In this edition in the series on Christian Zionist myths, we will dissect the myth of Jews’ perpetual suffering at the hands of Christians. We will have a brief overview of the history of Jewish people within Christendom and deconstruct the myth that Jews are the perpetual victims of Christian hatred. We will also discuss the role of the Jewish rabbis and Sanhedrin in the crucifixion of Christ.
Have Jews Been the Victims of Perpetual Persecution?
It is becoming increasingly more popular to assert that Jewish people have been the perpetual victims of “anti-Semitism,” perpetrated mostly by Christians out of anger for the crucifixion of Christ. This idea is used to justify the outright banning of certain “anti-Semitic” attitudes in the cases of Europe and Canada, or the ostracizing of “anti-Semitic” offenders in the case of the United States of America. Children are commonly taught in both public schools and religious schools that Christians have been terrible persecutors of Jews. What is often ignored is the history of Jewish antagonism towards Christians and the historical circumstances that precipitated Jewish banishment from Christian lands.
There is a long and sorrowful history of Christian persecution at the hands of Jewish authorities. Jewish and rabbinical authorities were at the forefront of persecution in the early Church. The book of Acts records constant harassment of the apostles and the faithful by the Jews in the towns in which they traveled and preached.1 This persecution of Christians did not cease after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70, but has continued throughout history. An additional example of Jewish violence against Christians occurred in Palestine in the seventh century A.D. The Jews aided Persians who were attempting to capture Roman-controlled Palestine. Once Jerusalem capitulated to the Persians, the Jews instigated a massive slaughter of the Christians that were there.2 When Zionism was discussed earlier, it was mentioned that many Christian Palestinians continue to suffer under Jewish rule in the Middle East. Many are unjustly driven from their homes and settlements to make way for the encroaching secular Jewish state.3
Recent research by a Jewish professor in Israel also paints a dramatically different picture of Christian/Jewish relations. Dr. Ariel Toaff is a son of the Rabbi of Rome and a professor at the Jewish University of Bar Ilan outside of Tel Aviv. As a professor, Dr. Toaff’s specialty was medieval Jewry. Dr. Toaff discovered that Jews in medieval northern Italy were actually kidnapping and crucifying Christian babies, using their blood to invoke the spirit of vengeance against hated Christians. Of particular concern to Toaff was the case of Simon of Trent (later canonized as St. Simon of Trent). On the eve of Passover in 1475, Jewish kidnappers murdered two-year-old Simon. After many deliberations, Pope Sixtus IV appointed a panel of six cardinals to hear the case. They found the Jewish defendants guilty. In an amazing reversal, the Vatican overturned the conviction of the perpetrators in 1965 in order to kowtow to influential Jews. Many today will be inclined to think that such an accusation is so outrageous and intrinsically improbable that it cannot be true, dismissing it immediately in their minds, but the very fact that Toaff’s work is so thoughtlessly dismissed, and that the exoneration of the perpetrators occurred as political correctness was gaining ground in 1965, should cause us to reconsider that opinion.
In addition to this case, Dr. Toaff lists several other incidents that took place over the span of some five hundred years. Upon publishing his findings in the Italian-language book called Pasque di Sangue, Dr. Toaff’s academic career was threatened and his professional reputation was ruined. He even faced the prospect of serving jail time. Amidst these threats, Dr. Toaff withdrew the publication of his book, but it has since been independently translated into English.4 Dr. Toaff’s findings demonstrate the extreme hostility that Jews in Christendom could exhibit towards Christians. Until being sacked for publishing politically incorrect opinions, Dr. Toaff was considered a foremost medieval historian. Since there seems to be a sound foundation for the story of Simon of Trent as well as other cases, Christian hostility towards Jews is understandable, even if at times it overflowed into abuse.5
Much is made of Christian anger directed at Jews throughout history for various reasons. It is certainly the case that there have been historical occurrences in which Jews have drawn the ire of Christians for one reason or another, and not always for just reasons. That being the case, one would be hard-pressed to find examples of Jews being summarily murdered by Christians the way that Christians were massacred by Jews after the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century. Jews have been expelled in most European countries throughout history,6 but what typically precipitated their expulsion was their involvement in usury, or what is now called interest. The Church consistently denounced usury as a grave evil against humanity, and consequently prohibited Christians from participating in the practice.7 Occasionally, Christian civil rulers would permit Jews in their kingdoms or territories to lend money on usury, giving them a monopoly on an illicit market.
