- The Monograph
- Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: St. Paul's Letters and Jewish Christians
- Chapter 2: What and when was "Parting of the Ways"?
- Chapter 3: Jews, Christians, and Roman Legitimacy
- Chapter 4: Jesus the Jew
- Chapter 5: Recruiting Gentiles and Effect of the name "Christian"
- Chapter 6: Christian Anti-Jewish Rhetoric
- Chapter 7: Christian Reinterpretation of the Jewish Bible
- Chapter 8: Labeling Jews as "Christ Killers"
- Chapter 9: Jewish Rebellion and Roman Destruction
- Chapter 10: Myths Used to Justify Christian Anti-Jewishness
- Chapter 11: Why did Jews find Christianity unacceptable
- Chapter 12: Gospel History
- Chapter 13: Christian Jew Hatred and Antisemitism
- Chapter 14: St. Paul and "Parting of the Ways"
- Chapter 15: The Jewish Messiah and the Role of Jesus
- Chapter 16: Religious Differences Among Jews
- Chapter 17: Christian Rants against Jews and Judaizers
- Chapter 18: Christian Opposition to Biblical "Law" Denouncing Jews who Observe It
- Chapter 19: The "Holy", "Unholy", and "True Israelites"
- Chapter 20: Do Christians Need to Demean Jews? What if Jesus had not been a Jew?
- Chapter 21: Currying Favor with the Romans; Roman Oppression and Jesus' Crucifixion
- Chapter 22: Christian Missionary Success and Accommodation to Roman Society
- Chapter 23: Christian Anti-Jewishness Before and After Gaining Power
- Chapter 24: The Psychology of Antisemitism
- Chapter 25: Christian Literature and Perpetuation of Anti-Semitism
- Chapter 26: Can New Testament Antisemitism be Deleted?
A common Christian accusation against Jews was their failure to relinquish their religious beliefs and practices in favor of Christianity. “Christian anti-Semitism is in the first instance an expression aroused by Israel’s resistance to the Gospel” (Simon, p. 207).
Although Christian polemicists used this argument to condemn the “stiff-necked” “hard-heartedness” of the Jews, it is difficult to give it more than rhetorical value. Unwilling to recognize that Gentile Christian doctrines and practices imperiled Jewish identity, Christian leaders acted as though Jews had no reason to resist conversion. Jews presumably had so few ties to their religion, they would unquestionably adopt Christian versions of highly questionable beliefs and customs, among which are the following:
- That a human (Jesus) was born of a virgin (St. Matthew 1.23, St. Luke 1.27). “He was born of a virgin. A virgin conceived, a virgin bore, and after the birth was a virgin still” (St. Augustine, On the Creed 6, NPNF Series 1, vol. 3, p. 371; see also Horner, p.313).
In the Gospels, Jesus’ status progresses from “Son of Mary” (St. Mark 6.3), an epithet used contemptuously by his “hometown” opponents that “focuses on Jesus’ lack of legitimacy” (Lüdemann 1998, p. 53), to adoption by “Joseph” (St. Matthew 1.19–21, St. Luke 1.27), a supposed descendant of King David. Levin shows that “adoption” by Joseph, Jesus’ alleged nonbiological father — a claim offered by Christians to explain Jesus’ Davidic ancestry — would not have given Jesus kingly rights among Jews.
Virginal birth of a divine-human figure was a feature of Greco-Roman “mystery religions” (Note #22) and was also attributed to Roman emperors (Freke and Gandy, pp. 29–31). In proselytizing Pagans, such claims would not have appeared unusual — the Roman religious world encompassed not only many Gods but also many “mysteries” and “miracles.”
“The world of the evangelists was a world in which magic, thaumaturgy, divination, augury, astrology, and a variety of other superstitions commanded widespread belief. Miracle was no problem, in a sense, for the ancients since they had no developed concept of the laws of nature. Nature was not a closed system, operating in response to laws that could not be violated. Nature, history, human experience were the arena for the action of supernatural forces, gods, angels, divine men, spirits and demons” (Telford, p. 89).
For example, legendary Romulus, born of a Vestal Virgin from intercourse with Mars, God of War, was believed to have founded Rome on Palatine Hill. After many battles, Romulus disappeared from Earth and was transformed into the God Quirinus, worshipped by Romans along with Father God Jupiter. Even more like Gospel legends of Jesus is the Pagan Apollonius story (Ehrman 2014, pp. 11ff). Births of both men were announced to their virginal mothers by a divine messenger; both performed miracles of healing the sick, exorcising demons, and reviving the dead; both preached spiritual values to a material world; both were denounced as societal enemies; and both were believed to ascend to heaven in god-like form and then reappear on Earth. What Apollonius lacked was Jesus’ presumed antique Jewish Scriptural history and his elevation to “Redeemer of Sins” and “Savior of Mankind.”
St. Justin Martyr (ca. 150): “When we say that the Word who is the first-born of God was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter” (First Apology, XXI, ANF vol. 1, p. 170). “And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus” (Ibid. XXII).
Interestingly, a modern Christian theologian suggests that since some vertebrates are known to produce offspring by parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction), “Why not God” to account for Mother Mary’s “parthenogenesis” (Bird 2008, p. 21). For humans, the problem would be that a fertile female has two X sex chromosomes but no Y chromosome, and a male has both an X and a Y. How did Mother Mary’s parthenogenetically produced male child get a Y chromosome?
