An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans

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South Carolina Episcopalians

"October 31, 2018

Commentary:  "Killing Jews"

Do modern day Christians have any responsibility to address unreasonably sinister portrayals of Jews in the Gospels?


Christian antisemitism can hardly be attributed solely to the author(s) of the Gospel of John.  However, there is little doubt its dark and sinister portrayal of the "The Jews," including a pivotal role in the  crucifixion of Jesus, has resulted in persecution, fear, and death over the past 1,900 years.


Jesus was a Jew.  So were his disciples.   In fact, there is a great deal of  scholarly work suggesting Jesus might have been a pharisee or rabbi.  If he ever renounced Judaism, no one bothered to record it. 


After our Messiah departed this earthly life,  the "early church," as we refer to it was actually a kind of Jesus movement within Judaism.  


We know that an initial period of cooperation gave way to an evolving  rivalry between the nascent Jesus movement and factions within the traditional Jewish hierarchy around the end of the first century.   Competition for members was apparently intense, as each side tried to differentiate itself from the other in a new, post-Temple world.  Such differentiation often included "random slandering" of competitors, according to scholars.


This was the period in which the four Gospels appear to have been written down. 


The Gospel of John is considered the last of the four to be composed, and famously presents Jews as particularly hostile to the Kingdom of God.  John seemingly lays a collective guilt on all Jews for the death of Jesus, in contrast to the other Gospel writers who distinguished between various rival groups and Jewish authorities in describing their hostility to Jesus. 


Jewish-Christian relations have never been the same.


The mass killing of eleven members of Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh over the weekend brings up the question of whether Christians have a responsibility to repent for the Church's role in promoting antisemitism and free itself from a nearly two-thousand-year-old slander of what was once perceived as a rival religion.


We found the following Facebook posting on this subject this afternoon, provided by the Rev. Paul Abernathy, who was at one time the Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Charleston.  It seems like a good starting point for a conversation.


"The following is a message I will share with my dear folk of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, with whom and where I am privileged to serve as priest-in-charge. This same stance, I previously adopted during my tenure as rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC (1998-2015):

"John, the evangelist, in his gospel account of the life of Jesus, wrote near the end of the first century of the Common Era. At that time, the Jesus-movement began to be seen and understood as distinguished from (and, at times, in competition with and antagonistic to) Judaism.


"John, immersed in his time, oft used the phrase, "the Jews," to refer to the religious authorities who were opposed to Jesus. Sadly, through the centuries, many Christians have heard these references and, woefully mistakenly, have embraced them as an indictment of (and a justification for considering) Jews as "Christ-killers."


"In the light, verily, in the shadow of the historic denigration of Jews, including the Holocaust, horrifically recently manifested in the massacre of eleven of our Jewish sisters and brothers of the Tree of Life synagogue, Pittsburgh, PA,  I, as your Priest-in-Charge, in the public reading of the Gospel of John, no longer will utter the words, "the Jews."  I will replace them with "the people."


"In this small, yet significant step, I pray that we, in our public reading of scripture, will not fortify any false conception of Judaism or serve as any rationale, however subtle, for anti-Semitism."