Perspectives on Anti-Jewish Elements in Christian Scriptures and Liturgy

SOME PERSPECTIVES ON THE QUESTION

OF ANTI-JEWISH ELEMENTS IN CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES AND LITURGY

FROM JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN WRITERS

A Collection of Quotations

prepared by Louis Weil

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music [SCLM] was authorized at the 2009 General Convention “to collect, develop and disseminate materials that assist members of the Church to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.” 

As one element toward the accomplishing of that mandate, the commission members have authorized the placement from time to time of quotations from a variety of both Jewish and Christian writers which address this issue.  This is our first contribution to that aspect of our work.  We offer here a collection of such quotations in order to acquaint readers with these writers’ views in the belief that they provide valuable orientations to the problem of anti-Judaism in the liturgy. At the same time, these quotations offer bibliographical information for those readers who may want to go further in their reflection on this subject.   The quotations can also serve as a resource for parish programs of adult formation in which issues of anti-Judaism are explored.

1.  Charlotte E. Fonrobert: “Judaizers, Jewish Christians, and Others,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, ed. Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Z. Brettler (NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 554-5.

“In recent years the so-called parting of the ways question—when and how did ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’ turn into two distinct and separate phenomena—has been approached in new ways.  We have learned to recognize more clearly how Christian and Jewish authorities were trying to secure clearer boundaries between the two traditions.  We have also learned to differentiate the official position from how the people whom they were addressing may have behaved and believed.  For instance, as late as 386 CE John Chrysostom, the Christian bishop and author of Adversus Judaeos (sermons “Against the Jews”), can thunder at his audience about the dangers of attending synagogues and succumbing to “the evils” of the Jewish holiday observances.  This vitriolic attack is a clear indication that people in his Christian communities in Antioch on the Orontes were attracted to and frequented Jewish synagogues.  While Chrysostom would have liked his flock to consider this as a dangerous blurring of boundaries, his audience—for all we know—may have considered attendance at synagogues as perfectly compatible with their Christian beliefs.

“The more careful reading of the ancient texts has moved the supposed date of the actual separation between Judaism and Christianity from its initial dating at the end of the first century CE to the current one that places it at the end of Late Antiquity (ca. 200-700 CE), or later.  Not even the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century signals the end of Jewish and Christian enmeshing, since the Christianization of the empire and the institutional boundaries that this produced took centuries longer.”

2.  Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Z. Brettler:  “The Editors’ Preface,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. xii.

“Many Jews are unfamiliar with, or even afraid of reading, the New Testament.  Its content and genres are foreign, and they need notes to guide their reading.  Other Jews may think that the New Testament writings  are irrelevant to their lives, or that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion.  This volume, edited and written by Jewish scholars, should not raise that suspicion.  Our intention is not to convert, whether to convert Jews to Christianity, or to convert Christians away from their own churches.  Rather, this book is designed to allow all readers to understand what the texts of the New Testament meant within their own social, historical, and religious context;  some essays then describe the impact that the New Testament has had on Jewish—Christian relations.  Moreover, we strongly believe that Jews should understand the Christian Bible—what is called from the Christian perspective the Old Testament and New Testament—because it is Scripture for most English-speaking people:  it is difficult for Jews to understand their neighbors, and the broader society of which Jewish citizens are a part, without familiarity with the New Testament.  Just as we as Jews wish our neighbors to understand our texts, beliefs, and practices, we should understand the basics of Christianity.”

3.  Clark M. Williamson & Ronald J. Allen: Interpreting Difficult Texts.  (London: SCM Press, 1989), pp. 6-7.

“Out of character with the gospel”

 “What is Christian preaching and why is anti-Judaism inappropriate to it?  When we preach, we are teaching the Christian faith, making the Christian witness and telling the Christian story.  As we do this, we need to see to it that the witness which we bear or the story which we tell is appropriate to the Christian tradition, that it makes sense, and that it is moral.  We need to ask ourselves whether we are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ or an ideology; whether it is the Word of God or some other word that we are setting forth;  whether we have the story straight.

“The first reason why it is imperative to eliminate anti-Judaism from Christian preaching is that anti-Judaism contradicts the good news which it is the preacher’s task to re-present to the congregation.  That good news is about the radical grace of God, God’s unbounded love, the witness of God’s mercy that is extended freely to absolutely everybody, even us.  Anti-Judaism is an exclusivism, an us-them, insider-outsider point of view that makes being one of us the condition for gaining access to God’s love and grace.  It is a works-righteousness, with all the demonstrated deadliness in Christian history that works-righteousness always brings in its wake.”

