Friday, September 03, 2010

God is an anti-Semite: Anti-Jewish polemics in the Old Testament and New

From:
Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?

(Liberty, March/April 1992) -- by Clifford Goldstein --

What book depicts Jews as hypocrites, apostates, liars, and sinners? What book denounces Jewish leaders and the Jewish nation? What book scolds its priests, claims its Temple services are corrupt, and spews forth warnings that God's judgments will fall upon the Jews? What book - accusing the Jews of murder, corruption, greed, and robbery - declares that they have forsaken God?

Sounds like the New Testament, long indicted as the Perian Spring of Western anti-Semitism. Some believe the hands that signed the "final solution" simply finished the script begun by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Hitler, others claim, was the logical, inevitable result of Paul. Christian historian James Parkes writes that "more than 6 million deliberate murders are the consequences of the teaching about the Jews for which the Christian church is ultimately responsible, and our attitude to Judaism which is not only maintained by all Christian churches but has its ultimate resting place in the teaching of the New Testament itself."

"The New Testament," writes Harry Kimball, "is the primary source of anti-Semitism. "The authors of the Gospels," wrote Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz, "by putting these words of violent hatred against the preservers of Judaism into the mouth of Jesus Himself, stamped Him thereby as a relentless foe of the members of His own race who did not believe in Him by clung to their original faith."

Yet the book described in the opening paragraph is not the New Testament - it is the Old! Indeed, if the criteria for determining anti-Judaism in the New Testament were applied to the Old, it would be declared the more anti-Jewish of the two.

Incorrigible Villains:

Scholars have long debated about anti-Judaism in the New Testament, but rarely, if at all, anti-Judaism in the Old. It, after all, is a book written about Jews, by Jews who considered themselves loyal Jews. Yet except for Luke (not considered the most anti-Jewish of the Gospel writers), the New Testament was written about Jews, by Jews who considered themselves loyal Jews too.

The New Testament, tough, has pages of anti-Jewish calumny. "The New Testament contains 102 references to the Jews of [the] most degrading and malevolent kind," wrote Dagobert Runes, "thereby creating in the minds and hearts of the Christian children and adults ineradicable hatred toward the Jewish people."

In the Gospels, Jewish leaders, priests, scribes, and Pharisees play the role of incorrigible villains. Depicted as cold and heartless formalists, they appear pious outside but seethe with treachery inside. Jesus labels them hypocrites, deceivers, even murderers - words later used to help formulate a theology of anti-Semitism. "Nowhere is this theological anti-Judaism more apparent," writes Princeton religious historian John G. Gager, "than in the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees in {John} 8." Here, after telling Jewish leaders that they are not the true children of Abraham, and accusing them of plotting His murder, Jesus says, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning" (verse 44).

Matthew 23 is nothing but a denunciation: "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! ... Ye blind guides ... Ye fools and blind .... Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (verses 13-33).

The Gospel writers depict Jewish leaders as planning Jesus' death: "And the scribes and chief priests ... sought how they might destroy him" (Mark 11:18). Indeed, all the Gospels implicate the leaders in His death.

Jesus' denunciations not only of the leaders but also of the nation have fueled the anti-Semite's fire. In Luke 20, Jesus, symbolizing Israel as a vineyard, tells of a master who planted a vineyard and "let it forth to husbandmen" (verse 9). Later when the servants came to collect the fruit from the master's vineyard, the husbandmen beat them. He sent more servants, and they beat them too. Finally the master says, "I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him" (verse 13). Instead, the husbandmen killed him! Said Jesus: "What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others" (verses 15, 16). Luke recorded the leaders' response: "And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people; for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them" (verse 19).

Matthew has Jesus blaming the Jews for the murder of the prophets - "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee" (Matthew 23:37) - and leveling a judgment upon them: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (verse 38).

The Gospels depict Jesus as critical also of national religious rites and of the nation, including the worship at the Temple - criticisms gleefully seen as anti-Jewish polemics. At the start of His ministry Jesus cleansed the Temple from merchants who had turned it into an unsanctified flea market. "And [He] said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:13). He warns that even the Temple itself, the center of the Jewish religion, will be destroyed: "And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them. See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1, 2).

The New Testament, obviously, portrays many Jews in ancient Israel as corrupt, iniquitous, and separated from God. Does this description, therefore, mean that the book is anti-Jewish? For many scholars, both Jew and Gentile, it does.

A Sinful Nation:

A problem exists, though, with that conclusion: line for line, verse for verse, chapter for chapter, the Old Testament has more denunciations than does the New. If criticizing the spiritual ills of ancient Israel is anti-Jewish, then the most anti-Jewish section of the Bible is in not Greek, but Hebrew!

"Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity," says Isaiah about Judah. "A seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord" (Isaiah 1:4).

The prophet compares Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. ... How is the faithful city become an harlot. It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers (verses 10-21). The New Testament does speak harshly against corrupt leaders, but so does the Old: "O heads of Jacob," warns Micah, "and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off the" (Micah 3:1-3).

Jesus' denunciations of the priests were no worse than Malachi's" "O priests, that despise my name. Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar." "And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, ... I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces" (Malachi 1:6, 7; 2:1-3).

The Old Testament has more stories of corrupt leaders than does the New Testament. Ahab, Jehoram, Ahaz, and Manasseh are just a few of the corrupt kings of Israel denounced in the Old Testament. As in the New, rulers and priests are depicted as plotting, scheming, and killing off enemies, including prophets who spoke against them.

Because Luke and Matthew recorded Jesus' warnings of doom upon Israel, they are labeled anti-Jewish. But what about Jeremiah, who recorded the Lord's warning to Israel: "I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction. The lion is come up from his thicket ... he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant" (Jeremiah 4:6, 7).

What about Isaiah who proclaimed: "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger ... I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:5).

Is Luke's parable of Israel as a vineyard worse than Isaiah's? "I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down" (Isaiah 5:5).

The Gospels record Jesus speaking against corrupt practices in the Temple, but Ezekiel decries the sin of the people who had brought idols into the Temple area, where they prayed to other gods and even worshiped the sun. "Hast thou seen this...? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence" (Ezekiel 8:17), Jesus prophesied against the Temple; so did Amos: "And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every place" (Amos 8:3).

Bigots and Enemies:

If these Hebrew texts had been written in the New Testament, they would be added to the long list of other "anti-Jewish" vituperation. But they are from the Old Testament, and yet no one claims that the Old Testament is anti-Jewish...MORE...LINK

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