Jew-hatred & Revelation

(The following is substantially derived from a portion of my thesis [2008, Jewish Imagery in the Book of Revelation: Are Popular Interpretations of the Book of Revelation Anti-Judaic?, Anglia Ruskin University] and may not be reproduced in part or in whole without written permission from approachingglory@gmail.com.)

Anti-Judaism and Jew-hatred – A Road Too Well Traveled

The history of the Church soaks in the blood of millions upon millions of Jews. Its Patristic legacy is especially awash with the hatred of Jews[1]and denigration of Judaism.[2] Simon[3] points out that before the rise of Christianity Jew-hatred consisted of the charge of “separatism” and was non-racist in its orientation in contrast to how Jew-hatred was experienced throughout the Christian-dominated millennia, and compared to how it is understood in today’s post-Christian world. Trying to separate the conjoined twins anti-Judaism and Jew-hatred[4] after the rise of Christianity is very difficult. As Wilson[5] observes, over the centuries any distinction between anti-Judaism and Jew-hatred blurred such that “Christian hostility to Judaism . . . usually brought in its wake hostility to Jews”.[6]

The version of Jew-hatred seen today is believed by some to be solely the bi-product of Hitler – ‘may his name be blotted out’ – and the Nazis rather than as a direct result of the anti-Judaism of the Christian Churches. Hannah Arendt[7] for instance, believed that the Jews were just the “first victims” of Nazis’ plans to subject the whole of humanity to their tyrannical rule, which went far and beyond the torturous existence Jews experienced under the Christian-hatred-of-Jews-rule which deigned them as nothing more than “living witness[es] for Christian truth”, to the inevitable annihilation of anyone, not just Jews, who did not fit with Nazis’ ideology or their plan for world domination. However, while one could arrive at that secularist[8] point of view, Ruether[9] makes a good case for seeing a direct route from the Christian “theological doctrine of the Jew” and Christendom’s “legal, economic, political, and social factors” to the “terrible consequences” produced by and in the hands of the Nazis in the twentieth century. Ruether’s[10] examination of the adversus Judaeos writings by the Church Fathers reveals a litany of charges against Jews and Judaism that amount to, in their collective assessment, a judgment of rejection of both by God, in which they actively concur. It is this ‘Patristic’ legacy which kept Jews despised, dispersed, disenfranchised, and Judaism touted as worthless outside of a Christian context, and is that which lies beneath all ideologies that have undertaken to destroy Jews and eradicate the so called ‘worthless’ throughout the millennia.`

Supersessionism

In addition to the slanderous assessments of the Church Fathers, Hebrew religious texts were consistently interpreted in supersessionist and truimphalist ways in an effort to prove Christianity as the ‘new’ Israel, the ‘new’ chosen people of God and the inheritors of a ‘new’ Covenant.[11] Early apologies[12] written in predominantly self-elevating, anti-Judaic language at the outset were, by the fourth century, thoroughly abusive and promoted active hatred of Jews.[13] Things did not improve through the centuries. Reformers continued to build on the corrupt foundation of policies and polemics laid by the Church Fathers, and while their interpretations freed the people of Roman Catholic-dominated interpretations of scripture, they not only upheld supersessionist interpretations they added particularly vitriolic anti-Jewish commentary to those interpretations.[14] After 18 centuries of practiced hatred, pogroms, blood-libels and being driven out from country after country, the time was ripe to excise the ‘wandering’ “’witness’ to the ultimate triumph of the church”.[15] Over 50 million people were killed during World War II. Of these, “approximately 6 million Jews . . . were systematically murdered by the Germans”[16] in what became known as the Holocaust or the Shoah.

