Subject: Church History of Antisemitism - Part I 
Date:    Wed, 15 Apr 1998 00:37:52 +0000
To:      "Hebraic Heritage Newsgroup"<>


From:          Luana Fabry <>
To:            Hebraic Roots <>
Subject:       Antisemitism

Shalom All

I have finally put on my website the article on "The History of
Antisemitism in the Church".  You will find it at: 

Below is Part 1 of 3 located at the Web page.

Beit Y'shua Australia

                             The Early Church Fathers 
                                           (Part I)

     For almost a century, the early believers in Yeshua the Messiah
     were culturally and ethnically the same as, and worshipped
     alongside, mainstream Judaism. The first 'Christians' as such,
     were Jews. The Torah was of great importance to them and they
     kept its laws, keeping the Sabbath and performing circumcision.
     They did not follow `another religion', but remained within the
     Torah framework of Judaism. This Messianic movement spread
     largely among Jews to begin with, and for some time it remained
     as a sect within Judaism, mostly known as the sect of the
     Nazareans. Early in the second century, the Nazarean sect,
     consisting of both Jews and Gentile believers who converted to
     Judaism, became subjected to a number of religious and political
     events. In 117 CE, The Roman Emperor Hadrian built a temple to
     Jupiter in Jerusalem and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina,
     turning Jerusalem into a Roman City. Demoralized after such a
     loss of Jewish national and religious life, which had begun with
     the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, the Jewish people
     looked for a Messiah to save them from the oppression of Rome. In
     132 C.E., Simon Bar Kochba was endorsed by the leading Jewish
     intellectual of the time, Rabbi Akiba, to be the promised Messiah
     and in CE 135, Bar Kochba led a revolt against Rome.1 The
     Nazarean Jews, however, refused to join in the revolt as they
     believed this would go against their belief in Yeshua as the
     Messiah. Although they had fought in the initial revolt against
     Rome, when Bar Kochba was declared the Messiah, they refused to
     fight under his banner. This resulted in bloodshed between Jews
     on both sides. By the end of the second century CE, a wedge was
     driven between the Nazarean movement and mainstream Judaism. 

     However, the Bar Kochba revolt was not the only reason for this
     separation. As more and more Gentiles joined the new Jewish
     movement, the actual Jewish presence became progressively less
     important. Although Christianity didn't officially take a stance
     against Judaism until early in the fourth century, divisions and
     differences of opinion began in the first century CE. As a result
     of the Apostle Paul's mission to the Gentiles, the ethnic
     composition of the Nazarean movement began to rapidly change from
     a Jewish majority to a Gentile majority. For some time, Gentiles
     remained within the Nazarean movement. However, by the end of
     first century, non-Jewish influences affected the structure and
     beliefs of the now Gentile-dominated movement. 

     In the second century CE, many of the `Early Church Fathers' or `
     Apostolic Fathers', began to make statements which further
     separated gentiles from everything Jewish. Non-Jewish doctrines
     began to be developed which became the foundational beliefs of
     Christianity. Although Gentile Christians were not particularly
     opposed to the Jews and many still converted to Judaism, the
     formal position of the Church was decisively set against the
     Synagogue. The Church sought to conquer the Synagogue which in
     their view continued to cling stubbornly to its ancestral faith.
     Frustrated and embittered, the Church Fathers set out to prove
     that Judaism was a legalistic, dead and superseded religion. 2 By
     reversing the Biblical image of the Jews, the Church claimed to
     be the "New Israel", the "Jacob", whereas the Jews were Esau and
     Cain, the murderers of their brother. Israel was portrayed as
     blind and divorced by God. This theology of replacement,, which
     evolved into a theology of displacement, stated that the Jews had
     forfeited what God had given them and now Christianity was the
     new " heir" to the promises and blessings of God. The Jews,
     however, could keep the curses. In the Epistle of Barnabas,
     written around 135 CE, this `replacement theology' is clearly
     stated. Referring to the Mosaic Covenant, Barnabas writes: 

