Christian Antisemitism and the Christian Witness to the Jewish People

I recently read a small book called “Isaiah 53 Explained” by Dr. Mitch Glaser. It is a book primarily written to his fellow Jews as a witness by a Jewish follower of Jesus or Yeshua.  I was moved and convicted by some of his introductory remarks:

“One of the pivotal passages of the Hebrew Bible that revolutionized my thinking on the subject was the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Believe me, it was not easy to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and the fulfillment of all we hoped for as Jews throughout the centuries! It was a struggle— especially because this ancient prophecy describes the Messiah in a way that I did not expect. Instead of the Messiah coming as a warrior king conquering our enemies (as I was raised to believe), this chapter portrays Him as a humble man who ultimately suffered for the sins of all humanity at the cost of His own life.

At first, it just did not add up. Maybe you feel the same way. Jesus—or as we call Him by His Hebrew name, Yeshua—might seem to be the most unlikely of all persons to fit your image of the Messiah. And I had another problem—it was also hard for me to consider Jesus objectively because of the harm that has been done to the Jewish people in His name by His so-called followers. It is natural to be suspicious of someone whose supposed devotees have behaved so destructively.”[1]

Yes, this was very convicting. It had been on my mind for quite some time to write on this subject and then I saw a Facebook post by One for Israel Ministry, a Messianic Jewish organization, titled “Jerusalem Exhibition ‘Behold the Man’: Jewish Artists Paint Jesus”. This theme of Christian antisemitism came up once again to begin the article.

“Referred to in Jewish literature as “That Man”, so that they didn’t have to write out his name, or alternatively “Yeshu” (.י.ש.ו)- which stands for “May his name be forever erased and forgotten”, Jesus has been avoided in polite conversation among Jewish communities for most of the last two millennia. Reviled as a traitor and heretic, and blamed for the bloody persecution and murder of Jews at the hands of the church for centuries, Yeshua was considered straight out dangerous.”

The article went on to say “However, there seems to be a correlation between the shift of the Jewish people returning to the land of Israel at the turn of the nineteenth century, and a gradual increase in willingness to reconsider the long, lost brother: Yeshua of Nazareth, Son of David, of the tribe of Judah.”

This shift seems to have been brought about more by a reexamination of Jesus and his teachings and the putting aside of the historic antisemitism of a certain element of the Christian Church. I began to ponder how this un-Christ like behavior has effected the Church’s witness to the Jewish community and I find that it has been a major stumbling block to proclaiming Jesus as the Promised Messiah of the Jewish people. I will briefly outline some history that will put into perspective the challenges the Church and the Messianic Jewish community faces when witnessing to Jewish non-believers.

Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) – A ecclesiastical writer and teacher who contributed to the early formation of Christian doctrines.

We may thus assert in utter confidence that the Jews will not return to their earlier situation, for they have committed the most abominable of crimes, in forming this conspiracy against the Savior of the human race…hence the city where Jesus suffered was necessarily destroyed, the Jewish nation was driven from its country, and another people was called by God to the blessed election.

One of the most well-known detractors of Jews was the Church father John Chrysostom (354-430), who accused the Jews of, among other things, idolatry and housing the Devil himself in their synagogues.

In his “First Homily Against the Jews”,Chrysostom insisted that, “Jews are dogs, stiff-necked, gluttonous, drunkards. They are beasts unfit for work… The Jews had fallen into a condition lower than the vilest animals… The synagogue is worse than a brothel and a drinking shop; it is a den of scoundrels, a temple of demons, the cavern of devils, a criminal assembly of the assassins of Christ…. I hate the Jews, because they violate the Law… It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.”

Augustine (c. 354-430 A.D.), Confessions, 12.14

How hateful to me are the enemies of your Scripture! How I wish that you would slay them (the Jews) with your two-edged sword, so that there should be none to oppose your word! Gladly would I have them die to themselves and live to you!

Peter the Venerable – known as “the meekest of men, a model of Christian charity”

Yes, you Jews. I say, do I address you; you, who till this very day, deny the Son of God. How long, poor wretches, will ye not believe the truth? Truly I doubt whether a Jew can be really human… I lead out from its den a monstrous animal, and show it as a laughing stock in the amphitheater of the world, in the sight of all the people. I bring thee forward, thou Jew, thou brute beast, in the sight of all men.

From “The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism” by Malcolm Hay

1096 – Massacres of Jews takes place in the First Crusade, destroying entire Jewish communities in Mainz, Speyer, Worms, Cologne and other cities. The Jewish chronicler reports: “The enemies stripped them naked and dragged them off, granting quarter to none, save those few who accepted baptism. The number of the slain was eight hundred in these two days.” The chronicler Guibert de Nogent reports that the Rouen Crusaders said: “We desire to go and fight God’s enemies in the East; but we have before our eyes certain Jews, a race more inimical to God than any other”.

