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Melito and arly Christian Anti-Judaism

I AM IN THE PROCESS OF MAKING THE PENULTIMATE EDITS ON MY MY BIBLE INTRODUCTION.  TODAY I HAD TO REVIEW AN EXCURSUS ON EARLY JEWISH-CHRISTIAN RELATIONS IN WHICH I DISCUSS THE RISE OF ANTI-JUDAISM IN THE EARLY CHURCH, IN CLUDING THIS BIT ON MELITO OF SARDIS.  I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE WORTH POSTING HERE.

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Melito was a bishop of the city of Sardis in Asia Mino in the mid to late second century.  Today he is best known for a sermon he wrote that lambasts the Jews for the role they played in the death of Jesus.   In it we find the first instance of a Christian author claiming that since the Jews killed Jesus, and since Jesus was God, the Jews are guilty of deicide – the murder of God.   This charge was used, of course, to justify all sorts of hateful acts of violence against Jews over the centuries.  In part, the rhetorical eloquence with which the charge was sometimes leveled has contributed ot the emotional reaction that it produced.  Consider Melito’s own gripping, if terrifying, rhetoric:

This one was murdered.  And where was he murdered?  In the very center of Jerusalem!  Why?  Because he had healed their lame and had cleansed their lepers, and had guided their blind with light, and had raised up their dead.  For this reason he suffered…. (ch. 72).

Why, O Israel, did you do this strange injustice?  You dishonored the one who had honored you.  You held in contempt the one who held you in esteem.  You denied the one who publicly acknowledged you.  You renounced the one who proclaimed you his own.  You killed the one who made you to live.  Why did you do this, O Israel? (ch. 73)

It was necessary for him  to suffer, yes, but not by you; it was necessary for him to be dishonored, but not by you; it was necessary for him to be judged, but not by you; it was necessary for him to be crucified, but not by you, not by your right hand, O Israel! (chs. 75-76)

Therefore, hear and tremble because of him for whom the earth trembled.  The one who hung the earth in space is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree.  The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the king of Israel has been destroyed, by the hand of Israel…. (chs. 95-96).


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Baerheim  December 2, 2012

    Goes to show you how dangerous generalizing can be.

  2. gmatthews
    gmatthews  December 2, 2012

    I’ve never understood the historical and modern day hate extended to the Jews for the supposed murder of Jesus. Wasn’t he prophesied to die for everyone’s sins? Didn’t the Jews just fulfill the prophesy of his death? Seems like they did humanity a favor! How else was he to die? An infection from a paper cut? Falling down a flight of stairs? Being accused of leading the Judean People’s Front?

  3. Avatar
    toddfrederick  December 3, 2012

    First, I have a serious problem accepting a belief that Jesus was God. I hope your books comes out soon !!!

    Second, Melito was a human and is reacting with great human anger (hardly loving his enemies). The danger is that such anger and distorted view of Jesus leads to revenge.

    Third, Melto was not alone. I think that in one of your books you refer to the Letter of Barnabas, equally anti-Semitic and Paul’s attack in Galatians was not so gentle either.

    Fourth, those in our time who reject Christianity for such hatred (not only toward the Jews) but gays, and blacks, and non-Christians and others they hate, simply turn them away from the good that is in Christianity. The term Christian does not always carry a positive feeling for me.

    Sad.

  4. Avatar
    Jim  December 3, 2012

    Interesting thing about rhetoric is that sometimes while focusing on one point something creepier gets introduced. Melito blames the Jews for the death of Jesus while implicating (chs 75-76) that it was necessary for him to suffer; or from a Christian perspective presumably God needed to totally kick the crap out of own His Son who incidentally did a lot of good deeds. So is Melito saying bad Jews but good God (who required a child sacrifice)? Now there’s a God you can trust.

  5. Avatar
    donmax  December 4, 2012

    The best book I’ve read about antisemitism is by Phyllis Goldstein called A CONVENIENT HATRED. It a well-crafted historical analysis well worth the reading. D.C.S.

  6. Avatar
    andom  December 7, 2012

    Melito lived in a time when Christians were persecuted. Writing to the Emperor Melito remembered the pillage and the harrying night and day Christians suffered in Asia concluding “we beseech you all the more not to neglect us in this brigandage by a mob”. It would be very interesting to understand if the anti-Jewish stance taken by Melito could be interpreted as a way to exonerate the Romans, and therefore to be better treated by them or if there were a polemic with the local Jewish community. In Sardis it was found one of the largest ancient synagogues in demonstrating that the Jewish community was thriving and well respected by the Roman power. What was the attitude of this community when Christians were persecuted?

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