     Indeed  it is ours; for Moses had hardly received it when they 
     (the Jews)  forfeited it forever. 3 

     The Church, however, did not claim the Biblical commandments in a
     literal sense, but rather spiritualized them. They perceived the
     literal as being only a shadow of what was to come, being that
     Jesus completed and abolished law. To continue observing the
     literal Sabbath, literal circumcision, literal dietary laws etc.,
     was foolishness and nonsense. The Church Father, Tertullian,
     wrote concerning the Sabbath and circumcision: 

     It follows, accordingly, that, in so far as the abolition of
     carnal circumcision and of the old law is demonstrated as having
     been consummated at its specific times, so also the observance of
     the Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary.4 

     In a letter to Diognetus, possibly written by Justin Martyr in
     the second century, similar statements are made concerning Jewish

     As for their scrupoulness about meats, and their superstitions
     about the sabbath, and their much vaunted circumcision, and their
     pretentious festivals and new moon observances - all of them too
     nonsensical to be worth discussing... 5 

     The Apostolic Fathers continued issuing statements which clearly
     divorced Christianity from anything Jewish. The Mosaic Law,
     including the Festivals and the Sabbath, circumcision and
     Israel's election by God, were all brushed away as things of the
     past. Also, in order to gain the acceptance of Rome, the now
     Gentile dominated `Church' made it loud and clear that it had
     nothing in common with Judaism. In the Epistle of Ignatius,
     Bishop of Antioch, to the Magnesians in 115 CE, Christians were
     warned of the error of looking to Judaism: 

     To profess Jesus Christ while continuing to follow Jewish customs
     is an absurdity. The Christian faith does not look to Judaism,
     but Judaism looks to Christianity... 6 

     The teaching of the Church Fathers managed to invalidate Judaism
     in the eyes of the Gentile world. Although up until now the
     Jewish/Christian debate was not much more than a debate, the real
     turning point for the Jews in the Roman Christian world was the
     Council of Nicea, held in 325 CE. At this Council, Christianity
     became the official religion of the Roman State and the concepts
     and claims of the theologians were put into practice and the
     separation between Christianity and Judaism became official.
     Constantine, Emperor of Rome and leader of the Church declared: 

     You should consider not only that the number of churches in these
     provinces make a majority, but also that it is right to demand
     what our reason approves, and that we should have nothing in
     common with the Jews. 7 

     As the Church developed into the fourth century and became an
     international political power, it was confronted with the
     terrible fact that the Jews, merely by continuing to be Jews
     threatened the very legitimacy of the Church. They concluded that
     if Judaism remained valid, Christianity would then be invalid.
     Christianity's idea of redemption was so manifestly in opposition
     to that of the Jews, that it rendered their mutual coexistence
     inconceivable. The Church Fathers had to deal with this Jewish
     challenge and they did so in a most logical manner: 

     Judaism was declared an apostate and superseded religion and the
     Jews had now lost their right to exist. However, the Jews did
     exist and so the Church needed a reason for their continued
     existence. If their failure to recognize the Christ resulted in
     their dispersion and if Christianity had superceded Judaism in
     being a "light to the gentiles", then why were the Jews around at
     all? The Church concluded that the reason Jews survived was to
     prove the truth of Christianity. They were to be around always,
     to be persecuted, vulnerable, wanderers on the earth without a
     home, as proof of God's wrath upon them. The condition of the
     Jews was to be a negative witness to their crime of deicide. This
     was the purpose of their existence. The Jews, therefore, were
     forever, everywhere, responsible for his death collectively
     because they are a wicked nation. Furthermore, the calamities
     that befell Jewry - the destruction of the Temple and the
     dispersion - were seen as having Christological import, pointing
     to what Christians saw as just desserts for killing Christ. 

     Augustine declared: 

     The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the
     Lord for silver. The Jew can never understand the Scriptures and
     forever will bear the guilt for the death of Jesus. 8 

     Concerning the accusation of "deicide" - killing God - Justin
     Martyr in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, stated that the Jews
     should "rightly suffer ", for they had "slain the Just One."9 If
     the Church believed that the Jews had in fact killed God, then it
     would stand to reason that "God is dead". 