Naturally, when usury brought about ruinous conditions – when the lower classes suffered misery, being bled by interest-based debt – Jews were looked upon disfavorably. Certainly, Jews were not the only people responsible for the introduction and mainstreaming of usury into Christendom. Far too many Christians were complicit in the practice. However, this is not to deny that there was appropriate criticism of Jews for their role in the practice which left so many impoverished. With his typical semi-sarcastic wit, Martin Luther quipped regarding the prevalence of usury among Jews: “Moreover, they are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury. Thus they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery, as arch-thieves and robbers, in the most impenitent security.”8
It may be difficult for a modern thinker to understand the vitriol that people had in the past to usury. We have become ignorant of the ruin that usury causes in society, but it was not always so. Many Christians were understandably angry for the role that Jews played in draining society’s wealth by means of usury. This does not mean that we can assign sole blame to Jews for their role in usury. It is likely that we ought to assign even more guilt to Christian rulers and officials who allowed usury to be practiced in their dominions. The most righteous rulers, such as Charlemagne, did not. From the understandable anger of Christians at the practice of usury to the frequent persecution of Christians by Jews, we can see that the idea of perpetual Jewish suffering at the hands of unscrupulous Christians is a myth.
Did the Jews Kill Jesus Christ?
The question of who murdered Jesus Christ is certainly a controversial one. The idea that the Jewish authorities are responsible in a unique way for the crucifixion scandalizes the modern Christian mind. Nevertheless, this is indeed the traditional Christian understanding of Christ’s Passion. Today there are a couple of explanations that are offered to extricate the first-century Jewish authorities from the unique role that they played in the crucifixion of Christ. The first is to posit that “we all killed Jesus.” This is given as a contemplative point to ponder. It is argued that since Christ died for the sins of the world, everyone shares in the culpability for Christ’s death. The second explanation is given by some Calvinist theologians who are committed to the doctrine of Christ’s particular redemption of the elect. These theologians assert that God Himself is responsible for the death of Christ, since He presided over Christ’s execution in His sovereignty. Let’s discuss both of these explanations, and why they are both inadequate to extricate first-century Jewish culpability.
First is the explanation that everyone shares responsibility for Christ’s death on account of their personal sin. There may be a contemplative sense in which this is true. Jesus Christ would not have been required to take on human nature in the Incarnation and sacrifice Himself for our atonement if not for humanity’s sinfulness. There is a real sense in which my personal sin was a cause for Christ’s suffering. The problem is that this contemplative reality does not really address the question of who killed Jesus Christ. The reason for this answer’s appeal in our society is not because we prefer to ponder contemplatively rather than seek concrete answers to historical issues. The reason for its appeal is rather that it allows us to avoid making uncomfortable assertions about the historical murder of Christ. It is extremely unfashionable in our place and time to admit the central role the Jewish authorities played in the crucifixion. Thus, opting for a contemplative approach which focuses on how our collective and personal guilt motivated Christ to die is preferred to answering the question of a particular party’s historical culpability. Again, the issue is not that the contemplative approach to Christ’s death has no validity. The issue is that it does not actually address the question being asked, which is historical.
Just because Christ died to save sinners, it does not follow that each individual sinner is responsible for the historical murder of Jesus. The historical murder of Jesus was perpetrated by the Jewish authorities and by the gathered mob who demanded Christ’s death by the hands of their Roman overlords. This is clearly and unambiguously presented in the Passion narratives of the Gospels.9 Jesus was condemned by the high priest and the scribes and elders, who then prompted the Romans to execute Him as an insurrectionist against Rome. In their treatment of Christ, the Jewish authorities swore allegiance to Caesar and his Roman interlopers. The Roman governor of the province of Judea, Pontius Pilate, asked these rabbis why they would want to kill their own king. In response, the mob answered: “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). This was the ultimate treason against the nation whose interests they claimed to represent.
