The Gospel of John collectively describes the enemies of Jesus as “the Jews”. In none of the other gospels do “the Jews” demand the death of Jesus; instead, the plot to put him to death is always presented as coming from the Sadducees, a small group of priests and rulers. John’s gospel is thus the primary source of the image of “the Jews” acting collectively as the enemy of Jesus, which later became fixed in the Christian mind.
Under Constantine, Jewish clergy were given the same exemptions as Christian clergy. Constantine, however, supported the separation of the date of Easter from the Jewish Passover, stating in his letter after the First Council of Nicaea:
“… it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul … Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Savior a different way.”
The letter of Constantine, concerning the matters transacted at the Council of Nicea, addressed to those Bishops who were not present, said:
“It was, in the first place, declared improper to follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this holy festival, because, their hands having been stained with crime, the minds of these wretched men are necessarily blinded. … Let us, then, have nothing in common with the Jews, who are our adversaries. … Let us … studiously avoiding all contact with that evil way. … For how can they entertain right views on any point who, after having compassed the death of the Lord, being out of their minds, are guided not by sound reason, but by an unrestrained passion, wherever their innate madness carries them. … lest your pure minds should appear to share in the customs of a people so utterly depraved. … Therefore, this irregularity must be corrected, in order that we may no more have any thing in common with those parricides and the murderers of our Lord. … no single point in common with the perjury of the Jews.”
Christian rhetoric and antipathy towards Jews developed in the early years of Christianity and was reinforced by ever increasing anti-Jewish measures over the ensuing centuries. The action taken by Christians against Jews included acts of violence, and murder culminating in the Holocaust. Christian anti-Semitism has been attributed to numerous factors including theological differences, competition between Church and Synagogue, the Christian drive for converts, decreed by the Great Commission, misunderstanding of Jewish beliefs and practices, and a perceived Jewish hostility toward Christians. These attitudes were reinforced in Christian preaching, art and popular teaching for two millennia, containing contempt for Jews, as well as statutes which were designed to humiliate and stigmatize Jews.
Anti-Semitism developed by the end of the first century and anti-Jewish measures increased over the ensuing centuries. The action taken by Christians against Jews included acts of violence, including outright murder, and culminating in the Holocaust. Christian anti-Semitism has been attributed to numerous factors including theological differences, competition between Church and Synagogue, the Christian drive for converts, and misunderstanding of Jewish beliefs and practices. These attitudes were reinforced in Christian preaching, art and popular teaching for two millennia, instigating contempt for Jews, as well as laws which were designed to humiliate and stigmatize Jews.
The Church Fathers identified Jews and Judaism with heresy and declared the people of Israel to be extra Deum (lat. “outside of God”). Bishops of the patristic era such as Augustine argued that the Jews should be left alive and suffering as a perpetual reminder of their murder of Christ. Like his anti-Jewish teacher, St. Ambrose of Milan, he defined Jews as a special subset of those damned to hell. As “Witness People”, he sanctified collective punishment for the Jewish deicide and enslavement of Jews to Catholics:
“Not by bodily death, shall the ungodly race of carnal Jews perish … ‘Scatter them abroad, take away their strength. And bring them down O Lord'”.
Augustine claimed to “love” the Jews but only as a means to convert them to Christianity. Sometimes he identified all Jews with the evil Judas and developed the doctrine (together with St. Cyprian) that there was “no salvation outside the Church”.
Other Church Fathers, such as John Chrysostom, went further in their condemnation. John Chrysostom held that the sins of all Jews were communal and endless; to him his Jewish neighbors were the collective representation of all alleged crimes of all preexisting Jews. All Church Fathers applied the passages of the New Testament concerning the alleged advocation of the crucifixion of Christ to all Jews of his day; the Jews were the ultimate evil. However, John Chrysostom went so far as to say that because Jews rejected Christ, they therefore “grew fit for slaughter.”
St. Jerome identified Jews with Judas Iscariot and the immoral use of money (“Judas is cursed, that in Judas the Jews may be accursed… their prayers turn into sins”). Jerome’s homiletical assaults contrast Jews with evil, and he said, “the ceremonies of the Jews are harmful and deadly to Christians.”
Ephraim the Syrian wrote polemics against Jews in the 4th century, including the repeated accusation that Satan dwells among them as a partner. His writings were directed at Christians who were being proselytized by Jews. Ephraim feared that they were slipping back into Judaism; as such, he portrayed the Jews as enemies of Christianity, like Satan. To him, Christianity was Godly and true, and Judaism was Satanic and false. Like John Chrysostom, his objective was to dissuade Christians from reverting to Judaism by emphasizing what he saw as the wickedness of the Jews and their religion.
In the middle ages, religion played a major role in driving anti-Semitism. Many Christians, including members of the clergy, repeatedly asserted that the Jewish people were collectively responsible for killing Jesus.
Jews were subject to a wide range of legal restrictions throughout the Middle Ages. Jews were excluded from many trades, varying with place and time, and determined by the influence of various non-Jewish competing interests. Often Jews were barred from all occupations except money-lending and peddling, sometimes with even these forbidden. The number of Jews permitted to reside in different places was limited; they were concentrated in ghettos and were not allowed to own land; they were subject to discriminatory taxes on entering cities or districts other than their own, they were forced to swear special oaths; and suffered a variety of other measures, including restrictions on dress, first proclaimed at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215; the same was declared for Muslims at that Council.
