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Heightened Opposition to Jews in Early Christianity

I have been outlining some of the issues that I may talk about in a book on the rise of anti-Judaism in early Christianity, if I write it.  In previous posts I have detailed some of the uglier Christian attacks on Jews and Judaism, almost all of them tied to Christian ways of reading the Old Testament that different from traditional, Jewish readings.  Some Christians claimed that Jews misread what God had told them in the Scripture, and that this is what led them to reject their messiah, and since they had rejected their messiah, God had rejected them.  Christians, not Jews, were the people of God.  Jews were condemned.

It’s not a happy history, and it gets worse.  In my book I will not move into the later consequences of the Middle Ages down to modernity – restrictions on what Jews could do for a living, on where they could live, on how they could engage with others in their communities; eventually the pogroms and expulsions; and so on.   I will be focusing only on the *beginnings* of anti-Jewish sentiments in parts of early Christianity (not all of it!) in the first four centuries that led to the horrendous history that we know about.

Here now I pick up where I left off last time:

By the end of the second century …

This is an incredibly important topic for understanding the history of the western world.  But to read the rest of the post, you’ll need to belong to the blog.  It doesn’t cost much, so why not join?  Every penny you pay goes to help those in need.

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When Christians Went on the Attack Against Jews



  1. Avatar
    godspell  July 5, 2019

    Sounds like these laws had a lot of loopholes.


    I continue to see a great deal of continuity in the way pagan and Christian Romans treated Jews.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      This article deals with the Byzantine empire; there were pagans, then, yes; but the empire was Christian and Christian views had deeply seeped into the culture already. To show that the kinds of anti-Judaism that arose by this time had its roots in pagan culture itself you’d have to deal with the pre-Christian evidence.

      • Avatar
        godspell  July 7, 2019

        There’s also quite a lot of continuity between the eastern and western empires.

        Your thesis is coming across as “Nobody hated the Jews until Christian writers told them to.” It’s a bit one-sided, and I was trained in grad school to distrust that type of argument. It’s never as simple as all that. A historian is not a prosecutor.

        At the time these laws came into being, most Christians had, until recently, been pagans. They were not blank slates. They certainly brought a lot of their own prejudices to the table. Which were then augmented by the anger the earlier Christians felt over how most Jews had refused to accept Jesus as Messiah, but also how a minority of Jews in positions of authority had attacked them for making that case (and we should have no problem believing that happened, however much Acts and other texts exaggerated and distorted). There was intolerance on all sides. Because intolerance is a universal human heritage.

        What you described in this article sounds to me like an expanded version of what Tiberius reportedly did after a group of Jews in Rome tried to convert pagans. You can’t blame Christians for that. At that point in time, nobody knew what the heck a Christian was. The term probably didn’t even exist.

        It sounds to me like some Jews decided that if they couldn’t defeat Rome militarily, maybe they could get influential Romans to convert, and win the fight by more peaceful means, as Christianity ultimately did, after suffering quite a lot of persecution in response to its proselytization, which for pagan Romans was the deal-breaker. But to the pagan Romans, this wasn’t peaceful–this was an attack. They counter-attacked, and not with ideas.

        You could worship as you pleased in private (while sacrificing to the pagan gods in public), but you could not in any way attempt to change the existing order, where everybody other than Jews (Christians being considered just another type of Jew, which was more or less accurate at first) is under the same umbrella–Church under the authority of State. They were not tolerant towards any group that questioned that system. Rome’s grip on its far-flung empire was too shaky for that.

        Question: Christians started to separate themselves from Jews in part to avoid being attacked by Romans in response to Jewish obduracy. Does that sound like a tolerant society to you?

        • Avatar
          godspell  July 7, 2019

          Follow-up question.

          The first Jewish-Roman War was waged between 66 and 73 CE. This is precisely the period when parts of the New Testament were being written. This is also around the time that pagans began to think of Christians as something other than oddball Jews. It was a huge bloody war. Followed several decades later by a somewhat shorter but still very bloody conflict. There’s a widespread historical consensus that this led directly to the Jews going from a somewhat mistrusted but largely ignored majority group in Palestine to a dispersed minority throughout the empire, and persecuted in most parts of it. This is all long before Christians had any power at all.