- That this human Savior is also a Demigod or even a God. “[A]t the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (St. Paul, Philippians 2.10–11). Although St. Paul’s letters equivocated, his concept of Jesus as a heavenly ruler and divine savior in the pattern of other Greco-Roman deities is certainly “God-like”: “[H]e is a preexistent immortal being (Philippians 2.6) with tremendous power who produces benefaction (i.e. salvation) for those who worship him” (Litwa, p. 5). If we combine Jesus Christ’s sublime power with his immortality in defeating death through resurrection (Romans 6.9, “death no longer has dominion over him”), we have, by most concepts of divinity, a preternatural immortal who can judge and affect the entire world and its events. That is, a visual Jesus Christ more worshipful than the invisible Jewish/Israelite God Yahweh. R. N. Longenecker (1970, p. 141) proposes that St. Paul did not use his god-like concept of Jesus Christ as an additional polytheistic entity, but as another face of monotheism: St. Paul’s “God the Father” and “Lord Jesus Christ” “were roughly equivalent,” both being somehow human-like and invisible.
Later Christian documents and Christian Fathers soon showed few doubts of Jesus Christ as a God. Since Jesus’ mother was believed a virgin, she could only have been impregnated by a God or God-like emissary. “For our God, Jesus Christ, was according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb of Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost” (St. Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians XVIII, ANF vol.1, p. 57). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh [Jesus Christ] and lived among us” (St. John 1.1–14). “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son [Jesus Christ], whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds” (Letter to the Hebrews 1.1–2).
“He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created” (Colossians 1.15–16). “Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus as of God — as the judge of the living and the dead” (Second Epistle of Clement 1, ANF vol. 9, p. 251). “As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He [God] Him [Jesus Christ]; as God” (Epistle to Diognetus 7, ANF vol. 1, p. 27). “He [Jesus Christ] manifested Himself to be the Son of God. For if He had not come in the flesh, how could men have been saved by beholding Him? (Epistle of Barnabas 5, ANF vol. 1, p. 139).
St. Irenaeus (ca. 180, Against Heresies 3, Payton, pp. 18–19): “God recapitulated in himself the ancient formation of man, so that he might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and give life again to humankind. This was why the savior had to be formed with the same physical body as Adam had, which would enable the last Adam to suffer pain and death in the place of the fallen humanity, in order to bring them to eternal life with God.”
For many Christians, Jesus Christ replaced the Jewish God, Yahweh, with the title “Lord” (“Kyrios”), a Greek title given only to Yahweh in the Greek (“Septuagint”) translation of the Jewish Bible. (In the Hebrew Bible there is no “Lord-God” only “Yahweh-our God.”) Once this Greek mark of divinity was conferred (St. Paul, Romans 1.4, “Jesus Christ our Lord” [Kyrios]), it did not take long to further change the meaning of the Greek “Christ” (anointed) from that given to a Jewish Messiah (“anointed political/military leader”) to that given to a deity — “God’s Son from Heaven” (St. Paul, 1 Thessalonians 1.10), “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (e.g., St. Mark 1.1) — in which “Son of God” is now meant literally, not metaphorically. “Behold again: Jesus who was manifested, both by type and in the flesh, is not the Son of man but the Son of God” (Epistle of Barnabas XII, ANF vol. 1, p. 145).
“The Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to other prophets, but now in the times of your reign, having, as before said, become Man by a virgin” (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 63, ANF vol. 1, p. 184). “Thou hast not known, O Israel, that [Jesus Christ] was the first-born of God, who was begotten before the sun, who made the light to shine forth, who lighted up the darkness, who fixed the first foundations, who poised the earth, who collected the ocean, who stretched out the firmament, who adorned the world” (St. Melito of Sardis, ANF vol. 8, p. 757).
The Apostles’ Creed (“The Summary of Christian Faith”) states: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,” as does the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.” St. John (10.30) has Jesus say, “The Father and I are one,” and later (20.28), “Thomas answered him, my Lord and my God.” On his way to martyrdom, St. Ignatius (ca. 100) asks Rome’s Christians “Pray Christ for me, that by these instruments [teeth of the wild beasts] I may be found a sacrifice” (ANF vol. 1, p. 75). St. Augustine (ca. 400): “He [Jesus] is prayed to by us, as our God” (On the Psalms LXXXVI.1., NPNF Series 1, vol. 8, p. 410). “It could not be that God’s only son should not be God … For it is impossible for the will of the Son to be any whit parted from the Father’s will. God and God; both One God: Almighty and Almighty; both One Almighty” (Ibid. On the Creed.3, NPNF Series 1, vol. 3, p. 370).
In Jewish history, “Son of God” had various meanings, from depicting Israel itself (Exodus 4.22, Deuteronomy 32.18, Hosea 11.1) to characterizing a pious Jew, a saintly miracle-worker, or a charismatic Hasid, King, or Messiah (Vermes 2012, p. 49), but never a worshipful deity (Vermes 2013, p. 15). Although accepted in Gentile society for emperors and heroes, elevation of humans to the rank of God (“apotheosis”) was rejected in Judaism, and worship was ascribed monotheistically to the invisible Yahweh. “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20.2). “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone” (Deuteronomy 6.4). “I am Yahweh who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth; who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners” (Isaiah 44.24–25).
Ehrman (2014, pp.127–128) points out that claims for Jesus Christ’s God-like divinity “do not derive from the life of the historical Jesus but represent embellishments made by storytellers who were trying to convert people by convincing them of Jesus’ superiority and to instruct those who were converted. … He [Jesus] believed and taught that he was the future king of the coming kingdom of God, the messiah of God yet to be revealed.”
