Christian Origins of anti-Semitism: A Historical Lie

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Melissa, a Latin Community writer, is Jewish. So, I would certainly surmise that she probably has a better understanding of this topic written by Rodney Stark from personal experience. I definitely welcome her to challenge any ideas presented by Stark that I examine in his first chapter of his book.

In Rodney Stark’s new book, Bearing False Witness, he sets out on a tour de force by examining the history of Anti-Catholicism that has existed in world history. Stark dismisses one of the largest historical lies against the Church; the Crusades were the first example of unprovoked colonialism, which Thomas F. Madden in his work properly shows that the Crusades are to be more properly interpreted as a defense of Christendom. He challenges the atheist supposition that the Church plunged the world into the Dark Ages only to be brought out by Enlightenment thinkers who put their faith in empiricism. Stark, among other events, finally sets the record straight on what really happened during the Spanish Inquisition.[1]

Stark’s book doesn’t shy away from challenging some of the towering scholars of history; the mainstays in university bookstores. In Stark’s introduction, the first scholar he calls out is the university standout Edward Gibbon, who he calls “one of the very first distinguished bigots.”[2] Stark writes, “Edward Gibbon would surely have been in deep trouble had the bitterly anti-religious views he expressed in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not been incorrectly seen as applying only to Roman Catholicism…Gibbon’s readers assumed his attacks were specific to Catholicism and not aimed at religion at all.”[3]

Stark reminds us that we will meet a great many of these “distinguished bigots” who many are in recent years “alienated Catholics, many of whom are seminary dropouts (one of my former college professors), former priests, or ex-nuns, such as John Cornwell, James Carroll, and Karen Armstrong.”[4]

In the first chapter, Stark dismisses what is likely the first incorrect recording of Catholic history that many secular scholars promote, which is that the Church is the originator of anti-Semitism in the world. The author explains how he fell very early in his career for this historical lie and even quotes his own book to prove it. He explains that as a graduate student that he was requested to research anti-Semitism which did show a link between American Christians prejudice against Jews. Stark explains that prior to Vatican II he was asked to prepare a brief on his findings.[5]

So how did we get to that point in the lie? It’s explained that the invention of the Church creating anti-Semitism rests on academic scholars who ignore that the fact that it existed in history prior to Christianity. Stark writes, “All of the scholars who believe that the Christians invented anti-Semitism know that deep hostility toward Jews existed long before the birth of Jesus.”[6] Stark goes to the primary Roman sources to prove this assertion. He quotes Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Cicero, and Tacitus who each had written remarks that possess strong discriminatory opinions against Jews.

Stark examines in his book a litany of examples of pagans discriminating Jews, the question that arises is why do modern historians ignore this? I would certainly assert that if any have stepped foot on a public college campus in the past ten years, the religious are not only a minority but an endangered species. In fact, I remember I made an effort to present my arguments for moral absolutism in the Enlightenment language of Locke, Burke, Rousseau et al. simply because if I mentioned either religion or God, I would have been laughed out of the room or even mocked. I am not even exaggerating this point.

So what do the Gospels say? Of course, Stark examines the Gospel of Matthew, which is written for Jews, which these irreligious scholars continue to cite over and over due to the language of Mt. 27:24-26. Stark asserts that these passages are explained out of context by the irreligious, which I remember when studying the Gospel of Matthew in theology class makes perfect sense. The Gospel was written for Jews who were concerned with not being loyal to Judaism by worshiping Christ. In this respect, one can see that the Gospel is calling them to progress from what happened in Jerusalem to faith in Christ. Of course, when the text is read by an audience that it is not intended for then the proper historicism and message are lost.

There are other passages in the entirety of the Bible and writings of Early Christians that are not interpreted with proper historicism by modern scholars. Stark reminds readers that in the year 100 A.D. there were only approximately 8,000 Christians and a century later only 200,000. In comparison to Jews during the period, which stood at 7 million, the goal of Christian writings during the period where to largely convert Jews to their religion.[7] Modern scholars apply modern prejudices to text written by 2nd  and 3rd century Christians attempting to convert Jews to their religion. Of course, if Christians were a minority to Jews during the period, isn’t it more likely that they were victims of discrimination from the majority? Doesn’t St. Paul admit this in Acts 22:4-5?:

I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.[8]

 I could go on about the evidence asserted by Rodney Stark; however, I suggest just buying his book to read his full account on this matter. Stark goes on to explain how in the middles ages the accounts of anti-Semitism by the Church have also been over-exaggerated, but to serve the purpose of this post; I wanted to illustrate how the origins of anti-Semitism did not originate from Christianity. It was unlikely due to it already existing in Pagan Rome, and Christians being a minority religion, and wanting to convert Jews to their religion wrote in the context of that sentiment.

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[1] Rodney Stark, Bearing False Witness (West Conshohocken: Templeton Press, 2016), 4.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 4.

[5] Ibid, 9.

[6] Ibid, 11.

[7] Ibid, 15.

[8] Acts 22: 4-5 RSV

2 thoughts on “Christian Origins of anti-Semitism: A Historical Lie

    1. If you have time tomorrow, you’re free to respond via post or post anything. I am taking a break tomorrow for a pilgrimage to a Basilica. Keeping up the production on the ole’ blog everyday has been great, but a bit exhausting on top of my Catholic doctrine class. I’m hoping the trip is inspiring.

      Liked by 1 person

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