by Gerald Sigal
To maintain, as some Christians have, that it is not at all easy to find a book more Jewish, than the New Testament shows defective reasoning if not insincerity. The New Testament texts that embody its visceral hatred of Jews and Judaism are often explained away or subsumed by appealing to some sort of indistinct fundamental Jewishness of the New Testament. The Jewish environment, in which certain New Testament characters lived and in which the seminal events of Christian origins occurred, does not make the New Testament either a Jewish or pro-Jewish document. Jews and Judaism are portrayed negatively and used to contrast and underscore the supposed superiority of New Testament doctrines. The geographical setting for the Gospels and part of Acts is the Land of Israel; the rest takes place mostly in Asia Minor. It is, in large measure, a work of historical fiction.
By the time the various New Testament books were written the majority of the church was Gentile and it was to them that these works were directed. The political and theological perspective the New Testament expresses is decidedly anti-Judaic and very much a product of conditions occurring, in many cases, years after the death of Jesus. The original intra-Jewish dispute became subsidiary to the major theme of separating Jesus from the Jewish people both politically and theologically. One cannot disregard, among other things, how Jesus is disassociated from the satanic Jews (John 8:44), the manner in which all Jews are held responsible for the murder of the righteous who lived even before Abraham (Matthew 23:35), how all Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus (Acts 2:36), how all future generations stand accused of participating in that execution (Matthew 27:25), and how Jesus called for the slaying of those who did not believe in him (Luke 19:27). These attacks are the work of adversaries outside the Judaic system.
It is not known who the original authors of the respective Gospels were. The names assigned to their authorship are based on second century conjecture. Christians claim the authors of Mark, Matthew, and John were Jews and are divided as to whether Luke was Jewish or Gentile. In any case, it is evident that Samaritan doctrines and attitudes toward Jews and Judaism heavily influenced the Gospel of John. Whatever the ethnic origins of the New Testament authors or the proto-Christian characters appearing in their respective works the overwhelming feeling expressed is decidedly anti-Judaic. Indeed, one lesson to be learned from Jewish history is that neither being born a Jew nor living in the Land of Israel makes one automatically immune to anti-Judaic sentiments.
The notion of a special need to convert Jews to Christianity is as old as Christianity itself. In the New Testament, Jews who do not accept Jesus are condemned. The targets of the New Testament attack are variously identified as Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, elders, priests, high priests, the people, or simply as “the Jews.” In addition, Jewish law is dissected. Pre-Jesus Judaism is appropriated and the New Testament authors take from it anything they find useful for their purposes. Everything else is condemned as obsolete (Hebrews 8:13); Judaism ceases to exist. Christianity becomes the natural and necessary culmination of relevant Jewish history. It makes Judaism and its adherents unnecessary and obsolete. Thus, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) refers to the past, but is no longer true for the present and future once Jesus arrives on the scene.
Paul boasts that he “was circumcised the eight day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the Law a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). But, he taught that with the death of Jesus circumcision was no longer spiritually meaningful; it was now a “mutilation” (katatome), of the flesh (Philippians 3:2). He declared that there was no longer any meaning for Jewish national existence: “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘through Isaac your descendants will be named.’ That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:6-8). These postcrucifixion “children of the promise,” Paul says, are “called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Romans 9:24). In addition, Paul maintains that with the death of Jesus there is no longer a need for the Torah: “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Most telling is Paul’s comment that he considered everything that mattered most in his previous life within Judaism to be nothing but “dung” (skybala) compared to his possessing “Christ” (Philippians 3:8)
Discussions concerning the level of involvement by Jewish religious authorities in events culminating in Jesus’ execution become almost irrelevant under the shadow of the New Testament’s total unmitigated inclusion of all Jews as being responsible for the death of Jesus. As a consequence of its inflammatory and degrading attack, the New Testament brought about a long-lasting negative effect on the Christian view of Jews and Judaism. The Jesus of the Gospels explicitly sanctions and fosters hatred of the Jewish people. That many Christians are embarrassed into denial about this fundamental New Testament teaching does not change the facts. The Gospels pages reveal the true feelings of its Jesus.
The New Testament is an essentially anti-Jewish work and serves as an inspirational force for anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic prejudice. Through its authors’ deliberate assault on all Jews, in all places, for all time, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus became a major catalyst for bringing about much of the suffering endured by the Jewish people down through the centuries.
Yes, some call the New Testament a Jewish book, but those who think for themselves have come to realize that it is not only not Jewish but also decidedly anti-Jewish. They have come to realize that it is the mother that has given birth and nurture to countless forms of anti-Jewish expression for the last two millennia.
© Gerald Sigal 1999