     The stereotype of the `deicide people' was transmitted through
     theological writings, sermons and in following centuries, through
     Passion plays, folklore and the arts. Christian theologians
     condemned Jews, accusing them of being idolaters, torturers,
     spiritually deaf, blasphemers, gluttons, adulterers, cannibals,
     Christ-killers, and beyond God's forgiveness. John Chrysostom,
     known as the "golden mouthed" due to his eloquence in speech,
     unleashed a series of Homilies against the Jews. In the late
     fourth century he falsely wrote: 

     They sacrificed their sons and daughters to devils; they outraged
     nature and overthrew their foundations of the laws of
     relationship.They are become worse than the wild beasts, and for
     no reason at all, with their own hands, they murder their
     offspring, to worship the avenging devils who are foes of our
     life.. They know only one thing, to satisfy their gullets, get
     drunk, to kill and maim one another.. The Jews are the most
     worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They
     are perfidious murderers of Christ. The Jews are the odious
     assassins of Christ and for killing God there is no expiation
     possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christians may never cease
     vengeance, and the Jews must live in servitude forever. God
     always hated the Jews. It is incumbent upon all Christians to
     hate the Jews. 10 

     Chrysostom argued that Jews will be crucified throughout history
     because they crucified Christ: It is because you shed the
     precious blood, that there is now no restoration, no mercy
     anymore, and no defence... 11 

     Persecution and violence toward the Jews became common due to
     heavy restrictive measures imposed by the Church against the
     Jewish people. In the three centuries from 300 to 600 CE., a host
     of rules were passed containing discriminatory provisions against
     the Jews in the Christian Roman Empire. These were summed up in
     four major rules contained in the Laws of Constantine the Great
     (315 CE); the Laws of Constaninus (399 CE); the Laws of
     Theodosius II (439 CE) and the Laws of Justinian (531 CE) Under
     Emperor Justinian, Roman Law was systematized and codified as
     Corpus Iuris Civilis, or "the Justinian Code". Church Law and
     doctrine now became state policy. The total of these laws
     declared that Jews were no longer allowed to hold high offices or
     have military careers. It became a capital offence to convert to
     Judaism and intermarriage between Christians and Jews was
     punishable by death. The Torah was forbidden to be read
     exclusively in Hebrew and Jews were allowed only a prescribed
     version of Scripture in their synagogues and were also prohibited
     to use prayers that were seen as anti-trinitarian. The keeping of
     the Sabbath, Jewish Festivals and performing circumcision were
     banned and Jewish property was confiscated. Rabbinical
     jurisdiction was curtailed; all former religious and governing
     privileges were removed and Jews were not permitted to testify
     against Christians. With the Christianization of the Roman Empire
     in east and west throughout the fourth, fifth and sixth
     centuries, the increase in anti-Jewish legislation and teaching
     reduced Judaism to a position of permanent, legal inferiority. In
     all respects, the Jew had to remain subservient to the Christian,
     and Christianity soon began to enjoy a position of superiority
     over Judaism which caused serious consequences for the Jews. 12 

     In 418 CE, Bishop Severus of Majorca forced Jews to convert.
     Violent street fighting broke out with a mob incited by the
     bishop. The synagogue was burnt. Finally the leaders of the
     Jewish community gave in and 540 Jews were converted. St. Jerome,
     who had studied with Jewish scholars in Palestine and translated
     the Bible into Latin wrote about the synagogue: "If you call it a
     brothel, a den of vice, the Devil's refuge, Satan's fortress, a
     place to deprave the soul, an abyss of every conceivable disaster
     or whatever you will, you are still saying less than it
     deserves." 13 

     In 489 CE, a Christian mob set fire to the synagogues in Antioch
     and threw the bodies of slain Jews into the fire. Jews could
     exercise no position of authority and Christianity had to be
     rigidly protected from " contamination" through living, eating or
     engaging is sexual relation with them. 14 

