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Christianity and the Origins of Anti-Semitism

(1) The Jews accused of responsibility for the killing of Jesus (New Testament, Matthew 27:20 ANow the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed...@  27:24-25: ASo when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, >I am innocent of this man=s blood; see to it yourselves.=  Then the people as a whole answered, >His blood be on us and on our children!=@

(2) A medieval pope lays down restrictions on the Jews:  Decrees of Pope Innocent III, issued at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215):  AThe more the Christian religion is restrained in the exaction of interest so much more does the knavery of the Jews in this matter increase, so that in a short time they exhaust the wealth of Christians....  We ordain through synodal decree that if they hereafter extort heavy and unrestrained interest, no matter what the pretext be, Christians shall be withdrawn from association with them until the Jews give adequate satisfaction for their unmitigated oppression...

  • We decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress...@
  • ... it would be altogether too absurd that a blasphemer of Christ should exercise authority over Christians...  We forbid that Jews be preferred for public offices since by pretext of some sort they manifest as much hostility to Christians as possible.@

(3) Another pope reminds Christians that Jews are to be tolerated within certain limits:  Edict of Gregory X (1272):  AEven as it is not allowed to the Jews in their assemblies presumptuously to undertake for themselves more than that which is permitted them by law, even so they ought not to suffer any disadvantage in those [privileges] which have been granted them.  Although they prefer to persist in their stubbornness rather than to recognize the words of their prophets and the mysteries of the Scriptures, and thus to arrive at a knowledge of Christian faith and salvation; nevertheless, inasmuch as they have made an appeal for our protection and help, we therefore admit their petition and offer them the shield of our protection through the clemency of Christian piety...@

  • We decree moreover that no Christian shall compel them or any one of their group to come to baptism unwillingly...  Moreover no Christian shall presume to seize, imprison, wound, torture, mutilate, kill or inflict violence on them; furthermore no one shall presume, except by judicial action of the authorities of the country, to change the good customs in the land where they live for the purpose of taking their money or goods from them or from others.  In addition, no on shall disturb them in any way during the celebration of their festivals.@
  • Most falsely do these Christians claim that the Jews have secretly and furtively carried away these children and killed them, and that the Jews offer sacrifice from the heart and blood of these children, since their law in his matter precisely and expressly forbids Jews to sacrifice, eat, or drink the blood, or to eat the flesh of animals having claws...@ This referred to accusations that Jews committed so-called ritual murder as part of their religious rituals, an accusation that was first made in the 12th century.


(4) Two passages from Martin Luther=s writings about the Jews

  • From That Jesus Christ was born a Jew (1523):  AIf we wish to make them better, we must deal with them not according to the law of the pope, but according to the law of Christian charity.  We must receive them kindly and allow them to compete with us in earning a livelihood, so that they may have a good reason to be with us and among us and an opportunity to witness Christian life and doctrine; and if some remain obstinate, what of it?  Not every one of us is a good Christian.@
  • From Concerning the Jews and Their Lies (1543):  AWhat then shall we Christians do with his damned, rejected race of Jews?  Since they live among us and we know about their lying and blasphemy and cursing, we can not tolerate them if we do not wish to share in their lies, curses, and blasphemy...  We must prayerfully and reverentially practice a merciful severity...
  • First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire...  Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed...  Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught... Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more...  Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury.  All their cash and valuables of silver and gold ought to be taken from them... everything that they possess they stole and robbed from us through their usury, for they have no other means of support...   let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses as is enjoined upon Adam=s children... let us drive them out of the country for all time...@


Sources: (1) New Oxford Annotated Bible; (2), (3) and (4), Jacob R. Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World:  A Source Book, 315-1791.