4.  Marilyn J. Salmon:  Preaching without Contempt:  Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), pp. 9-10.

 “The Ethics of Preaching after the Holocaust”

 “Christians are not responsible for the Holocaust. Nazis are responsible for first denying Jews the rights of other citizens, taking away their livelihood and property, putting them in ghettoes, then concentration camps, and conceiving the Final Solution.  Nazis are liable for the murder of six million Jews in addition to countless homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped, and political resisters.  Certainly there were Christians who were Nazis, but Christianity itself is not responsible for the holocaust.

“Christianity is culpable, however, for creating the environment that made the Holocaust possible.  For centuries, since Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the religion of the Roman Empire, Christians have oppressed, persecuted, and murdered Jews in the name of Christianity.  They were incited against Jews by the preaching of contempt they heard in their churches.  Jews were charged with deicide, with rejecting God’s Messiah, disobedience against God for rejecting the truth of their own Scriptures.  That was how the church interpreted its Scriptures.  Sadly, that is our history with respect to Judaism.

The church has a long history of anti-Judaism, that is, a prejudice against the religion of the Jews.  In theory, at least, if a Jews were baptized and converted to Christianity, he or she would no longer be the object of contempt.  Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, is racial bigotry.  The Third Reich created a pseudo-scientific racial profile of Jews and sought to exterminate Jews as a race.  But again, Christian anti-Judaism is the context in which anti-Semitism emerged.  In the Western world, Christian culture classified Jews as inferior, limited their participation in society, and at times persecuted and murdered them.  It is a small step from Christian anti-Judaism to the anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Third Reich.  To put it bluntly, anti-Judaism made anti-Semitism possible.  So while Christianity alone is not responsible for the Holocaust, neither is it absolved from all guilt.”

5.  Jacob Neusner:  Judaism in the Matrix of Christianity (Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press, 1986), pp. 139-140.

“Both Judaism and Christianity claim to be the heirs and products of the Hebrew Scriptures—Tanakh to the Jews, Old Testament to the Christians.  Yet both great religious traditions derive indirectly from the authority of those Scriptures as that authority has been mediated through other holy books.  The New Testament is the prism through which the light of the Old comes to Christianity.  The canon of rabbinical writings is the star that guides Jews to the revelation of Sinai, the Torah.  The claim of these two great religious traditions in all their rich variety is for the veracity not merely of Scriptures, but also of Scriptures as interpreted by the New Testament or the Talmud and associated rabbinical writings.”

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About Ruth Meyers
Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics, Church Divinity School of the Pacific; Chair, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

2 Responses to Perspectives on Anti-Jewish Elements in Christian Scriptures and Liturgy

  1. Nancy Burchett says:

    Thank you for these interesting excerpts, which many of us might not even know to look for or where to find them. There are two typos this proofreader needs to point out; in example 2, ” Just as we as Jews wish OUR neighbors…and in 3, Whether it is the Word of God OR some other word… Again, I appreciate the work of the commission.

    Nancy Burchett

    Sent from my iPad

    Nancy, Thanks for catching these. I’ve made the corrections. –Ed.

  2. Susan Auchincloss says:

    Dear Professor Meyers and Professor Weil,

    This blog post deserves to be read far and wide! Thank you for taking this first, big step. We need to acknowledge the wrong we have done before we can properly ask forgiveness.

    May I mention two other resources? I have learned much from reading Anti-Judaism:The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg. Also, Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew by Bernard Starr.

    The latter has a chapter on western visual art, and shows both how tragically it caricatures the Jews and how it erases evidence of Judaism, retrojecting Christian symbols back into biblical scenes.

    Together these books made me aware of how much remedial work needs to be done if we intend to respect and honor Jews and Judaism; for negative stereotypes are embedded deep in our psyches. Our language gives evidence; Pharisee is a term of opprobrium!

    I’d like to commend my web site to you. It is dedicated to bringing about one specific change in the liturgy: removing any readings from the New Testament that defame Jews and Judaism. That is a complex issue, I realize, and my web site does not have answers, but it does strive to raise consciousness of the issue, as you are doing. Go to http://www.faithnotfault.org and click on the picture of the three pears to sign up.

    Faithfully,
    Susan Auchincloss

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