To Jews, worshipping Jesus Christ as God fell into Paganism’s pantheon of idolatry, and opposition never waned. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Deuteronomy 5.8–9). A fifteenth century Jewish manuscript argued that a dying god is not a god: “[I]f they say, Why do you not believe that Jesus is God? Reply to them, Why did he accept death? … ‘So you see that he is not God, for he was slain’” (Horbury, p. 255).
Detachment from monotheistic Jews “was the decisive step which ensured that Jesus was hailed as God, and genuinely treated as different in nature from the rest of us” (Casey 1991, p. 37). Thus, as Young (2006, p. 15) points out, “only the spread of Christianity to the Gentiles could have enabled a Jewish rabbi to have become the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.” St. Aphrahat: “He who came from God is the Son of God and is God” (Select Demonstrations, NPNF Series 2, vol. 13, p. 387). The notion of a new Christian filial divinity in name and form also led Pagan critics, such as Celsus (ca. 180), to ask how can Christians denounce Pagans for polytheism “if they themselves worship Jesus as a second god?” (Trigg, p. 219).
Christian debate on the extent of Jesus Christ’s divinity became a consuming issue for centuries. Was Jesus Christ born divine? Was Jesus Christ born human and became divine? Was Jesus Christ simultaneously human and divine, and became more divine upon his resurrection? Was it from birth, teaching, or crucifixion that Jesus’ role as Christianity’s Savior began? Compared to “God the Father,” does Jesus Christ’s proclamation (St. John 10.30) “The Father and I are One,” mean that Jesus Christ and God are the same entity, or does the plural “are” mean two separate entities but somehow united?
Was Jesus Christ like God? Same as God? Subordinate to God? Was there a divine “Holy Trinity” in which the “Holy Spirit” is equal to Jesus Christ? Subordinate to Jesus Christ? Is there a simple 1-2-3 ranking in the Trinity? (“[W]e reasonably worship Him [Jesus Christ] having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and hold Him in second place, and the prophetic [Holy] Spirit in the third” (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 13, ANF vol. 1, pp. 166–167.)
Decisions on these matters fluctuated among various Christian orthodoxies and heresies (Lössl, pp. 155–191), with venomous disputes, excommunications, and historic executions — quarrels which still go on today (Erickson). “[T]he concept of orthodoxy gave rise to a kind of discourse that was authoritarian and intolerant in the extreme, … emperors in Late Antiquity resorted at times to actual persecution and … heresy became a crime, just like paganism. … the concept of orthodoxy implies not only intolerance but also violence” (Cameron, pp. 113–114). “It is no wonder that a tolerant pagan like Ammianus should say that ‘wild beasts are not such enemies to mankind as are most Christians … in their deadly hatred of one another’” (Ste. Croix 2006, p. 222).
“Orthodox” Gentile Christian theologians insisted that Jesus Christ represented a unique “hypostatic” union, being God and human at the same time — one person with two natures. Mirroring St. Paul’s image of Jesus Christ transforming himself from God to man (Philippians 2.7), is Origen’s later declaration (ca 240): “Christ Jesus, he who came to earth…in these last times he emptied himself and was made man, was made flesh, although he was God, and being made man, he still remained what he was, namely God” (De Prinicipiis, Stevenson, p. 149).
In order to preserve a monotheistic element in Christianity, many theologians used the “Holy Trinity” as a way of tying Jesus to God as being of “one substance” (homoiousios) partitioned into three entities. However, to other theologians, if Jesus Christ was the Son of God, then God the Father must have existed before Jesus Christ. How could Jesus Christ not be different from the Father — lesser than, or perhaps even greater than? Moreover, if both Jesus Christ and God was one God —one divinity — how could one divinity be both “Son” and “Father”? In the words of Tertullian (ca. 200, Against Praxeas XI), “For He [God] calls Him [Jesus Christ] Son, and if the Son is none other than He who has proceeded from the Father himself, He will then be the Son, and not Himself from whom He proceeded.… If you want me to believe Him to be both the Father and the Son, show me some other [Scriptural] passage where it is declared, ‘The Lord Said unto Himself, I am my own Son, today have I begotten myself’” (ANF vol. 3, p. 605).
For most Christian believers the Jesus Christ-God relationship did not follow the theology of separate but equal members of a trinity. Enthronement of Jesus Christ as Lord (St. Paul: Philippians 2.6–11, Colossians 1.15–20, Ephesians 1.20–23) results “in the reign of Christ as Lord of the entire cosmos” (Scroggs, p. 14). “And if he is Cosmocrator, he has in effect become God. Simply stated, the structure implies a replacement theme. Yahweh as God [of the Jews] has been replaced by Kyrios Iesous Christos [Lord God of Christian prayer] (Ibid. p. 17; also Note #22). According to Lamb: Yahweh, the “badly behaving” God of the Old Testament was replaced by Jesus Christ, the “better behaving” God of the New Testament. In St. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew LXXV), the name of God “not revealed to Abraham or Jacob was Jesus … he who led your father into the land [Israel] is called by the name Jesus’ (ANF vol. 1, p. 236).
To justify these and other imaginative concepts, the Christian Fathers claimed that Christian “faith” in Jesus Christ provides “knowledge.” “Knowledge is characterized by [Christian] faith, as faith becomes characterized by knowledge. … As without the four elements it is not possible to live, so neither can knowledge be attained without faith. Faith is then the support of truth” (St. Clement of Alexandria, ca. 200, The Stromates 2.6, ANF Vol. 2, pp. 350, 354). More modern theologians follow apace, and Rauser (p. 232) suggests that faith provides as much knowledge as the natural sciences. According to Karl Barth, an esteemed theologian, when one “confesses” the Apostle’s Creed, one creates knowledge, and the “Creed of Christian faith” is “rational in the proper sense” (Ibid. p. 224). However, since there is no way of testing whether such “theological knowledge” corresponds to the “true” nature of God and Jesus Christ, it is easy to see that any “faithful” theological notion on this matter can be proclaimed, and many were. If we consider historical “knowledge” as based on material physical events, faith in miracles such as immaculate conception, multiplying loaves and fishes, walking on water, and raising the dead, is not “knowledge” without acceptable evidence that such events can and did occur. The only “knowledge” we have of these supposed events is that there were/are believers in such miracles.