          My question, though, is this–if they were so tolerated and well-treated before, why did the Jews rise up in such numbers and ferocity as to make these wars last so long? You don’t have to tell me not all of them agreed with the zealots, but clearly enough of them did to make their rebellion potent, even dangerous to the empire.

          And if you’re going to lapse into the “What have the Romans ever done for us?” bit from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian–isn’t there a pretty strong implicit criticism of most Jews in there? I wouldn’t call that film anti-semitic (it’s a favorite of mine), but it was, after all, made by children of a rather different (and VERY anti-semitic) imperial nation, that had spent the past half-century dealing with a long series of former colonies splitting away, with some resulting bitterness on behalf of the colonizers.

          I’m of Irish descent. My people were the first to go, unless you count America. On the whole, I don’t think Empires who force themselves on other nations then ask to be thanked for it are anything to mourn. No matter how many aqueducts they build. 😉

          • Bart
            Bart  July 8, 2019

            I think you’re confusing a local political-military event in Judea with the standing of Jews throughout the Roman world. The dispersion of Jews did not occur as a result of the war. It had started well over six hundred years before that before that and had been a fait accompli for centuries. Estimates vary, but everyone agrees that the vast majority of Jews were not living in the homeland at the time (90%? Maybe someone has a better number?) There were extremely large Jewish populations in, say, Egypt and Rome at the time. These Jews had nothing to do with the war and were not blamed for it. It’s like today in some sense. Most of us would think it would be crazy to blame the guy next door, who happens to be Jewish, if Netanyahu decides to annex more of the West Bank.

          • Avatar
            godspell  July 8, 2019

            Not that one should ever quote a Wikipedia article in a scholarly paper, but this hardly qualifies as that….


            “The Jewish–Roman wars had a dramatic impact on the Jewish people, turning them from a major population in the Eastern Mediterranean into a scattered and persecuted minority. The Jewish–Roman wars are often cited as a disaster to Jewish society.”

            I think calling those wars ‘a local event’ is soft-pedaling things a mite. Their influence went far beyond Palestine. Look how much wars in far-flung places in the Middle East and elsewhere impact us today.

            I am well aware there were pockets of Jews elsewhere in the Roman world, but they became a great deal more numerous and widespread after Rome crushed the rebellion. And we see what happens in our modern world when a small minority becomes a large one.

            I think the procession of anti-Jewish prejudice was happening with or without Christianity, and in any event, Christianity itself was reacting to that growing prejudice, being composed as it was of former pagans.

            Any such change in social attitudes is interactive. Without question, some Christian texts served as a locus for it. But something else would have filled that gap. The pattern was established before Christianity came into being. The Jews were tolerated–barely–until they became too numerous and influential. Or until they refused to accept Roman rule, whether it was pagan or Christian. Roman society was not prepared to accept Jewish autonomy, because pluralism didn’t exist.

            You began this with how Christians took the Jewish scriptures as their own. (Which was inevitable, as the ideas of Jesus are incomprehensible without some of the OT writings).

            But the OT writings often focus on the people God has chosen, and everybody else (with some honorable exceptions) is wrong. That’s a powerful idea, but who’s going to want to be the other guys?

            This is compatible with ideas the Greeks and Romans had about their own sacred history, their own destiny to rule. But it was the Jewish myth cycle that ultimately prevailed–for non-Jews. That became the basis for western civilization, especially in Europe. Without Christianity, who besides observant Jews would care about Abraham and Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah?

            Are you saying we should regret this?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 9, 2019

            Not sure you’re getting my point. The Jewish uprising of 66-73 CE is not what led to the crises of later times or the massive dispersion you’re imagining. There weren’t “pockets” of Jews around the Mediterranean prior to the war. By far the greatest majority of Jews were elsewhere, around the Mediterranean.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 8, 2019

          No, I’m afraid that simplified view of what I’m saying is not actually what I’m saying. There were plenty of people who hated Jews; just as there were plenty of people who hated Ethiopians, and Egyptians, and Syrians, and Romans, and Greeks.

