Is the New Testament a root of antisemitism?

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by Neil Godfrey

The gospels of Matthew and John and other passages in the NT letters no doubt contain virulent anti-semitic expressions but most of us surely know from personal experience that those expressions have not turned (most of) us into raving anti-semites. Rather I suspect most of us have felt a little discomfort at times when reading these, much the same way many of us respond with some discomfort over passages forbidding women to speak in church assemblies.

Biblical “memes” need to find rich manure to do their dirty work, and surely those who find visceral excitement in passages like Matthew 27:25, John 8:39,44 and I Thess.2:15-16 are bent quite independently of those passages.

It helps to remember Jews have not been the only victims but Romanies (Gypsies) have been lumped with them for similar treatment from olden to modern times — variously along with witches and homosexuals et al. Singling out Jews at the expense of these surely risks serving sectional political interests today at the expense of these other minorities by failing to address racism per se.

Edward Said’s valuable contribution to this debate (in his classic Orientialism) was the observation of how since the holocaust of WW2 anti-semitism has bifurcated into the guilt-response cum displacement equation of jews:good::arabs:bad — both sides of the expression of course being unhealthy unrealistic mythical nonsense. I suspect that much of the rekindled expressions of anti(jewish)semitism in recent years has been a reaction, albeit an equally pathological one, against this bifurcation — as it has been expressed via one-sided neo-con policies in the middle east and inability to express any normal healthy criticism of the State of Israel without being accused (and often worse) of anti-semitism.

So what to do about religious or other tracts that promote antisemitism? Well, democracy is by nature often messy. Alternatives are totalitarianism and censorship. I’d rather those not so inflamed by those texts take reponsibility to promote solutions to racism as to any other social problem. It would help to ask also “why now”, “why these people”, “why here”, etc — since it is clear that the world has not seen rabid racism swept along on gales of sayings from sacred texts at all times and all places and among all groups where those sacred texts are venerated.


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