The ease with which any theological belief about God and Jesus Christ could be advanced and the inability of any one theological belief to disprove another, thus led to an overabundance of unprovable theological doctrines and dogmas. A small sampling of these includes Gnostics, Valentinians, Basilideans, Theodotians, Monarchians, Marcionites, Arians, Anomoeans, Nestorians (Edwards 2009). Which beliefs, by consensus or coercion, were then declared “orthodox” and which “heresy,” were based on which group of Christian Fathers and political sovereigns attended and prevailed in Church councils (Ehrman 2011a, and also Jenkins). St. Epiphanius (ca. 315–403 C.E.), Bishop of Salamis, compiled a list of some 80 Christian heresies, of which many, including those listed above, turn on different views of the God/human nature of Jesus. Filaster, Bishop of Brescia (ca. 385) extended Epiphanius’s list to 156 heresies (Pritz, p. 71).
In a modern critique of “faith-based” scholarly explanations for the many novel claims in St. John’s Gospel, Dunderberg (2013a, p. 349) offers: “The obvious risk with them is that, once you start arguing supernaturally, there is no limit to, or control of it. Anything is arguable in this case. … [S]ome scholars already tap into the potentialities inherent in supernatural argumentation without constraints.”
Interestingly, not only “faith” and “orthodoxy,” but controvertible “truth” was forcibly injected into creating and judging Christian theology, beginning with St. Paul’s “I am speaking the truth in Christ” (Romans 9.1). “Orthodox” versions of Jesus Christ’s divinity devised by clerical councils were then positioned as “true”, while beliefs held by other sects and religions were ranked “untrue.” Unexplained was: can a particular sect’s description of divine mythology be “truer” than all other beliefs when there is no way of showing how any theological belief can be tested. In all such contentions, Gentile Christian self-sanctified believers in “faithful orthodoxy” stood fast in proclaiming they alone knew the “true” divine nature of Jesus Christ, and remained unconcerned that worshipping a human divinity, however explained, is idolatry to Jews.
- That this innocent God/human figure was most cruelly sacrificed in compliance with the wishes of an all-merciful all-just God as a scapegoat to atone for Christians’ sins against this all-merciful all-just God. Seeking divine propitiation of sin, disease, and misfortune through blood sacrifices was common in ancient society, used also as a means to provide food for participants. Human sacrifice, however, had long been abandoned in Jewish culture marked by the Biblical story of the “Aqedah” in which Abraham offers a ram as a sacrificial substitute for his son Isaac (Genesis 22.13).
St. Paul theologically resumed this defunct practice by having God offer crucified Jesus (“His own Son,” Romans 8.3) to absolve Christian sins. “Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood” (Romans 3.25). “The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins” (Galatians 1.3-4). “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2.20). “In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1.7). Like the Jewish Passover lamb sacrificed for Israel’s redemption from Egyptian slavery, St. John’s Gospel (1.29) declares Jesus “the [sacrificial] Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (also St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 5.7). The sacrifice of God’s son Jesus also emulates Abraham’s planned sacrifice of his son Isaac, since “Christian allegorists [exegsists] read Isaac as one of the prefigurations of Christ” (Schoenfeld, p. 2).
Christians exchanged their disdain for animal sacrifice in the Jewish Temple by endlessly repeating claims for the validity of Jesus’ human sacrifice. In the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews: “Nor was [Jesus] to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the [Temple] year after year with blood that is not his own … But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9.25–26). “We have confidence to enter the [heavenly] sanctuary by the blood of Jesus’ (Ibid. 10.19). In the New Testament’s first letter of John (1.7): “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses all from sin.” In St. Clement of Rome’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (XLIX, ca. 60–80): “Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls” (ANF vol. 1, p. 18).
Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 100): “He was wounded for our transgressions, and buried for our iniquities, with His stripes we are healed” (V, ANF vol. 1, p. 139). “The Son of God could not have suffered except for our sakes” (Ibid. VII, p.141). In St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (8.7, ca. 100): “He gave Himself a ransom for us, that He might cleanse us by His blood from our old ungodliness” (ANF vol.1, p. 69). In St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology (ca. 150): “He was numbered with the transgressors and He bare the sins of many, and was delivered up for their transgressions” (ANF vol.1, p. 180).
In St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (Book 5.2, ca. 180): “By His own blood He redeemed us, as also His apostle [St. Paul] declares ‘In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the redemption of sins’” (ANF vol.1, p. 528). The Gloria in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass echoes this notion in the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, You take away the sins of the World.”
In contrast, Jewish prophets taught that one can only atone for one’s own sins. “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes [indulged in lewd behavior], and the children’s teeth are on edge [guilty].’ But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge” (Jeremiah 31.29–30). “A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; The righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own” (Ezekiel 18.20). “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says Yahweh. … Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1.11–17). “Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams? … Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruits of my body for the sin of my soul? … He has told you, O mortal, what is good; …to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6. 7–8). In Aristeas, a Jewish document probably dating to the second century B.C.E., honoring God “is not done with gifts or sacrifices, but with purity of heart and of devout disposition” (Shutt, p. 28).
As Horsley (1994, p. 168) points out: “There is little or no evidence that the Jesus [Jewish Christian] movement in Palestine believed that ‘Jesus had to die for our sins.’” That St. Paul and the Gentile Christian movement reintroduced human blood sacrifice, never rationally answered questions of how such a dastardly inhuman deed can expiate human sins, or why Jesus’ crucifixion is more expiatory of sin than Roman crucifixion of many, many, thousands of others. If, according to St. Paul (Romans 3.25), “He [God] did this to show his righteousness,” how does crucifixion of an innocent show righteousness, and how does punishment of an innocent absolve punishment of the guilty? “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3.18). Thus, despite theological sanction for Jesus’ crucifixion, the question remains: Why did a loving God horribly punish Jesus Christ, his son, for sinful crimes he did not commit?
If we accept that the “core element” of the Christian Holy Trinity embodies the belief “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit act inseparably” (K. Johnson, p. 54), a conundrum arises: “Did God the Father punish himself as the Son?” According to Johnson (Ibid. p. 67), the theological answer offers a further conundrum: that Jesus Christ is simultaneously both a divinity and human creation, and therefore “both object and subject of the events that constitute his passion [death on the cross]. He is the subject from the standpoint of his divine nature (as the one who willed his death), while he is the object from the standpoint of his human nature (as the one who suffered on our behalf).”
One can also question, why do theologians, New Testament writers, and Christian Fathers claim that Jesus was crucified primarily, if not only, because of Jewish culpability (Note #8) yet insist that he merited a God-given motivated execution “to save us from our sins.” That is, how are Jews guilty for a divinely purposed sacrifice to save mankind? As Fisher (1993, p. 105) points out: blaming the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion dodges Christian responsibility “that Christ died freely because of the sins of all, so that all [Christian sinners] might attain salvation.”
To Christian theologians, atonement through the killing of Jesus is crucial to Christianity. “Deny the vicarious nature of the atonement — deny that our guilt was transferred to Christ and He bore its penalty — and you in effect have denied the ground of our justification. If our guilt was not transferred to Christ and paid for on the cross, how can His righteousness be imputed to us for our justification?” (MacArthur, p. 9). “For in His death alone our forgiveness from sin and guilt and therefore our liberation from death is accomplished” (Barth, vol. 3, p. 615). “If Christ had not ‘delivered us from death’ (2 Corinthians 1.10), he would have accomplished nothing, neither releasing the chains of sin nor overcoming death’s obstruction” (Falque, p. 22). “What validated Jesus’ message and delivered his followers was not the specific content of his ethical teaching, nor his great deeds, but the offering of his own life on the cross” (Pervo 2010, p. 238).
According to Schröter (p. 62), the ignominy of Jesus’ execution is countered by the theological belief that “through the death of Jesus God has shown his power toward him and explicitly vindicated his claim.” Or, as described by Riches (p. xvii), crucified Jesus “is in fact a king and more than a king, he is the one Lord of Israel, unus Dominus. … to behold the man Jesus … is to behold the true God.”
However, to Jews seeking freedom from oppression, unanswered questions would have remained:
- How does execution of a Messiah show “power”?
- How does Jesus’ execution “vindicate his claim”?
- How does Jesus’ execution exemplify the “true God”?
More likely, the existential impetus for turning Jesus’ death into a pious sacrifice was for Gentile Christians to overlook his militancy as a popular leader and activist (St. Matthew 21.8–12) executed as a political agitator. “Jesus, King of the Jews” (Ibid. 27.37) was hardly a spiritual titular motif.
- That this God/human figure was then resurrected from the dead. To St. Paul and Christian leaders since, belief in Jesus’ resurrection provides an essential foundation for Christianity’s religion and theology. 1 Corinthians (15.14): “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain, and your faith has been in vain.” Fitzmyer, (p. 86): “The resurrection of Jesus is the cardinal affirmation of Christian faith found in the New Testament and passed on by early Christians. To confess that ‘Jesus is Lord’ one has to admit that ‘God raised him from the dead’ (Romans 10.9).… Not to admit the resurrection of Jesus means that one is not a Christian.” Ehrman (2014, pp. 131–132): “Without the belief in the resurrection, Jesus would have been a mere footnote in the annals of Jewish history. … Belief in the resurrection is what eventually led his followers to the claim that Jesus was God.” Hoffmann (2010, p. 180): “It was belief in the extraordinary triumph over death and not the facts of his life that saved Jesus from obscurity.” (See also Note #22.)
In contrast to Christian belief that Jesus’ resurrection gave him divine glory, Jews believed that neither Jesus’ crucifixion nor resurrection manifested a conquering Messiah engaged in liberating Israel and establishing world peace. To Jews who believed in resurrection, it was to occur in a universal “end-time/apocalypse” when all the dead are restored (Vermes 2008). Being raised from the dead does not make a human divine, but subject to divine judgment. “At that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12.1–2).
To Pagans, human resurrection of a divinity may not have appeared far-fetched. According to Klauck (p. 6), Romulus, legendary founder of Rome, may have served as the Pagan model for Jesus’ rapture, having disappeared from Earth to become a God-like figure. However, to a more skeptic non-believer, resurrection appears as an attempt to glorify a terrible event (Jesus’ crucifixion) sadly marked by the divine indifference shown in Jesus’ last statement. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (St. Mark 15.34, St. Matthew 27.46). Interestingly, St. Luke (23.46) changes Jesus’ dying statement to “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” which is then reduced to a three-word announcement in St. John (19.30) “It is finished.”
The Gospel sequence thus amends Jesus’ view of death from the complaint of an ordinary mortal against providential apathy (St. Mark, St. Matthew), to passive acceptance (St. Luke), to personal involvement or choice (St. John) in order to satisfy the godlike concept that Jesus foresaw the nature of his own death. Schelle (p.5), quotes an earlier commentary (by E. Schwartz) that the editors/redactors of St. John’s Gospel have Jesus act as “a hero who courageously seeks out the enemy (the Jews) and goes heroically to his death, freely renouncing the protection of his followers.” In contrast, Jesus’ complaint of abandonment and the obvious confusion of his disciples on his arrest and crucifixion marked by St. Peter’s trifold “denial” (St. Mark 14.68ff, St. Matthew 26.70ff, St. Luke 22.57ff) shows that Jesus did not anticipate his execution, but may have expected his Temple protest to somehow inaugurate his new “Kingdom of God.” Charlesworth (1988, p. 144) suggests Gospel statements that Jesus foresaw his crucifixion were “shaped and created after the fact.”
Gospel inconsistencies on resurrection include the “short ending” of St. Mark (Chapter 16) who makes no mention at all of a revived vision of Jesus, except for a supposed “empty tomb,” and later Gospels who go from resurrected Jesus first appearing to his disciples in Galilee (St. Matthew 28) to claiming a first appearance near or in Jerusalem (St. Luke 24, St. John 20). In one case, he is merely a vision on a mountain top (St. Matthew); in another, he bears an entirely new body and new clothing (St. Luke); and in still another, he has the material body and wounds of his crucifixion (St. John). As Tabor notes (p. 87): “What we have here is a series of theologically motivated traditions written decades after the event, removed from both place and time, battling out competing stories of what happened after Jesus died. They cannot be harmonized.”
Some theologians suggest that “theologized history” is the proper way to explain events such as Jesus’ resurrection or his resurrection of dead Lazarus (St. John 11.1–44); that is, to bring “theological explanations to bear upon the account of the life of a historical person” (Tovey, p.222). However, from a less theological view, a mordant question presents itself (O’Collins, p. 16): “What are we to make of the moral probity of Mark in creating such a fictional narrative (and one that touches on an utterly central theme in the original Christian proclamation) and of the gullibility of the early Christians (including Matthew and Luke) in believing and repeating his fiction as if it were basically factual narrative?” As also posed by Crossley (2006, p. 25): “would another discipline in the humanities [other than theologians] seriously consider as historically reliable something as spectacular as someone literally rising from the dead?”
C. A. Evans (2016) suggests that since Jesus was no more than a mild-mannered religious dissident, unthreatening to Roman governing authorities, he would have received proper burial in order to fulfill the New Testament story that he arose from an empty tomb, However, from what we know of the historical Jesus, his acclaim among Jews was much more political than religious: a Jewish Messiah seeking to liberate his fellowmen from exploitation and tyranny (Note #15). His execution was therefore as an insurrectionist promoting a “Kingdom of God” (Note #21), and his burial was most likely in accord with all those who threatened the Roman state — not in a tomb but a common grave. According to Ehrman (2014, pp. 161–168), the prevailing Roman practice of keeping crucified bodies on the cross for scavenging dogs and vultures as a further deterrent for rebellion, would have made it highly unlikely that Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb to be found later miraculously emptied. There is no evidence that Jesus’ family had the status to prevent routine Roman wretched treatment of crucified corpses, or that Roman Governors such as Pontius Pilate ever showed compassion for victims they crucified.
- That without belief in Jesus’ God/human figure (and his resurrection) one cannot attain salvation from sin. “God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (St. John 3.16). “[T]hose who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Ibid. 3.18). St. Justin Martyr (ca. 150) “The blood of Christ will deliver from death those who have believed” (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew CXI, ANF vol. 1, p. 201). Tertullian (ca. 198): “We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides” (Praescriptionibus Adversus, ANF vol. 3, p. 246). Also, “After we have believed, search should cease; otherwise it must end in a denial of what we have believed” (Ibid. p. 248).
Christian “belief” not only encompasses faith in events recounted in New Testament narratives, but also in further mystical phenomena. As pointed out previously, St. John’s Gospel transforms Jesus from the charismatic Jew from Galilee, to the mystical “Logos,” the first creation of God, who then made life and the universe. “He [Jesus Christ] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1.2–3). St. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200), places belief in Jesus Christ as belief in God. “He who has believed the Logos knows the matter to be true, for the Logos is truth, but he who has disbelieved Him that speaks [Christ] has disbelieved God” (The Stromates 2.4, ANF vol. 2, pp. 349–350).
Propounded often by St. Paul onward, redemption from sin (“Justification”) occurs only through Christian belief (“Only Faith,” sola fide), not through deeds (“Works”). Acts of the Apostles (4.12): “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” 2 Timothy (3.15): “The sacred writings instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” Letter to the Hebrews (5.9): “He [Jesus Christ] became the source of eternal salvation.” 1 Peter (1.9): “Even though you have not seen him [Jesus Christ] now, you believe in him — for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Belief emerges as the primary determinant of redemption: “good beliefs” are rewarded by salvation, and “disbeliefs” punished. To the Christian Fathers, lack of belief in Jesus Christ, whether purposeful or through ignorance, was as much deserving of punishment as heresy. Belief in Jesus Christ is to be saved by Jesus Christ.