In spite of Jews enduring a history of abuse, lies, torture, and murder plus the Holocaust, and post-Holocaust denominational statements of confession for perpetrating the same as well as promises to right wrongs,[17] Jacob Neusner[18] noted in 1955 that “[l]exicography in the service of an anti-Judaic Christian theology . . . .” was still producing dictionary definitions of “Pharisee” as “described in exactly the polemical spirit of the Gospels”. In 1965 a remarkable statement came out of the Second Vatican Council. Nostra Aetate[19] redefined the relationship between Roman Catholics and Jews. The statement acknowledged that God had not broken His covenant with Abraham – hence the Jews – and it announced the commitment of the Church to halt and refuse to tolerate any type of promotion of Jew-hatred, anti-Judaism or persecution of any kind in the future. It also acknowledged that its Y-DNA, so to speak, found its origins in Judaism and the Jewish people. As promising as the Vatican statement of 1965 was, in that it acknowledged the existence of Jews in a continuing relationship with God, it (the Church) still declared itself to be “the new people of God”.[20] And as much as the Catholic and Protestant statements following[21] likewise denounced Jew-hatred and anti-Judaism and promised to re-educate Christians and to cleanse expressions of Jew-hatred and anti-Judaic polemic and vitriol from liturgy, homiletics and studies of scripture, very little change was immediately measurable beyond the efforts of the Church hierarchy to establish Jewish-Christian relations.

In 1996 and 1998, Kee and Borowsky[22] contributed to and edited a collection of essays in two books which addressed the Christian community about its culpability in the continuing acts of Jew-hatred and anti-Judaic attitudes by first addressing the necessity “that sensitivity be raised among preachers and teachers in the Christian communities . . . and that information be provided to correct the historical misconceptions on which anti-Judaism has been based” and secondly, by exposing the need to address the problems of the language used to describe Jews in the New Testament. However, overall, the change advocated by Kee and Borowsky among others[23] is still a long way off from being fulfilled within the community. As Flannery[24]once expressed, “[t]he [continuing] indifference affecting the subject is attributable in the first place to the all but total ignorance of Christians as to what happened to Jews in Christian history and the extent of the involvement of the Church and the Church’s teachings”. While many leading Jews and Christians have established significant ongoing dialogical relations producing more documents advocating intentional change and peaceful relations,[25] the world continues to turn and Jew-hatred continues its relentless bent. Jew-haters churn out new spin but their rhetoric barely disguises its old roots.

Antisemitism = Jew-hatred

The Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism, 2008[26] report produced by the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism for the U.S. Department of State gives a significant overview of the “adaptive phenomenon” of present-day Jew-hatred. It observes:

New forms of anti-Semitism have evolved. They often incorporate elements of traditional anti-Semitism. However, the distinguishing feature of the new anti-Semitism is criticism of Zionism or Israeli policy that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel’s perceived faults to its Jewish character.[27]

Even the old ‘conspiracy’ theories have morphed – including among its more serious accusations – Israeli Policies and actions equate with Nazi policies and actions,[28] thousands of Jews had “not report[ed] to work at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, supposedly because they had been warned not to do so by those who had advance knowledge of the attack”,[29] and the Indian Ocean earthquake and catastrophic Asian tsunami that struck in December 2004, was caused by deep sea nuclear tests conducted by a “U.S.-Israeli-Indian collaboration”.[30] The report also notes that many contemporary “cartoons” and “canards” either blatantly depict or encourage hatred of Jews or are “variations of the classic conspiracy myth of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion[31] (original italics). To top off this significant report on the continuing miseries and abuses of Jews worldwide, statistics confirm “a sharp upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide during the conflict between Hizballah and Israel in the summer of 2006”.[32]

Revelation and Interpretation

Such ridiculous accusations and proliferation of the absurd actually make it possible to believe that someday fingers of accusation will point to the Jews as directly or indirectly responsible for any Revelation-type ‘Armageddon’ scenario (i.e., they started it or they are the reason it is happening). It also allows for the possibility for those who are supersessionist in orientation to distort and misinterpret biblical texts,[33] such as the book of Revelation, to develop or support an agenda of racial hatred and genocidal intent. For instance, who is to suffer the “great persecution” (Rev. 7:14)? Who will be “put to death” for refusing to “worship the image of the beast” in Revelation 13:15? Who are those who are “beheaded” in Revelation 20:4?[34]

In a 2008 online Time[35] article discussing the implications of the popularity of Christian tours to Tel Meggido (Armageddon) in Israel, the views of “American Evangelicals” (also called “American Christian Zionists”) are held by some to be of little consequence in comparison to how much financial and political support they give to Israel. However, others –

are less comfortable in the embrace of the American Evangelicals. They cite a verse from Revelations [sic] claiming that Jesus will return only after two-thirds of the Jews are killed and the rest are converted to Christianity. ‘They are not supporting us out of love,’ says one opponent, Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifshitz from the anti-missionary group Yad La’achim, ‘but because they believe that if we convert out of Judaism to Christianity, it will bring on the Apocalypse.’ And that, he says, is ‘a danger to the people of Israel.’

