Jews & Jesus

April 28, 2006 at 10:20 am 6 comments

This is an issue that hits a soft spot for me: Jesus and the Jews. If one more person asks me, "The Jews killed Jesus, right?" I may slap them! So… let's just get this straight.

The New York Times Magazine featured an article in which New York Knicks point guard Charlie Ward was quoted as telling a Jewish reporter, "Jews are stubborn. … But tell me, why did they persecute Jesus unless he knew something they didn't want to accept? … They had his blood on their hands." When pressed to defend himself, Ward told reporters, "If you want to read abut it, it's in the Book of John or any of the Gospels. I'm just the messenger."

Ward was not lying…they do have textual support in the Gospels. In the Gospel of John, the phrase "the Jews" is used at least nine times to denote those who encouraged and assisted in Jesus' execution. In the Book of Matthew (27: 25-26) the Jews accept responsibility for the execution. When the Roman governor Pontius Pilate hesitates over deciding Jesus' fate, the Jews assembled before Pilate demanding that Jesus be crucified, proclaiming "His blood be on us, and on our children."

Lest I dare look at these chapters in light of the context in which they were composed! Most scholars agree that the Gospels were written some 40 to 70 years after the crucifixion (which occurred around 30 C.E.). If you are familiar with what was happening around 70 – 100 C.E., the nascent Christian sect was trying to distinguish itself from its Jewish roots. The main reason, the Christians wanted to attract gentile converts. Also, because the Jews were rebelling against the Romans, a repudiation of Christian kinship with the Jews could be politically advantageous. It is for these reasons, that the Gospels 1) assign primary blame to the Jews, not the Romans; and 2) sympathetically portray Pilate, who is described in other ancient texts as cruel.

But the evidence is compelling that the New Testament either gave "the Jews" a bum rap or, at minimum, was written in a way that left it highly susceptible to misuse. If, as most scholars believe, Mark is the source for Matthew and Luke, the authors of those later Gospels sure seemed to add a lot of new, incriminating detail mysteriously missing from Mark, fueling the notion of Jews as Christ-killers. For example, Matthew adds the line from the Jewish mob, "His blood be on us and on our children!" But perhaps the most distressing addition to the Mark account is found in John. It is the single word "the." John shifts from talking about specific Jewish leaders (which, I admit, had a say!) and individual people to using the broad term: "the Jews." He uses this formulation repeatedly and devastatingly. Did someone go a bit far from Mark's version?? John? Matthew? I see that guilty look!

Often times, I hear the response to this by Christians that the Jews wanted Jesus dead because he was (in Jewish eyes) blasphemous. While I am sure there were many Jews of the time who has serious concerns as to Jesus' mental stability (even Jews who happen to hold political office at the time — mind you, at that time Jews could not hold absolute political office!)… there were much bigger threats to Judaism at the time (like a gazillon different Roman political figures!).  Jesus' identity as a political subversive, would explain why the Romans chose a means of execution, crucifixion, usually reserved for insurrectionists – so much more realistic. Let's face it, the Jews were not the people on power at that time and place – the Romans were and they were the ones with an established criminal justice system (although, not one that Amnesty International would approve of!).

Somebody is wondering though, WHY?? WHY JOHN?? WHY MATTHEW?? WHY?? Well… let me address that…

There are many Christian scholars who address why… but lets stick to my favorite: late Rev. Raymond Brown, a respected right-of-center scholar who has defended the Passion narratives. He writes that John's vituperative anti-Judaism likely flowed not so much from the events of the Crucifixion (aka; what actually happened to Jesus) but rather from what happened to Jesus' followers in the subsequent decade. The first Christians were persecuted, harassed, and questioned by the synagogue authorities, leading to bitterness on the part of Gospel writers. (Would you not have been bitter?) John really was "anti-Jewish in a qualified sense," Brown writes in An Introduction to the Gospel of John. "Uncomfortable as that may make modern readers because of the horrible history of anti-Jewish persecution in subsequent centuries, it is what John meant."

Fact is, most Christians are not even aware that a bunch of different Christian authorities have taken a stance against the accusations of Jews killing Jesus. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council issued the "Nostra Autate" statement, which declared that "what happened in His [Jesus'] passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today." (I do love John Paul II!) In 1964, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared, "We reject the charge of deicide against the Jews and condemn antisemitism." Others, including the Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Alliance of Baptists, while not directly addressing the charge of deicide, have issued statements regretting "interpreting our sacred writings in such a way that we have created enemies of the Jewish people."

