The Guilt of Books
Books don’t commit crimes, people do. If we are going to discuss the guilt or innocence of a given book, we need to first define and delineate what the discussion is going to be about.
There is no discussion about the commitment of the crime. It happened and it is still happening. People are still using the canards of the Christian Scriptures to delegitimize, dehumanize and to create an unjust negative image of the Jewish people and their beliefs. This is not open to discussion, this is a fact of history and it is a fact of life.
The question that is being discussed is the question of the intent of the authors of the Christian Scriptures. If the authors of the Christian Scriptures had no malicious intent then we cannot rightly accuse them of criminal activity. Perhaps they were negligent, perhaps they were foolishly naïve, but in order to determine that they were participants in the crimes of Christian Europe we will need to demonstrate malicious intent.
There are a few concepts that need to be set aside before this discussion can take on any meaning. For those who are convinced that the origin of the Christian Scripture is divine, then this discussion can have no meaning. For those people, and for many centuries this was the outlook of Christian Europe, virtue and sin is defined according to the Christian Scriptures. So if the Christian Scriptures dehumanize the Jew, then it is virtuous to dehumanize the Jew and it is sinful to consider the Jew human. If this is the outlook then there can be no discussion about the guilt of the Christian Scriptures.
Fortunately, we live in an age where most people recognize that if the Christian Scripture had an intentional hand in the crimes committed by Christian Europe toward the Jewish people, then that book cannot be divine. This then is the basis for our discussion.
Another concept that needs to be defined if not set aside is the idea of seeing a book as an entity that stands alone. Until the Protestant Reformation, no one saw the books of the Christian Scriptures as the sole authority on Christianity. It was understood and accepted that the attitudes and teachings passed on by the body of believers in Jesus were the heart and soul of Christianity. The books of the Christian Scriptures were part and parcel of the total outlook, but no one dreamed of seeing them as an entity that stands apart from the community that birthed them.
With the rise of the Reformation, the theoretical concept that became popular was that it is only what is written in the book that defines Christianity and no other body is authorized to define Christianity. I say that this concept is theoretical simply because it is not practiced by any denomination of Protestant Christianity. Every denomination of Protestantism accepts beliefs and attitudes from the community that preceded it, at least as they relate to the makeup of the Christian Scriptures.
This theory is relevant to our discussion because if Scripture alone is authorized to define Christianity then whoever it is that we are talking to can easily say that his or her interpretation of Scripture is the only accurate interpretation and therefore all of our findings are meaningless. This argument makes it that much more difficult to demonstrate the guilt of the Christian Scriptures because we now need to demonstrate the guilt of the book according to the interpretation of the individual we are addressing.
The fact is that the Christian Scriptures are so guilty, that even with our hands tied behind our back we can still demonstrate the guilt of this book.
One more concept needs to be clarified before we begin. A book is not a product of an individual it is a product of a community. Yes, individuals write books, but without the community the books would disappear into oblivion. If the community does not find in the book something that speaks to its heart, or if the community finds the book distasteful, then the book will never be copied and the future generations will never know that it existed.
With all of these concepts in place we can now proceed to the trial. What is the accusation that we bring against the authors and the community that birthed the Christian Scriptures? We are not accusing them of directly instructing their posterity to commit the crimes of the Inquisition, the holocaust and the centuries of cruel persecution of the Jewish people. But we are accusing them of laying the groundwork for those crimes.
Before Christian Europe began persecuting the Jew, they first saw the Jew as an entity that stood apart from the rest of humanity. In the mind of the Christian, the Jew was guilty of heinous crimes against God and against humanity, the Jew had a different spiritual nature than other people and the Jewish rejection of Jesus was rooted in the inherently evil nature of the Jew. The Christian also believed that all of these evil qualities of the Jew were taught by the teachers of Judaism as if they were the highest virtues. The Inquisition, the pogroms and the holocaust would not have been possible if the European would not have first believed that the Jew and Judaism were children of the Devil.
There is no question that this description of the Jew and of Judaism is recorded in the Christian Scriptures. This is how generations of Christian teachers understood the words of the Christian Scriptures and this is how they taught it to those who would listen to them. As the horrors of the holocaust became clear, many Christians recoiled from this interpretation of the Christian Scriptures. The modern claim is that this was not the original intent of the authors when they wrote those words.
Another defense thrown up by those trying to cling to the righteousness of these books is that the Hebrew Scriptures also speak ill of the Jews. Christian Europe also used the writings of the Jewish prophets to dehumanize and to delegitimize the Jewish people.
At this point we need to introduce another accusation against the community of people who believe in Jesus. This community usurped the Jewish Scriptures and wrenched them out of their original context. It is only when the Jewish Scriptures are read in the unnatural context of Christianity that they can be misused to dehumanize the Jew. And here is where our story begins.
What community was it that produced the Christian Scriptures? Who were the enemies of this community and what challenges did they face? How did this community define themselves and the world around them?
The community that produced the Christian Scriptures was a community that saw belief in Jesus as the most important factor in defining a human being. They defined themselves according to that belief and they defined others according to their lack of belief in Jesus.
Belief in Jesus means believing in him as the Messiah predicted by the prophets of Judaism. Now the Jews, by and large, did not believe in Jesus. This created an obvious problem for the community of Jesus believers. And this community was strongly motivated to dehumanize the Jew and to claim that the natural instincts of the Jew are evil and that as children of darkness they cannot come to the “light.” Furthermore, this community was motivated to teach that the Jew cannot understand his own Bible. It is only the believer in Jesus whose eyes are “opened” to the truth of the Jewish Bible. But the Jew’s heart and eyes are closed to the truth.
