Skip to comments.Christian History Corner: Why some Jews fear The Passion
Posted on 02/25/2004 11:17:10 AM PST by Salem
Christian History Corner: Why some Jews fear The Passion
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ gives Christians the chance to disavow a shameful history of anti-Semitism.
posted 02/20/2004 |
The Passion of the Christ scares Abraham Foxman. The Anti-Defamation League's national director, currently cast in the role of reluctant film critic, has spent months warning anyone and everyone that The Passion will dramatically strain Christian-Jewish relations and revive age-old Christian hatred for Jews. While most Christians in the West balk at this suggestion, Foxman cannot be dissuaded. He knows the grim history.
"For almost 2,000 years in Western civilization, four words legitimized, rationalized, and fueled anti-Semitism: 'The Jews killed Christ,'" Foxman told the ADL national executive committee during a February meeting. "For hundreds of years those four wordsacted out, spoken out, sermonized outinspired and legitimized pogroms, inquisitions and expulsions."
When Foxman envisions Christ's crucifixion, he does not think about love, forgiveness, or hope. He recalls the Holocaust and Hitler's chilling praise for the famed Oberammergau Passion Play in 1934. He does not weep with unexplainable sadness and joy at the sight of humanity's Savior suffering an undeserved death. He'll never forget the horrifying tales of czarist-era Russian Jews fleeing bloodthirsty gangs bent on Holy Week revenge.
"Read the e-mails, read the Web sites encouraging people to see the film," Foxman warned. "How fragile it is out there. What a reservoir of hatred!"
Hatred? Can we possibly be thinking of the same event? How can he watch Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, the ultimate triumph over death and evil, and think of hatred? The answer to this question is impossible for Christians to fully understand. Sadly, the history of Passion play depictions has been marred by shocking violence against Jews.
"The menace of Jewry"
With the bubonic plague once again sweeping across Europe in 1633, the town leaders of Oberammergau, a Bavarian village, gathered together to beseech God for a miracle. If the Lord would spare little Oberammergau, they promised to thank him by performing a play every 10 years to commemorate Jesus' crucifixion.
After this vow, not one Oberammergau villager died of the plague. The town first performed the play in 1634. More than 350 years later, Oberammergau still remembers its promise. In 2000, nearly half of the town's 5,000 residents participated in the fortieth Oberammergau Passion Play, which drew nearly a half million tourists from around the world.
Yet in the late 1970s, Oberammergau began to draw the ADL's ire. Sensitized by the Holocaust, Jews, especially in Germany, turned a more skeptical eye on Passion plays. Oberammergau, in particular, had been a source of tangible pain. Adolf Hitler had visited the 1934 performance, giving it his eager blessing. "It is vital that the Passion play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the time of the Romans," Hitler had said. "There one sees Pontius Pilate, a Roman racially and intellectually so superior, that he stands out like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."
To make matters worse, the Dachau concentration camp had performed its horrific duty not far from Oberammergau. While Hitler's brand of murderous anti-Semitism owed far more to scientific determinism than Christianity, he preyed on a history of faith-based persecution. When convenient, Hitler and his Nazi henchmen dredged up the anti-Semitic writings of an elderly Martin Luther to justify their hatred for Jews.
Hitler employed Oberammergau in a similar fashion. He remembered that during and immediately following the Middle Ages, enraged Passion play spectators sometimes invaded the ghettos to exact revenge on Jews for killing Jesus. He hoped Christians would react similarly after viewing the Oberammergau Passion Play. This and other Nazi overtures to the racism simmering barely below the surface of German religious culture produced mixed results, with some churchmen eagerly advocating Nazism and others opposing Hitler on Christian grounds.
Yet as Pope John Paul II acknowledged in 1997, many sincere Christians looked the other way during the Holocaust because in their estimation the Jews were getting what they deserved for rejecting Christ. "The erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long" and "contributed to a lulling of many consciences at the time of World War II, so that, while there were 'Christians' who did everything to save those who were persecuted, even to the point of risking their own lives, the spiritual resistance of many was not what humanity expected of Christ's disciples," the Pope told a group meeting to discuss "The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Milieu."
The Pope may have had the Slovakian papal nuncio in mind when making his remarks about the "lulled consciences" during World War II. When asked in 1942 to intervene on behalf of Jewish children slated by the Nazis to be deported to concentration camps, the nuncio refused. "There is no innocent blood of Jewish children in the world. All Jewish blood is guilty. You have to die. This is the punishment that has been awaiting you because of that sin [of deicide]," he replied. Deicide, which means "to kill God," is the foremost "erroneous and unjust" interpretation of Scripture that has incited so much hostility. In Passion plays, a difficult forum for conveying the theological nuance of humanity's collective culpability, the Jews have often become an inviting target.
