Christianity has had a troubled relationship with Judaism that often involved Antisemitism. Although the first Christians were Jewish, anti-Judaic attitudes started to develop even before the end of the first century and even though there is evidence of continued Jewish-Christian interaction, including Christian participation in Sabbath worship. Anti-Judaic attitudes developed from early years of Christianity and persisted over the centuries, driven by numerous factors including theological differences, competition between Church and Synagogue, the Christian drive for converts, misunderstanding of Jewish beliefs and practices, and alleged Jewish hostility toward Christians.
These attitudes persisted in Christian preaching, art and popular teaching of contempt for Jews over the centuries. In many Christian countries it led to civil and political discrimination against Jews, legal disabilities, and in some instances to physical attacks on Jews which in some cases ended in emigration, expulsion, and even death.
From time to time, anti-Jewish sentiments within European society were exploited for internal political purposes and sometimes to extract a financial advantage from Jewish subjects. Such sentiments made the expansion of anti-Jewish measures politically acceptable.
Antisemitism has been described as primarily hatred against Jews as a race with its modern expression rooted in 19th century racial theories, whilst anti-Judaism is described as hostility to Jewish religion but in Western Christianity it effectively merged into antisemitism during the 12th century. Scholars have debated how Christian antisemitism may have played a role in the Nazi Third Reich, World War II and the Holocaust.
However, throughout Christian history many Popes, bishops and some Christian princes stepped up to protect Jews, although it was only in the mid-twentieth century that the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations issued major statements repudiating anti-Judaic theology and began a process of constructive Christian-Jewish interaction.
Many Christians do not consider anti-Judaism to be antisemitism, regarding anti-Judaism as a disagreement of religiously sincere and unemotional people with the tenets of Judaism, while regarding antisemitism as an emotional bias or hatred not specifically targeting the religion of Judaism. Under this approach, anti-Judaism is not regarded as antisemitism as it only rejects the religious ideas of Judaism and does not involve actual hostility to the Jewish people.
Others see anti-Judaism as the rejection of or opposition to beliefs and practices essentially because of their source in Judaism or because a belief or practice is associated with the Jewish people. (But see supersessionism)
Although some Christians in the past did consider anti-Judaism to be contrary to Christian teaching, this view was not widely expressed by leaders and lay people. In many cases, the practical tolerance towards the Jewish religion and Jews prevailed. Some Christian groups, particularly in early years, condemned verbal anti-Judaism.
In Rome and throughout the Roman Empire, religion was an integral part of the civil government. The Emperor was from time to time declared to be a god and demanded to be worshiped accordingly. This created religious difficulties for Jews, who were prohibited from worshiping any other god than that of the Hebrew Bible. This created problems in the relations between Rome and its Jewish subjects, as well as for worshipers of Mithras, worshipers of Sabazius, and Christianity. In the case of Jews, this led to several revolts against Rome and severe persecutions by Rome as punishment. Though Romans inherited pagan antipathy to Jews and Judaism from the Greeks, their attitudes were not theological and could not be described as anti-Judaic. The Roman objection was essentially to the refusal of Jews to "bend the knee" to their Roman overlord.
Many of the early gentile converts to Christianity probably came from and shared this cultural bias. As gentile converts they also were not well acquainted with the internal life of the Jewish community. Hence they read many of the New Testament texts as condemnations of Judaism as such, rather than as internal differences which were commonplace within the Jewish community.
There have been philosophical differences between Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism since the founding of Christianity. Christians acknowledge the roots of Christianity in Judaism. Some claim the entirety of Jewish religious heritage as its own, while interpreting it very differently.
Debates between the Early Christians, who at first saw themselves as a movement within Judaism and not as a separate religion, and other Jews initially revolved around the question whether Jesus was the Messiah, which also encompassed the issue of his divinity. Once gentiles were converted to Christianity, the question arose whether and how far these gentile Christians were obliged to follow Jewish law in order to follow Jesus (see Paul's Letter to the Galatians). At the Council of Jerusalem, (Acts 15), it was decided that new gentile converts did not need to be circumcised (the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:19-21), while requiring acceptance of Judaism's Noahide Law, (see also Old Testament#Christian view of the Law for the modern debate), but Paul also questioned the validity of Jewish Christians' adherence to the Jewish law in relation to faith in Christ (see also Antinomianism, Law and Gospel, Pauline Christianity).
The increase of the numbers of gentile Christians in comparison to Jewish Christians eventually resulted in a rift between Christianity and Judaism, which was further increased by the Jewish-Roman wars (66–73 and 132–135) that drove many more Jews into the diaspora and reduced the influence of the Bishop of Jerusalem, leader of the first Christian church. Early Christians also found in the Old Testament prophecies which seemed to indicate that God's original covenant with the Jews would be expanded to include also the Gentiles. Thus the Church Fathers tend to emphasise that the Church is the new "spiritual" Israel, completing or replacing the earthly Israel which was but its prototype. In modern times, this view would come to be called "Supersessionism".
Also, the two religions differed in their legal status in the Roman Empire: Judaism, restricted to the Jewish people and Jewish Proselytes, was generally exempt from obligation to the Roman imperial cult and since the reign of Julius Caesar enjoyed the status of a "licit religion", though there were also occasional persecutions, for example in 19 Tiberius expelled the Jews from Rome, as Claudius did again in 49. Christianity however was not restricted to one people, and as Jewish Christians were excluded from the synagogue (see Council of Jamnia), they also lost the protection of the status of Judaism, though said protection did have its limits (see for example Titus Flavius Clemens (consul), Akiba ben Joseph, and Ten Martyrs).
From the reign of Nero onwards Christianity was considered to be illegal and Christians were frequently subjected to persecution, differing regionally. Comparably, Judaism suffered the setbacks of the Jewish-Roman wars. Robin Lane Fox traces the origin of much later hostility to the period of persecution, where the commonest test by the authorities of a suspected Christian was to require homage to be paid to the deified emperor. Jews were exempt from this requirement, and Christians (many or mostly of Jewish origins) would say they were Jewish. This had to be confirmed by the local Jewish authorities, who were likely to refuse to accept the Christians were Jewish, often leading to their execution. In the third century systematic persecution of Christians began and lasted until Constantine's conversion to Christianity. In 390 Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion. While pagan cults and Manichaeism were suppressed, Judaism retained its legal status as a licit religion, though anti-Jewish violence still occurred. In the fifth century, some legal measures worsened the status of the Jews in the Roman Empire.
A number of passages in the New Testament may be considered as a rejection of Judaismgiven a certain interpretive approach. Among them are:
These elements of the New Testament have their origins in first-century history. Christianity began as a revision of Judaism. Many of Jesus's followers during his life were Jews, and it was even a matter of confusion, many years after his death, as to whether non-Jews could even be considered Christians at all, according to the way some interpret the Council of Jerusalem.
Although the Gospels offer accounts of confrontations and debates between Jesus and other Jews, such conflicts were common among Jews at the time. Scholars disagree on the historicity of the Gospels, and have offered different interpretations of the complex relationship between Jewish authorities and Christians before and following Jesus's death. These debates hinge on the meaning of the word "messiah," and the claims of Early Christians.
Christianity says that Jesus was the Messiah which Judaism does not accept.
The Gospels claim that Jesus was a preacher, healer, and messiah. There is no reason to think Jesus would have come into conflict with Jewish authorities in first century Judea on account of his preaching and healing. However, claims that he was the Messiah were more controversial. The Hebrew word mashiyakh (משיח) typically signified a man, chosen by God or descended from a man chosen by God, to serve as a civil and military authority. If Jesus made this claim during his life, it is not surprising that many Jews, weary of Roman occupation, would have supported him as a liberator. It is also likely that Jewish authorities would have been cautious, out of fear of Roman reprisal.
Jesus was considered by Christians to be the Messiah, while for most Jews the death of Jesus would have been sufficient proof that he was not the Jewish Messiah. If early Christians preached that Jesus was about to return, it is virtually certain that Jewish authorities would have opposed them out of fear of Roman reprisal.
Such fears would have been well grounded: Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 CE, which culminated with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. They revolted again under the leadership of the professed messiah Simon Bar Kokhba in 132 CE, which culminated in the expulsion of the Jews from the Land of Israel, which Hadrian renamed into Palestine to wipe out memory of Jews there.
At the time, Christianity was still considered a sect of Judaism, but the messianic claims alienated many Christians (including Jewish converts) and sharply deepened the schism.
Another source of tension between early Christians and Jews was the question of observance of Mosaic Law. Early Christians were divided over the issue: Some Jewish Christians, argued that Christians were bound to observe Mosaic law, while Paul argued that not all of Mosaic Law applied to Christians. The issue was argued especially in the context of whether Gentile converts were obligated to undergo circumcision, which was a requirement for male Jews. The issue was hotly debated in the first century and settled at the Council of Jerusalem, in which Paul and Barnabas participated as representatives of the church at Antioch. The Council decided that Gentile converts were not subject to most Mosaic Law, including circumcision, but required them to stay away from eating meat with blood still on it, eating the meat of strangled animals, eating food offered to idols, and sexual immorality. See also Noahide Law and Proselyte.
