Adversus Judaeos tracts by Tertullian (ca. 198, see also Note #20) and other Christian Fathers (Notes #6, #8, #13, #17), cast “Jews,” present or not, into enduring symbols of divine wickedness and treachery. in Adversus Judaeos tracts by Christian Fathers such as Tertullian (ca. 198, see also Note #20, p. 198). “The ‘wrath upon the Jews,’ poured out by Christianity, represents this ever-unsatisfied need of the Church to prove that it has the true content of the Jewish scriptures by finally making ‘the Jews’ (Jewish teaching authority) ‘admit’ that this is the true interpretation. Until Jewish religious tradition itself accepts this as the ‘real meaning’ of its own Scriptures, ‘the Jews’ must be kept in the status of the ‘enemies of God,’ in order to ward off that unthinkable alternative, suppressed at the very beginning, by the decision of faith upon which Christianity was founded” (Ruether 1974, pp. 94–95). See also Notes #7, #18.

Failure to gain Jewish approval for Gentile Christianity’s Scriptural presumptions made Jewish presence an uncomfortable contrast to Gentile Christianity’s early social status. To many Romans, early Christianity was a disreputable sect, a rejected offshoot of disinterested Jewish parents. “[T]he relationship between Jews and Christians may generally have been important for Christians as part of their self-definition, but it was much less crucial for Jews, who could ignore for much of Late Antiquity what Christians thought and did” (Goodman 2007b, p. 175). According to Carleton Paget (p. 253) the Roman world did not recognize early Christianity as “a movement of any significance.” Against such Christian ignominy, Jewish status in Roman society was quite the reverse. “With their legal position secured by Roman law, a clearly defined sense of self, not least in theological terms, and a tangible presence throughout the communities that made up the urban infrastructure of the later Roman world, Jews possessed much of what [early] Christians could only dream of” (Rutgers p. 5).

Unfortunately for Jews, disparaging Jews in Christianity’s early century beginnings continued in various ways despite gaining Roman imperial power in the fourth century:

  • As conscienceless murderers for the killing of Jesus (Notes #8, #21).
  • As villainous misanthropes for their “exclusivity” and “peculiarities” (Notes #3, #22).
  • As irreverent blasphemers for contesting Christian reinterpretations of the Jewish Scriptures (Notes #7, #18).
  • As demonic sinners for refusing to become Christians (Note #11).

By the end of the fourth century, these abusive characterizations became standard in the Christian ethos. Anti-Jewish hostility now included governmental support for Christian bias that allowed forced conversion of Jewish synagogues into Christian churches (Rutgers). St. Justin Martyr’s earlier plea that Christian forgiveness extends to all, even their Roman persecutors (1 Apology XIV, ANF p. 167), did not apply to Jews. Former Christian entreaties for tolerance and “love your enemies” was replaced by fierce contempt, followed by cruelty and oppression that extended not only to Pagans and Jews, but even to fellow Christians labeled as “heretics.” Ordinary Christians were taught “that life here and now is insignificant … and that their real enemies were those enemies of God and his Church who, if they were not suppressed, would endanger men’s immortal souls and bring them to perdition. ‘Heretics’ and ‘schismatics’, as well as ‘unbelievers’, were an entirely new kind of internal enemy, invented by Christianity, upon whom the wrath of ‘right-thinking people’ could be concentrated, for in paganism the phenomena of ‘heresy’ and ‘schism’, as of ‘unbelief’, were inconceivable” (Ste. Croix 1981, p. 452).

“[U]nder most emperors from Constantine through Justinian and Zeno and others even later, it is not easy to separate ecclesiastical history from imperial, since to one degree or another emperors regarded themselves and were accepted as having a most important voice, indeed very often a decisive voice, in church affairs. The two forces, ecclesiastical and imperial, have been seen working together, … always in agreement about one essential, to rid God’s world of nonbelievers” (MacMullen, pp. 29–30).

By the reign of Christian Emperor Theodosius II (408–450 C.E.), laws pertaining to Jews included the following, many fully enforced:

  • Jews were excluded from public office.
  • Jews were barred from any court rank or military position.
  • Jews were forbidden to purchase Christian slaves.
  • Jews who converted Christians to Judaism were sentenced to death, and the property of such converts was confiscated.
  • Jews who married Christians were sentenced to death.
  • Taxes collected by Jews for the Jewish Patriarch in Palestine were all to go to Christian charities.
  • No new Jewish synagogues were to be built.
  • It was a crime to repair Jewish synagogues.

