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Anti-Judaism has been called "a total or partial opposition to Judaism—and to Jews as adherents of it—by persons who accept a competing system of beliefs and practices and consider certain genuine Judaic beliefs and practices as inferior."[1] Christian anti-Judaism is a Christian theological position in opposition to Jewish belief and practice.

History of anti-Judaism

Anti-Judaism in the Roman Empire

In Rome and throughout the Roman Empire, religion was an integral part of the civil government. Emperors proclaimed themselves as gods on Earth, and demanded to be worshiped accordingly.[2] This created religious difficulties for Jews and worshipers of Mithras, Sabazius and Early Christians.[3] Jews were prohibited by their biblical commandments from worshiping any other god than that of the Torah (q.v. Shema, God in Judaism). Religious differences created civil problems in the relations between Rome and its Jewish subjects, which were scattered throughout the Empire. The issue came to a head in the province of Judea when some Roman Emperors insisted on the placing of their images in the Temple in Jerusalem, for the purpose of worship (q.v. Jewish–Roman wars).

Early Christianity and the Judaizers

Christianity commenced its existence as a sect within Judaism. It was seen as such by the early Christians, as well as Jews in general. The wider Roman administration most likely would not have understood any distinction. Historians debate whether or not the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva's modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in 96. From then on, practising Jews paid the tax; Christians did not.[4] Christianity inherited Jewish monotheism, scriptures (generally the Septuagint or Targum translations of the Hebrew Bible), liturgy, and moralism.

The main point of divergence by the Christian community from its Jewish roots was the Christian belief that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah (q.v. Rejection of Jesus).[5] Another point of divergence was the questioning by the Christian community of the continuing applicability of the Law of Moses (the Torah)[6], though the Apostolic Decree of the Apostolic Age of Christianity appears to parallel the Noahide Law of Judaism. The two issues came to be linked in a theological discussion within the Christian community as to whether the coming of the Messiah (First or Second Coming) could or did annul some (q.v. Cafeteria Christianity) or all (q.v. Antinomianism) biblical law in what came to be called a New Covenant.

The circumcision controversy was probably the second issue (after the issue of Jesus as messiah) during which the theological argument was conducted in terms of anti-Judaism, with those who argued for the view that biblical law continued to be applicable being labelled "Judaizers" or "Pharisees" (eg. Acts 15:5).[7][8] The teachings of Paul (d. ~67 CE), whose letters comprise much of the New Testament demonstrate a "long battle against Judaizing."[9] However, James the Just, who after Jesus's death was widely acknowledged as the leader of the Jesus movement, worshiped at the Second Temple in Jerusalem until his death in 62, thirty years after Jesus' death.[10]

The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE would lead Christians to "doubt the efficacy of the ancient law"[11], see also Supersessionism, though Ebionism would linger on until the fifth century. However, Marcion of Sinope, who advocated rejecting the entirety of Judaic influence on the Christian faith,[12] would be excommunicated by the Church in Rome in 144 CE. [13]

Anti-Judaic polemic

Anti-Judaic works of this period include De Adversus Iudeaos by Tertullian, Octavius by Minucius Felix, De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate[14] by Cyprian of Carthage, and Instructiones Adversus Gentium Deos by Lactantius.[15] The traditional hypothesis holds that the anti-Judaism of these early fathers of the Church "were inherited from the Christian tradition of Biblical exegesis" though a second hypothesis holds that early Christian anti-Judaism was inherited from the pagan world.[16]

Taylor has observed that theological Christian anti-Judaism "emerge[d] from the church's efforts to resolve the contradictions inherent in its simultaneous appropriation and rejection of different elements of the Jewish tradition."[17]

Modern scholars believe that Judaism may have been a missionary religion in the early centuries of the common era, converting so-called proselytes,[18] and thus competition for the religious loyalties of gentiles drove anti-Judaism.[19] The debate and dialogue moved from polemic to bitter verbal and written attacks one against the other. To Tarfon (d. 135 CE) is attributed a statement about whether scrolls could be left to burn in a fire on the Sabbath. A disputed[20][21][22][23] interpretation identifies these books with the Gospels (q.v. Gilyonim): "The Gospels must be burned for paganism is not as dangerous to the Jewish faith as Jewish Christian sects."[9] The anonymous Letter to Diognetus was the earliest apologetic work in the early Church to address Judaism.[24] Saint Justin Martyr (d. 165 CE) wrote the apologetic Dialogue with Trypho,[25] a polemical debate giving the Christian assertions for the Messiahship of Jesus by making use of the Old Testament contrasted with counter-arguments from a fictionalized version of Tarphon.[26] "For centuries defenders of Christ and the enemies of the Jews employed no other method" than these apologetics.[24] Apologetics were difficult as gentile converts could not be expected to understand Hebrew; translations of the Septuagint into Greek prior to Aquila would serve as a flawed basis for such cross-cultural arguments,[27] as demonstrated by Origen's difficulties debating Rabbi Simlai.[27]