These were the teachings of the early community of believers in Jesus concerning the Jew and this is reflected in the writings of that community, including the Christian Scriptures. The criticism of the Jew in the Christian Scripture was never read as an internal self-criticism of the community of Jesus believers. It is still not read in that sense, even by those who would disassociate the crimes of Christian Europe from this set of books. Until today, the negative words that the Christian Scriptures has for the Jew are read as an explanation for the Jewish rejection of Jesus.
The criticism of the Jewish people that is found in the Jewish Scriptures was also read by the Christian community as a criticism of their theological opponents. Even when the Church taught that the Christian had replaced the Jew in the covenantal relationship with God, still the Christian never read the censure of the Jewish prophets as a criticism of the Christian community. The Christian always read the criticism of the Jewish prophets as a declaration of the evil of those who stand on the other side of the divide; those who don’t believe in Jesus.
The true context of the Jewish scriptures is entirely different. The prophets themselves declare that the Jewish Scriptures were given to the Jewish people to the exclusion of any other entity (Psalm 147:19,20). The Jews have always read the censure of Isaiah and Jeremiah as internal self-criticism and they still read them that way. They never read these words as a description of their theological enemies. To compare the criticism of the Jews found in the Jewish Scriptures with the caricature of Jews and Judaism found in the gospels is to compare good with evil. The one was always read by its target audience as self-criticism while the other was always read by its target audience as the dehumanization of their theological challengers.
But it didn’t have to be like this. The early community of believers in Jesus was faced with a challenge. The theological doctrines that they held most dear were rejected by the Jewish people and this rejection was not easily dismissed. After all, it was the Jewish people who were waiting for the Messiah so why did they reject the Messianic claims of Jesus? The community of believers in Jesus needed to formulate some type of response to this Jewish rejection. They needed to explain to themselves as well as to others why it is that the Jewish people could not agree that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies.
At this juncture, the followers of Jesus had several paths open to them. They could have simply ignored the Jewish people and their claims and remained silent (“turn the other cheek”). Or they could have restated their case for the Messiah-ship of Jesus with greater clarity, attempting to assess what it is that the Jewish people don’t understand about their claims (“do unto others as you would have done unto yourself”). If the followers of Jesus had chosen either of these paths then the history of the Jewish people would have been that much different. There would have been no holocaust, no Inquisition, and the life of millions of Jews would have been so much more peaceful.
But the community of Jesus believers took a different path. They took the path of hatred and slander. They came up with fantastic theories that delegitimize the Jew’s opinion and discount the arguments of the Jew before they can be heard. The Jesus centered community taught their followers that the God centered community loved lies and hated truth. That they enjoyed murder and their religion was legalistic, cruel, hypocritical and arrogant. As blind children of darkness and the devil, there is no reason to take the arguments of the Jew seriously. This then was the path chosen by the community of Jesus believers; the path of delegitimizing and hating their theological opponents.
Hatred of the Jew and Judaism remained a hallmark of the community of Jesus believers. The subsequent writings of that community are all laced with deep antagonism towards Jews and Judaism.
So this is the situation. We have a community that had a vested interest to delegitimize and dehumanize the Jew. This community produced a series of books that contain precisely this sentiment. And we are to assume that this is a wild coincidence? That the authors and editors of the book were not guided by the base hatred that saturated the hearts of the rest of the members of the community? If you look at the history of the community that produced this book, you cannot but conclude that this book reflects the petty hatred of that community.
So when John’s Jesus “explains” that the reason that people don’t believe in him is because they love darkness and/or because they are children of the devil, it is a reflection of the hatred that festered in the heart of the community that authored and edited the book of John. This is precisely what that community wanted to believe; that they are children of God and children of light while their theological opponents are incapable of loving the truth because they are inherently evil. This saved them the trouble of considering the arguments of their enemies.
When Paul teaches his audience that the Jews have a veil over their eyes when they read the Torah and that they are blinded from seeing the truth of Scripture, he was setting the Jew apart from the rest of mankind. With these arguments Paul and the editors of his writings avoided the inconvenience of seeing the Jew as a human who has the capability of discerning right from wrong.
When Matthew’s Jesus describes the Pharisees as a brood of vipers and as a people steeped in hypocrisy, he was teaching his community exactly what they wanted to hear; that the Jewish concept of virtue is precisely the opposite of true virtue and there is then no need to take the Jewish rejection of the claims of the Jesus centered community with any seriousness.
Perhaps you are still unconvinced. Perhaps you think that is a complete coincidence that the community that was so motivated to delegitimize the Jew produced a work of literature that does precisely that. You still want to cling to the belief that the Christian Scriptures say nothing negative about Jews who don’t believe in Jesus, and all of this negative talk refers to a very limited group of people or that it refers to all who don’t believe in Jesus without singling out the Jews in any way shape or form.
In case that is your belief, then I have a question for you. Why is it, that until today, people from the Jesus centered community find it difficult to acknowledge that the reason Jews cannot accept their claims for the Messiah-ship of Jesus is because they love God? Why is it so difficult for them to acknowledge that it is a loyalty to God and to His goodness that does not allow Jews to accept Jesus? Why can they not admit that they have yet to provide a convincing case for the Messiah-ship of Jesus to the Jew who loves God and who loves His word?
Is it perhaps because of the teachings of the book that they hold so sacred that prevents them from acknowledging this simple truth?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal