Until Christianity’s success, common ethno/racist prejudices did not lead to systematic ethno/racist persecutions (Note #5). “An anti-Jewish ‘movement’ existed in antiquity only from time to time, and in certain localities. Thus there was no such thing as a continuing anti-Semitic stream” (Conzelmann, p. 132). However, the picture for Jews changed radically in the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. when Rome adopted Christianity as its official religion (Note #23).

The more modern terms for Jew-hatred — “antisemite” and “antisemitism” — were coined by a nineteenth century German Jew-hater, Wilhelm Marr. Marr did not use “Semite” for Semitic people such as Arabs, but as formalism for “Jew,” and so it remains understood. Marr’s purpose was to deny Jews human rights, and in 1879 he helped found the international “Antisemitic League,” an organization designed to foster political support for antisemitism. “To bring all non-Jewish Germans of all confessions, all parties, all positions in life to one common and close union, that will strive towards one goal … to save our German fatherland from complete Judaization” (Katz, p. 261).

Among notable antisemites were Richard Wagner, composer, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, historian and political philosopher. Chamberlain’s theories, espoused by various influential Christian theologians and ideologues in Nazi Germany, included the concept that Israel’s Galileans were really Aryans, as was Mary, Jesus’ mother. Jesus was therefore not a Jew but an Aryan, and Christianity therefore had no Semitic origin or connection. This racist concept was then widely promoted by German Christian theologians during the Nazi period (Heschel 2008, also Spicer), and even Jewish converts to Christianity were not spared racist identification and persecution.

Karl Adam (Professor of Theology at Tübingen University): “According to biological laws there can be no doubt that the Jew as Semite is racially foreign and will remain racially foreign. It will never be possible to integrate the Jew into the Aryan race: no ‘mixing of blood’ would ever permit this to happen. Blood is the physiological basis of our intellect (Geistigkeit), of the special way that we feel, think, and want; it has given definitive shape to the Germanic myth, and to German culture and history. Therefore German self-assertion demands that we protect the purity and the freshness of this blood, and secure this through force of law. This demand springs from our well-ordered love of self: the love of self that for Christian morality is the natural prerequisite for love of neighbor” (Connelly, pp. 20–21).

German theologians used such “racist doctrines” to create a “Holy Reich” that would be acceptable to Nazi ideologues. “Hitler’s regime was so largely based on the myth of universal popular support that the official acquiescence of the churches was a vital factor sustaining the Third Reich and permitting it to work its wickedness freely” (Allen, p. 123). When World War II began in 1939, “95 percent of the eighty million people of the greater German Reich was still registered as members of the Catholic or Evangelical [Protestant] Churches, and even the majority of the three million Nazi Party members [including Hitler!] still paid the Church taxes and registered themselves as Christians. The united support of all these millions of German Christians was needed for the war effort if Hitler’s plans for Germany were to be fulfilled” (Conway, pp. 232–233). A small number of German clerics, often Protestant and fewer Catholic, individually opposed Hitler and Nazi persecution of Jews, but Christian churches were mostly silent. Among Catholic priests, more than 17,000 served in various capacities in the Nazi Wehrmacht during the War (Faulkner Rossi, p. 1). Since two-thirds of Germany’s population was Protestant (Erickson, p. 24), the number of Lutheran and Reformist pastors serving Hitler’s war machine probably exceeded or even doubled that number.

Even theologians willing to recognize Jesus’ Jewish roots, persisted in claiming that Jesus discarded his “carnal” Jewish origin in order to establish “spiritual” non-Jewish Gentile Christianity. This attitude prevails long after the World War II defeat of Nazi Germany. Heschel (2009, p. 231): “Jesus begins his life as a Jew, but ends his life as a Christian. Christianity itself is achieved … through a process of emergence, a religious purification that attempts to rid the Jewish from the Christian.”

Antisemitism long shadowed Christian culture throughout Europe. The “Jewish Question” — how to contend with Jewish unwelcome presence —became a common political issue with “solutions” ranging from Jewish elimination through conversion or exile. Gerhard Kittel for example, like Karl Adam, Professor of Theology at Tübingen, author of the still-used Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, joined the Nazi Party on Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933 to validate Hitler’s antisemitism with religious Christian support. Kittel declared: “It is not enough to base this battle [against the Jews] on racial points of view or current attitudes alone. The actual, complete answer can only be found when one succeeds in giving the Jewish question a religious foundation, giving the battle against the Jews a Christian interpretation” (Die Judenfrage; Ericksen, p. 31). “Kittel advocated the stripping of citizenship from German Jews, so that a special set of laws could be created to remove them from medicine, law, teaching, journalism — every important niche in German life — and forbid their marriage or sexual relations with non-Jews” (Ibid., p. 32).

Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out” (Dabru Emet, A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity; Knowles, et al., p. 183). “Antisemitism was the most predictable, most virulent hatred running through society. By feeding that hatred, whipping it into white heat, Hitler had, as it were, a supply of energy-hate that could be turned against anyone who stood in his way. … In Hitler’s totalitarian society every individual who for any reason acted against the interest of the people as defined by the Führer became in that moment a Jew” (Ryan, pp. 157–158). In Hitler’s own words: “[T]he art of all truly great national leaders in all ages consists primarily in this, not to scatter the attention of the people, but rather always to concentrate on a single enemy. It belongs to the genius of a great leader to make quite different enemies appear to belong to a single category” (Ibid., p. 156, translated from Mein Kampf).

Antisemitism “shaped the worldview of many people, both among those who came with more or less willingness under Hitler’s rule and among those who successfully opposed and defeated him. Perhaps that commonality can help explain why the Germans found so many willing collaborators for their projects of extermination [of Jews] in many lands they occupied. Perhaps it explains as well why even some of the nations that most firmly resisted the German armies (the United Kingdom, the United States, and immediately after the war, the Soviet Union) nevertheless adopted important anti-Semitic measures of their own, such as closing their borders to Jews seeking to escape their executioners” (Nirenberg, p. 458).

Although many Christian theologians have expressed concern and regret for the lethal persecution of European Jews, most avoid acknowledging the basic motivations that led Gentile Christianity to condemn Jews and the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples. Can Christians deal with the notion that “Christian beliefs contain an antisemitic principle that has warped the Christian mind on the subject of Jews since early times”? (A. T. Davies 1979a, pp. XIV–XV). (See also Note #25.)