          • Avatar
            godspell  July 8, 2019

            And you’re saying that it took on a different quality after Christianity became powerful. Okay, I can see that. But can you see that it was responding to other stimuli than just a handful of texts most people couldn’t even read?

            Those other groups you mention were all quite different from the Jews, who tended not to fully assimilate, to intermarry with non-Jews (or, in some cases, like Christians, conversion would be a condition of marriage). Their polytheistic religions were more compatible with Roman paganism. Thus, once they left their country of origin, they were no longer considered members of that group after a generation or three. (Modern racism based on skin color wasn’t such a powerful thing back then, though you can see hints of it).

            Only the Jews held themselves apart–but once they were heavily dispersed outside their country of origin, they were still a distinct group, with a tendency to look upon non-Jews with distrust (even in 20th century America–ever read Portnoy’s Complaint?) Also a counter-tendency to form relationships outside their faith, because of an innate curiosity about other people, and a need to do business with non-Jews to survive. It was complicated for them–and for those they came into contact with. But the mere fact that they were separate, different, led to suspicions, on both sides.

            This is how prejudices come into being, intensify, propagate themselves. Not “Somebody wrote a book.” The books would have been ignored if the hatreds weren’t already present. They were frequently ignored anyway, as the prosperity and success of Jews throughout the Roman Christian world proves. And later in the Islamic world.

            But it was in the Christian world, ultimately, that the Jewish people would make their greatest contributions to world culture, and it’s in the most Christian country on earth (God help us) that they are now most numerous and successful.

            (And in some cases, forming alliances with evangelical Christians who think Jesus will return if they can all be converted.)

            It’s complicated. I’m not seeing enough of that complexity in what you’ve written thus far. Is all I’m saying.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 9, 2019

            Yes, it’s pretty clear you’re not seeing the complexity of the situation I’m mapping out!

          • Avatar
            godspell  July 9, 2019

            Nope. I’ll keep reading. And maybe not just here. I work for a library, and this is a subject with a vast literature about it.

            I think you’re not entirely grasping my points either.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 10, 2019

            Oh boy is there a vast literature on it. I taught a PhD seminar on it years ago. A very complicated topic, especially since mid-20th century.

      • Robert
        Robert  July 8, 2019

        Bart: “… There were extremely large Jewish populations in, say, Egypt and Rome at the time. These Jews had nothing to do with the war and were not blamed for it. …”

        Well, they were indeed held responsible insofar as they became subject to the fiscus iudaicus, right?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 9, 2019

          Yes, that’s right.

        • Avatar
          godspell  July 9, 2019

          And that was a policy with a very long legacy.

          No question at all that Jewish persecution in the empire began before Christianity. And then changed under Christianity, but how much? Christianity was changed by Rome at least as much as the other way around.

          I think the basic trendlines were already there. Jews refused to knuckle under, to fit in. There was no way for them to do so without surrendering essential elements of their group identity (as happened much later, in Spain–indicating a much higher level of persecution, which certainly was due to Christianity, but also a response to the long bloody wars of reconquest–Jews got lumped in with Moors).

          The conflict is between individuality and homogeneity. Rome standing for the latter. Yes, you could have your own little customs, but they were subordinate to that of the imperial culture.

          So even when tolerating Jewish differences, Jews were still forced to pay for them. Which was not just a financial penalty. It was also a pointed reminder of their inferiority. A humiliation. That was inflicted on all, not just those who rose up in rebellion.

          And this is the Rome that Christianity inherited. It was not a transition from tolerance to intolerance, but from one form of intolerance to another.

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 5, 2019

    Ugh! Really ugly history! Thanks for educating me about it.

  3. Avatar
    Hon Wai  July 5, 2019

    I often found it remarkable how Jewish communities in Europe managed to thrive, maintained cohension, often becoming the economic elite, despite centuries of persecution and oppression. Into the 20th century, Jewish intellectuals were disproportionately represented at the elite levels of science, arts, philosophy, politics. Maybe God did bless them with good genes, and the Jewish tradition inculcated reverence for learning and excellence in everyday life.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 7, 2019

      I think Darwin would have a different explanation.

      Though, of course, Darwin’s idea have been used (misused, really) much more often than Christian ideas to justify modern anti-semitism. Hitler thought of himself as being influenced by Darwin, and wanted to destroy Christianity (sections of which still collaborated with him, while others resisted).

