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by Tim O'Hearn

The November 2018 issue of Smithsonian Magazine contained a translation of a diary of a holocaust victim and articles about other young women killed by the Nazis for being Jewish. Perhaps coincidentally, if you believe in coincidences, the magazine hit homes in the mail the same day as the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, in which eleven people (at the time of this writing) were killed during a synagogue assembly. This confluence of events serves to highlight the continuing nature of antisemitism at a time when anti-Jewish hate crimes have increased by 53% between 2016 and 2017. Whether it be the Holocaust, modern America, or the days of the Inquisition, anti-Jewish sentiment has been prevalent in the world for centuries. Nor is it limited to those who claim Christianity. Although the early writings that were compiled into Qur’an advocated peace with the “children of the Book” (Christians and Jews), by the end of Mohammed’s life Islam had become militantly anti-Semitic and Anti-Christian. The attitude, though, goes well back into biblical times.

In spite of claims intended to garner the support of the uninformed, it would be hard to find a truly religious war. Although the wars were for other reasons, we do find a group of people who were unabashedly anti-Jewish. When the king of Assyria had deported most of the inhabitants of Israel he had replaced them with people from other lands. (2 Kings 17:24-29) Although even the Assyrian king had tried to make them follow Judaism they had their own gods. After they had lived on the land for about a century, the Jews who had been taken from Jerusalem to Babylon returned. They had the king’s authority to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, and to administer the whole land of Israel/Judea. “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” (Neh 2:10) This was partly economic, but this verse indicates it was prejudice as well.

Much Christian anti-Jewish sentiment goes back to, or at least is justified by, a statement recorded by Matthew. When Pilate claimed innocence in the execution of Jesus, the Jewish leaders said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matt 27:25) Some people have extended that to read, “and our children’s children, and their children …” It is interesting that Matthew records this; you would expect it of the gentile, Mark. It is a very un-Jewish sentiment, considering that Ezekiel 18 says the son should not suffer guilt for the sin of the father. In any case, it is doubtful that the Jews who said this intended the guilt to extend forever. If one justifies hatred based on this verse, moreover, than that hatred should extend to all but two of the writers of the New Testament, and yet they are revered rather than reviled.

Perhaps our best source on our attitude toward the Jewish people is a Jewish man living as a Roman citizen and preaching to non-Jews. Paul’s citizenship gave him a unique perspective, as did, on the other hand, his education as a Pharisee. If anyone should speak on antisemitism, it would be Paul. And what does he say? “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” (Rom 10:1) Indeed, the whole book of Romans was written to combat anti-Jewish sentiment among gentiles in the early church. This indicates that antisemitism was in the church very early, and Paul fought to nip it in the bud. Apparently he was not wholly successful. Nevertheless, Christians today should heed Paul’s words, and weep at incidents like the Holocaust or more modern hate crimes.