Some scholars, influenced by Martin Luther, have interpreted Paul's writings as rejecting the validity of Jewish law. (See Antinomianism.) A small number of historians suggest that Paul accepted the authority of the law, but understood that it excluded non-Jews. This is not a generally accepted view. See Proselyte and New Perspective on Paul. An example of another view is represented by the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Judaizers:
A common misunderstanding of Judaism and the Bible is the claim that although Gentiles could convert to Judaism and thus be included, they could enter this covenant with God only by being Jewish. This is simply incorrect: see Proselyte, Noahide Law, Council of Jerusalem and Christianity and Judaism. Some say that by replacing the written law (the Torah) with Christ as the sign of the covenant, Paul sought to transform Judaism into a universal religion. It is evident that Paul saw himself as a Jew, but other Jews rejected this universalism; after Paul's death, Christianity emerged as a separate religion, and Pauline Christianity emerged as the dominant form of Christianity, especially after Paul, James and the other apostles agreed on a compromise set of requirements (Acts 15). Some Christians continued to adhere to Jewish law, but they were few in number and often considered heretics by the Church. One example is the Ebionites, which, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, were "infected with Judaistic errors" (language which Jews find offensive); for instance, they denied the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical Resurrection of Jesus, and most of the books that were later canonized as the New Testament, see also "Judaizers" (a term which Jews find offensive). For example, the Ethiopian Orthodox are often accused of being Judaizers because they still observe Old Testament teachings such as the Sabbath, and conversely they accuse their opponents of residual Marcionism. As late as the 4th century Church Father John Chrysostom complained (see John Chrysostom#Sermons on Jews and Judaizing Christians) that some Christians were still attending Jewish synagogues.
Many New Testament passages criticise the Pharisees and it has been argued that these passages have shaped the way that Christians viewed Jews. Like most Bible passages, however, they can and have been interpreted in a variety of ways.
During Jesus's life and at the time of his execution, the Pharisees were only one of several Jewish groups such as the Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes; indeed, some have suggested that Jesus was himself a Pharisee. Arguments by Jesus and his disciples against the Pharisees and what he saw as their hypocrisy were most likely examples of disputes among Jews and internal to Judaism that were common at the time. (Lutheran Pastor John Stendahl has pointed out that "Christianity begins as a kind of Judaism, and we must recognize that words spoken in a family conflict are inappropriately appropriated by those outside the family.")
In recent years teachers in most Christian denominations have begun to teach that readers should understand the New Testament's seeming attacks on Jews as specific charges aimed at certain Jewish leaders of that time, and upon general human attitude.
However, Professor Lillian C. Freudmann, author of Antisemitism in the New Testament (University Press of America, 1994) has published a detailed study of the treatment of Jews in the New Testament, and the historical effects that such passages have had in the Christian community throughout history. Similar studies of such verses have been made by both Christian and Jewish scholars, including, Professors Clark Williamsom (Christian Theological Seminary), Hyam Maccoby (The Leo Baeck Institute), Norman A. Beck (Texas Lutheran College), and Michael Berenbaum (Georgetown University). Most rabbis feel that these verses are antisemitic, and many liberal Christian scholars (including clergy), in America and Europe, have reached the same conclusion. Another example is John Dominic Crossan's 1995 Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus.
Some maintain that number of early and influential works by the Church Fathers — such as the dialogues of Justin Martyr, the homilies of John Chrysostom, and the testimonies of church father Cyprian — are anti-Jewish. Others, like Augustine, argued that the Jews should be left alive, to suffer as a perpetual reminder of their murder of Christ.
Constantine the Great, who is considered a saint by the Greek Orthodox Church, instituted several legislative measures concerning the Jews and all other religions excepting Christianity: Non-Christians were forbidden to own Christian slaves or to circumcise their slaves.
Not all early Christians were antisemitic though. Some, such as Pope Gregory I, spoke out on the antisemitism of their day.
Sicut Judaeis (the "Constitution for the Jews") was the official position of the papacy regarding Jews throughout the Middle Ages and later. The first bull was issued in about 1120 by Calixtus II, intended to protect Jews who suffered during the First Crusade, and was reaffirmed by many popes, even until the 15th century.
The bull forbade, besides other things, Christians from coercing Jews to convert, or to harm them, or to take their property, or to disturb the celebration of their festivals, or to interfere with their cemeteries, on pain of excommunication.