Though Emperor Hadrian was an "enemy of the synagogue", the reign of Antonius began a period of Roman benevolence toward the Jewish faith.[28] Meanwhile, imperial hostility toward Christianity continued to crystallize; after Decius, the empire was at war with it.[29] An unequal power relationship between Jews and Christians in the context of the Greco-Roman world "generated anti-Jewish feelings among the early Christians.[30] Feelings of mutual hatred arose, driven in part by Judaism's legality in the Roman Empire; in Antioch, where the rivalry was most bitter, Jews most likely demanded the execution of Polycarp.[31]

From Constantine to the eighth century

When Constantine and Licinius were issuing the Edict of Milan, the influence of Judaism was fading in the Land of Israel and seeing a rebirth outside the Roman Empire in Babylonia.[2] By the third century the Judaizing heresies were nearly extinct in Christianity. The Council of Nicea ended Passover celebrations for Christians.[32]

After his defeat of Licinius in 323 CE, Constantine showed Christians marked political preference. He repressed Jewish proselytism and forbade Jews from circumcising their slaves.[33] Jews were barred from Jerusalem except on the anniversary of the Second Temple's destruction (Tisha B'Av) and then only after paying a special tax (probably the Fiscus Judaicus) in silver.[33] He also promulgated a law which condemned to the stake Jews who persecuted their apostates by stoning.[34] Catholicism became the state religion (q.v. Christendom) of the Roman Empire. "No sooner was [the Church] armed than it forgot its most elementary principles, and directed the secular arm against its enemies."[34]

From the middle of the fifth century, apologetics ceased with Cyril of Alexandria.[35] This form of anti-Judaism had proven futile and often served to strengthen Jewish faith.[35] With Christianity ascendant in the Empire, the "Fathers, the bishops, and the priest who had to contend against the Jews treated them very badly. Hosius in Spain; Pope Sylvester I; Eusebius of Caesaria call them 'a perverse, dangerous, and criminal sect.'"[36] While Gregory of Nyssa merely reproaches Jews as infidels, other teachers are more vehement.[36] St. Augustine labels the Talmudists as falsifiers; St. Ambrose recycled the earlier anti-Christian trope and accuses Jews of despising Roman law. St. Jerome claims Jews were possessed by an impure spirit.[36] St. Cyril of Jerusalem claimed the Jewish Patriarchs, or Nasi, were a low race.[36]

All these theological and polemical attacks combined in St. John Chrysostom's six sermons delivered at Antioch.[36] Chrysostom, an archbishop of Constantinople, (d. 407 CE) is very negative in his treatment of Judaism, though much more hyperbolic in expression.[37] While St. Justin's Dialogue is a philosophical treatise, St. Chrysostom's homilies Against the Jews are a more informal and rhetorically forceful set of sermons preached in church. Delivered while Chrysostom was still a priest in Antioch, his homilies deliver a scathing critique of Jewish religious and civil life, warning Christians not to have any contact with Judaism or the synagogue and to keep away from the rival religion's festivals.

"There are legions of theologians, historians and writers who write about the Jews the same as Chrysostom: Epiphanius, Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyprus, Cosmas Indicopleustes, Athanasius the Sinaite among the Greeks; Hilarius of Poitiers, Prudentius, Paulus Orosius, Sulpicius Severus, Gennadius, Venantius Fortunatus, Isidore of Seville, among the Latins."[38]

From the fourth to seventh centuries, while the bishops taught anti-Judaism in writing, the Empire enacted a variety of civil laws against Jews, such as forbidding them from holding public office, and an oppressive curial tax.[34] Laws were enacted to harass their free observance of religion; Justinian went so far as to enact a law against Jewish daily prayers.[34] Both Christians and Jews engaged in recorded mob violence in the waning days of the Empire.[39]

The pattern wherein Jews were relatively free under pagan rulers until the Catholic conversion of the leadership, as seen with Constantine, would be repeated in the lands beyond the now collapsed Roman Empire. Sigismund of Burgundy enacted laws against Jews after coming to the throne after his conversion in 514;[40] likewise after the conversion of Reccared, king of the Visigoths in 589, which would have lasting effect when codified by Reccesuinth in the Visigothic Code of Law.[41] This code inspired Jews to aid Tariq ibn-Ziyad in his overthrow of Roderick, and under the Moors they regained their usurped religious freedoms.[40]

