That is why the Ottomans invited the Jews who were exiled form Spain. Spain lost its power, and the Ottomans flourished.

      Dear non-Jew, learn history.

  • Julian Clovelley

    I wonder if the writer, with whom I have great sympathy, would feel differently if this question were pursued a little further – for many scholars recognise that the largely fictitious character of the Jesus of Christian Scripture is largely based on the figure of Moses, and is in addition granted greater heroic credibility by being of the House of David

    There are many parallels – almost certainly templates used to create the Jesus story. There is the story of the infant Jesus’s miraculous preservation, the slaughter of innocent babies in the attempt by the monarch to eliminate him. Both Jesus and Moses establish credibility by performing miracles. Both are portrayed as appearing during very troubled times. Both have a direct meeting with the divine, Jesus in the form of the Transfiguration.

    There are many other parallels such as Jesus’s time spent in the wilderness and Moses’s fast on the mountain – both are forty days. Jesus goes to the mountain and returns with the Beatitudes, Moses returns with the Law.

    But the main parallel is one that I think many Jewish people would find it hard to confront. There has to be considerable question that the original character and de facto inspiration of the character of Jesus is equally fictitious. Archaeologically and historically neither story possesses a shred of proof. And there must be similar doubt expressed about the actual existence and importance of the House of David

    Dare I gently suggest that many of the flaws of one religion are also built into that from which it draws much of its inspiration? Is it possible that we will never grow away from antisemitism until we are able to overcome literal, fundamentalist belief in both?

    Judaism was probably largely the product of Babylonian exile, Christianity the product of the occupation and destruction of Judea by the Romans. Both took the form of religious Enlightenment. Jews and Gentiles have worked together to create our modern Enlightenment – maybe from it should be allowed, and indeed encouraged, to spring a new and more valid spiritual consciousness, in which the old enmities are no longer viewable as relevant. Surely that which is most required by those who live in the same territories is compassion, love and the skills of sharing.

    That common territory in which we now live is the entire planet rather than little segments of it. The Gift of the modern Enlightenment is a whole rather than fractured planet. Travel means and communications have dissolved much of the meaning of distance and of separateness. Enlightenment has taken away the meaning of chosen races and of the spiritually elect. No “one” is “special”, everyone is equally so. That is the new testament of the Enlightenment. That is what we must most learn to share and pass on to all of our children.

    • Jeremy


      I agree of course that all religions have their myths and specific theologies and draw on earlier sources. And I agree with you that we all ought to leave each other alone and just focus on making the world a better place. The problem is that some religions believe that they alone are the path to truth, salvation or whatver and that they have a mission to convert the others.We Jews I might add do not think that way. We accept there are other ways for non Jews to find their salvation.

      Most of Catholicism is slowly moving against displacement theology and so are parts of Protestantism. But the real problem is the perpetuation and reiteration of the poisonous attitude towards Jews that was part of the New Testament polemic and is being perpetuated by so many viciously anti Semtic internet sites to this day.

      The films I refer to indeed reiterate the version of Jews as bad guys. Until this is addressed universally in Christianity, Christianity shares the blame for the current resurgence of anti Semitism.

      The difficulty for Christianity is its professed claim to be the New Israel and to have superceded Judaism. So I do not under estimate the enormity of the task nor am I unappreciative of the many Christians who are genuinely trying to address the issue.

      But I reiterate the sense of anxiety and alienation that I feel whenever I see this sort of production. No one, adult or child, likes to feel he or she is despised. But too often that is the Jewish experience. Though I concede I feel it far more in Europe than in the USA.


  • Otto Schiff

    I am a former German Jew living in the US thanks to my fathers cousins and US immigration laws.
    The “inferior humans” are the haters of racial and religious
    minorities. Let us get rid of them.

  • Jonathan Adams

    Thank you, Jeremy Rosen, for this piece. Almost everything here I have thought before and carry with me through the liturgies of Holy Week and Eastertide. There are details which I would have expressed differently and points I might have added – particularly about sensitive choice of translation to be read aloud in churches.
    My greater concern, however, is not content, but context. In ‘Algemeiner’ your article may have a role in helping Jews express a shared unease, but should it not be offered to a wide Christian readership too?
    Jonathan Adams, (Church of England) priest.

    • Jeremy

      Thank you Jonathan
      I take your point. Any suggestions?