Tuesday, January 01, 2008


The documentary The Cross and the Star ascribes to the Gospel of John and Matthew in particular anti-semitic texts, but on what basis? In these texts the death of the earthly Christ is said to have occurred by the hands of the Jews. But there is something odd in charging these texts with anti-semitism. We know in hindsight how they have sometimes been used against the Jews in a long history of anti-semitism in which Jews were called “Christ-killers” and charged with deicide. But the charge of these texts with anti-semitism, while coming from an understandable emotionalism in response to the horror of the Shoah, hardly seems to make sense. The historical statement that the Jews crucified Jesus under Pontius Pilate is a mere historical assertion that is unexceptional in itself. It has taken on extra-historical connotations for many who hear it today, but these are the issue and not the simple historical content of the Gospel. Changing history because of the symbolical misuse of it is hardly the solution. Rather, any tendency to ascribe to the historical account undue meaning should be addressed from within the church by a countering theological correction. As for Jews today and those who surreptitiously support the Jews but attack religious particularity, their skepticism is understandable until clear teaching is presented that maintains the historical account of the Gospels intact but clearly counters any tendency to make the Jews the pariah. The Christian Scriptures in fact ascribe to the Jews a continuing privileged and beloved place in God’s design. They are identified as loved by God “on account of the patriarchs”. The eleventh chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans could not be more explicit in the acceptance of the Jews, the rebuke of the Gentiles who mistreat them, and the assertion that the Jews have an ongoing place in God’s plan. The solution of those who are supposedly the friend of the Jews of saying that any claim to particularity and superior truth in either the Christian, or by un-extrapolated implication the Jewish religion, as was advanced axiomatically in the abovementioned documentary, is the root of the problem is in fact to attack the tenants of both religions. The Jews await a Messiah and the Christians say that Christ is the Messiah. These are irreducible doctrinal differences but they should not equate to rejection and ascription of immorality by either side.

The following poem by John Donne captures for me a theological point that seems crucial to real Christianity. Although immediately offensive and anti-Semitic, according to the definition of anti-Semitism taught in the documentary, it seems to me that a thoughtful reading discovers in it a counter to anti-Seimitism that doesn’t resort to emotionalism and historicism to deal with a terrible problem:

Holy Sonnet XI
Spit in my face you Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinned, and sinned, and only he
Who could do no iniquity hath died:
But by my death can not be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews' impiety:
They killed once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
Oh let me, then, his strange love still admire:
Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment.
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire
But to supplant, and with gainful intent:
God clothed himself in vile man's flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

Anyone who does not believe that Christ was crucified because of their own sins, and not because of the Jews, is not a Christian in any believing sense. Donne repeats the historical assertion of the Gospels that the documentary brands as anti-Semitic, but he is saying that for the Jews it was a mere mundane killing of an inglorious man. For those who believe, there is a greater guilt, a greater sin, repeated daily. To call Jews Christ-killers is in Christian teaching to malign the significance of Christ’s teaching for one’s own life. It is a mock piety, a show that always reveals to the discerning unbelief, lack of humility, and distortion of the Gospels and the New Testament teachings. It is in fact a killing of Christ to call Jews “Christ-killers” because the term is clearly appropriating the historical event and ascribing to it a narrowness of symbology that is anathema to the gospel of salvation. Anyone who says to his brother "Christ-killer" is in danger of the fires of hell.

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