(For my regular readers, this is the first draft of Chapter One of my proposed book tentatively titled, The Jewish Problem, A Survivor''s Guide. This blog is significantly longer than usual, and I would appreciate any comments or suggestions on its accuracy, quality or any other thoughts you might have concerning the chapter or the book. I will post as blogs several other chapters, after which my blog may take a different direction altogether.
As I find comments consistent with my writing I will incorporate them directly into the on-line blog, allowing you the opportunity to participate directly in the editing process. Including hyperlinks is very time consuming and not necessary to the purpose I am providing this copy. I regret any inconvenience.
Thank you for accompanying me on this long, sometimes contentious, journey!)
"the very presence of the Jewish people in the world ... puts a great question against Christian belief in a new covenant made through Christ. The presence of this question, often buried deep in the Christian mind… caus[ing] profound and gnawing anxiety… hostility." (William Nicholls)
If the sources of the Jewish Problem first appeared in Christian scripture, it was generations of theologians who transformed those anti-Jewish assertions into what Catholic theologian Rosemary Ruether describes as, “the Left Hand of Christology:”
“An impasse developed between Christianity and Judaism over the coming of the messiah… Christian theology set out to prove the spiritual blindness of the Jewish community and its resulting rejected status. Jewish religious leaders were guilty of killing Jesus, and they could not read Scripture rightly. Jewish religious law was discredited, and the Church is the true heir of the promise to Abraham. God''s displeasure with the Jews was displayed in the destruction of the temple, and they will wander in exile until Jesus returns and they will be forced to acknowledge their error.”
Ruether is here describing Augustine’s reasoning, Christianity’s Jewish Problem and, secondarily, a rationale which also provided for the survival of some Jews.
Throughout its history the Church searched out Christian beliefs considered heretical and hunted down, tortured and murdered their adherents. So how explain the survival of Judaism and the Jews? Not until the twentieth century was a “final” solution to the Jewish Problem attempted, and that by secular forces in the Christian West. Under religious authorities the Jews were persecuted, expelled, murdered; the Crusades saw whole communities put to the sword en route to “liberate” Jerusalem from the infidels. The Spanish Inquisition forced Jews to convert or be expelled. Later, and even after generations (anticipating Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws), the descendents of Marranos, were still “suspect” as insincere Christians. Tortured to confession they were burned at the stake for their admitted “guilt.”
Fear of “heresies” was pervasive and adherents of early Gnosticism and Montanism in the first and second centuries were ruthlessly suppressed, their writings destroyed1. Catharism appeared in the eleventh century following the failed “return of Jesus.” And then, in 1522 Luther nailed his “theses” on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and Protestantism was the heresy the Church could not suppress.
From Christianity’s beginnings the survival of Judaism was a problem. If Jesus, rejected by the Jews, ushered in a new era, what purpose could God have for allowing those who murdered his son to survive? Judaism was not a “heresy” since it preceded Christianity. But the survival of Jews and Judaism in the post-messianic era called into question Christian claims as the “new Israel.” Jewish survival represented a challenge even to Christian claims regarding Jesus’ identity, his mission as messiah.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) is widely credited with arriving at a theological explanation that provided the Church an explanation for Jewish survival that removed their threat to the Church’s claims as the “new” Israel. If the Jews continued to survive even after the advent of the messianic era then it clearly must be part of God’s plan. But how understand that plan?
In his most famous work, The City of God, Augustine quotes Matthew 27:25m establishes Jewish guilt for the murder of Jesus that all Jews and forever share in that guilt and will forever wander the world without home, destitute and eternally punished by God and Christians. This may represent the clearest and earliest description of the Jewish Problem, and its search for a solution. According to Augustine God provided for some Jews to survive as example to Christians of the gifts of Christianity. The threat to Church claims intact, Jewish survival explained. As Moses Mendelssohn’s observed 1500 years later, “but for Augustine''s ‘lovely brainwave, we would have been exterminated long ago,” [this a century before the Holocaust]. According to Catholic historian James Carroll (Constantine’s Sword (p.219) while Augustine left open the possibility of limited Jewish survival, there is little difference between his basic beliefs and those of his contemporary, John Chrysostom whose Homilies are discussed below.
If Augustine provided the theological rationale for preserving some Jews he also maintained that Christianity superseded Judaism, inherited Jewish scripture, history and most importantly, the God’s Covenant. This was Augustine’s,
“’theory of substitution’ whereby the New Israel of the church became a substitute of ancient Israel…”
“the house of Israel which [God] has cast off… are themselves the builders of destruction and rejecters of the cornerstone [Jesus]… the Lord Christ distinguished between His faithful ones and His Jewish enemies.”
Supersessionism was not an invention of Augustine. It likely originated with Paul’s assertion that circumcision of the heart substituted for the physical act. Justin Martyr (100 - ca.165) in his Dialogue with Trypho wrote,
“law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one.”