Anti-Semitism among European Christians escalated beginning in the 13th century. and led to many cases of persecution against Jews. Anti-Semitic imagery recurred in Christian art and architecture.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, persecutions and formal expulsions of Jews occurred at intervals. There were particular outbursts of riotous persecution in the Rhineland massacres of 1096 in Germany accompanying the lead-up to the First Crusade, many involving the crusaders as they travelled to the East. There were many local expulsions from cities by local rulers and city councils. In Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor generally tried to restrain persecution, if only for economic reasons, but he was often unable to exert much influence.
In the Edict of Expulsion, King Edward I expelled all the Jews from England in 1290 (only after ransoming some 3,000 among the wealthiest of them), on the accusation of usury and undermining loyalty to the monarchy.
In 1306, there was a wave of persecution in France; and there were widespread Black Death Jewish persecutions as the Jews were blamed by many Christians for the plague and spreading it. As late as 1519, the imperial city of Regensburg took advantage of the death of Emperor Maximilian I to expel its 500 Jews.
The largest expulsion of Jews followed the Reconquista, the reunification of Spain; and preceded the expulsion of the Muslims who would not convert, though their rights were protected by the Treaty of Granada (1491). On March 31, 1492, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile – the rulers of Spain who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World – just a few months later in 1492, declared that all Jews in their territories should either convert to Christianity or leave the country. While some converted, many others left for Portugal, France, Italy (including the Papal States), Netherlands, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, and North Africa. Many of those who had fled to Portugal were later expelled by King Manuel in 1497 or left to avoid forced conversion and persecution.
On July 14, 1555, Pope Paul IV issued a papal bull, Cum Nimis Absurdum, which revoked all the rights of the Jewish community; placed religious and economic restrictions on Jews in the Papal States; renewed anti-Jewish legislation; and subjected Jews to various degradations and restrictions on their personal freedom. The bull established the Roman Ghetto and required Jews of Rome, who had existed as a community since before Christian times, numbering about 2,000 at the time, to live in it. The Ghetto was a walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night. Jews were also restricted to one synagogue per city.
Paul IV’s successor, Pope Pius IV, enforced the creation of other ghettos in most Italian towns, and his successor, Pope Pius V, recommended them to other bordering states.
Martin Luther made overtures to the Jews, believing that the “evils” of Catholicism had prevented their conversion to Christianity. However, when his call to convert to his version of Christianity was unsuccessful, he became hostile to them. In his book, On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther refers to them as “venomous beasts, vipers, disgusting scum, and devils incarnate.” He provided detailed recommendations for a pogrom against them, calling for their permanent oppression and expulsion, writing “Their private houses must be destroyed and devastated; they could be lodged in stables. Let the magistrates burn their synagogues and let whatever escapes be covered with sand and mud. Let them be forced to work, and if this avails nothing, we will be compelled to expel them like dogs in order not to expose ourselves to incurring divine wrath and eternal damnation from the Jews and their lies.” At one point he wrote, “…we are at fault in not slaying them…”
Luther’s harsh comments about the Jews are seen by many as a continuation of Medieval Christian anti-Semitism. In his final sermon shortly before his death, however, Luther preached: “We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord.”
In accordance with the anti-Jewish precepts of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia’s discriminatory policies towards Jews intensified when the partition of Poland in the 18th century resulted, for the first time in Russian history, in the possession of land with a large Jewish population. That land was designated as the Pale of Settlement from which Jews were forbidden to migrate into the interior of Russia. In 1772, Catherine II, the empress of Russia, forced the Jews of the Pale of Settlement to remain where they were, and forbade them from returning to the towns that they occupied before the partition of Poland.
Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, the Roman Catholic Church still incorporated strong anti-Semitic elements, despite increasing attempts to separate anti-Judaism (opposition to the Jewish religion on religious grounds) and racial anti-Semitism. Pope Pius VII (1800–1823) had the walls of the Jewish ghetto in Rome rebuilt after the Jews were emancipated by Napoleon; and Jews were restricted to the ghetto through the end of the Papal States in 1870. Official Catholic organizations, such as the Jesuits, banned candidates “who are descended from the Jewish race unless it is clear that their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather have belonged to the Catholic Church” until 1946.
Brown University historian, David Kertzer, working from the Vatican archive, has argued in his book, The Popes Against the Jews, that in the 19th century and early 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church adhered to a distinction between “good anti-Semitism” and “bad anti-Semitism”. The “bad” kind promoted hatred of Jews because of their descent. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was intended for all of humanity regardless of ethnicity; anyone could become a Christian. The “good” kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc. Many Catholic Bishops wrote articles criticizing Jews on such grounds, and when accused of promoting hatred of Jews, would remind people that they condemned the “bad” kind of Anti-Semitism. Kertzer’s work is not, however, without critics. For example, scholar of Jewish-Christian relations, Rabbi David G. Dalin, criticized Kertzer in the Weekly Standard for using evidence selectively. Whether or not Kertzer was selective or over-generalized does not change the fact that there was Anti-Semitism to one degree or another present in the church.
As of this writing, there is a resurgence of violent, Anti-Semitic actions against Jews and their synagogues by groups such as the Proud Boys and Neo-Nazis.
We of the Way Followers Christian Institution never forget that Jesus was a Jew and remained a Jew his whole life. He never founded Christianity. What he founded was a new type of Judaism. There was nothing unusual about that since there have always been several different types of Judaism, just as Christianity developed differing types over time. In fact, all religions develop differing types.
We abhor Anti-Semitism. In our view, to be Anti-Semitic is to be Anti-Jesus since, as we said, Jesus was a devout Jew and never changed from being a devout Jew. That is a verifiable fact; anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t know their Bible.