The Bible and Antisemitism

One may ask why theologians and spiritual leaders who come from various Christian traditions numbering over a billion Christians should be concerned about their relationship to a community of less than fourteen million Jews. The fact is that there is a historical, intellectual and spiritual relationship that binds us. Another reason is that many conscientious Christians feel that their religious tradition bears some responsibility for persecutions of the Jewish people over the centuries culminating in the Holocaust. They are determined that Christianity never again be exploited in such a fashion.

It is not easy to address the tragic question of Christianity’s historical role in making Auschwitz a reality. Human beings could and did take part in the atrocities of the Holocaust because they were able to demonize their victims as “other,” as dark and evil. In Christian teaching and preaching, the Jew was too often presented as the quintessential “other,” the mythical enemy of Christianity, less than human. Though later, secularized forms of Anti-Semitism carried these themes to murderous consequences, their religious basis cannot be denied. A poisonous tradition was derived from the anti-Jewish polemic found in the New Testament. Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus. Christian anti-Judaism provided a basis for an anti-Semitic culture manipulated by Hitler and others for their own ends.

Recent statements by Christian church bodies on the question of Christian/Jewish relations have begun to reverse that hostile tradition. The intention of such statements is worthy, and their tangible accomplishments have been considerable. It is clear that fundamental reconsiderations are taking place among major Christian groups regarding their attitudes toward Jews and Judaism.

Yet, throughout the world, new converts to Christianity as well as those who are re-discovering their Christian faith after decades of suppression in eastern Europe, are reading the New Testament as an anti-Jewish book. Moreover, many among them will read the Bible simply as history, an objective record of the facts, rather than a testament of faith. There is a danger that future generations can invoke “the Bible” to justify hatred, as they have done in the past. While the deicide charge has been repudiated at the highest levels of most churches and has been eliminated from many classrooms and textbooks, key biblical passages provide a warrant for this accusation. Surely, now is the moment, as we cross the threshold into a new millennium, to press for clarification of the anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament according to the historical realities and complexities of the time.

I believe that if the mostly Jewish authors of the New Testament had known the consequences of their first century writings, they would have been more specific in describing an internal Jewish struggle of the period so that it could not be used to foster hatred against their own people. Clearly, the use of the word “Jew” in the exclusive sense as the enemy of Jesus represents a misguided, incorrect and, ultimately, harmful calumny of an entire people.

The American Interfaith Institute is pleased to extend our research and resources to Christian theologians and publishers of Bibles everywhere.

The Language of Religion

The language of the Bible is powerful, especially The Language of the Bible is powerful, especially when presented in a beautifully bound edition. And when the same words are spoken from the pulpit, their influence is magnified countless times. Over the centuries, these words have helped create a vision for millions of Christians by giving form to religious concepts that elevate their own existence within life.

 

Throughout the world, new converts to Christianity as well as those who are rediscovering their Christian faith, are inspired by the Bible. The Bible is a sacred bridge allowing humankind to step beyond the limits of the present and harvest the vast cultural treasures of the past.

 

Language has a spirit all of its own, a quality that is recognized by truthseekers, a mirror of a society in time, a sensitive barometer of an era. In the hands of manipulators, however, words can produce poisonous falsehoods and become hostile weapons. The language of religion is a force for asserting life but it can also be a force for degradation when taken out of context and exploited by bigots.

 

Over the centuries, words have been useful tools for teaching trust or injecting poison. In fact, just 60 years ago, ambitious politicians misused certain passages from the New Testament to create prejudice and distrust; to accuse and abuse.

 

They exploited the language in John and Matthew to arouse an entire nation to blame Jews for the death of Jesus as well as all of their social ills and problems. These are the references that have damned Jews from ancient times to this very day. These are the same references used by Hitler and others to set the stage for hostility and the murder of those whose roots were from the same family tree as Jesus.

 

For centuries, millions of Jews in Europe were harassed, forced to leave their homelands and murdered when

The Language of Religion. . .

words about Jews in the New Testament were exploited by purveyors of hate.

 

Every Jew can vividly recall the very moment when he or she first learned the violent scope of historical and contemporary anti-Semitism and the fear that accompanied that introduction. The information woven throughout family histories, of pogroms, concentration camps and mass murder is irrefutable and shocking. For those of us raised in an environment of ecumenical culture and education, protected by the umbrella of the great “Dream of Democracy,” the reality of a ‘Final Solution’ that surrounded and destroyed whole families, and almost completely decimated a entire people, has been too surreal to fully grasp.

 

The fact remains that many of the people who assisted in the murder of a million-and-a-half Jewish children just 50 years ago were not aware that Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist and all the founders of Christianity were as Jewish as those innocent children.