And Tertullian (160 - c. 225), another early Church Father wrote,
“Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated…”
At the mass following the Synod (Photo by Reuters)
But neither is “triumphalism” an historical relic. Even today it remains a tenet of Christianity. One of many examples, is Vatican Council II which produced the “reformist” Nostre Aetate in 1965 but continued to assert that,
"the Church [is] the new people of God."
More recently reaffirmed supersessionism appears in the closing statement of the 2010 Special Synod of Bishops for the Middle-East:
“We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ... In the kingdom of God… there is no longer a chosen people.”
And yet even this shout of triumphalism, the assertion that the “new” replaced the “old” Israel remains that note of doubt expressed in Augustine’s City of God that,
“By their own Scriptures [Jewish survival is] a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.”
Why would Augustine even suggest that the traditional Christian reading of Jewish scripture might not only be “false,” but forged? And it is the issue of “doubt,” the component of emotional magnification in promoting the eternal search for a solution to the Jewish Problem that will be discussed shortly.
John Chrysostom (347–407), also known as the “Golden Tongue,” delivered eight sermons, or Homilies, attacking the Jews around 386-7 sermons described as,
“the decisive turn in the history of Christian anti-Judaism, a turn whose ultimate disfiguring consequence was enacted in the political antisemitism of Adolf Hitler”.
It is clear from his Homilies that Chrysostom’s venomous attacks on Judaism are a response to Judaizing, Christian attraction to Judaism. Paula Fredericksen describes the issue as Christians,
“keep dropping by, co-celebrating Sabbaths and holidays, picking up the occasional Jewish practice… Fourth-century Gentile Christians, despite the anti-Jewish ideology of their own bishops, kept Saturdays as their day of rest” (The birth of Christianity, in Jesus, Judaism & Christian Anti-Judaism, p.29)
Fraternizing with Jews was not only proscribed by the Church Fathers but carried severe sanctions. Judaizing could result in excommunication; sexual relations or marriage to a Jews, death.
In sheer vulgarity and venom the Chrysostom’s Homilies suggest Martin Luther’s, On the Jews and their Lies which would appear one thousand years later. Chrysostom provides a bridge from early Middle Ages anti-Judaism to the threshold of the Age of Reason, and modern antisemitism:
“How dare Christians have the slightest intercourse with Jews, those most miserable of all men. They are lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits -- pests of the universe!”
“Shall I tell you of their plundering, their covetousness, their abandonment of the poor, their thefts, their cheating in trade? The whole day long will not be enough to give you an account of these things.
“the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts… the dwelling of demons.”
“They live for their bellies, they gape for the things of this world, their condition is not better than that of pigs or goats because of their wanton ways and excessive gluttony. They know but one thing: to fill their bellies and be drunk.”
“The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing god there is no expiation, no indulgence, no pardon. Christians may never cease vengeance. The Jews must live in servitude forever. It is incumbent on all Christians to hate the Jews.”
The reference to “the Jews” as “assassins of Christ,” as it does in Augustine, relates directly back to Matthew 27:25, and surfaces repeatedly throughout the Adversus literature. Ambrose of Milan reminds of the “deicide” even as he refers to the John gospel reminding that Jews are “children of Satan.”
Martin Luther, (1483 – 1546) provided anti-Judaism with a modern gloss, and indeed represents the link between Chrysostom and Hitler:
“At his trial in Nuremberg after the Second World War Julius Streicher, the notorious Nazi propagandist, editor of the scurrilous antisemitic weekly, Der Stürmer argued that if he should be standing there arraigned on such charges, so should Martin Luther.”
When Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church on 31 October, 1517 he became a symbol of religious radicalism and reform which would weaken the authority of the Church and propel Europe towards that social revolution called the Enlightenment. His act of defiance would also inspire the transformation of religious anti-Judaism into its modern secular variant, antisemitism.
Of the five “Jewish” works, those that would prove most fateful to the future of Jews were his final two, On the Jews and Their Lies; and Of The Unknowable Name and The Generations of Christ. The two works, written months apart in 1543, appeared just two years before his death. According to Reverend William Ralph Inge in 1944:
“If we wish to find a scapegoat on whose shoulders we may lay the miseries which Germany has brought upon the world -- I am more and more convinced that the worst evil genius of that country is not Hitler or Bismarck or Frederick the Great, but Martin Luther.”
In many ways a forerunner of the 17th century Age of Reason and the Enlightenment Luther had a profound impact on the conditions of existence, the physical survivability of the Jewish people. His theology was always and traditionally Supersessionist maintaining that Christianity replaced Judaism in God’s favor, inherited God’s covenant; was the “new” Israel. In his last works he would revert to Augustinian theological tradition by describing “the Jews” condition in the world as justifiably debased, homeless and despised. From, The Jews and their Lies:
“‘Listen, Jew, are you aware that Jerusalem and your sovereignty, together with your temple and priesthood, have been destroyed for over 1,460 years?’. . . This work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God...Therefore the Jews have lost this promise, no matter how much they boast of their father Abraham… They are no longer the people of God.”
