153: CHRISTIAN ATROCITIES #4: Anti-Semitism

“Zingcreed a Christian/Atheist manifesto. Thinking aloud about religion, a personal polemic by Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

“The history of Christianity is the best school for atheism.” (Franz Overbeck)

“The antisemitic heritage of Christian civilisation is neither an accident nor a peripheral element. It cannot be dismissed as a legacy from ‘paganism’, or as as a product of purely sociological conflicts between the church and the synagogue. Antisemitism in western civilization springs, at its root, from Christian theological anti-Judaism. It was Christian theology that developed the thesis of the reprobate status of the Jew in history, and laid the foundations for the demonic view of the Jew which fanned the flames of popular hatred. This hatred was not only inculcated by Christian preaching and exegesis. It became incorporated into the structure of canon law and also the civil law formed under the Christian Roman emperors, such as the Codes of Theodosius (AD 420) and of Justinian (sixth century). These anti-Judaic laws of the church and the Christian empire laid the basis for the debasement of the civic and personal status of the Jew in Christian society that lasted until the emancipation in the nineteenth century. These laws were, in part, revived in the Nazi Nuremberg laws of 1933.

Since Jewish religious teachers rejected Christianity’s claim that Jesus was the messiah, the church developed a polemic against them to explain how the church could claim to be fulfilling a Jewish tradition when the Jews themselves denied it.” (i)

Theological background:

  • The world is divided into sheep/ goats; good believers (us)/ the evil rest of mankind; rewards in heaven/ punishment in hell.
  • The gospel of John taked this dualism further: he talks of light/ dark; truth/ falsehood; above/ below; God/ devil; heaven/ earth; freedom/ servility; life/ death; c.f. Jn14:6.
  • To summarise: you’d better get in line, buddy: anyone who thinks, acts or believes differently will be destroyed!

Jesus and the Jews:

  • Of course, Jesus was a Jew, so how can he have been anti- his own people? Well, for starters he was Galilean, and they traditionally didn’t go to the Temple in Jerusalem once a year as was required of them. (3 days there and three days back – how could a subsistence farmer spare the time?) (ii) Nor did they pay the compulsory Temple taxes. While Jesus did his (no charge payable!) healing and preaching thing in Galilee, all he got from the Jewish high-ups was warnings, criticisms and threats.
  • Mark portrays the (Jewish) scribes and pharisees as stubborn and bloodthirsty (Mk 2:6, 16, 26)
  • John represents Jews as such as Jesus’ enemies. The Jews were necessary as a scapegoat in the emerging Christian theology. An emphatic dualism became clear. The Jews were descended from Satan (Jn 8:44) and as such were bound to seek Jesus’ life. Note: this isn’t Jesus speaking, it’s the people who wrote about him decades after he’d died.
  • The 3 synoptic gospels (Mt, Mk, Lk) were written in sequence and show, step by step, how the evangelists’ latent anti-semitism leads to the  responsibility for Jesus’ death being transferred from the Romans’ shoulders to the Jews’. In Mark 15:10 (the earliest account) the Roman official Pilate refuses to condemn Jesus, as he thinks it was simply “out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up”; in Luke 23:4, 14, 20, 22, 25, Pilate is more emphatic: “I find no crime in this man.” In Matthew 27:24 Pilate symbolically washes his hands of the whole business: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it your selves.”
  • “This was followed in Matthew’s account by the notorious verse which was to be fulfilled in the most horrible way in later centuries – “And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!'” It has of course, been known for a long time now, as a result of historical reseach, that Matthew fabricated this infamous curse pronounced on the Jewish people, which saddles them with the entire blame for the death of the Son of God.” (iii)

Paul was also anti-semitic in his attitude and blamed the Jews  entirely for the death of Christ. Check out 1 Thess. 2:15-16; and Phil.2:15.

The early church:

  • The wretched stench of anti-semitism rises from the pages of all the church fathers’ writings:
  • The letter of Barnabas (139 C.E.); Justin Martyr (160 C.E.); Tertullian (200 C.E.); Origen (250 C.E.), come up with sentiments like
  • ‘The Jews are rejected and disinherited by God’
  • ‘All privileges of God’s so-called ‘chosen people’ are henceforth transferred to the church, which is “the true Israel”.’
  • ‘The Old Testament is purely a prophecy of the coming of Christ.’
  • ‘The Jews falsified scripture.’
    But that was nothing as compared with what was to come…..

John Chrysostom: 387 C.E.

  • In his 8 anti-semitic sermons, this ‘saint’ demonised Jews as ‘sensual, obscene, lascivious, demonic, moneymaking, and accursed murderers of the prophets, Christ and God’. They were ‘drunkards, whore-mongers and criminals who worshipped the devil’. Of their place of worship, he wrote “Whatever name is given to the synagogue – whorehouse, den of iniquity, pandemonium, house of Satan, soul-destroying habitation or yawning abyss of perdition – it cannot be described as it deserves to be described.” Well, that’s clear then. This saint’s name, by the way, means ‘golden mouth’ and to this day his ‘Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom’ is still celebrated in Eastern Orthodox churches.

