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February 21, 2017 9:47 am

Alternative Facts and Post-Truth Are Dangerous for Jews

avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld

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The crucifixion. Photo: Wikipedia.

The crucifixion. Photo: Wikipedia.

In recent years, “alternative facts” and “post-truth” have become very fashionable terms. But for approximately 2,000 years, Jews have seen the dangers of these phenomena.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, post-truth describes a situation where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals. Two thousand years ago, the most effective piece of “fake news” was that the Jews killed Jesus.

Pieter van der Horst, a leading international scholar of early Christianity and Judaism, has substantiated that this was blatantly false — because under Roman law, Jews could not execute anyone. That was the sole prerogative of the Romans.

This lie, that the Jews had killed Jesus, turned them into the epitome of evil. After all, nothing worse is conceivable in a Christian world than killing God. This emotional appeal against the Jews led to centuries of pogroms, murders, extreme discrimination, dispossession and expulsions.

The apostle Matthew also invented an alternative fact in his gospel. According to him, the Jewish killers of Jesus allegedly said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” This was interpreted as, “We take the responsibility for Jesus’ death.”

Van der Horst says that Matthew exculpates the Romans for the death of Jesus because “the text has to be understood in the context of his time, around the 80s of the first century. In the middle of the 60s CE, under the Emperor Nero, the first persecutions of Christians began.”

“[Thus,] for political reasons, Matthew was keen that his writings should give the Romans the impression that Christians were not a danger to their empire. … Shifting the responsibility for Jesus’ death to the Jewish people is at odds with what Matthew says in the earlier parts of his Gospel,” but it was politically expedient, according to Van der Horst.

Perhaps most important, the long-term effect of fake news can be enormous. For example, a 2012 ADL poll in Europe asked whether the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. The results were striking: 18% of Austrians, 14% of Germans, 38% of Hungarians, 15% of Italians, 16% of the Dutch, 19% of Norwegians, 46% of Poles, 21% of Spaniards and 18% of those in the United Kingdom believed this fallacy.

This should be a warning against fake news, alternative facts, post-truth and the cult of sentimental appeals.

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