Jesus on the Road to Nicaea 3: Anti-Semitism

If we are going to talk about turn-of-the-century Christian literature and the development of a Christian self-identity, then we are going to have to be ready to face anti-


. It infuses this literature. It is explicit as well as implicit.

This is a topic that is difficult to broach because we are talking about hatred that, when mobilized by those in power, leads to terror, violence, and death. It is very tough to look at this literature and not feel shame and guilt.

What I think has been happening in scholarship as a way to dampen this shame and guilt in post WWII modernity is a


of the conflict between the Jews and the Christians in this period as an


-Jewish conflict. In my opinion, this revision of history (whether intentional or unintentional) serves to soften the shame and guilt by suggesting, however


, that Christianity is not guilty of originating anti-


because 1) Christianity didn't really exist yet and 2) the conflict was a conflict that arose among Jewish brothers and sisters. The desire to revise the history of Judas is part of this scholarly trajectory (whether intentional or unintentional), either wishing Judas away or wanting him to be a hero that later traditions demonized. All of this effectively works toward exonerating the earliest Christians, so that the Christian tradition is not inherently at fault for anti-


(and therefore we don't need to change anything essential to Christianity today), and so we can return to being brothers and sisters as we were before the conflict arose.

There are many things about this revision of history that I am uncomfortable with, especially the argument that anti-


arose as an


-Jewish conflict, which effectively ends up shifting the blame for the origin of anti-


on Judaism rather than Christianity (although I don't think that this was the intention of the academic argument).

So in my posts when I discuss the separation of Christianity and Judaism, I will be addressing this issue openly. It is correct that Christianity is a Jewish movement during this period, BUT it also is a movement that is taking on a self-identity that is beginning to define itself against Judaism or superior to Judaism. So when the Christian tradition was forming as its own unique religion (when it was identifying itself as something other than Jewish), it generally did so by defining itself over and/or against Judaism rather than in continuity with it. Even its attempt to keep the Jewish scriptures was done in terms of superiority, the Jewish scriptures become the "old" covenant


by the "new." The Jewish ways of interpreting their scriptures were discarded as foolish and ignorant, while the Christian way was understood to be God-inspired.

This process of self-identification occurred gradually and at different times for different Christian populations and some groups chose to keep closer ties to Jewish traditions than others did. Anti-Semitism originated within this environment. It is at the core of the original process of Christian self-definition. What this means for Christianity today and in the future is something that I think the churches still need to address, especially since the anti-Semitism that was the consequence of early Christian self-definition became part of the Christian scripture when texts like the Gospel of John were canonized.