Constantine: (fourth century)
Once the church got into bed with this Roman emperor, they were able to act out all their anti-semitic fantasies. Now Jews could be repressed by the state and not merely by a religious sect no-one took very seriously. Here are some of the rules Christians decided to enforce:-

  • Mixed marriages to incur the death penalty
  • Heavy penalties on anyone converting to Judaism
  • Heavy penalties on any one receiving a convert in their house
  • Ban on Jews entering public office
  • Ban on building synagogues

Sounds like Hitler warming up. In the sixth century things got much worse……

  • Judaism was outlawed completely!
  • Mass baptism became compulsory for all Jews
  • All synagogues were henceforth to be churches
  • Pillaging and looting of synagogues became legal
  • The Council of Toledo (638 C.E.) ordered all the Jews in Spain to be baptized
  • In 649 C.E. it was declared that all remaining Spanish Jews were to be enslaved; all their possessions were to be taken away and all their children were to be taken away from them at age 7 and later married to Christians. You couldn’t make it up
  • The Lateran Council (1179 C.E.) excommunicated all Christians living with Jews (hence the establishment of the first ghettos)
  • Thomas Aquinas (13th century) wrote a treatise encouraging church and state to dispose of all Jewish property as though it was their own
  • In 1215 all Jews were ordered to wear distinctive dress like a horned cap or to wear a yellow spot sewn onto their coat
  • It became a crime to visit Christian inns or baths
  • It was forbidden to even appear on the streets during Christian festivals
  • In the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services there was an anti-Jewish emphasis “for the cunning Jews” (Pro perfidis Judaeis), which was in effect an incitement to massacre (This remained in the Catholic Mass until 1959!)
  • Portrayals of the devil showed him with a Jewish nose
  • Jews were accused of ritual murder of infants, which were then said to be eaten
  • They were also accused of desecration of the host (the sacred communion wafer representing the body of Christ in the mass). The charge was that they trampled on the wafers or pricked them to make Jesus suffer again! Since the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 it was official doctrine that the ‘host’ literally became the flesh of Christ (‘transubstantiation’)

Middle ages: (continued)

  • Mass slaughter of Jews, known as pogroms became frequent and widespread. Fanaticism against ‘enemies of Christ’ was unleashed in Europe at the time of the crusades
  • Jews were blamed for the Black Death, the plague which killed millions between 1347 and 1349. This was taken as punishment from God and a scapegoat had to be found. Of course, who else but those well-poisoners: the Jews! Their extermination was Nazi-like in its thoroughness.

At last, a decent protestant, an end to all this popish nastiness! You think so? Then think again! The prods were as rabid as the RC’s. Here is an extract from Luther’s treatise ‘On the Jews and their lies’ (1543)
“In the first place, let their synagogues or schools be set on fire and what does not burn be sprinkled and covered with earth, so that no man may see a stone or a cinder of the places ever again… In the second place, let their houses also be broken down and destroyed… In the third place, let their prayer books and talmudists be taken away from them… In the fourth place may their rabbis at all costs be prevented from teaching in the future…that they may be prevented from praising and thanking God, and from praying and teaching here publicly among us and among our Christian people, on punishment of loss of life…And that they be prevented from uttering the name of God in our presence. We Christians can hardly believe that a Jew’s foul mouth is worthy to speak the name of God in our presence and if any one of us should hear a Jew speak that name, he should at once inform the authorities or else throw pig shit at him…In the fifth place Jews should be refused safe conduct and permission to use the streets…..In the sixth place they must be forbidden to practice usury and all their cash and jewels, gold and silver, should be taken away from them…In the seventh place all strong young  Jews and Jewesses should be given flails, axes and spades and made to earn their living by the sweat of their brow.”

More recently:

  • In the 19th century Pope Leo XII confined all Jews living in the Papal States to ghettos and subjected them to the Inquisition
  • In 1892 the legend of ritual murder was revived in Germany
  • As late as 1923 the Federal German Student Society required all members to produce a certificate proving that their grandparents were Aryans, i.e. non-Jewish
  • Hitler never left the Roman Catholic church.  Even when he gassed 6 million Jews they never excommunicated him. Neither was his book ‘Mein Kampf’ ever put on the Index of banned books, i.e. it did not contradict catholic moral teaching in any way.
  • Hitler told the church in 1933 that he would not take any steps against the Jews that the church had not already taken in the preceding 1500 years.
  • In 1941, German Evangelical Church leaders issued a declaration that “Jews are the enemies of the German people and of the world….the severest measures should be taken against them and they should be expelled from all German countries.”


(i) Ruether, Rosemary R. “To change the world. Christology and cultural criticism” SCM (1981) p. 31
(ii) Aslan, Reza “Zealots” Westbourne Press (2013)
(iii) Kahl, J “The Misery of Christianity” Pelican (1968)


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