Some later Christian writers have antisemitic statements in their writings. However, other Christians spoke out against antisemitism. What follows is a sampling of writings, words, etc. of those who advocated and those who condemned antisemitism:
Antisemitism in popular European Christian culture escalated beginning in the 13th century. Blood libels and host desecration drew popular attention and led to many cases of persecution against Jews. Antisemitic imagery such as Judensau and Ecclesia et Synagoga recurred in Christian art and architecture.
In 1492 Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the rulers of Spain who financed Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World just a few months later in 1492, declared that all Jews in their territories should either convert to Catholicism or leave the country. While some converted, many others left for Portugal, France, Italy (including the Papal States), the Netherlands, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, and North Africa. Many of those who had fled to Portugal were latter expelled by King Manuel in 1497 or left to avoid forced conversion and persecution.
In 1916, in the midst of the First World War, American Jews petitioned Pope Benedict XV on behalf of the Polish Jews.
On April 26, 1933 Hitler declared during a meeting with Roman Catholic Bishop Wilhelm Berning of Osnabrück:
“I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.”
The transcript of this discussion contains no response by Bishop Berning. Martin Rhonheimer does not consider this unusual since for a Catholic Bishop in 1933 there was nothing particularly objectionable "in this historically correct reminder".
Pope Pius XI, who was pontiff prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, was particularly opposed to antisemitism.
Prior to Vatican Council II in the 1960s, anti-semitism was fairly rampant within the Catholic Church throughout Europe. This was especially true during the Holocaust during World War II. In Slovakia, for example, Archbishop Karol Kmetko responded to a Jewish plea of assistance in March 1942 with the words, "You shall not merely be deported. You shall be killed..And this will be your punishment for your killing of our saviour."
Archbishop Robert Runcie asserts that: "Without centuries of Christian antisemitism, Hitler's passionate hatred would never have been so fervently echoed...because for centuries Christians have held Jews collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. On Good Friday Jews, have in times past, cowered behind locked doors with fear of a Christian mob seeking 'revenge' for deicide. Without the poisoning of Christian minds through the centuries, the Holocaust is unthinkable. The dissident Catholic priest Hans Küng has written that "Nazi anti-Judaism was the work of godless, anti-Christian criminals. But it would not have been possible without the almost two thousand years' pre-history of 'Christian' anti-Judaism..."
According to American historian Lucy Dawidowicz, Anti-Semitism has a long history within Christianity. The line of "anti-Semitic descent" from Luther, the author of On the Jews and Their Lies, to Hitler is "easy to draw." In her The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945, she contends that Luther and Hitler were obsessed by the "demonologized universe" inhabited by Jews. Dawidowicz writes that the similarities between Luther's anti-Jewish writings and modern anti-Semitism are no coincidence, because they derived from a common history of Judenhass, which can be traced to Haman's advice to Ahasuerus. Although modern German anti-Semitism also has its roots in German nationalism and the liberal revolution of 1848, Christian Anti-Semitism she writes is a foundation that was laid by the Roman Catholic Church and "upon which Luther built." Dawidowicz' allegations and positions are criticized and not accepted by most historians however. For example, in "Studying the Jew" Alan Steinweis notes that, "Old-fashioned antisemitism, Hitler argued, was insufficient, and would lead only to pogroms, which contribute little to a permanent solution. This is why, Hitler maintained, it was important to promote 'an antisemitism of reason,' one that acknowledged the racial basis of Jewry." Interviews with Nazis by other historians show that the Nazis thought that their views were rooted in biology, not historical prejudices. For example, "S. became a missionary for this biomedical vision... As for anti-Semitic attitudes and actions, he insisted that “the racial question... [and] resentment of the Jewish race... had nothing to do with medieval anti-Semitism...” That is, it was all a matter of scientific biology and of community."
The Confessing Church was, in 1934, the first Christian opposition group. The Catholic Church officially condemned the Nazi theory of racism in Germany in 1937 with the Encyclical "Mit Brennender Sorge", signed by Pope Pius XI, and Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber led the Catholic opposition, preaching against racism. However, there was not enough organized resistance by Christian groups to prevent the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies.
Many individual Christian clergy and laypeople of all denominations had to pay for their opposition with their life, including:
By the 1940s fewer Christians were willing to oppose Nazi policy publicly, but many secretly helped save the lives of Jews. There are many sections of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Museum, Yad Vashem, dedicated to honoring these "Righteous Among the Nations".
See (Pope Pius XII and Judaism).