What clearer description of Christianity’s eternal Jewish Problem!
Luther, the “antisemite”
I draw a clear boundary between anti-Judaism as represented by Christian scripture magnified by centuries of theology, and antisemitism which I reserve for the secular inheritance of that religious inspiration. Clearly Luther’s last two works, and particularly On the Jews and their Lies, bridge the theological and the secular in both form and intent. Luther’s immediate audience is, “dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains,” and in it he provides specific instructions on how to deal with “their” Jews.
On the Jews and Their Lies is a fundamentally theological work in which its author begins by comparing Jewish misunderstanding of the “Old Testament” with his own “correct” reading of the Jewish texts. He describes the traditional threat Jewish misunderstanding poses to Christianity and Christians. In 65,000 words divided into 13 sections he systematically quotes Jewish scripture to rebut each of his asserted Jewish lies. Once the “lies” are exposed he asks rhetorically what, “we Christians [should] do with this rejected and condemned people?” His “solution” is a series of seven steps, the first four of which appear below:
“First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.
“But what will happen even if we do burn down the Jews'' synagogues and forbid them publicly to praise God, to pray, to teach, to utter God''s name? They will still keep doing it in secret...
“I wish and I ask that our rulers who have Jewish subjects exercise a sharp mercy toward these wretched people, as suggested above, to see whether this might not help (though it is doubtful). They must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in, proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow…
“If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs, so that we do not become partakers of their abominable blasphemy and all their other vices and thus merit God''s wrath and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Now let everyone see to his. I am exonerated.
On the Jews and their Lies lays out an initial agenda for solving what is increasingly emerging as the Jewish Problem in a secular and “enlightened” world: burning synagogues and prayer books; death as a punishment for serving as a rabbi; expulsion of Jews: all would become all too real four centuries later. But the full flavor of Luther’s wrath appears in his lesser-known, Vom Schem Hamphoras.
“Here on our church in Wittenberg a sow is sculpted in stone. Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud, (Vom Schem Hamphoras [Of the Unknowable Name…])
Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi: “Vom Schem,” in English, Of the Unknowable Name of God… appeared several months after On the Jews and their Lies and raises the John gospel’s anti-Jewish canard, “You belong to your father, the devil…” The work’s title, “Schem Hamphoras” uses God’s name in the title which is an insult to Jews because,
“Jewish Tradition forbids the pronunciation of the four-letter name of God.”
In the person of Martin Luther the term “schadenfreude” (one who takes pleasure in another’s pain) does not quite do justice.
"Even if they were punished in the most gruesome manner that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted, not in the hundred thousands, but in the millions… they are the devil''s children, damned to Hell...
“The Jews too got what they deserved. They had been called and elected to be God''s mouth… they however, kept tightly closed their muzzles, eyes, ears, nose, whole heart and all senses, so he polluted and squirted them so full that it oozes from them in all places and devil''s filth comes from them. Yes, that tastes good to them, into their hearts, they smack their lips like swine. That is how they want it. Call more: ''Crucify him, crucify him.'' Scream more: ''His blood come upon us and our children.'' (Matthew 27:25). Perhaps, one of the merciful Saints among us Christians may think I am behaving too crude and disdainfully against the poor, miserable Jews in that I deal with them so sarcastically and insulting. But, good God, I am much too mild in insulting such devils…”
In most ways Luther is merely restating one thousand years of traditional anti-Jewish theology, with justification from the past. He refers to Paul describing the “the Jews” as “blind regarding Jesus”; reminds that the John gospel identifies “the Jews” with Satan; reminds too that Matthew charged and condemned “the Jews” eternally as deicides in the crucifixion of Jesus. But Luther was also the first “modern” theologian, challenging the primacy of the pope, translating Christian scripture into the German vernacular. “Modern” also were his suggestions presented above for dealing with Christendom’s millennial Jewish Problem.
Between these two works, the last Luther was to write, is described that which Pastor Nichols in his Christian Anti-Semitism: a History of Hate refers to as the,
“concept of ‘severe mercy’ [which] follows from [Luther’s] disillusionment with the prospects of large-scale Jewish conversion.”
Minus even the weak restraints of religion regarding a solution to Christianity’s Jewish Problem, four hundred years after his death Luther’s “severe mercy” would come to full fruition as what its architects termed the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. That Auschwitz did not quite succeed at its intended task was a matter of chance, not intent or effort. And so the failed final Final Solution remains yet to be fulfilled in the future.