 

Over the past eight centuries, nearly one out of every two Jews was murdered in Europe. In the last 55 years alone, one out of three Jews were killed. Their crime was having Jewish parents. The issue must be confronted as a current event.

 

There are now fewer than 14 million Jewish survivors left in the entire world. The vigor of Judaism in the first century which permitted the flowering of new thought, new directions, new concepts, has been denigrated and denied over and over by bigots who use and misuse, who bend and redesign the language of the New Testament to meet their ends in order to arouse followers to participate in what is, ultimately, anti-Christian madness.

 

The Jewishness of Jesus must not be denied. Christians affirm, often without reflection, that God chose a young Jewish woman among all the women on earth to be Jesus’ mother. Accordingly Christian leaders the world over are emphasizing that distrust and hatred of Jews is anti-Christian.

 

Scholars and theologians embrace the importance of language as a central element in religious concept and practice. They recognize that the contemporary Jewish people are survivors of a hatred that is based on words that deny the reality of historical truths of the first century.

 

The translation in the Contemporary English Version of the Holy Bible published in June 1995 by the American Bible Society recognizes the social and political environment of the 1st century while capturing the spirit of the King James Version. They have produced a Bible that cannot be exploited by anti-religious bigots.

 

The translators of the Contemporary English Version of the Bible have diligently sought to capture the spirit of the King James Version

 

On behalf of the American Interfaith Institute and the World Alliance of Interfaith Organizations, I extend congratulations to all who have made this historical Holy Bible a reality.

 

Key participants in the work of the American Interfaith Institute are a worldwide network of Christian the???gians who are committed to clarifying the anti-Jew??? statements found in the scriptures. Because they recognize that both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism have evolved from ancient Hebrew sources, these scholars are actively engaged in the process of studying and rethinking Jewish-Christian relationships and advocating new perceptions that will replace old distortions.

 

There are millions of Christians who read the Bible as a daily newspaper. Until the scriptures are translated more factually in all editions of the Bible, mis-information and hate will be handed down to future generations and the tides of violence will rise again and again and again.

 

Jesus stood up to oppression. He spoke out against cruelty. His faith inspired the writers of the New Testament. It is this same faith that will inspire the modification and removal of inaccurate references to the Jewish people from the New Testament and from Christianity. Clearly Mark, John, Paul and other found??? of Christianity would support these clarifications in order to break the cycle of violence for all time.

 

Future generations of Jews and Christians should not be divided by a collective memory of hate and fear but, instead, be united in a shared vision of heritage, freedom and love.

 

It is this insight, now so well accepted and widely advocated by enlightened theologians and scholars worldwide, that will influence and expand Jewish-Christian relationships everywhere; that will give new strength to the remarkable language of religion as a force for asserting life.

 

Let us join together to extend our outreach and resources to other Bible publishers. Let us help them understand that the use of the word ‘Jew’ in the exclusive sense as the enemy of Jesus represents a misguided, incorrect and, ultimately, harmful castigation of an entire people. I invite you to be part of one of the most exciting intellectual and educational developments of our time — one that celebrates language based on historical truth.

 

Clearly, the success of this magnificent objective will be a major step in overcoming fear between Jews and Christians and bringing to life the vision of understanding and love that Jesus and Hillel gave to the world.

 

Irvin J. Borowsky

Founder and Chairman

American Interfaith Institute

World Alliance of Interfaith Organizations

A Message from Defining New Christian/Jewish Dialogue

Although the New Testament represents only 22 percent of the Christian Bible, its teachings and influence are the cornerstone of a great compassionate and principled religion.

Regrettably, the poetry and reasoning that describe first-century events in the New Testament are diminished by inaccurate interpretations and translations that blame Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus two thousand years ago. It is this historical untruth, repeated in almost every edition of the New Testament since its inception, that is the foundation for most of the anti-Semitism that has led to the murder of Jews throughout Europe. It is time to stop teaching each new generation to distrust and hate Jews, based on misinterpretations of events of the first century.

This bigotry is as absurd as teaching hatred of all Germans because of Hitler’s atrocities, or hatred of all Japanese because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, or hatred of all Muslims because of 9/11, or hatred of all descendants of Romans for nailing Jesus to the cross.

The chapters in this book represent an update to the work of the American Interfaith Institute, which was founded in 1982 to rebuild broken bridges between Christians and Jews by removing anti-Jewish references from the New Testament.

 

There are basic historical facts, well researched and acknowledged worldwide, that are catalysts for editions of the New Testament being developed by Bible scholars:

1. The Romans employed citizens of their conquered nations to administer the government, just as the Nazis did in Europe. Religious leaders, including the Sanhedrin, tax collectors, and others, had power, but it was limited. If the instructions of the Roman overlords were not adhered to, their lackeys were either removed from their position, imprisoned, or even crucified.