The reason for their professed allegiance to Caesar was simply because they feared Caesar rather than God. They viewed Caesar as a source of their continued power and authority, and were thus willing to see the Messiah murdered in order to preserve their own power and influence. However, the Jewish people in general were also fooled into endorsing the crucifixion. Just a week before being murdered, Christ was overwhelmingly welcomed by the masses during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Many of these same people would have been present during Christ’s trial before the chief priests. Pilate offered to free either Christ or Barabbas to the crowd, and the crowd emphatically insisted that Christ be crucified, shouting: “his blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:24-25). The anger towards Christ and the disciples continued after the crucifixion. Many disciples remained in hiding “for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38, 20:19). The Apostle Paul also confirms the culpability of the Jews in the crucifixion when he writes that “the Jews…killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15). While it is clear that not all Jews indiscriminately participated in the crucifixion, and that Gentiles there, such as Pontius Pilate, share guilt for their cooperation in the scheme of the Sanhedrin, there is simply no way around the fact Jewish culpability in the murder of Christ is the clear teaching of the New Testament.
The second explanation offered for the question of who murdered Christ is that “God did it,” as offered by Reformed Baptist apologist James White.10 While there is some basis for this view, the explanation lacks biblical rigor. White cites Isaiah 53:6: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” He also cites the apostle Peter’s statement in Acts 4:27-28: “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” Both of these passages clearly demonstrate God’s sovereignty over the death of Christ, but we must be careful to distinguish between God’s providence by which He guides history and the morally culpable actions of humans who perpetrated murder.
F.J. De Angelis, a theologian affiliated with Semper Reformanda, explains that the eternal decrees of God, by which He controls whatsoever comes to pass in temporal reality, must always be distinguished from the created will of men and natural causation that are at work within the bounds of temporal reality. De Angelis writes:
God sovereignly decreeing that Christ should suffer and bear the sins of His people (as Rev. White correctly stated) does not mean that God murdered Jesus Christ, or in White’s assessment, that ‘God did it.’ Christ was smitten of God by virtue of having the sins of His people laid upon Him; it was the sovereign decree of God that He would redeem His people. It was decreed that the events would transpire, but those that carried it out bear the guilt for their actions. . . . As such, the people that rejected Jesus Christ, the people that gave Him an illegal and corrupt trial based upon contradictory and deceitful testimony, the people that cried out for Him to be wrongly executed, the people that rejected Him as their Messiah, these are the people that ‘did it.’11
White did issue a rejoinder to De Angelis assuring his readers that he really does understand concepts like the Creator/creature distinction and ultimate vs. proximate causation. That is all well and good, but if he really does understand these concepts (which I believe he does), then he should have made this clear in his original answer to the question of who murdered Christ. It seems likely that White did not wish to speak of the proximate cause of Christ’s death because of the social consequences for doing so. While it is true that there is a contemplative sense in which our personal sins made Christ’s death necessary, and there is a providential sense in which God ordained the death of Christ on the cross, neither sense properly answers the question of who was responsible for Christ’s murder. The scriptures are clear that the major culpability in the murder of Christ belongs to the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob who insisted that Christ be crucified in place of Barabbas. This doesn’t mean that individual Jews today are personally responsible for the murder of Christ, but the Jewish Talmud does acknowledge and celebrate the murder of Christ, besides blaspheming the Christian faith in many other ways.12
Does this mean that Jews cannot be converted and saved? Of course not: Jews can and should be encouraged to repent and embrace the saving truth of the Gospel. This will not happen, though, as long as Jews fail to grasp the harm that Pharisaical Judaism has done. Christians who try to answer the question of Christ’s murder in ways that preclude or obscure Jewish culpability in the murder of Christ are doing far more harm than good. Our zeal for evangelism in keeping with the Great Commission should motivate us all the more to confront evil and preach the free offer of forgiveness through Christ. When preaching to Israelites gathered on the day of Pentecost and afterward, Peter did not obfuscate the facts of Christ’s crucifixion. Instead, he boldly proclaimed the truth to the men of Israel that were listening to him.13 Peter acknowledged that ignorance played a role in their actions (Acts 3:17), though this did not remove the guilt of their actions. Peter told them to repent and to be converted so that their sins would be blotted out (Acts 3:19). Just as the Jews of the first century called down a curse upon themselves and upon their children during the crucifixion (Matthew 27:25), forgiveness for them and their children is freely offered by repentance and belief (Acts 2:38-39). Those who refuse to address this issue forthrightly are not doing Jews any favors, but are rather downplaying any chance that Jews have of being forgiven for following the ways of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The persecution of Christians by Jews and Jewish culpability in the murder of Christ are controversial issues, to be sure. It is not uncommon to hear from Christian Zionists or evangelicals how Jews suffered terrible persecution at the hands of Christians in ages past. By promoting this myth as genuine, these Christian Zionists find themselves siding with secularists, liberals, and other assorted anti-Christians in their assault on historic Christendom. This also downplays the persecution of Christians by Jews, which continues on to this day in Palestine.