One pastor in Jerusalem from a mainstream church expressed skepticism about the motives of the Christian Zionists — and of the cynicism of Israelis who play along. ‘It’s the worst kind of anti-Semitism,’ says the cleric, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the issue. ‘At the end, these Evangelicals say that all the Jews will be dead except those who become Christians. But in the meantime, the Israelis are happy to fill their hotels with them and use their help to get American weapons.’

It is essential for Church authorities to stop ignoring the book of Revelation and to start “rightly dividing the word” (2 Tim. 2:15), to prevent “Catastophic-millennialists” from promoting or “set[ting] into motion . . . [a dispensationalist] Armageddon scenario”.[36] Unbelievably, these Christians do not seem to grasp that what they are actually saying to Jews is that they must suffer yet another Holocaust! Perhaps not through their hands directly this time but as a result of the interpretation of a text they claim is theirs to interpret. It is essential Church authorities educate the people sitting in their pews, so that they are not led astray by interpretations of Revelation made by people like Ronald Weinland, a pastor in the Church of God, who believes he is one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11,[37] and “John’s counterpart”[38] with the authority to proclaim both the interpretation of the “Seven thunders”[39] and Revelation:

[N]one of the Book of Revelation was written so that just anyone reading it could understand. It has to be revealed through God’s servants, and most of it was reserved to be revealed at this end-time through God’s end-time prophet—me.[40] (Original emphasis.)

In the end, it is essential that Church authorities revisit the text of Revelation and ask themselves if it is really theirs to interpret at all. Perhaps another people with an entirely different agenda and modus operandi may see the reality of its imagery, and the original vision beneath the layers of two millennia’s worth of false portraits. To utilize a quote from Elie Wiesel, death camp survivor and recipient of the 1986 Noble Peace Prize, “to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”

(See The Revelation of Yeshua Ha’Mashiach )

I hope this brief introduction to a few of the issues surrounding Jew-hatred and the book of Revelation will spur you to further investigation, so that you might grow in knowledge and understanding.


[1] The term antisemitism was “coined . . . by an antisemite, William Marr in 1879, because he needed a new word for Jew-hatred” (Bauer 2003, p. 1). As Athans (1991, p. 119) points out it is a “misnamed and invented word”. Therefore, I use the terms ‘hatred of Jews’ or ‘Jew-hatred’ in place of that incorrect term throughout.

[2] Pawlikowski 2004, p. 2-4; Ruether 1979, p. 117ff.

[3] Simon 1996, pp. 202-207.

[4] “There is no hard-and-fast line between anti-Judaism and antisemitism” (Eckardt 1997, p. 146, n. 4).

[5] Wilson 1989, p. 91.

[6] Wilson’s (1989, p. 91) other key observation in this context is also worth noting – prior to the appearance of Christianity, Jews did not experience the type of Jew-hatred that reared its ugly head in the last three centuries of the past millennium. Also, feminist theologian, Asphodel Long (1991, online, p. 3), personally observed: “The fact is that Jews, myself among them, find it almost impossible to distinguish between texts of Christian anti-Jewish polemic and actions derived from them. … Anti-Judaism seems to me to be anti-Semitism made respectable.”

[7] Arendt 2007, pp. lxix, 67-70.

[8] David Engel’s (2000, back cover) concise “matter-of-fact analysis of the encounter between the Third Reich and the Jews” gives an interesting overview of secularist thought on the “encounter”.

[9] Ruether 1979, pp.183ff.

[10] Ibid 1979, pp. 117ff.

[11] Soulen 1998, pp. 149-156.

[12] For example, “’Teaching of Contempt’ for the Jews within the New Testament” (Borowsky 1998, p. 9); Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho.