2. Crucifixion was an exclusively Roman form of execution.

3. Because Jesus had a significant and devoted following, Pontius Pilate believed Jesus was a threat who had to be removed. When Pilate’s troops crucified him, they ridiculed him publicly as “King of the Jews.” The Romans wanted no competition: Caesar was the one and only king.

4. The first Christians were of Jewish background. Jesus and his earliest followers never heard the words “Christian” or “New Testament.”

5. The inaccurate references to Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death in the New Testament texts are the principal foundation for Christian anti-Semitism.

Today, Christians and Jews find themselves allies in a struggle for the soul and survival of our civilization. It is time to bury old suspicions and fears, time for people of the book to unite in a new movement of solidarity. Our connections are revealed as never before: the ethical teachings of Jews and Christians are grounded in respect for the sanctity of life, the pursuit of justice, and the call for peace.

Clearly, this is the moment to explore and celebrate the bridges that connect. That is why, now, more than ever before, it is vital that Bible publishers remove misinformation from their publications and publish new editions that are sensitive to the issues that divide.

It is appropriate, in light of contemporary research and truth, to re-examine the scriptures. The American Bible Society, the largest Bible society in the world, has taken the lead by publishing a historically more accurate translation of the New Testament, the Contemporary English Version (CEV), which the Vatican has approved. The research and production of this vast project extended over a ten-year period, and I was privileged to be involved in the process. The CEV has set the stage by translating the virulent references to Jews in light of the sociolinguistic setting of various New Testament writings. It is vital that anti-Jewish references in all other New Testament editions be critically examined within the sociological context of first-century events and the realities of current research.

Note John 7:1 and John 19:14–15 in the CEV as compared to three other editions:

 

John 7:1

Contemporary English Version Jesus decided to leave Judea and to start going through Galilee because the leaders of the people wanted to kill him.
King James Version After these things Jesus walked in Galilee, for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.
New International Version After this Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life.
New Revised Standard Version After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him.

 

John 19:14–15

Contemporary English Version Pilate said to the crowd, “Look at your king!” “Kill him! Kill him!” They yelled. “Nail him to a cross!”
King James Version He [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, “Behold your king!” But they cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him.”
New International Version “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
New Revised Standard Version He [Pilate] said to the Jews, “Here is your king!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”

 

The CEV, KJV, NIV, and NRSV represent about 90 percent of all Bibles sold in America. There are no translations that are identical. Bible scholars have taken many liberties in translating the ancient Greek. It is unacceptable that their translations continue to indict the Jews when editors know the historical truth.

Throughout the world, Catholic and Protestant scholars, professors of religion, ministers, priests, and other Christians who are working to rid Christianity of its anti-Jewish references are urging that Bible publishers remove these hateful references to Jews. It is now well understood at every level of church administration and education that these distorted references to Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death have been the principal foundation for Christian anti-Semitism. Reexamining historical texts in the light of new data is an accepted practice in every field of research.

Thoughtful Christians recognize that the Nazis could not have succeeded in the murder of six million Jews without assistance from Christian citizens. The Holocaust was a continuation of centuries of hostility toward Jews in Europe fed by inaccurate references to first-century events. The systematic teaching of contempt has led to expulsion or murder of Jews in every nation of Europe. The murder of six million innocent Jewish men, women, and children is an abomination.

It was this factor that desensitized apparently normal human beings, that encouraged participation in heinous acts, that enabled people to assist in rounding up their Jewish neighbors to be sent to death camps. That is why Christian leadership is now insisting that the Bible be rendered without hatred toward the Jewish community.

Today, “the Jews” means the whole Jewish people. But as used in John’s Gospel, the term refers to a small group of Jewish leaders who were collaborating with the Roman invaders by serving on their ruling council. They were similar to the Quislings of Norway and the Vichy collaborators of France. It is imperative that Christian teachings acknowledge that Jesus was crucified by the Romans.

Many scholars believe that if the efforts of Vatican and Protestant leadership, plus those of the American Interfaith Institute and other like-minded organizations, had been started at the end of the nineteenth century rather than the end of the twentieth, the horrendous scope of the Holocaust would have been mitigated.

Had this initiative been implemented centuries ago, anti-Semitism would have been so diminished that Hitler and other purveyors of hate would not have succeeded. The Holocaust was a continuation of the atrocities that began with the First Crusade in the eleventh century. In just five short years from 1940 to 1945, more than 1,500,000 children were murdered because they had a Jewish mother.