The matter of the crucifixion is an issue from which everyone is currently fleeing. It seems that it is acceptable to assign blame to anyone except for the people that actually were responsible. The first-century Jews arranged for Christ’s arrest, provided compromised testimony, and insisted upon Christ’s execution. While not all Jews participated in the crucifixion, the New Testament assigns blame to the Jewish authorities and Jewish mob. Jews today continue to follow this religion, which is based upon the precepts of the Pharisees rather than the Bible.
In the final and concluding edition to this series on Christian Zionist myth, we will discuss the outlandish notion that Jews actually did not reject Christ as the Messiah, particularly the claim made by John Hagee that the Jews did not reject Christ as Messiah since Jesus was not, in actuality, the Messiah. While this myth is not general to most Christian Zionists, it is important to address because John Hagee is such a prominent promoter of Christian Zionism. We will wrap up by reviewing how Christian Zionism has hijacked the legitimate interests of white Christians. Instead of supporting a rogue, secularist, anti-Christian state in the Middle East, white Christians should be supporting the interests of their own families, tribes, and nations.
- See Acts 4:3-22, 5:17-42, 6:8-8:3, 9:23-24, 12:1-5, 13:44-51, 14:5-20, 16:16-24, 17:1-15, 18:12-17, 19:23-41, 20:19, 22:30-23:11, 23:12-14 ↩
- “There is no doubt that the . . . Jews aided the Persians with all the men they could muster, and that the help they gave was considerable. Once Jerusalem was in Persian hands a terrible massacre of Christians took place, and the Jews are accused of having taken the lead in this massacre” – James Parkes, As The Agents of Persians: A History of Palestine from 135 AD to Modern Times, p. 81. Oxford University Press, New York, 1909. ↩
- More good information concerning the topic of Israeli settlement of Palestine can be found here. Also a source: http://www.ifamericansknew.org/stats/cost2.html ↩
- The English edition, called Bloody Passovers, can be found here. ↩
- More commentary on this can be found at Michael Hoffman’s blog On the Contrary in the entry “A Good Friday Meditation,” posted on Thursday, April 5, 2012, and at The Bloody Passovers of Dr. Toaff by Israel Shamir on his blog, The Writings of Israel Shamir. ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion ↩
- For more information on the Church’s historic position on usury, see “Is Usury Still a Sin?” by Thomas Storck, posted here. Also see Usury: Destroyer of Nations by S.C. Mooney and Usury in Christendom: The Mortal Sin That Was and Was Not by Michael Hoffman. The Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on usury can be found here. ↩
- Comment extracted from Rev. Martin Luther’s much maligned work, On the Jews and Their Lies, found here. ↩
- The Passion is recorded in Matthew 26:46-27:54; Mark 14:42-15:39; Luke 22:47-23:47; and John 18:1-19:37. ↩
- White’s advocacy of this has been cited by other authors in his archives under 2/17/04. Nevertheless, February of 2004 is now unavailable in those archives, which may indicate a change of position on White’s part. ↩
- Much of the information on the question of who murdered Christ is from S.C. Mooney on his blog Crisis and Culture under the entry Who Killed Jesus Christ? ↩
- See The Talmud Unmasked: The Secret Rabbinical Teachings Concerning Christians by Rev. I.B. Pranaitis for good information on Talmudic teachings here. Another good source is Michael Hoffman’s Judaism Discovered and Judaism’s Strange Gods. More information on Judaism and the Talmud from a traditional Catholic perspective can be found here. ↩
- See Acts 2:14-23; 3:12-19; 4:26-28 ↩