Yet its this hot topic – because who can call themselves a religious Christian who believes that the Bible is "THE WORD" and then admit that some of the info there may have a bias based on the political pressures of the time? It's a bitter pill to swallow. History, however, is tanted by politics and the Bible is a history book (from G-d, or John, or anyone else).

What I am getting to is this, though… It's not very Christian to get all hot about Jews being Christ-killers. (And yes, I know that this is not who you wanted to hear that from!) And I don't mean merely in the sense that Jesus taught forgiveness, or that it's not nice to promote genocide, no matter how angry you might be. Rather, that non-believers (and liberal Protestants) miss the point of Christianity by focusing on only Jesus' moral teachings, as if he were just a really dynamic ethics professor. The point, or at least one of the main points, of the religion is that Jesus died for humanity's sins. The symbol of the religion is the cross, not a Good Samaritan icon, because the Crucifixion and subsequent resurrection were what proved his divinity and redeemed humankind. Most Christians believe that many of Christianity's blessings flow from the fact that he was crucified.

So I will stop saying, "Yeah, we killed him and you're welcome!"  If the 'Jews are Christ-Killer Christians' can stop asking me that irrelavent question!

Fact is, if you're a Christian who believes that the Bible was written by or fact-checked by G-d – it should still not matter who killed Jesus. But his crucifixion was essential to his purpose on Earth (or so you believe). And if you are a Historian, interested in interpretations that are sensative to the political context of the times… you can clearly see the issues that John and Matthew faced. And if you're Jewish… well… we still have 8 days of presents, and they don't!

So, we're all good! 🙂



Entry filed under: Judaism.

Lunch with Julia. Sick

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. matt  |  April 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    hey hey

    first off, well written on an interesting topic.

    there are a lot of things in your writing that i totally agree with you on… say that it’s not Christian to call Jews Christ-killers and that a lot of non-believers miss the point of Christianity…

    but i think that i disagree when you say that it should not matter who killed Jesus. i think that everyone can agree that his crucifixion was essential for his purpose on Earth. i would also believe that everyone who believes in a God as described in the Bible would not hesitate to agree that God is all-knowing. therefore God knew that his crucifixion would be carried out by the Jews and made sure it happened that way (as an all-powerful God, he could have easily made it any group of people). so i think that the notion that it doesn’t matter who killed Jesus because it had to happen anyway is a tough assumption to make.

    i dunno though, maybe you’re right though and i’ve over analyzed it?

  • 2. gabrielfamily  |  April 28, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Good summary. I learned this POV in seminary and totally buy it. The Romans did it. They had a few Jews helping them out to curry favor, as often happens in occupied countries. Btw on the left side of Christianity there are scholars who disagree that a human sacrifice was essential to God’s purpose, or a culmination of all that had happened prior in Judaism. They see what happened to Christianity since the first century as an interpretation, not the original intent.

    It astounds me that in 2006, there are those who are still blaming all Jews, from 2000 centuries, for Jesus’ crucifixion. But they are there, and with the rise of fundamentalism, not going away soon enough.

  • 3. Julia  |  April 28, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    So, Matt, what you are trying to say is – “Thanks Jews!” 😀

    Well, one more time, I’ll say it, you’re welcome!

    To be honest (and a bit more serious here), I think it is impossible to have a constructive interfaith conversation on this topic. I do not care to really have one, but I do enjoy other’s comments! So thank you for the interaction! (You too gabrielfamily!)

  • 4. Karen  |  April 28, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    Hi Julia,
    Great topic. My understanding has always been that the Romans killed Jesus. Although it’s hard to blame and entire population of people for a single deed. There were high level Jewish leaders who wanted Jesus out of the way, but there was no Jewish law alowing a death sentence. He was executed by the Romans.

    I hate to take any issue with your very well articulated argument and, as a Catholic, thanks for the nod to John Paul II. However, I believe John XXIII was pope during Vatican II. 🙂

  • 5. HeatherRainbow  |  April 28, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the education.

    I was always told that it was high ranking officials of the Romans who killed Jesus. As for any part that a Jewish person having some input, I always think that it was through manipulation.

    And, also, I tend to say, Well, Jesus himself was Jewish, a part of the poor population, the oppressed. Just some added thoughts. 🙂

  • 6. Sara  |  April 28, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Hi Julia,
    Thanks a lot for this post – very educational for me! Some parts I knew, but the details about the Romans make sense.

    My MIL is a Holocaust survivor (as was my late FIL). My husband thinks Vatican II was one of the turning points of his life – these issues are very present to him, though he’s USA-born.

    Great subject, great post – thank you again.


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Julia’s Jam

It’s just not that black & white. Not because I am taking a stand against. Just because, the issues I face are somewhere in the grey area and to weed through them, I blog. I blog. ~

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