Christianity was spread by violent means


Gideon Botsch

To person

Dr. phil., born 1970; Political scientist, research focus on anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism research, Moses Mendelssohn Center - University of Potsdam, Am Neuen Markt 8, 14467 Potsdam. [email protected]

Anti-Semitism is a common term for hostility towards Jews. A broad term of anti-Semitism, as it is common in political, social and cultural studies, includes all forms of hatred, prejudice and resentment against Jews, regardless of the historical context in which they occur. In this sense, anti-Semitism is also perceived in the public debate. In contrast, historical research on anti-Semitism mostly examines it as a specific form of modern Hostility towards Jews. [1] She is skeptical about a possible universalization as a phenomenon without time, place or context. Both perspectives can be useful, depending on the question. [2] The historical terminology that is used for older or different phenomena such as anti-Judaism or hostility towards Jews will be decisive for the present contribution. [3]

This is not intended to deny historical continuities. The hostility to Jews has "its roots in religious prejudices and stereotypes, in the Christian-Jewish difference, or more precisely: in the traditional rejection of Judaism by Christianity and the Christian world". [4] Modern anti-Semitism inherited them in the 19th century, absorbed them and tended to replace them.

Several "layers" can be identified: first, pre-Christian antiquity against Jews; Secondly, late antique and medieval Christian anti-Judaism; third, modern enmity against Jews, which is still rooted in Christian anti-Judaism, but already takes up modern forms of hatred of Jews; fourth, modern anti-Semitism, which culminates in racial anti-Semitism and finally in the National Socialist extermination policy; fifth"Anti-Semitism" after Auschwitz ", with its two most important manifestations, secondary and Israel-related anti-Semitism.

Ancient enmity against Jews

In the "Jewish" perception, anti-Semitism is a universal phenomenon. This results from the cultural tradition of Judaism. The Bible already describes hostility and persecution of the people of Israel by their neighboring peoples. And doesn't the story of Esther, who is remembered at the Purim festival, tell of a last-minute attack by a cruel anti-Semitic extermination? With rattles and noise, the children drown out the name of Hamans, the instigator of this legendary pogrom. The phrase is common: there is a Haman in every generation.

From a historical perspective, the biblical traditions are myths, the possible historical core of which cannot be proven. Enmity against Jews becomes fixable where it is confirmed by supplementary sources and traditions. This applies to the Hellenistic-Roman epoch, especially the time after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE and the dispersion of the Jews over the Roman Empire. The Roman-Jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus (about 37/38-after 100) documented in his work "Against Apion" as early as 96 C.E. anti-Jewish stereotypes. Some of them, such as the infamous ritual murder legend, then persistently run through the history of hatred of Jews or are later revived. [5]

The Egyptologist Jan Assmann attributes ancient forms of hostility towards Jews to a "Mosaic distinction". From the perspective of pagan polytheism, with its acceptance of other gods in principle, Jewish monotheism was a provocation. This thesis suggests that Judaism should be understood as a religion that is "in possession of an absolute truth recorded in revealed scriptures" [6]. The thesis remains controversial. [7] In contrast to Christianity and Islam, rabbinic Judaism does not proclaim revealed truth; rather, this must be constantly sought through disputes and legal interpretation. Here there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian theology in relation to Judaism that is still effective today. The benevolent emphasis on the relationship between the two religions cannot level out such differences.

Christian anti-Judaism

The theological difference lies in the question of whether Jesus is the promised Messiah or not. With its missionary preaching claim, Christianity saw itself in competition with Judaism, from which it arose, but from which it soon set itself apart. Already in the 1st and 2nd centuries the tensions between (early) Christians and Jews grew. In the course of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire and its establishment as the state religion at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries, various councils issued anti-Jewish edicts that made the Jews a tolerated but discriminated minority. Theological rejection of Judaism was formulated, among other things, by the church fathers in the Adversos-Iudaeus writings, for example in John Chrysostomos (about 349–407) and Augustine (354–430).

Even in late antiquity there were violent attacks by Christians against Jews. When in the Middle Ages the first Christian zealots set out on the People's Crusade in 1096, they destroyed under the battle cry "deus lo vult!" ("God wants it!") The centers of Jewish learning on the Middle Rhine: Speyer, Worms and Mainz.

The paradoxical situation of the Jews in the Christian West resulted from a theological assumption about Israel's role in salvation history. From a Christian perspective, the malevolence and blindness of the Jews who were ascribed the crucifixion of Jesus led to their rejection as God's chosen people. Yet it was precisely in their self-inflicted misery that they became witnesses to the claim of the Christian faith to proclaim the truth. Therefore they were to be excluded, but not to be destroyed, because at the end of salvation history their conversion would stand. This theology was illustrated by the pair of figures Ecclesia and Synagoga, which can be found in Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. The figure of the synagogue is blindfolded, her staff is broken and her crown has slipped down; but Ecclesia, symbol of the Church, turns her face compassionately towards the misguided sister (see Figures 1 and 2 in the PDF version).

Separated from the mediaeval majority society in Jewish alleys and Jewish quarters, the Jews were stigmatized by dress codes and other markings (Jewish hat, yellow stain). They were excluded from the two most important branches of the economy, agriculture and handicrafts, as well as from the clergy. However, the Christian prohibition of interest did not apply to Jews. In the moneylending niche, as in some other areas of commerce, they were tolerated. With the expansion of the money economy since the High Middle Ages, the importance of this sector grew, while the interest prohibition weakened and competition with Christian moneylenders increased. The stereotype of the Jewish usurer spread. An allegedly particularly close connection between Judaism and money has since become an integral part of anti-Jewish agitation.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, elements of popular superstition were added to religious hostilities. In the middle of the 14th century there were gruesome attacks and entire Jewish communities were destroyed when the Jews were accused of having poisoned the wells causing the plague epidemic. Jews were expelled from the British Isles at the end of the 13th century, from France during the 14th century, and from the Iberian Peninsula towards the end of the 15th century. But even in the Central European refuges they were not safe from persecution and systematic expulsions. By around 1520, they were ousted from most of the major cities and countries of the old empire.

The spread of the motif of the "Judensau" since the 13th century (see Figure 3 in the PDF version). It illustrates the incipient detachment of anti-Semitism from its religious sources. The Jews are now represented as conspecifics of the pigs; the hostility no longer relates only to the religious creed, which a Jew can change individually, but to the origin. The possibility of redemption is absent: no kind sister Ecclesia turns to the Jews.