In the Codex Theodosianus (429 C.E.), “Jews are described as a ‘dismal sect’; their meetings are ‘sacrilegious gatherings’; to be a servant to a Jew is a ‘shameful servitude’; Judaism is a ‘moral turpitude’; the very name Jew is ‘detestable’ and ‘offensive’” (Abel, pp. 162–163). By the sixth century, Emperor Justinian’s code declared that Jews were not to interpret the Jewish Bible any way other than to prophecy Jesus Christ, nor were Jews to deny Jesus Christ’s resurrection and Last Judgment. Attempts at forced conversion of Jews to Christianity followed sporadically in later centuries (Michael, p. 38). “The claim for equal toleration with others which was advanced by [Christian] apologists in the days of their suffering, the Church did not grant to others in the days of their triumph” (Parkes, p. 157).

In the new triumphant Christian world, Jews who condemned or interfered with Christianizing other Jews were to be burnt alive. “We want the Jews, their elders and their patriarchs informed that if anyone — once this law has been given — dare attack by stoning or other kind of fury one escaping from this deadly sect and raising his eyes to God’s cult [that is, becoming Christian], when as we have learned is being done now, he shall be delivered immediately to the flames and burnt with all his associates” (Codex Theodosianus 16.8; Fine, p. 246).

Although some scholars claim early Christian anti-Jewish statements and apologetics are irrelevant and long forgotten (Edwards et al., p. 10), their consequence is quite the reverse. Thus, Judas’ ill repute, the assumed betrayer of Jesus, was repeatedly resuscitated to serve the Christian world for two millennia as a personification of Jewish malevolence. St. Jerome (ca. 400): “In particular, this [Jesus’ passion] is the story of Judas; in general it is that of the Jews.…Judas, in particular, was torn asunder by demons — and the Jewish people as well.…Judas is cursed, so that in Judas the Jews may be accursed.…Whom do you suppose are the sons of Judas? The Jews. The Jews take their name…from the betrayer” (Michael, p. 112).

For those Patristic Fathers like St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 100) and St. Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 155), who chose their martyrdom in “Imitation of Christ,” being anti-Jewish symbolized they were truly following the path of Jesus, the presumed anti-Jewish Christian, betrayed by Judas and killed by the Jews. Even some modern Christian theologians like Karl Barth preserve the notion of the “essential equivalence of Judas and Jewry” (J. Cohen, p. 259).

Although Christian Fathers often claimed “martyrdom” as testifying to the “truth” of Gentile Christianity (see p. 151), they never alluded to the many more thousands of martyred Jews killed, enslaved, and tortured by the Romans (Notes #9, #15). Empathy toward Jews and provincials who challenged Roman tyranny was not part of Christian doctrine. Christians objecting to Roman persecution never went beyond demanding they be considered as law-abiding as other Romans.

Judas’ long service to Christianity as a Jewish fiend endures despite New Testament narrative inconsistencies. The earliest Christian writing about Jesus’ death (St Paul, 1 Corinthians 15.3–9) makes no mention of Judas at all, yet St. Paul’s claim that the resurrected Christ “appeared to Cephas [St. Peter], then to the twelve [disciples]” (Ibid. 15.5) obviously includes Judas among the disciples. In St. Mark’s Gospel (14.37–41), while Jesus prays at the Garden of Gethsemane, he repeatedly awakens his twelve disciples, who ignore him and continue sleeping. Yet suddenly Judas appears with an armed group to arrest him “although no indication has been given that he ever left the company of Jesus’ (Maccoby 1992, p. 36). Embellished by later Gospels, “the thirty pieces of silver” presumably paid to Judas is an episode completely absent in St. Mark.

The progression goes like this. The role of Judas is introduced at a later stage of the evolution of the story to account for Jesus’ arrest on the same night as the Last Supper. Then in later Gospel versions his [Judas’] character changes from misguided idealist (Mark), to disloyal friend (Matthew), to diabolical schemer (Luke), and finally to demonic antagonist (John). The play of each scene varies with the depiction to create the characterization and provide a fitting end” (White, pp. 131–132).

Judas selling Jesus, God’s “Beloved Son,” to the Romans “for thirty pieces of silver” can also be questioned as a story made to gain Scriptural credibility by emulating Genesis’ (37.26–28) account in which Judas’ namesake, Judah, convinces his brothers to sell Joseph, Jacob’s “beloved son,” to Midianite slave-traders “for twenty pieces of silver.” “Here again one can reasonably suspect that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas is a midrashic play on the sale of Joseph by Judah, as his name suggests, perhaps typifying the Jews as the homicidal opponents of [Jesus] the beloved son of God” (Levenson, p. 230).

The story of “Judas the traitorous Jew” is emblematic of how creatively dramatized New Testament spectacles were used for Christian antisemitic purposes.