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Jewish deicide is a belief that places the responsibility for the death of Jesus on the Jewish people as a whole.

This deicide accusation is expressed in the ethnoreligious slur "Christ killer".


Responsibility of Jewish authorities

According to Jeremy Cohen, "[e]ven before the Gospels appeared, the apostle Paul (or, more probably, one of his disciples) portrayed the Jews as Christ's killers[1] ... But though the New Testament clearly looks to the Jews as responsible for the death of Jesus, Paul and the evangelists did not yet condemn all Jews, by the very fact of their Jewishness, as murderers of God and his messiah. That condemnation, however, was soon to come."[2]

According to the New Testament accounts, the Jewish authorities in Judea charged Jesus with blasphemy and sought his execution (see Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus). However, the Jewish authorities lacked the authority to have Jesus put to death, according to John 18:31 yet Acts 6:12 records them ordering the stoning of Saint Stephen and also James the Just according to Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1. The Jesus Seminar's Scholars Version translation notes for John 18:31: "it's illegal for us: The accuracy of this claim is doubtful." They brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Iudaea Province, who "consented" to Jesus' execution.

Pilate is portrayed in the Gospel accounts as a reluctant accomplice to Jesus' death. Some modern scholars have questioned the historical accuracy of such a portrayal. These historians suggest that a Roman Governor such as Pilate would not have hesitated to execute any leader whose followers posed a potential threat to Roman rule. However, the Gospel accounts indicate that there could be hesitation on the part of both Jewish and Roman authorities to act immediately or needlessly in the face of potential popular opposition (Matthew 26:4-5; Mark 15:12-15; Luke 22:1-2). These scholars also suggest that the Gospel accounts may have downplayed the role of the Romans in Jesus' death during a time when Christianity was struggling to gain acceptance in the Roman world. Yet the four Gospel accounts uniformly portray the Roman Governor Pilate as partly responsible for Jesus' execution, rather than exonerating him, and it is not clear that blaming Pilate completely, decades after his reign, would have diminished Christian acceptance.

Deicide charge against Jews in general

An early documented accusation that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus came in a sermon in 167 AD attributed to Melito of Sardis entitled Peri Pascha (On the Passover). This text blames the Jews for allowing King Herod and Caiaphas to execute Jesus, despite their calling as God's people. It says "you did not know, O Israel, that this one was the firstborn of God". The author does not attribute particular blame to Pontius Pilate, but only mentions that Pilate washed his hands of guilt.[3] The sermon is written in Greek, so does not use the Latin word for deicide, deicidas. At a time when Christians were widely persecuted, Melito's speech is believed to have been an appeal to Rome to spare Christians.

According to a Latin dictionary, the Latin word deicidas was used by the fourth century, by Peter Chrysologus in his sermon number 172,[4] where he wrote Iudaeos ... fecit esse deicidas, i.e., "Jews... committed deicide".[5]

The Great Friday liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholics uses the expression "impious and law-breaking people",[6] but the strongest expressions are in the Great Thursday liturgy, which includes the same chant, after the eleventh Gospel reading, but also speaks of "the swarm of deicides, the lawless people of the Jews",[7] and, referring to "the gathering of the Jews", prays: "But give them, Lord, their requital, because they plotted against you in vain."[8] A liturgy with a similar pattern, historically using the term "perfidious Jews", can be found in the Improperia of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Anglican Church, the first Anglican Book of Common Prayer did not contain this formula, but has emerged in later versions, for example, the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, as the “The Solemn Adoration of Christ Crucified" or The Reproaches.[9]

Though not part of Christian dogma, many Christians, including members of the clergy, preached that the Jewish people were collectively guilty for Jesus's death.[10] More generally accepted today among Christians as theologically accurate is the idea that collective guilt must lie, in a spiritual sense, at the feet of all humanity in our common sinfulness. Otherwise, the salvific power of God's act of self-sacrifice and redemption through Jesus' taking human sin onto himself, his suffering, forgiveness, death and ultimate resurrection would be either meaningless, or would atone for the sins of only a small group of Roman and Jewish authorities held to be specifically responsible for his death at that time. Furthermore, certain people have argued that any condemnatory use of the term "Christ-killer" or "deicide" logically entails that one is of the opinion that Christ should not have been killed, therefore of necessity meaning that God's plan for salvation through his death and resurrection should not have been carried out, and also that the divine forgiveness manifested through the act itself should not be respected or imitated. This basic contradiction demonstrates the essentially anti-Christian stance embodied in these terms.


As a part of Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI issued the declaration Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), which in part repudiated the traditional belief in the collective Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion.[10] Nostra Aetate stated that even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus' death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty.

On January 6, 2004, the Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued a statement urging any Lutheran church presenting a Passion Play to adhere to their Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations, stating that "the New Testament . . . must not be used as justification for hostility towards present-day Jews," and that "blame for the death of Jesus should not be attributed to Judaism or the Jewish people."[11]

In 2007, a group of twelve Orthodox Christian priests representing five different national churches, some in open defiance of directives from their church leadership, issued a ten-page declaration calling for the removal of all passages suggesting Jewish collective guilt from their liturgy, calling them anti-Semitic.[12]

See also


  1. ^ "... the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets." (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15)[1][2]
  2. ^ Jeremy Cohen (2007): Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen. Oxford University Press. p.55 ISBN 0195178416
  3. ^ On the passover pp. 57, 82, 92, 93 from Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary
  4. ^ Charleton Lewis and Charles Short, Latin Dictionary Latin Dictionary
  5. ^ Cermons of Peter Chrysologus, vol. 6, p. 116, "Sermo CLXXII", at Google Books
  6. ^ "Λαὸς δυσεβὴς καὶ παράνομος" (second chant at Vespers)
  7. ^ "Τῶν θεοκτόνων ὁ ἑσμός, Ἰουδαίων ἔθνος τὸ ἄνομον" (after the sixth Gospel reading)
  8. ^ "Τὸ ἄθροισμα τῶν Ἰουδαίων ... Ἀλλὰ δὸς αὐτοῖς, Κύριε, τὸ ἀνταπόδομα αὐτῶν, ὅτι κενὰ κατὰ σοῦ ἐμελέτησαν" (immediately after the fifth Gospel reading). The phrase "plotted in vain" is drawn from Psalm 2:1.
  9. ^ An Anglican Prayer Book (1989) Church of the Province of Southern Africa
  10. ^ a b Nostra Aetate: a milestone - Pier Francesco Fumagalli
  11. ^ "Lutheran Statement on The Passion of the Christ" January 6, 2004
  12. ^ [3]


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