Sunday, April 13, 2014

'Tis the season when Christians hate on Jews

Well, I sure hope not. But historically, a great many European pogroms (Jew-killing sprees) started during the Christian Holy Week. We modern Christians have a lot to repent for.

Billboard in downtown Barcelona depicting the parade with palms by Jesus and his followers
Holy Week starts today with Palm Sunday. This commemorates what is most likely an historical event: Jesus leading his ragtag rural followers on a march into the big city. Think of it as a small, strange demonstration. Adherents of the movement preceded their improbable prophet waving palm branches, proclaiming him as the bearer of a message of repentance and salvation from Israel's God -- maybe he was even the hoped-for Messiah of Israel. Jesus then caused a disturbance in the Temple, the holy focus of Jewish observance and identity. Later that week, the city and Temple authorities (one and the same: these folks hadn't invented church-state separation) seized the insurgent preacher, tried him, and, because they were subjects/collaborators of the Empire, handed him over to the Romans for the ordinary Roman punishment for being uppity: crucifixion. For Christians, the real excitement over these events comes afterward: somehow this Jesus turned out not to be dead; we celebrate that unlooked-for result of the unexceptional foregoing events as Easter.

Later followers of Jesus wrote the only known descriptions of what happened that week. Naturally they had some bones to pick with the authorities who killed the man they had since concluded was somehow God. They also had their own situations to consider. The extant writings -- the four gospels named for reputed authors: Mark, Matthew, Luke and John -- all date from after the Jewish Jerusalem authorities and their Temple had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. By that time, it certainly was politic to blame "the Jews" -- those deposed civic and religious authorities -- for what happened to their leader while, comparatively letting the actual killers -- the Roman authorities -- off the hook.

And so, on this Palm Sunday, Christians who read from the Common Lectionary (Catholics and most Protestants) will hear that the Roman governor Pilate asked a crowd of Jerusalem Jews what to do with Jesus and they screamed for his blood:
Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!"
Insofar as there is any historical record about this guy Pilate, the scene seems utterly improbable; he was known as a casually brutal enforcer of Rome's occupation, not prone to consider local opinion.

But the Gospel accounts have an effect when read by contemporary Christians that demands a more nuanced understanding. There is nobody in these accounts, aside from Pilate, who is not Jewish. Jesus was Jewish; his followers were Jewish; the priests and civic authorities were Jewish. This the story of a conflict within a community of people who thought of themselves as the same kind, if certainly not of the same class. There are no innocent Christians in this story. Christians were a later development. Some Jews sent Jesus to his death on a Roman cross -- and other Jews followed and exalted the itinerant rebel preacher. The extreme hostility to the Jewish authorities we meet in the Gospels reflects both contemporary (the priests were tools of the Roman oppressors) and subsequent (they rejected the Jesus movement) antagonisms.
Since Christians got to be not just the majority, but also the state power in many subsequent times and places, we have done an awful lot of killing Jews because "they killed Christ." That language contains another fallacy -- insofar as some Jews contributed to killing Jesus, they decidedly did not "kill Christ" because the name is a title for "Messiah" -- what those contemporaries were certain that Jesus was not. They incited the Romans to kill a crazy preacher who endangered their status.

James Carroll's Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History is a meandering but readable history of how Jew-hatred among Christians set the stage for the Nazi Holocaust. The essence of Carroll's history is also available in a 95 minute documentary of the same name that was nominated for an Oscar in 2007. I watched it streamed from Netflix this week and would commend it to my sister and brother Christians as a part of our preparation for Holy Week.


amspirnational said...

It's too bad you are going against the "Jesus was/is a Palestinian" tide.

Read Sholomo Sand's "The Invention of the Jewish People."
Sand is Jewish by the way.

Also "Jewish History, Jewish Religion" by Jewish Professor Israel Shahak.

Yeah, European Christians should stay on their guilt trip about their history, that's the ticket.
Innately anti-Christian, anti-European aspects and actions of
Judaism and European Jews in past history should be ignored. Not least, rabbinical attempts to quash the very spread of Christianity. Jews attempted with
considerable success, by the way, to convert citizens of the Roman Empire-Judaism was not the inward
non-converting sect kit became after Christian Rome banned the conversion attempts, and the anti-Christian polemics which accompanied them.

One-sided history is a crock and one quite beneficial to Israel's theft of Palestine, keeping the bucks coming in, the wars (eg Iraq) being fought.

Hattie said...

I'm on the side of oppressed Palestinians but the above is blatant anti-semitism.

amspirnational said...

No it's not, unless Jesus was an antisemite.
Actually the Palestinians are semites, the "Jews" of today have only modest amounts of semitic blood.
Check out Cannonfire. These "settler Jews" are merely acting in the spirit of traditional Diaspora Judaism-which is NOT the worship of Ancient Israelites.

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