Before becoming Pope Cardinal Pacelli presided as Papal Legate over the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest on 25–30 May 1938. At this time antisemitic laws were in the process of being formulated in Hungary. Pacelli made reference to the Jews "whose lips curse [Christ] and whose hearts reject him even today".
The 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge was issued by Pope Pius XI, but drafted by the future Pope Pius XII and read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches, it condemned Nazi ideology and has been characterized by scholars as the "first great official public document to dare to confront and criticize Nazism" and "one of the greatest such condemnations ever issued by the Vatican."
In the summer of 1942, Pius explained to his college of Cardinals the reasons for the great gulf that existed between Jews and Christians at the theological level: "Jerusalem has responded to His call and to His grace with the same rigid blindness and stubborn ingratitude that has led it along the path of guilt to the murder of God." Historian Guido Knopp describes these comments of Pius as being "incomprehensible" at a time when "Jerusalem was being murdered by the million". This traditional adversarial relationship with Judaism would be reversed in Nostra Aetate issued during the Second Vatican Council.
However prominent members of the Jewish community contradicted the criticisms of Pius and spoke highly of his efforts to protect Jews; The Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide interviewed war survivors and concluded that Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands". Some historians dispute this estimate.
The Christian Identity movement, the Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacy groups have expressed antisemitic views. They claim that their antisemitism is based on purported Jewish control of the media, international banks, radical left wing politics, and the promotion of multiculturalism, anti-Christian groups, liberalism and perverse organizations. They rebuke charges of racism and claim Jews who share their ideology maintain membership in their organizations. A racial belief common among these groups, but not universal, is an alternative history doctrine, sometimes called British Israelism. In some forms this doctrine absolutely denies that modern Jews have any racial connection to Israel of the Bible. Instead, according to extreme forms of this doctrine the true racial Israel and true humans are the Adamic (white) race.
These groups are often rejected and not considered to be Christian groups by mainstream Christian denominations as well as the vast majority of Christians around the world.
Antisemitism in Europe remains a substantial problem. Antisemitism exists to a lesser or greater degree in many other nations as well, including Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the occasional tensions between some Muslim immigrants and Jews across Europe. At least five nations have banned the production of kosher and Halal meat (see Legal aspects of ritual slaughter). The US State Department reports that antisemitism has increased dramatically in Europe and Eurasia since 2000.
While in a decline since the 1940s, there is still a measurable amount of antisemitism in the United States of America as well, although acts of violence are rare. The 2001 survey by the Anti-Defamation League reported 1432 acts of antisemitism in the United States that year. The figure included 877 acts of harassment, including verbal intimidation, threats and physical assaults. Antisemitic pronouncements still occur, however. John Hagee, a leading proponent of "Christian Zionism," reiterated a view—the popularity of which is very hard to gauge but must nonetheless be considered not simply isolated—that the Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves by angering God.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the U.S., has explicitly rejected suggestions that it should back away from seeking to convert Jews, a position that critics have called antisemitic, but that Baptists see as consistent with their view that salvation is found solely through faith in Christ. In 1996 the SBC approved a resolution calling for efforts to seek the conversion of Jews "as well as for the salvation of 'every kindred and tongue and people and nation.'"
Most Evangelicals agree with the SBC position, and some have been supporting efforts specifically seeking Jews' conversion. At the same time these groups are among the most pro-Israeli groups. (For more, see Christian Zionism.) Among the controversial groups that has found support from some Evangelical churches is Jews for Jesus, which claims that Jews can "complete" their Jewish faith by accepting Jesus as the Messiah.
The Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Canada have ended their efforts to convert Jews. Anglicans do not, as a rule, seek converts from other religions, but maintain rather 'an openness to all people "who find their spiritual home on our churches", while at the same time upholding that any form of proselytism would be unacceptable.'
The Roman Catholic Church formerly had religious congregations specifically aimed to conversion of Jews. Some of these were founded by Jewish converts themselves, like the Community of Our Lady of Zion, which was composed of nuns and ordained priests. Many Catholic saints were noted specifically because of their missionary zeal in converting Jews, such as Vincent Ferrer. After the Second Vatican Council many missionary orders aimed at converting Jews to Christianity no longer actively sought to missionize (or proselytize) among Jews. Traditionalist Roman Catholic groups, congregations and clergymen, however, continue to support missionizing Jews according to traditional patterns, sometimes with success (e.g., the Society of St. Pius X which has notable Jewish converts among its faithful, many of whom have become traditionalist priests).
In recent years there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christian groups and the Jews. Most of this reconciliation has occurred between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church, and evangelical Christian organizations.