The Jewish Problem is a creation of 1st century Christian scripture, Paul and the gospels. Refined by generations of theological exegesis, as anti-Semitism it is part of the West’s historical inheritance. Anti-Judaism and the origins of Christianity: Part 1
Anti-Semitism was long justified by passages like this one from I Thessalonians: the Jews “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets.”
John Dominic Crossan, prominent Catholic theologian
Judea in the time of Paul: Roman general Gaius Pompeius Magnus conquered Judea for Rome in 63 B.C.E. setting the stage for nearly a century of sporadic and suicidal uprisings against the pagan occupiers. Jewish unrest and resistance climaxed in what became known as the First Jewish War, 66-70 C.E. But in the century before it is estimated that Rome executed thousands of rebels by crucifixion which fueled despair and intense messianic expectation. In Jewish tradition God would inspire a leader from among the Jews to lead them to victory. It was this hope, and the expectation that the defeat of Rome would herald God’s return to history, the Kingdom of God, that inspired the revolutionaries to unite against the Pagan legions. But a messiah did not appear, and in 70 C.E. the Romans conquered and sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple. Josephus writes that more than one million Jews died in the assault.
It was against this century-long background of desperation, hope and, finally, defeat that Christianity emerged. Why Christianity developed away from Judaism was due to the role assigned the messianic figure by Paul and his followers: Jesus simply did not fulfill traditional Jewish expectations for a leader inspired by God. Instead Paul’s messiah was more of a post-defeat after-life consolation; little comfort to a people still hoping for God to lead them to victory against the pagans. In fact the “messiah” described by Paul and the gospels was a figure far closer to the pagan “mystery religions” than to accepted Jewish tradition. And it was among the pagans that Paul found most of his converts.
“The most basic reason for the Jewish denial of the messianic claims made on Jesus'' behalf is that he did not usher in world peace, as Isaiah had prophesied: "And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4). In addition, Jesus did not help bring about Jewish political sovereignty for the Jews or protection from their enemies.”
Paul of Tarsus’ “conversion” and career as evangelist to the pagans began several decades after the assumed date of Jesus’ death. His “evangelical mission” corresponded to the final decades of the Jewish struggle against Roman rule and the effort to “cleanse” Judea of pagan influence. Paul’s epistles, his letters to his communities of converts peppered throughout the eastern Mediterranean, appears to have inspired a literary form, the gospels, of which several dozen survive today. Divergent and often contradictory the gospel stories variously describe the earthly mission, crucifixion and ascension to heaven of Jesus the messiah or, in Greek translation, Christos; in English, Christ.
The salvational messianic sect of Judaism had little success attracting Jews living within or outside Judea for reasons outlined above. Where Christianity did strike root and begin to find acceptance was in the pagan world. Judaism always held attraction for some pagans who admired its ancient history, its invisible god, its day of rest. Conversion to Judaism, even from within the emperor’s household, was not uncommon. But due to its requirements of diet and circumcision Judaism was apparently more successful in attracting “partial” converts, pagans who followed rituals and participated in services and holidays, but declined formal conversion. This group today is referred to as, “god-fearers.” By eliminating the requirement of full conversion to Judaism, and particularly the need for circumcision, he had removed a significant barrier for male converts and the “god-fearers” likely provided his first success. But eliminating full conversion and circumcision brought him into conflict with the leaders of the new Jewish sect, the Jerusalem leadership.
In Romans 2:28 Paul argues that “the Jews” misunderstand the meaning of circumcision: “circumcision,” he writes, “is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” His frustration with the Jerusalem leadership is reflected in 1 Thessalonians 2:16where he chides them for, “forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved.”
But removing himself from the mission of the Jerusalem “church” presented serious problems for his self-defined mission as representative of the Jewish movement. He accuses “the Jews” of collective blindness, a veil covering their eyes, seeing as “through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). He is the first to accuse the Jews of deicide, to suggest they are rejected by God, enemies of mankind: the Jews “both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men,” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15). For these crimes God transferred his covenant to the “new” Jews, to Paul’s communities of converts. His accusations would become a theme that would reappear in the gospels, be expanded on by generations of theologians, set the stage for centuries of anti-Jewish animus and persecution.