Why Christian Antisemites Are Ignorant of Their Own Faith
At his Sunday sermons, megachurch televangelist Joel Osteen holds up the Christian Bible and says what most Christians believe: “It’s the word of God.”
Tragically, antisemites have not paid careful attention to the “word of God.” If they had, they would know that Jesus was a dedicated practicing Jew throughout his life.
Like the Jews who were slaughtered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Jesus attended Shabbat services at a synagogue on the Sabbath, where he worshiped and read from the Torah.
The Gospel of Luke tells us: “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16).
Had the Pittsburgh murderer attacked a synagogue in Galilee in the early first century, he might have killed Jesus and his followers, putting an end to Jesus’ fledgling ministry.
The Pittsburgh murderer is not alone in his ignorance of the “word of God.” His tirade “Kill all Jews,” uttered as he fired an automatic weapon on peaceful worshipers, has a long history. So do his social media attack words: “Jews are the children of Satan.”
The fourth century Eight Homilies Against the Jews (387 CE) by St. John of Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, comprises more than 100 pages. Among his diatribes, he declares: “The Jews are more savage than any highwaymen” and “are the most miserable and wretched of all men.” His vicious attacks on synagogues include: “The synagogue is a dwelling of demons … the synagogue is not only a brothel … it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts … must you not despise it, hold it in abomination.”
These themes have echoed throughout the centuries. They reached a crescendo 1,200 years later with Martin Luther, the German theologian who initiated the Protestant Reformation. In his publication On the Jews and Their Lies (1543 CE), Luther calls Jews “base and whoring people … full of the devil’s feces.” He incited his followers to “set fire to their synagogues or schools,” and proposed that “their rabbis should be forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and limb.”
The following centuries witnessed atrocities against Jews driven by these and other antisemitic rants, which many commentators believe paved the way for Hitler’s genocide.
Throughout the centuries, marginalized, ghettoized, and persecuted Jews were routinely blamed for societal woes. In medieval times, Jews were charged with “poisoning the wells” to spread the black plague (1347-1351 CE), resulting in the massacre of more than 200 Jewish communities.
When children died under suspicious or unknown circumstances, Jews were accused and often tortured and executed on the bogus charge that they extracted blood from these victims for Passover matzah and other religious rituals (the blood libel).
Hate mongers today continue the tradition of blaming the Jews — this time for instigating and supporting the caravan of migrants from Central America. The Pittsburgh murderer was incited by this latest “Jewish conspiracy.” He envisioned himself as a foot soldier in the patriotic vigilante army striking back at the Jews, including a 97-year-old woman praying in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. And what a danger this “invasion” must pose if the president of the United States is mobilizing the vast resources of the most powerful army on the planet to meet the threat.
President Trump is planning to send as many as 15,000 troops to our southern border — far more than the 8,475 American troops deployed in Afghanistan as of May 2018. These will reinforce the 2,100 National Guard troops and 18,600 border patrol agents already there. All this military might is being deployed to stop a few thousand — and ever shrinking numbers — of men, women, and children seeking freedom and a safe haven. And what’s behind this national emergency? According to the Pittsburgh killer, “a Jewish conspiracy.”
Today in America, antisemitism is on the rise. 2017 showed a steep 57 percent increase in antisemitic incidents over the previous year, according to Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Then there’s the lingering belief among 26 percent of Americans, according to a recent survey, that Jews collectively are responsible for the death of Jesus — a bizarre accusation that flies in the face of the fact that virtually all of Jesus’ followers were Jews and without his Jewish followers, there never would have been Christianity.
Most antisemites know nothing of the Jewish roots and foundation of Christianity. They are dangerously unaware or refuse to believe that the synagogue was the spiritual home of Jesus. And thus they do not understand that an attack on a synagogue is also an attack on Jesus.
With this kind of ignorance and hatred abounding, is it really a surprise that violence against Jews has resurfaced?
Bernard Starr, PhD, is Professor Emeritus at CUNY (Brooklyn College). His latest book is Jesus, Jews, and Anti-Semitism in Art.