After the eighth century

Beginning with the eighth century, legislation against heresies grew more severe. The Church, once confining itself to only the powers of canon law increasingly appealed to secular powers, and heretics such as the Vaudois, Albigenses, Beghards, Apostolic Brothers, and Luciferians were "treated with cruelty"[42] which culminated in the 13th century establishment of the Inquisition by Pope Innocent III.[42] Jews were not ignored by such legislation, as they instigated Christians to judaizations, either directly or unconsciously, by their existence. They sent forth metaphysicians such as Amaury de Béne and David de Dinan; the Pasagians followed Mosaic Law; the Orleans heresy was a Jewish heresy; the Albigens taught Jewish doctrine as superior to Christian; the Dominicans preached against both the Hussites and their Jewish supporters and thus the imperial army sent to advance on Jan Ziska massacred Jews along the way.[42] In Spain, where Castilian custom (fueros) had granted equal rights to Muslims, Christians, and Jews, Gregory XI instituted the Spanish Inquisition to surveil Jews and Moors wherever "by words or writings they urged the Catholics to embrace their faith".[42]

Usury became a proximate cause of much anti-Jewish sentiment during the Middle Ages.[43] In Italy and later Poland and Germany, John of Capistrano stirred up the poor against the usury of the Jews; Bernardinus of Feltre, aided by the practical notion of establishing mont-de-piétés, called for the expulsion of Jews all over Italy and Tyrol and caused the massacre of the Jews at Trent.[44] Kings, nobles, and bishops discouraged this behavior, protecting Jews from the monk Radulphe in Germany and countering the preachings of Bernardinus in Italy.[44] These reactions were from knowing the history of mobs, incited against Jews, continuing attacks against their rich co-religionists.[44] Anti-Judaism was a dynamic in the early Spanish colonies in the Americas, where Europeans used anti-Judaic logics against Native and African peoples, in effect transferring anti-Judaism onto other peoples. [45]

The Church kept to its theological anti-Judaism and, favoring the mighty and rich, was careful not to encourage the passions of the people.[44] But while it sometimes interfered on behalf of the Jews when they were the objects of mob fury, it was at the same time fueled the fury by combating Judaism; it persecuted Judaism in all its forms as it strove to reduce all anti-Christian elements at work in Europe.[44]

In the Reformation

Martin Luther has been accused of antisemitism, primarily in relation to his statements about Jews in his book On the Jews and their Lies, which describes the Jews in extremely harsh terms, excoriating them, and providing detailed recommendation for a pogrom against them and their permanent oppression and/or expulsion. According to Paul Johnson, it "may be termed the first work of modern anti-Semitism, and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust".[46] In contrast, Roland Bainton, noted church historian and Luther biographer, wrote "One could wish that Luther had died before ever this tract was written. His position was entirely religious and in no respect racial"[47].

Peter Martyr Vermigli, a shaper of Reformed Protestantism, took pains to maintain the contradiction, going back to Paul of Tarsus, of Jews being both enemy and friend, writing: "The Jews are not odious to God for the very reason they are Jews; for how could this have happened since they were embellished with so many great gifts...."[48]

Contrasted with antisemitism

"The question of the relation of traditional Christian anti-Judaism and modern antisemitism" has "ignite[d] explosive debates" among scholars.[49]

Whereas, according to historian Gavin Langmuir, anti-Judaism is concerned with exaggerated accusations against Jews which nonetheless contain a particle of truth or evidence, antisemitism (which dates back in Europe to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries) reaches beyond unusual general inferences and is concerned with false suppositions.[50] Thus Langmuir considers the labelling of Jews as 'Christ-killers' is anti-Judaic; accusations of well-poisoning, on the other hand, he regards as antisemitic.[50] In his view, anti-Judaism and antisemitism have existed side by side from the twelfth century onwards and have strengthened each other ever since.[51] The blood libel is another example of antisemitism, though it is based in distorted notions of Judaism.