1182 – Jews are expelled from France, all their property is confiscated, and Christian’s debts to them are cancelled with the payment of one-fifth of their value to the treasury.

1227 – The Council of Narbonne orders Jews to wear a round patch.

1234 – The Council of Arles orders Jews to wear a round patch.

1246 – The Council of Béziers orders Jews to wear a round patch.

1254 – The Council of Albi orders Jews to wear a round patch.

1260 – The Council of Arles orders Jews to wear a round patch, but not when traveling. Wasn’t that nice of them?

1284 – The Council of Nîmes orders Jews to wear a round patch.

1289 – The Council of Vienna orders Jews to wear a round patch.

1290 – Jews are expelled from England and southern Italy.

1294 – Jews in France are restricted to special quarters of the cities.

1294 – Jews are expelled from Bern.

1298 – The Jews of Röttingen, charged with profaning the Host, are massacred and burned down to the last one.

1320 – The “Shepherds’ Crusade.” A Christian chronicler records: “The shepherds laid siege to all the Jews who had come from all sides to take refuge… the Jews defended themselves heroically… but their resistance served no purpose, for the shepherds slaughtered a great number of the besieged Jews by smoke and by fire… The Jews, realizing that they would not escape alive, preferred to kill themselves… They chose one of their number (and) this man put some five hundred of them to death, with their consent. He then descended from the castle tower with the few Jewish children who still remained alive… They killed him by quartering. They spared the children, whom they made Catholics by baptism”.

1326 – The Council of Avignon orders Jews to wear a round patch, but not when traveling.

1345 – King John authorizes his subjects in Liegnitz and Breslau to destroy the Jewish cemeteries in order to use the tombstones to repair the city walls.

1347-1350 – During the Black Death, Jews are accused of poisoning wells in order to overthrow Christendom, and many thousands of Jews are killed. Pope Clement VI defends the Jews against these charges.

1350 – Jews are expelled from many parts of Germany.

1367 – Jews are expelled from Hungary.

1368 – The Council of Vabres orders Jews to wear a round patch.

1381 – Jews are expelled from Strasbourg.

1394 – The expulsion of Jews from France, begun in 1306, is completed with an edict promulgated on the Jewish Day of Atonement.

1420 – Jews are expelled from Mainz by the archbishop.

1421 – Jews are expelled from Austria.

1424 – Jews are expelled from Fribourg and Zurich.

1426 – Jews are expelled from Cologne.

1432 – Jews are expelled from Saxony.

1434 – The Council of Basel decrees that Jews cannot obtain academic degrees.

1435 – King Alfonso orders the Jews of Sicily to attach a round patch to their clothing and over their shops.

1438 – Jews are expelled from Mainz by the town councilors.

1439 – Jews are expelled from Augsburg.

1453 – Jews are expelled from Wurzburg.

1454 – Jews are expelled from Breslau.

1456 – Pope Callistus III bans all social communication between Christians and Jews.

1462 – Jews are expelled from Mainz following a conflict between two candidates for the archepiscopal seat.

1467 – Jews are expelled from Tlemcen.

1471 – Jews are expelled from Mainz by the archbishop.

1475 – The entire Jewish community in Trent, northern Italy, is put to death on the allegation that it had murdered a boy for religious purposes.

1485 – Jews are expelled from Warsaw and Cracow.

1492 – After forcing many Jews to be baptized and then referring to them as Marranos (swine), and after an Inquisition in which some 700 Marranos were burnt at the stake for showing signs of “Jewish” taint, Spain expels all Jews from the country.

1497 – Jews are expelled from Portugal.

1519 – Jews are expelled from Regensburg.

Martin Luther – 1543

On the Jews and Their Lies

What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews? Since they live among us and we know about their lying and blasphemy and cursing, we cannot tolerate them if we do not wish to share in their lies, curses, and blasphemy. In this way, we cannot quench the inextinguishable fire of divine rage nor convert the Jews. We must prayerfully and reverentially practice a merciful severity. Perhaps we may save a few from the fire and flames [of hell]. We must not seek vengeance. They are surely being punished a thousand times more than we might wish them. Let me give you my honest advice.

First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it. And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians, and that we have not wittingly tolerated or approved of such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of His Son and His Christians.

Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. For they perpetrate the same things there that they do in their synagogues. For this reason they ought to be put under one roof or in a stable, like gypsies, in order that they may realize that they are not masters in our land, as they boast, but miserable captives, as they complain of incessantly before God with bitter wailing.

Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught.

Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more…

Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews. For they have no business in the rural districts since they are not nobles, nor officials, nor merchants, nor the like. Let them stay at home…If you princes and nobles do not close the road legally to such exploiters, then some troop ought to ride against them, for they will learn from this pamphlet what the Jews are and how to handle them and that they ought not to be protected. You ought not, you cannot protect them, unless in the eyes of God you want to share all their abomination…

To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden – the Jews…

Let the government deal with them in this respect, as I have suggested. But whether the government acts or not, let everyone at least be guided by his own conscience and form for himself a definition or image of a Jew. When you lay eyes on or think of a Jew you must say to yourself: Alas, that mouth which I there behold has cursed and execrated and maligned every Saturday my dear Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me with his precious blood; in addition, it prayed and pleaded before God that I, my wife and children, and all Christians might be stabbed to death and perish miserably. And he himself would gladly do this if he were able, in order to appropriate our goods…

Such a desperate, thoroughly evil, poisonous, and devilish lot are these Jews, who for these fourteen hundred years have been and still are our plague, our pestilence, and our misfortune.

I have read and heard many stories about the Jews which agree with this judgment of Christ, namely, how they have poisoned wells, made assassinations, kidnapped children, as related before. I have heard that one Jew sent another Jew, and this by means of a Christian, a pot of blood, together with a barrel of wine, in which when drunk empty, a dead Jew was found. There are many other similar stories. For their kidnapping of children they have often been burned at the stake or banished (as we already heard). I am well aware that they deny all of this. However, it all coincides with the judgment of Christ which declares that they are venomous, bitter, vindictive, tricky serpents, assassins, and children of the devil, who sting and work harm stealthily wherever they cannot do it openly. For this reason, I would like to see them where there are no Christians. The Turks and other heathen do not tolerate what we Christians endure from these venomous serpents and young devils…next to the devil, a Christian has no more bitter and galling foe than a Jew. There is no other to whom we accord as many benefactions and from whom we suffer as much as we do from these base children of the devil, this brood of vipers.

Translated by Martin H. Bertram, “On The Jews and Their Lies, Luther’s Works, Volume 47”; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

John Calvin

A Response to Questions and Objections of a Certain Jew

Their [the Jews] rotten and unbending stiffneckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone.

Excerpt from “Ad Quaelstiones et Objecta Juaei Cuiusdam Responsio,” by John Calvin; The Jew in Christian Theology, Gerhard Falk, McFarland and Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC and London, 1931.

1553 – Cardinal Carafa instigates a public burning of copies of the Talmud and other Jewish religious works in a square in Rome.

1555-1559 – Pope Paul IV restricts Jews to ghettos and decrees that they are to wear distinctive headgear.

1566-1572 – Pope St. Pius V expels Jews from the Papal States, allowing some to remain in Rome’s ghettos and in Ancona for commercial reasons.

1592-1605 – Pope Clement VIII includes a ban on all Jewish books in the expanded Index of Forbidden Books.

1826 – Pope Leo XII decrees that Jews are to be confined to ghettos and their property is to be confiscated.

And it goes on and on. We will not even go into the atrocities of the 20th century. The cause of Christ is blessed that Messianic communities such as Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries, and One for Israel are aggressively witnessing to their Jewish brothers and sisters that Yeshua is their Promised Messiah.

Jews for Jesus – Statement of Faith

The Son

We believe that Jesus the Messiah was eternally pre-existent and is co-equal with God the Father; that He took on Himself the nature of man through the virgin birth so that He possesses both divine and human natures.
We believe in His sinless life and perfect obedience to the Law; in His atoning death, burial, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, high-priestly intercession and His personal return in power and glory.

The Holy Spirit

We believe that the Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son; that He was active in the creation of all things and continues to be so in providence; that He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and that He regenerates, sanctifies, baptizes, indwells, seals, illumines, guides and bestows His gifts upon all believers.

One for Israel

We at ONE FOR ISRAEL strive to share the Gospel of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) with Israeli Jews and Arabs in the Hebrew language. Our staff is comprised of both Jewish and Arab Israelis, with the shared belief that true peace in the Middle East can only come into existence under Yeshua (Jesus).

Chosen People Ministries

“Our core doctrinal position has not changed in more than a century. We believe with all our hearts that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel – and that the simple message of His death and resurrection has the power to transform the lives of Jews and Gentiles.”

“Isaiah 53 Explained” by Mitch Glaser

[1] Glaser, Dr. Mitch, “Isaiah 53 Explained” Pages 11-12

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