      Christian, Jews, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist–whatever you are.

      Worry about the log in your own eye.

      • Avatar
        flcombs  July 12, 2019

        Hitler also was against atheists and raged against them. He did quote previous Christian acts against the Jews as justification for what he was doing and he was correct about the conduct of Christians (read Martin Luther). But like extremist Muslims misusing the Qur’an people have always found ways to justify their actions.

        Hitler on April 26 1933. At the meeting, Hitler declared:
        “I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.” Robert A. Krieg, Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany,p.6 , Continuum, 2004 ISBN 0-8264-1576-8

        The greatness of Christianity did not lie in attempted negotiations for compromise with any similar philosophical opinions in the ancient world, but in its inexorable fanaticism in preaching and fighting for its own doctrine. -Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)

        “There may have been a time when even parties founded on the ecclesiastical basis were a necessity. At that time Liberalism was opposed to the Church, while Marxism was anti-religious. But that time is past. National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity. The Church’s interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of today, in our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life, for the conquest of hatred and disunion between the classes, for the conquest of civil war and unrest, of strife and discord. These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles.”

        Norman H. Baynes, ed., The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942, p. 386. quotes

  4. Avatar
    rivercrowman  July 5, 2019

    Based on this and earlier posts, I encourage you to write a book about the rise of anti-Judaism in early Christianity!

  5. Avatar
    Thespologian  July 5, 2019

    Melito laments over the death of Christ by the hand of Israel. So, what was supposed to happen instead: Does he offer the desired alternative? Were scriptures not fulfilled? Was Jesus supposed to bring us the end times? Would God not have stopped what was not supposed to happen? How do accusations stand up against fate?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      Constant problem, and not just in Christianity, but in any religion (and in Greek and Roman mythology) where there is both fate and responsibility at the same time….

  6. Robert
    Robert  July 5, 2019

    “By the end of the [fourth] century, under the even more fervent Christian Emperor Theodosius I, any Christian who married a Jew was declared an adulterer.”

    There is of course no excuse for Christian antisemitism, yet there are other factors that should also be considered as part of the whole picture. According to Larry Schiffmann, Jewish rabbis had already prohibited intermarriage of nonmessianic Jews with messianic or ‘Christian’ Jews for over a couple of hundred years.


    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      Well, we might disagree on dating of these traditions — though there’s no way on God’s Green Earth I’m gonna go toe-to-toe with Larry Schiffmann about it! – but my point is that it now was becoming law of the land punishable in civil courts, not based on Jews’ own cultural and religious preferences but based on hatred of all ways Jewish.

      • Robert
        Robert  July 7, 2019

        Bart: “… my point is that it now was becoming law of the land punishable in civil courts, not based on Jews’ own cultural and religious preferences but based on hatred of all ways Jewish.”

        Sure, the Christian empire would ultimately exercise infinitely more power and authority, with horrible and catastrophic consequences, over the Jews than the Jewish authorities ever could have had over ‘Christian’ Jews.

        • Avatar
          godspell  July 10, 2019

          Yes, power corrupts. An English Catholic historian (who lived in a time when Catholicism was a minority faith in England) wrote that, and it holds true for everybody, without exception. It has certainly held true for atheists in modern times.

          But I think we have to accept that persecution began under the pagan Emperors, and that the Jews had no nostalgia at all for pagan ‘tolerance’–even Julian’s relatively kind treatment of them was based pretty much entirely on a shared emnity towards Christianity, and a need for allies.

          And there is some indication Marcus Aurelius viewed Jews as the most irritating and troublesome of his subjects (Marcellinus uses the word ‘malodorous’ in his history). Think about it from the perspective of an empire that wants to permanently subjugate a large diverse part of the world–who are you going to hate more than a people who won’t even sacrifice to the gods you call upon to preserve this empire and keep it peaceful and prosperous, and seek every opportunity to rebel against it? There was little attempt to differentiate between different sects and factions–collective guilt was definitely a thing before Jesus (who believed in no such thing).

          Christianity inherited this prejudice, added to it–did not create it. This is my difference with Bart. This was much more Rome corrupting Christians than the other way around.