Contrary to emphasizing salvation through “belief,” the Jews placed emphasis on active remediation. “Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings” (Jeremiah 18.11). Turning back from evil ways — operative behavioral repentance — became a common Jewish theme, known as “Teshuvah”: reforming oneself through amendment. “Among all the proscriptions and ordinances of the Mosaic law, there is not a single one which says: You shall believe or not believe. They all say: You shall do or not do. Faith is not commanded, for it accepts no other commands than those come to it by way of conviction. All the commands of the divine law are addressed to man’s will, to his power to act. … Whenever it is a question of the eternal truth of reason, it does not say believe, but understand and know. … Nowhere does it say: Believe, O Israel and you will be blessed; do not doubt, O Israel, or this or that punishment will befall you” (Mendelssohn, p. 100, his emphasis).
- That by eating the bread and wine in a Christian ritual (the “Eucharist,” “Holy Communion,” “Sacrifice of the Mass,” “The Lord’s Supper”) one eats (literally or symbolically) the flesh and blood of the God/human figure. St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 10.16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? As previously noted (Note #7), St. Paul’s authorization for this concept did not come from a known event in Jesus’ “Last Supper,” but from information he received in an imagined conversation with the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 11.23–26).
Remarkably, St. Paul’s imaginative dream is repeated almost verbatim by later Gospel writers (St. Mark 14.22–24; St. Matthew 26.26–28; St. Luke 22.19–20), and became a primary sacrament of Christianity as though Jesus, a Torah-respecting Jew, would actually have made statements asking followers to share his blood and flesh. “We have every reason to believe that Mark got his tradition of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper from Paul. Matthew and Luke, who then used Mark as a source, also repeat what Paul had said decades earlier” (Tabor, p. 147). In St. John (6.52–57), dating perhaps early in the second century, St. Paul’s invention is even further embellished: “The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day, for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.’”
Council of Trent: “Therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this Holy Synod doth declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of His blood.” The “Mystery of Faith” in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass declares “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord.” Even more “Eucharistic” is the third century prayer in The Acts of Thomas (158): “Your holy body which was crucified for our sake we eat, and your life-giving blood which was shed for our sake we drink. Let your body be to us for life, and your blood for the remission of sins” (Klijn, p. 242). Blood-drinking was a rite found in the “mystery” religions (Note #22) and common in idolatrous sacrifices.
Maccoby points out (1991, p. 125): “The whole notion of ‘eating the god’ is familiar in a Hellenistic [Pagan] setting, but bizarre in a Jewish one.” The Biblical restriction in Leviticus (7. 26–27) is quite clear: “You must not drink any blood whatever, either of bird or animal.…Any one of you who drinks any blood shall be cut from your kin.” Lüdemann (2010, p. 203): “Can one seriously imagine a pious Jewish teacher of righteousness inviting his followers to partake, even symbolically, of his flesh and blood.”
- That Jews must accept this God/human figure as a Messiah who did not deliver the Jews from oppression, nor eliminate the horrors of war (Note #15). “In Jewish belief…Jesus was not the Messiah precisely because he did not bring about the full restoration of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and God’s universal reign of peace” (Novak, p. 222). Triumphant Messiahs do not die before they battle Israel’s oppressors and lead their followers to victory, universal peace, and termination of evil.
“Messianism has to do with that category which Christians talk about but have so little ability to grasp; namely history; real visible history; endemic human sinfulness that still goes on long after ‘Christ has come’; wars, famines, unjust oppression, murder; the riddle of history and the human condition that goes on unresolved. Judaism alone among the human religions takes this seriously. Christianity, on the other hand, typically uses its christology to deny the question. Messianism has to do with the hope that someday this question will be resolved. … [I]t has to do with setting history to rights, settling the score of unrequited evil. God intervenes, judges the good and the evil and makes appropriate retribution between them. God changes the human condition so that it sins no more. … Things become ‘very good,’ as they were intended to be at the beginning. … One can reject this hope, but one cannot claim that it has already happened in the last two thousand years. … It has been the great disservice of Christianity to this messianic question that it has either rejected the need for messianic hope or denied that it will ever happen by claiming that it has already happened ‘spiritually’” Reuther (1979, p. 244, her emphasis).
- That Jews do not understand their Scriptures (Notes #7, #18) which, Christians insist, displaced God’s favor from Jews to Christians, who now supplant Jews as the “True Israel” (Note #19).
- That the laws of Moses were abrogated by Christianity. Jews should therefore reject Scriptural commandments and their understanding of Jewish history, and abandon the cultural and religious traditions tied to their identity (Note #18).
- That Jews accept the Christian view of Jewish guilt, deicide, and demonization embodied in the New Testament. “His [Jesus’] blood be on us and our children” (St. Matthew 27.25). “You [Jews] are from your father the Devil” (St. John 8.44).
- That Jewish suffering from Roman domination and injustice stemmed from God’s punishment for refusal to accept Jesus Christ as Savior — a myth that Jews were presumably too sinful to believe.
- That the Christian Church proposing all these objectionable ideas represents the “Kingdom of God” on earth.
Given that Christian leaders and theologians could not have escaped awareness that Jews would find many or all these conditions unacceptable, one can only conclude that Christian insistence on Jewish conversion was not a real expectation but a phantom designed to further show Jewish sinful obstinacy and “hard-heartedness.” “[T]he perpetual statement of the Gentile leaders that the Jews continued to reject Christ was fundamentally untrue, because they were being offered Him only upon conditions which were false and impossible for a loyal Jew to accept — in other words, an attitude to the whole of Jewish history and to the Law which was based upon Gentile ignorance and misunderstanding, and was quite unsupported by the conduct of Jesus himself” (Parkes, p. 93).