Anti-Judaism is also often distinguished from antisemitism based upon racial or ethnic grounds (racial antisemitism). "The dividing line was the possibility of effective conversion . . . a Jew ceased to be a Jew upon baptism." However, with racial antisemitism, "Now the assimilated Jew was still a Jew, even after baptism ... . From the Enlightenment onward, it is no longer possible to draw clear lines of distinction between religious and racial forms of hostility towards Jews... Once Jews have been emancipated and secular thinking makes its appearance without leaving behind the old Christian hostility towards Jews, the new term antisemitism becomes almost unavoidable, even before explicitly racist doctrines appear."[52]

At several points in the history of Christianity, Chrysostom's and Luther's writings have been used to justify antisemitism.

See also


  1. Langmuir (1971, 383),[1] cited by Abulafia (1998, part II, 77).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 63
  3. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 64
  4. Wylen, Stephen M., The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction, Paulist Press (1995), ISBN 0809136104, Pp 190-192.; Dunn, James D.G., Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (1999), ISBN 0802844987, Pp 33-34.; Boatwright, Mary Taliaferro & Gargola, Daniel J & Talbert, Richard John Alexander, The Romans: From Village to Empire, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 0195118758, p. 426.;
  5. McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction, Blackwell Publishing,(2006), ISBN 1405108991, Page 174: "In effect, they [Jewish Christians] seemed to regard Christianity as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah. Unless males were circumcised, they could not be saved (Acts 15:1)."
  6. Taylor, op cit, p. 127-8
  7. See also Council of Jerusalem
  8. Elshtain, Jean Bethke (2004-05-18). "Anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism?". Christian Century. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lazare, Bernard (1903). Antisemitism: Its History and Causes. New York: International Library. p. 49. 
  10. Hopkins, Keith. A World Full of Gods. Great Britain: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999.
  11. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 50
  12. Taylor, op cit, p. 128
  13. Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem.
  14. n.b. source likely means Cyprian's later treatise, Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews bound under the title of his first treatise; so linked here
  15. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 61
  16. Taylor, op cit, p. 115
  17. Taylor, op cit, p. 127
  18. Taylor, Miriam S. (1995). Anti-Judaism and Early Christian Identity: A Critique of the Scholarly Consensus. Leiden, New York, Köln: Brill Academic Publishers. p. 8. ISBN 9004021353. 
  19. Taylor, op cit, p. 7
  20. Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines - The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (2006) pg 57-58
  21. Kuhn (1960) and Maier (1962) cited by Paget in ‘The Written Gospel’ (2005), pg 210
  22. Friedlander (1899) cited in Pearson in ‘Gnosticism, Judaism and Egyptian Christianity’ (1990)
  23. Rabbinic discussion of gilyonim: [2]
  24. 24.0 24.1 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 56
  25. Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew.
  26. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 57
  27. 27.0 27.1 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 60
  28. Taylor, op cit, p. 48
  29. Taylor, op cit, p. 49
  30. Taylor, op cit, p. 47
  31. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 59
  32. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 65
  33. 33.0 33.1 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 72
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 73
  35. 35.0 35.1 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 66
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 67-8
  37. Saint John Chrysostom: Eight Homilies Against the Jews
  38. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 70-1
  39. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 76-80
  40. 40.0 40.1 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 87
  41. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 86
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 116-7
  43. Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 111-4
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 44.3 44.4 Lazare, Bernard. op cit. p. 114-5
  45. McAlister, Elizabeth. “| The Jew in the Haitian Imagination: A Popular History of Anti-Judaism and Proto-Racism. In Henry Goldschmidt and Elizabeth McAlister, eds., Race, Nation and Religion in the Americas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, 61-82.
  46. Johnson, Paul: A History of the Jews (1987), p.242
  47. Bainton, Roland: Here I Stand, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, New American Library, 1983), p. 297
  48. James, Frank A. (2004). Peter Martyr Vermigli And The European Reformations: Semper Reformanda. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 9004139141. 
  49. Fahlbusch, Erwin; Geoffrey William Bromiley (1999). "The Encyclopedia of Christianity". The Encyclopedia of Christianity. 3, J-O. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge UK / Leiden / Boston: Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 57. ISBN 0802824153. 
  50. 50.0 50.1 Abulafia (1998, part II, 77), referring to Langmuir (1971).
  51. Abulafia (1998, part II, 77), citing Langmuir (1971, 383–389).
  52. Nichols, William: Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate (1993) p.314
  • Abulafia, Anna Sapir (ed.)(1998). Christians and Jews in Dispute : Disputational Literature and the Rise of Anti-Judaism in the West (c. 1000-1150) (Variorum Collected Studies Series). Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate. ISBN 0-86078-661-7.
  • Langmuir, Gavin (1971). "Anti-Judaism as the necessary preparation for anti-Semitism". Viator, 2: p. 383.

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