Children’s Bibles are particularly susceptible to nefarious interpretations because they often paraphrase scripture. The fact that children

 

Country Estimated Number of Jews prior to World War II Estimated Numbera Murdered Percentages of all Jews Murdered in Each Nation
Protectorate (now Czech Republic) 94,000 90,600 95%
Polandb 3,300,000 3,000,000 91%
Baltic Countries 264,500 215,000 81%
Slovakia 89,000 71,000 80%
Greece 77,000 60,000 78%
Yugoslavia 78,000 60,000 77%
The Netherlands 140,000 105,000 75%
Germany/Austria 215,000 141,000 66%
Belarusc 375,000 245,000 65%
Ukrainec 1,500,000 900,000 60%
Hungary 850,000 450,000 53%
Norway 1,700 900 50%
Romania 750,000 330,000 44%
Luxembourg 3,500 1,500 43%
Belgium 90,000 32,000 36%
France 350,000 90,000 26%
Bulgaria 50,000 12,000 24%
Italyd 44,500 8,000 18%
Russiac 975,000 107,000 11%

a. Dr. Steven Hochberg and Dr. Peter Black, historians at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, graciously authenticated all information contained in the chart above.

b. While the Nazis were efficient in killing 91 percent of the Jews in Poland, twenty thousand or more were hidden by a Christian network and survived.

c. The combined total of the Soviet Union was 1,302,000, including Belarus and Ukraine.

d. Italy had one of the lowest percentages of its Jewish citizens killed. Prior to the German invasion of the nation, Italy refused to send any of its Jewish citizens to concentration camps. Thousands of Jews who escaped from adjoining nations also found safe harbor in Italy. They were hidden in convents and other religious buildings.

 

cannot easily comprehend the New Testament in terms of its own historical context makes this matter all the more urgent. These Bibles often do not make clear that Jesus himself was a Jew and that the ethical controversies in the Gospels are between Jesus’ early Jewish followers and other Jews, such as some members of the Pharisees and Sadducees sects.

Christian youth must be taught historical truth. The American Interfaith Institute has reviewed and consulted with the publishers of 110 Bibles written for young people five to ten years of age. We are pleased to report that all but six editions have removed the inaccurate passages we identified. What follows is a small sample of what can be found in these six children’s Bibles. Note how recently they were copyrighted.

 

Kids Study Bible

Edited by Jean E. Syswerda. Copyright 1996.

He knew that the Jews there were waiting to kill him (p. 1523).

Again the Jews picked up stones to kill him (p. 1530).

 

Youth Walk Devotional Bible

Edited by Jean E. Syswerda. Copyright 1992.

But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews (p. 1139).

Kids Study Bible and Youth Walk Devotional Bible are published by Zondervan

Publishing, a division of HarperCollins, a Rupert Murdoch Company.

5300 Patterson Avenue S.W., Grand Rapids, MI 49512

Phone: 616-698-6900; fax: 616-698-3439; Web: http://www.zondervan.com

 

The Bedtime Bible Story Book

Edited by Daniel Partner. Copyright 1995.

The Jews saw the crowds and became jealous (p. 331).

That’s why the Jews tried to kill me (p. 357).

Published by Paradise Press, Inc.

1575 N. Park Drive, Suite 100, Weston, FL 33326-3230

Telephone: 954-349-9474; fax: 954-349-7217

 

International Children’s Story Bible

Edited by Mary Hollingsworth. Copyright 1990.

Finally, Pilate turned Jesus over to the Jews to be killed (see John 18:28–19:16)

Published by Word Publishing, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

PO Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214

Phone: 615-902-1300; fax: 615-883-6353; Web: http://www.thomasnelson.com

 

The Treasure Study Bible

Edited by Daryl Lucas. Copyright 1997.

After this, Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life (p. 1471).

Published by Kirkbride Bible Company

335 W. 9th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46206

Phone: 800-428-4385; fax: 317-633-1444; Web: http://www.kirkbride.com

 

365 Read to Me Bedtime Bible Stories

Edited by Melanie M. Burnette. Copyright 1989.

Judas knew the Jewish people and Pharisees wanted to lay a trap for Jesus (p. 255).

Published by Broadman & Holman

127 Ninth Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37234

Phone: 800-448-8032; fax: 800-296-4036; Web: http://www.broadmanholman.com

 

To avoid teaching each new generation of Christians to distrust and hate Jewish people, why not recognize and use two editions of the Bible? Historians may wish to continue their studies of the Greek text and numerous translations. For church services, Christian education, and personal study, the CEV edition incorporates a clarified translation based on historical truth.

 

Defining New Christian/Jewish Dialogue Irvin J. Borowsky, editor

By: Irvin J. Borowsky