  7. Avatar
    Pegill7  July 5, 2019

    I believe I am correct on this that the Emperor Theodosius I ordered a group of Christians who had destroyed a synagogue to rebuild it, whereupon Bishop of Milan Ambrose ordered the emperor to rescind that order on pain of excommunication if he refused. Theodosius complied. I hope that I am right on this. I do recall also that Theodosius was excommunicated for the execution of the Thessalonican “seven thousand,”and was forced to do penance before he was restored to the Church.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      Yes, the confrontation with Ambrose was where church leaders started exercising (amazing) authority over the most powerful man (or so previously thought) in the Western world.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  July 5, 2019

    Jesus’ arrest and pre-trial by the Jewish leaders – is that too well-attested to be an anti-Jewish fabrication? Or do you think there was simply exaggeration, to indict the Jews in Jesus’ death? Is it just coincidence that Jesus’ betrayer was named “Judas”, a name synonymous with the Jews?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      I think it’s an exaggeration, but it’s really hard to tell. And yes, I think there really was a Judas named Judas (common name). I give the reasons in my book on The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

      • Avatar
        Sisu  July 9, 2019

        Though it should be pointed out that respected liberal theologian John Spong believes that Judas was an anti-semitic creation, so it’s not a theory without some legit backers.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 10, 2019

          Yes, he’s basing that on some work of others. I don’t buy it for reasons I lay out in my book.

  9. Avatar
    fedcarroll77  July 5, 2019

    Very intriguing. I knew anti-Jewish sentiment was there, but I figured it was at a later time when it got that bad as you describe above.

    So I’m baturally intrigued and curious about these works of early Christian leaders (Justin martyr, Origen, the one you described above, etc) and their sermons, letters to others. Is there a book that has been published noting these works of the church leaders? And by whom?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      Oh yes, many many. A good place to start, to toot my own horn, is my book After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity. It is a “reader” that contains excerpts (the most important ones) from all these writers, organized thematically, with introductions to explain who the people were, when they lived, what they wrote about, and so on.

  10. Avatar
    Rokyro  July 5, 2019

    Hi Bart, completely off the topic of your post, but I’m currently enjoying your “Jesus-Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium”. One point in the book that did surprise was your claim that Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple. You specifically cite multiple attestation as convincing evidence.

    However, for myself, I find it relevant that neither Paul or Q, the earliest Christian documents mention this quite important prophesy. I was under the impression that one of the reasons we are able to date Mark is because of that prophesy and time stamp it around 70 AD or after the temple’s destruction.

    You say, in the book, that rejecting Jesus’ prophesy of the temple’s destruction, having later Christians place it on his lips, is a bit of an extreme view. I’m wondering if you still stand by this claim, or have your opinion of Jesus’ prophecy of the temple’s destruction evolved at all over the years (since the book was written 20 years ago now!).


    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      Yes, good point. What I’d say in response is that Paul mentions almost *none* of the teachings of Jesus (just the words at the last supper and the teachings that his followers should pay their preachers and not get divorced) and so we wouldn’t expect him to quote these in particular; and Q is a problem since all it means in this case is that Matthew and Luke do not *both* quote sayings about Jesus connected with the temple (just as they don’t report a lot of other sayings in Q). So we don’t know if it was in Q or not. I still think it’s completely plausible that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, since in doing so he would simply be repeating the prophecies of Jeremiah, and it’s something other Jews at the time were saying as well (e.g. in the Dead Sea Scrolls)

  11. Avatar
    Matt2239  July 6, 2019

    In the last paragraph of your post, you say that laws were passed against Jews who attacked people for converting to Christianity. This is an important fact, because it reveals that the animosity between Jews and Christians was coming from both sides. It wasn’t just Christians persecuting Jews. It was also Jews attacking anyone who converted to Christianity. I’d be interested to know more about the Greek version of the Old Testament and its role in the early years of Christianity. Was it, like the gospels and epistles, a codicil, or did it take the form of a scroll?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      But Jews were attacking Jews — they weren’t attacking non-Jews. That’s the difference. Christians were persecutiong *Jews*.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  July 7, 2019

        uhh so you think it’s apropos that jews didn’t care (attack) gentiles converting to christianity?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 8, 2019

          That’s precisely what I think. (Are you asking would Jews have cared if pagans became Christians? I don’t know of any evidence to suggest they cared, or even thought about it. But I’d be intrigued to see any if it exists!)