Unfortunately, deicide has not been the lone charge directed collectively against Jews. As recently as the early twentieth century, pogroms sometimes erupted during Holy Week in Eastern European nations when rumors spread about Jewish crimes. Inflamed by outlandish accusations, such as the claim that Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to make matzo bread for Passover, unruly gangs searched out Jews to kill and maim.
This style of pogrom dates back to the First Crusade. Until this point European Jews largely eluded organized violence, but marauding crusaders on their way to the Middle East in 1096 stopped to slaughter Jews in the Rhineland. One crusader's account recalls, "Behold we journey a long way to seek the idolatrous shrine and to take vengeance upon the Muslims. But here are the Jews dwelling among us, whose ancestors killed him and crucified him groundlessly. Let us take vengeance first upon them. Let us wipe them out as a nation."
Outbreaks of Christian anti-Semitism related to the Passion narrative have been so numerous and destructive that theologian and Holocaust survivor Eliezer Berkovits concluded, "the New Testament is the most dangerous anti-Semitic tract in human history." But neither the New Testament nor The Passion of the Christ is about Jewish deicide or revenge. Each is about God placing the iniquities of us all on his one and only son, who suffered unspeakable brutality to redeem his estranged children. Now is the time for Christians to disavow the history of Passion-linked hatred and show Jews "how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" (Eph. 3:18).
Collin Hansen is editorial resident for Christian History magazine.
Amen, Bob, amen. Thanks for saying! See my comments here, concerning a controversial sign some church has up.
"Jesus was a Jew!"...CORRECTION...
JESUS (YESHUA THE MESSIAH) IS AND WILL ALWAYS BE A JEW FOR ALL ETERNITY.
HE IS The Alef and The Tav...The Beginning and The End.
WARNING: This is a high volume ping list
However, I am a bit concerned over the attitude, displayed by some people on this board, that anyone who expresses any misgivings whatsoever about the impact of this movie, its scriptural and historical accuracy, or Mel Gibson's motivations, is immediately an "anti-Christian bigot." Ironically, it's usually the very same people who complain that they can never criticise Israel without being called "anti-Semitic."
I am also angered by the hysterical comments from some allegedly "Orthodox" Jews (Eli Yisah and Tzvi Weinreb) who ought to know better. I know that viewing this movie is not goint to make me doubt my own religion and run out to become a Christian. What an insult to my faith and my commitment, to claim that it could be swept away by a movie and therefore I shouldn't be allowed to see it!
1) Orthodox Jews who know the Torah is from Heaven and that not one single letter or even part of a letter may ever be erased should show a modicum of sensitivity to people who mistakenly believe that the "new testament" in its entirety is also from Heaven. Until chr*stians are made to understand that the "new testament" is not from Heaven they cannot be expected to disobey or alter it. Jews who refuse to tell chr*stians that their religion is false, but who instead are making absolute demands in relativist terms ("let's forget about who's right or wrong, but you always have to make concessions and we never do") is committing a great chillul HaShem because no Bible-beliving chr*stian is going to associate this hypocritical liberal philosophy with genuine Biblical Judaism. Instead, he will be reinforced in his belief that the Jews apostasized from Biblical Judaism when they rejected J*sus.
2) Abe Foxman is not a nice person. To simple people who know only the composite chr*stian bible (ot/nt) his attacks on the gospels are indistinguishable from his attacks on `Aseret HaDibberot (the Ten Commandments). As a matter of fact, according to Don Feder, Foxman has publicly stated that literal interpretation of the "old testament" is as bad as literal interpretation of the gospels. What do naive chr*stians assume from all this? That Jews are not only against the "new testament" but "against the Bible" as a whole. I hope I am not the only Jew or Noachide on this forum who realizes what a great blasphemy this is.
3) Finally, as a former chr*stian myself who realizes the bind Jews are putting chr*stians in by refusing to speak in absolute terms ("we are the true religion") while demanding chr*stians violate the tenets of their religion, I want to go on record once and for all. J*sus deserved to die!!! Blasphemy is a capital offense and only a secular humanist would disagree with this. Under Torah, a Jew who commits blasphemy is to be executed by strangulation. And when Jews are not in a position to carry out Halakhic executions G-d often intervenes to carry them out Himself. How does crucifixion (which is NOT a Halakhic form of punishment) kill? By strangulation!!! G-d carried out the punishment!!!
I know my last point will offend many of you, but that is far better than telling you to go ahead and believe J*sus is G-d but don't obey him. What an unspeakably cruel demand to make of anyone!!! You don't have to obey him or believe the "new testament" because they are not true, and those "tolerant, compassionate" people who will not tell you this but still expect you to change your beliefs and practices are cruel.
You are being led to believe that Judaism opposes the gospels because it opposes Absolute Truth. In fact, it is because it is dedicated to Absolute Truth that it opposes them. I suppose it had to take a non-Jew and a former chr*stian to tell you all this.
But that was not their central reason.
Do not let political opportunism cloud your reason.