Even when Christian Fathers, such as St. Irenaeus, wrote some nice things about the Jews (Against Heresies, 4.24, ANF vol. 1, p. 495), they were motivated by the notion that Jews, with their long observance of Scriptural commandments, would easily accept Christian reinterpretations. Neusner insists the question posed by the Christian church “turns on why the Jews do not believe, rather than on what they do believe. The upshot is that there really is no interest at all in ‘Judaism’ in any form” (2001, p. 103). Even knowledge that Jesus and his disciples followed Jewish practices (Notes #4, #16), did not diminish Gentile Christianity’ hostility to Jews and Judaism.
It is clear that on the religious grounds presented to them, Jews would have found very little to their liking in Gentile Christianity. As Mack points out (1999, p. 134): “No Jew worth his salt would have been converted when being told that he was guilty of killing the Messiah.” The first unambiguous evidence of Jews defecting to Gentile Christianity comes from three fourth century epitaphs (S. G. Wilson 2006), a time when Gentile Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire and could offer advantages on a large social and political scale.
Taking these points into account, we can see that for many Christians, myths associated with Jesus (stories that are “neither true nor probable” — Meggitt 2010, p. 62) became central to their beliefs. “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great. He was revealed [as Son of God] in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up [to Heaven] in glory” (1 Timothy 3.16).
Mythic themes prevail in many documents about Jesus during the first few centuries, ranging from stories about his infancy to his appearances after resurrection. (White, for example, lists more than 30 different discovered Gospels or Gospel-like materials.) “It is an open question whether a historical Jesus had anything to do with any of these Jesuses, much less the Jesuses of the [New Testament] Gospels” (Price, p. 266; also Meggitt 2010, p. 73). To paraphrase Crossan (1995, p. 10), “Gospels are not history remembered but mythology historicized.”
In the world of Acts of the Apostles (written in the end of the first or early second century, and commonly ascribed to St. Luke), rampant mythology was quite acceptable. “[W]e read of divine intervention in the choice of a successor apostle [St. Paul], of tongues of fire coming down and causing people to speak clearly in languages that are foreign to them, of healings by mean of a passing shadow, of death seemingly caused by speech, of an angelic release from prison, of voices from the sky, of scale-like substances falling from formerly blind eyes, of multiple visions with divine messages, of inexplicable survivals of shipwrecks and snake bite, and on and on” (Tyson (p. 15).
Abounding in Acts of the Apostles are fabricated speeches, imagined voyages, theistic illusions, and inventive prophecies designed to connect Jesus’ life with the apostolic expansion of Gentile Christianity. As noted earlier (Note 10.5), among Acts’ spurious stories are:
- Authorization of St. Paul’s Gentile recruiting mission by presumed agreement with Jesus’ Galilean disciples.
- Claims that it is Jews rather than Romans who are the prime enemies of emergent Gentile Christianity.
“For many the chief obstacle to viewing Acts as a work of history arises from its content rather than its style and form. After all excuses have been made for the presumed lack of ancient concern for strict truth, Acts is still lacking. More than a few incidents appear to have been invented, good sources were not used even if available, and the characterization of both people and events can often be shown to be either highly improbable or contrary to known facts” (Pervo 1987, p. 8).
The shift from “faith” to “history” — to seek actual rather than theological factors in explaining the course of history — is uncomfortable for theologians who have “the need to make sure that Christianity is not explained in purely human terms” (Crossley 2006, p. 17). As summarized by Young (2006, p. 12), “At the heart of the Christian cult lay worship of the Son of God, who preexisted with God, was incarnate in Jesus, is risen from the dead, and now lives and reigns with the Father in Glory.”
The insistence on Christian “faith” over “history” applies even to modern “apologetic writers [who] do not seem to be aiming for intellectual honesty — they seek to defend Christianity, not the historical method” (Burke, p. 410). For example, an article by Tàrrech begins with the statement, “Examination of the historical Jesus cannot leave to one side the question of God’s Spirit in his life and work” (p. 365). Jesus’ spiritual experiences are then described (p. 392): “God’s Spirit which ‘descends upon him’ (Mark 1:10) and immediately ‘drives him into the desert’ (v. 12). There, the wild beasts surround him in submission (v. 13). The wild beasts represent the evil spirits, who follow Satan but who are now subject to Jesus. … Jesus sees Satan falling from the heavens ‘like lightning’ (Luke 10:18).”
For Jews, faced with imagined Gospel events presented as history, knowing Jesus is to search behind myth for whatever history can be uncovered. To paraphrase Ehrman (2014, p. 2), the issue is not the theology of how God was changed into man, but who was the man that Christian theology turned into God. That is, to search for the real Jesus behind the Gospel stories whose many myths obscure his history (Note #12). Compelling this search is the need to discard deceitful and lethally damaging Christian anti-Jewish fictions woven into the New Testament.
We can also see that many of Christianity’s basic precepts listed above gave Jews no deeper understanding of Judaism, nor would they have made religious sense to Jesus and his disciples who followed the essentials of Jewish law (Notes #4, #16). For Gentile Christians, on the other hand, the Jewish Scriptures had to be transmogrified to justify Christianity as a “non-Jewish” divinely revealed religion. As discussed in Notes #7, #18, #19, Christian theologians engaged in an endless Biblical search for quotations that could in any way be reinterpreted to provide newly emergent Christianity with an antique façade. Unfortunately for Jews (Note #20), it was therefore Christianity that needed Judaism — that is, its documents and the crucified Jesus — to transform Jesus, a Jewish worshipper of Yahweh, into an object of Christian worship.