          • tompicard
            tompicard  July 8, 2019

            I am saying NO one should be attacked for changing their religion . .
            nor do I object to legislation to that effect, however I don’t think violators of such laws should be incinerated.

      • Avatar
        Matt2239  July 7, 2019

        “Jews who attacked others” as you wrote above does not limit attacks to former Jews, however, once a person converted to Christianity, he or she was a Christian. Jews were attacking Christians who had once been Jews, but they were Christians when attacked. Jews in ancient Rome were not tolerant or non-violent, two key features of modern Judaism and modern Christianity.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 8, 2019

          I’m afraid I’m not sure what you’re first sentence is saying. (Pagans who became Christians certainly did not usually become Jews). And when you say Jews in Rome were intolerant and violent — I’m not sure what you’re referring to?

  12. Avatar
    Froederick  July 6, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I’ve spent some time in a Antiochian Orthodox
    Church where Chrisostom is held in high esteem. First I’d heard of his anti -Jewish screeds.

    His defenders attempt to soften his stance by
    attributing his harshness to a rhetorical device
    in use in that era. Is this a valid argument? Sounds revisionist to me!


    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      Yes, we do tend to support the predecessors of our own tradition. But in this case kind of like calling white nationalist rhetoric acceptable because it gets used a lot!

      • Avatar
        RVBlake  July 7, 2019

        What “white nationalist rhetoric” do you mean?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 8, 2019

          I suppose I mean *any* white nationalist rhetoric. But if we can’t agree that it’s always bad, well, we ain’t gonna go there on the blog.

          • Avatar
            RVBlake  July 8, 2019

            Taking pride in the achievements of one’s race is not bad. If that is the sort of “rhetoric” to which you are referring, then we do not agree. Unsubscribe me from the blog now.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 9, 2019

            White nationalism is not about being proud about one’s race. It is about opposing with violent speech and/or action the race of others. If you do indeed think that whites are superior to blacks and and browns and others, and that they should have supremacy in social and political policies and power, then yes, I do indeed disagree with you heartily and am willing to go to the mat for it. If that’s not your view, then of course there’s no disagreement: white Americans have done great things. So have black Americans. And brown Americans. And white, black, and brown non-Americans. And all people everywhere in the world.

  13. fefferdan
    fefferdan  July 6, 2019

    Just a personal note: I’m a Jew who accepted the idea that God was rooting for Jesus to become the Messiah, but I rejected the idea that he was God or that God sent him to die for our sins. It puts me in an awkward position, because I do think my ancestors missed the boat; but I also think Christians made Jesus into something he wasn’t. To make matters worse, I experience an often unconscious form of anti-Judaism almost daily in various internet discussions with usually well meaning Christians of various types. This ranges from supercessionist attitudes that Judaism lost the covenant which Christians inherited, to prejudices about Jews being money-grubbers who never got beyond the “eye for an eye” mentality of the OT, to ideas that Jews are inheritors of a grievous collective sin for rejecting Jesus. So I thank you, Bart, for the work you’ve done and will continue to do in bringing light to this subject.


  14. Avatar
    dankoh  July 7, 2019

    John Chrysostom had a specific goal in mind in his invective (aside from venting his hatred of Jews); he wanted to keep new Christians from confusing Christianity with Judaism and thereby “judaizing” – taking on Jewish customs without realizing it. It in no way excuses his bile, but his intent was to make Jews so unattractive that no Christian would want anything to do with them, and so would not be in any danger of confusion.

    Theodosius did order the repair of a synagogue in Callinicum (Syria) around 388 after a mob destroyed it; Ambrose threatened to withhold communion unless the emperor rescinded the order. I find there is some skepticism about this story, but certainly Ambrose was asserting the primacy of the Church over the emperor, and Gregory VII did cite it as a precedent when he was fighting Henry II.

  15. Avatar
    johnsotdj  July 8, 2019

    This is a very interesting and important topic! I know Dr. Ehrman has addressed the notion that the term “Pharisee” is no more synonymous with “hypocrite” than Episcopalian or Congregationalist, but much of this idea seems to come from Matthew Ch. 23. I recall reading somewhere, I think the Jesus Seminar, that the Pharisees became important only after the destruction of the temple and were to be found more in Jerusalem than, say, Galilee, and the portrayals in the gospels of Jesus debating them were fabrications and reflections of the animosity of the early Christians toward the Jews. How much of that is historically likely, or is it just speculation on the part of the scholars of the JS?
    My apologies if this is off topic!

    Tom Johnson

    • Bart
      Bart  July 9, 2019

      No apology necessary. Yes, during Jesus’ day the Pharisees had almost not political power: they were simply one of the religious options among many, many Jews. It is after 70 CE that they began to assert real social power, with the demise of the Judean state.

  16. Avatar
    Silver  July 9, 2019

    In Acts 10 where Peter has a dream about unclean animals he then meets with Cornelius the centurion.
    In v28 Peter tells Cornelius that a Jew is forbidden by his religion to visit or associate with a man of another race.
    Was such a prohibition indeed the case, please?

  17. Robert
    Robert  July 12, 2019

    godspell: “… Christianity inherited this prejudice, added to it–did not create it.  This is my difference with Bart.  This was much more Rome corrupting Christians than the other way around. …”

    Yes, the church(es) added to it, eventually on an exponentiall scale, after adding a theological dimension that justified their hatred and violence for centuries. No comparison with the imperial repression of revolts and political propaganda of the Flavians.

  18. Avatar
    Jacqueline3  July 15, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Your interesting little essay on early Christianity’s appropriation and reinterpretation of the OT reminded me of a section in “A Marginal Jew” Vol 2 (p. 113-115) where (speaking of John the Baptist) Meier says that the the Jewish conception of sin and repentance was mostly collective. It could, of course, refer to individual failing, but in many cases Jewish prophets took on the role of aggrieved mediators between God and the Jewish people as a whole, even though the prophet might personally lead a blameless life.

    Long story short, would it not follow that when Christianity spread out into the Roman Empire’s multi-ethnic populations, the OT’s collective approach to sin and forgiveness no longer made any sense? The ups and downs on the path to salvation were “individualized”, each Christian nurturing a tiny soul on the road to final judgment.

    As a result, the OT became for Christians a source of prophetic intimations announcing the coming of Christ, a quarry for egg-hunting theologians seeking hidden messages, none of which made any sense to Jews, still insisting on their “collective” OT God and stories.

    If this interpretation makes sense, the Christians may have unknowingly “stolen” the OT for their own purposes. But at the same time, the wholesale reinterpretation of OT stories became inevitable once individual salvation replaced a single Jewish nation’s collective aspirations.

    Just a thought….
    Keep up the good work. Your site is very interesting.

  19. fefferdan
    fefferdan  November 27, 2019

    Circling back to this thread, I notice no mention of the Book of Hebrews. Bart, what role did this scripture have in the development of Christian anti-Judaism? Did it go well beyond Paul by characterizing the “Old covenant” as “flawed” and “obsolete,” or is this view consistent with Paul’s teaching in your opinion?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2019

      Yes, I think it went beyond Paul, but not as far as later authors such as teh anonymous writer of Barnabas, let alone Melito of Sardis.

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    Martin2020  April 7, 2020

    Jesus made the constant call to be inclusive as the centre of faith; yet this message is doomed to be ignored by even the most faithful. This presents a fascinating theological theme. The immediate opponent of Jesus the Judean, the Jew, is contemporary denominationalism and their religious leaders who selfishly nurture division. Jesus demonstrates his purity and divinity by condemning all the others in his circle in the First Generation who fail to remain true to God the son and who break away; ie either (1) siding with a different group (eg Peter’s denial) or (2) simply failing to sustain their commitment to God (Peter, John, James fall asleep in the garden). Then Paul is ambiguous about unity and discipleship. Move forward to Melito and then on to today’s vindictive prejudice against the State of Israel (which can take the form of ‘evangelicals’ exploiting Israel for their selfish, socially regressive agenda)

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