     The status of the Jew was thus no more than that of an animal, as
     Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, declared to the faithful: 

     Truly I doubt whether a Jew can be really human... I lead out
     from its den a monstrous animal and show it as a laughing stock
     in the amphitheatre of the world. I bring thee forward, thou Jew,
     thou brute beast, in the sight of all men. 15 

     Under the stigma of this image, the Jews were gradually excluded
     from every sphere of political influence and their political and
     civil rights were increasingly denied them, until eventually such
     rights were almost entirely a thing of the past. Church teaching,
     such as that of Chrysostom, paved the way for the slaughter of
     countless numbers of Jews throughout history. 

     Such statements as these were constantly made by Church leaders.
     The image of the Jew progressively evolved from that of
     `apostate', to the total representation of evil - the very
     incarnation of the devil himself. The " Church triumphant" saw
     herself as bearing the task of making the Holy Land (and other
     lands along the way) Judenrein. The leader of the First Crusade,
     Godfroi Bouillon, in 1096 CE, swore to avenge the blood of Christ
     in Israel and to leave no single member of the Jewish race alive.
     When the Crusaders arrived in Israel, then called Palestina, they
     rounded up the Jews in Jerusalem, herded them into the synagogue
     and burned the building to the ground. Marching triumphantly
     around the inferno, they sang a hymn - "Christ We Adore Thee".
     Inside the burning synagogue, no doubt the Jews heard these
     strains of `Christian ' worship as they perished. 

     Soon before the Church's Fourth Lateran Council, held in 1215 CE,
     Pope Innocent III condemned the Jews to eternal slavery by

     The Jews, against whom the blood of Jesus Christ calls out,
     although they ought not to be killed, lest the Christian people
     forget the Divine Law, yet as wanderers ought they remain upon
     the earth, until their countenance be filled with shame. 16 

     With this statement, the Church settled the destiny of the Jewish
     people for many centuries. 

     Church doctrine ultimately legitimized the torture and murder of
     Jews in Christendom for nearly two thousand years. They were to
     live as wanderers on the earth, having no home, rights or
     privileges. The Jews were treated as pariahs and became the
     scapegoats for all the ills of society. People everywhere, in all
     classes, were eager to exterminate the Jews. These people were
     not born with an instinctive hatred in their hearts toward the
     Jewish people, their hatred was the product of a clerical
     propaganda. 17 

     The doctrines and teachings of the Church from its beginnings to
     the Fourth Lateran Council, laid the initial layer of ` Jew
     hatred' and took the Jewish people all the way to Holocaust. This
     first step began with the attempt to drive Jews either into
     Christianity or into a place of non-identity, as Judaism was no
     longer recognized as a valid religion. By doing so, the Church
     clearly defined antisemitism's first characteristic - "You have
     no right to live among us as Jews." 

     1  M. Dimont, Jews God& History, New York, 1962, p 106-108
     2 .Wilson, M. Our Father Abraham, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
         Michigan, 1989, p92 
     3. Epistle of Barnabas 
     4. Tertuilian: An Answer to the Jews 
     5. Epistle to Diognetus
     6. lgnatius to the Magnesians
     7. Dixon, M. The Rebirth and Restoration of Israel, Chichester,
         Sovereign World, 1988, p80 
     8. Calendar of Jewish Persecution
     9. Wilson, M. Op cit, p93 
   10. Chrysostom's Sermons, quoted in Dixon, M. p80 
   11. Cohn,Sherbok, D. The Crucified Jew, Harper Collins, London, 1992, p33 
   12. Wistrich, R. Antisemitism. The Longest Hatred, Pantheon Books, 
          New York, 1991, pl9 & 25 
   14.Wistrich, R. Op cit, p45 
   15.Hay, M. Thy Brother's Blood, Hart Publishing Co. 1975, p57 
   16.Brown,M. Our Hands Are Stained With Blood, Shippensburg, 
         Destiny Image, 1993, p13 
   17.Hay, M. Op cit.  pp35