[13] Cohn-Sherbok 1992, pp. 25-37; Simon 1996, pp. 207ff.

[14] Ibid 1992, p. 64-76; Fry 1996, pp. 28-29.

[15] Ruether 1996, pp. 24-25.

[16] Perez de Cruet 1997, online.

[17]For example: International Council of Christians and Jews, The 10 Points of Seelisburg, 1947, [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=983 Synod of the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland, Germany, Towards Renovation of the Relationship of Christians and Jews, [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=1005; The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches, “The Christian Approach to the Jews”, [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=1489.

[18] Neusner 1984, p. 49.

[19] Nostra Aetate [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?id=1042.

[20] Vatican II Council, Nostra Aetate, [online].

[21] For example [online] Rhineland Statement 1980; Statement of the Texas Conference 1982; Lambeth Conference 1988; A Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews 1987; We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah 1998; A Sacred Obligation 2002.

[22] Kee and Borowsky1996, p. 14.

[23] For example, Levine (2002, p. 77-78, 98) has charged, that while many believe “historical study will acquit the New Testament of the charges of anti-Judaism” the reality is that “[w]e can only speculate about how, why, and to what degree particular passages as well as the overall narrative, were originally perceived to be anti-Jewish. … Moreover, even if we could firmly conclude that the evangelists and their audiences did not have anti-Jewish views, the fact remains that throughout the subsequent centuries, later Christians have often interpreted the texts in this manner.” She calls for “texts that negate the fullness of human life . . . enjoin evil, slavery, or war . . . [be] given new interpretations” including those “that can and have been seen as anti-Jewish”.

[24] Flannery 1999, p. 295.

[25] For example: Dabru Emet (2002), [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=1014; Statement on Antisemitism by the Lutheran Commission on the Church and the Jewish People (2004), [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=2301; Joint Statement on Antisemitism by the Presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews (U.K.) (2004), [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=2175; Joint Declaration by the Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams and the Chief Rabbis of Israel Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger (2006), [online] http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=2717.

[26] U.S. Department of State 2008, [online].

[27] Ibid. p. 4.

[28] Ibid. pp. 4, 35, 40, 42, 44, 45, 53, 55, 58. “According to the EUMC [The European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, [online] www.eumc.eu.int], drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is an example of anti-Semitism” (p. 44, n.29).

[29] U.S. Department of State 2008, p. 19.

[30] Ibid. p. 20.

[31] Ibid. p. 21.

[32] Ibid. p. 4.

[33] Salmon (2006, p. 37) has best summarised what to listen for: “The most overt expressions of supersessionism include the following: the Jews rejected Jesus; the Old Testament show the Jews as disobedient and unrepentant; Judaism in the first century was defined by hypocritical legalism and obsession with ritual apart from any spiritual motives, the Pharisees serving as primary example; the Old Testament describes a God of wrath in contrast to the God of love in the New Testament”. Significantly she also notes that “[p]reachers who renounce supersessionism continue to rely on a supersessionist history of Christian origins.”

[34] Today beheading is frequently used as a form of execution by terrorists (The Associated Press, 2005. Analysts: Beheadings on the rise around the world. In USA Today [online] http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2004-11-06-copycat_x.htm.) For instance, terrorists murdered the Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, in February 2002. Shortly after being made to admit he was Jewish and recite anti-American propaganda, his throat was slashed and his decapitated body was later found in a ditch outside of Karachi, Pakistan. “Beheading as an execution option remains a part of the criminal code in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and Qatar . . . . Only Saudi Arabia continues the practice” (Christy Oglesby, July 21, 2004. Experts: Beheadings pervert legitimate law. In CNN.com [online] http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/07/21/beheading.background/index.html).

[35] Tim McGirk, April 7, 2008. An Evangelical at Armaggedon [online]. In Time World: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1728510,00.html?iid=sphere-inline-bottom.

[36] Cook 2008, pp. 234, 247. Also Klaassen (1999, p. 238), “Its [the book of Revelation] violent and vengeful visions make it dangerous as a Christian book”.

[37] Ronald Weinland 2006, p. 16.

[38] Ibid. p. 110.

[39] Ibid. p. 88.

[40] Ibid. p. 87.

 


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