My purpose in these writings is to describe through reference to serial historical events a continuing threat to Jewish survival. Obviously, since that threat is an outgrowth of the Jewish people’s existence in the Christian West, Christianity is a central and unavoidable actor in this terrible history of victimization and persecution. To some my writings appear anti-Christian. They are not, and I am not. Neither are they intended to lecture Christianity on reforms necessary to correct structural anti-Judaism, a self-created barrier to its stated ideal as a religion of love, acceptance and forgiveness. Clearly, as expressed over its past 2,000 years victimization of the Jews, the ideal is yet to be realized.
Both Jews and Christians choose not to recognize the permanence of Western anti-Semitism and the continuing danger it represents. But anti-Semitism is in the very sinews of Western society and culture. Far from “mysterious” or “exceptional,” the Holocaust represents only the most recent effort by the West to solve its millennial Jewish Problem. And since that problem remains yet unsolved, the threat to Christendom as perpetrator and the Jewish people as victim, remains.
For a thousand years and more the Church remorselessly exposed heresies, hunted down, tortured and murdered heretics. So how explain the survival of Jews?
St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) stated that which was already understood by three centuries of Christianity, that Judaism was superseded, that Christianity inherited Jewish scripture, history and most importantly, the covenant with God. Christianity is the “new Israel,” and triumphalism defined Judaism out of history. Which represented a problem, for if the Jews were replaced by Christianity, how explain the continuing survival of the Jews? Certainly God did not provide for their continuing existence without reason.
“Augustine offered an answer for this perceived dilemma. For him, the Jews functioned primarily as witnesses. They were witnesses to the faith preached by the prophets, witnesses of divine judgment, and witnesses of the validity of Christianity.” According to Augustine God allows the Jews to survive debased, destitute and in dispersion, as a warning to Christians. “The Jews who slew Him, and would not believe in Him,” were punished by God, their temple destroyed, Jerusalem leveled. God has allowed them to survive as a continuing punishment because they “bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ.” Three centuries after the Matthew gospel the sentences that would justify centuries of retribution is affirmed and developed by one of the seminal Christian theologians.
According to Augustine Judaism and the Jews have no purpose for survival except as the negative to the self-designated successor religion, Christianity. But even this central figure to Christian theology apparently harbors doubts. What else might have inspired him to write, “By their own Scriptures [Jewish survival is] a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.” Why the reference to “forged”?
It appears that, for Augustine as for Paul three hundred years earlier, Christianity stands on the insecure foundation of faith alone, and both appeal to their faith to overcome doubt.
Doubt apparently continued, gnawing in a theological “subconscious until reemerging in the 18th century’s Age of Reason. There followed more than two hundred years of research by some of the finest scholars participating in the Quest for the Historical Jesus. More than two hundred years of scholarship have contributed much to our understanding of the history of the land, people, religion, culture and society of Judea; but of Jesus earthly mission have uncovered no contemporary documentary evidence.
Not that written materials relating to Jesus do not exist. We have the writings of Paul, and of dozens of gospels. But these only begin to be written decades after the events they describe. That Jesus, the most prominent a figure of the first century, has yet to appear in any contemporary documentation continues a source of uncertainty, openly as a subject of investigation for modern scholarship.
This problem of a historical Jesus, its impact on Christian belief/doubt, and its psychological impact on the development of theological anti-Judaism and secular anti-Semitism will be explored in detail in a later chapter.
Other articles in this series: