Persecution of the Jews
A Brief Overview of Anti-Semitism
and Why It Really Matters to Christians Today
by Dr. George Byron Koch
"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully
as when they do it from religious conviction."
—Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 1670
The material to follow is repugnant, vicious, extensive and requires profound and serious attention. If you are a Christian, you must know this history, and the Church worldwide must know this history, or both will fail to understand the repulsion of many Jewish people to the Christian faith, and especially to Christian evangelists.
A list of resources follows at the end.
Let’s think this through: Jesus was Jewish. His parents were Jewish. His disciples and followers were Jewish.
The only Scripture they knew, read or quoted was what we call the “Old” Testament. It was their Bible.
They observed all of the feasts that God commanded there. They worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem and in local synagogues. They kept the Sabbath.
The disciples followed Jesus as their rabbi (teacher), and eventually came to believe that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.
Toward the end they also came to believe that the Jesus was divine—more than just a wise human being.
Most Jews today—who are still awaiting the Messiah—would say the Messiah will be a great leader, and will usher in an era of peace and freedom, but will be only a man. A divine Messiah would seem impossible to them: Only God is divine, and any man who presumes divinity is an impostor and a blasphemer. God is Spirit, not human flesh, they would say. And, since Jesus did not usher in an era of peace and freedom, He can’t be the Jewish Messiah.
In the time of Jesus the culture was Jewish, and the thousands who followed Jesus and heard Him teach were overwhelmingly Jewish. “The Way of Jesus” was a Jewish movement that followed a Jewish rabbi, and came to believe that he was the Jewish Messiah.
Our “New” Testament was written by Jews over the course of fifty years or so after the Crucifixion. When Jesus, Paul and other New Testament authors quote Scripture, the only Scripture they ever quote is the “Old” Testament.
More simply put, the ONLY Scripture the early Church had or used was the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures: Torah, prophets and writings.
Further, the earliest Church did not separate its Jewish members from Jews who didn’t follow Jesus. In fact, the Jewish followers of Jesus as Messiah continued to attend local synagogues with other Jews in every country where they lived. Together, they celebrated the biblical Feasts and observed the Sabbath every week. This means they were observant Jews, as were Jesus, the Apostles and Paul. The believers intermingled and lived among Jewish neighbors, friends and families. While they may have invited their “non-believing” Jewish friends to accept Jesus as Messiah, they didn’t separate themselves from them if they declined.
All of these Jews came from many different Jewish religious movements, and none. Like Paul, a very few of them were Pharisees (a strict holiness movement), a very few were Sadducees (upper class Jews and leaders in the Temple), some were Zealots, some Essenes, some Karaites, and others, but the vast majority were unaffiliated with any of these movements.
The first believers in Jesus were from all of these Jewish groups. It was not Christians against Jews. Virtually all Christians were Jews, and among all the Jews, some saw Jesus as Messiah, and some did not.
But over time this changed. Non-Jews began to hear about this rabbi, Jesus, and many of them also became his followers. Outside of Israel (in Northern Africa, Europe, Asia Minor and beyond), many congregations were founded among the Gentiles. These Gentiles—also called “Greeks” as a general label, though not all were actually of Greek origin—were not required to become Jews or to follow Jewish practices in order to be Jesus-followers.
As a result, congregations outside of Israel might have a majority of members who were Gentiles, and a smaller group of believing Jewish members—most all of whom continued to be “observant,” attend a local synagogue, and enjoy ongoing fellowship with other Jews.
Growing Antipathy Toward Jews
By the second century, this refusal of some Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah led some believers—beginning in the growing Gentile churches—to harden their attitudes toward Jews who didn’t follow Jesus. This hardening deepened into rejection, separation, antipathy and hatred - even toward Jewish followers of Jesus who would not shun other Jews.
In spite of Jesus’ clear and consistent teachings about loving God, neighbor and even enemy, Christians chose instead to exclude, then hate, then punish, those who would not agree. A reaction from some Jewish authors followed many years later—but the separation of Christian from Jew fundamentally began with the antipathy of Gentile followers of Jesus toward any Jews (believers or not) who did not reject their Jewish friends, family and worship practices, and then fully assimilate and become Gentile-like in lifestyle and worship.
That is, Jesus' disciples, Paul, and other early Jewish followers would not have been accepted into the Church. Nor would Jesus himself.
This Gentile/Greek antipathy toward Jews actually preceded the coming of Jesus. When Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), there is in this expression the evidence of the existing division between Jews and the surrounding Greek culture. Israel, Asia Minor, Rome (Italy), Galatia (Turkey), North Africa and the entire Mediterranean area had been “Hellenized” after being overrun by the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great from 338-323 B.C.
Greek was therefore the common language throughout this entire area, and by Paul’s time Greek culture had already dominated for 300+ years. The Romans, as a result, were also fully Hellenized. So when Paul says “Greek,” he refers to all members the non-Jewish culture; “Gentile” was a synonym. Both simply meant “not Jewish,” and the terms referred to virtually every nation and peoples surrounding and comingling with the smaller and localized (in modern-day Israel) tribes of Jews.
In those times when an invader conquered a country, the country’s residents adopted the invader’s gods as their own, thinking they must be more powerful than the local gods. After Alexander the Great invaded Israel, some Jews assimilated—they embraced all things Greek, including Greek culture and Greek gods. But most Jews remained Jews. Then, as now, Jews refused to adopt the gods of their conquerors.
This enraged those conquerors, and led to the Jews being first vilified and then murdered. This pattern has been repeated in countless places and across the centuries, right up until our own day.
One early example of this genocidal opposition to Jews is Antiochus IV, the Greek king who reigned from 175–164 B.C. He considered himself to be god, and insisted he be worshipped as such. The Jews refused. And so he reviled them, their Temple and their God. Intent on destroying those who would not worship him, in 167 B.C. he attacked Jerusalem. Here’s the story in brief, from 2 Maccabees chapters 5 and 6:
And he commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly every one they met and to slay those who went into the houses. Then there was killing of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of virgins and infants. Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting; and as many were sold into slavery as were slain. (5:12–14)
Not long after this, the king [Antiochus IV] sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim the temple of Zeus the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who dwelt in that place.
Harsh and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil. For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit. The altar was covered with abominable offerings which were forbidden by the laws.
A man could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the feasts of his fathers, nor so much as confess himself to be a Jew. On the monthly celebration of the king’s birthday, the Jews were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the [Greek] sacrifices; and when the feast of Dionysus came, they were compelled to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus, wearing wreaths of ivy.
At the suggestion of Ptolemy a decree was issued to the neighboring Greek cities, that they should adopt the same policy toward the Jews and make them partake of the sacrifices, and should slay those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs. One could see, therefore, the misery that had come upon them.
For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. These women they publicly paraded about the city, with their babies hung at their breasts, then hurled them down headlong from the wall. Others who had assembled in the caves near by, to observe the seventh day [the Sabbath] secretly, were betrayed to Philip [the governor Antiochus placed in Jerusalem] and were all burned together, because their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of their regard for that most holy day. (6:1–11)
The final sentence refers to those Jews who, despite the king’s edicts against their worship, nevertheless kept the Sabbath and met secretly in caves to pray together. This was reported, and they were found, and then burned to death. They refused to fight their attackers because it was the Sabbath.
This hatred of the Jews by the leaders of the surrounding culture persisted (and persists!). One would have hoped that a lesson would be learned from such genocide, and that it would not be repeated. But it was not to be so.
Just as the early Christian Church was beginning to grow and spread from its Jewish origins into the surrounding Gentile culture and countries, a dark rumor began to spread: The Jews were secretly killing Greeks and eating them!
In A.D. 40, Apion, a Hellenized Egyptian writer in Rome, portrayed Antiochus IV as the hero of the genocide reported in 2 Maccabees, saying that when Antiochus entered the Temple, he found that “the Jews placed an ass’s head in their holy place” and further that he there found a Greek man held captive, who made “a lamentable complaint, and with sighs, and tears in his eyes,” because the Jews had kidnapped him, and were fattening him with “dainties,” fish and birds, and then intended to “kill him, and sacrifice him with their accustomed solemnities, and taste of his entrails.” This, Apion claimed, was the yearly practice of the Jews.
It is the first instance of what is called today the “blood libel,” where Jews are claimed to each year kill a Gentile, or a Gentile baby, and mix its blood into their unleavened bread, for the Passover feast.
Jews are prohibited from eating blood. This even governs how animals are killed and prepared as Kosher food—all of the blood is removed before any meat is consumed. Religious Jews will not even eat an egg if it has a spot of blood in it.
The accusation that Jews consume the blood of a Gentile in their Passover bread is an intentional, vicious and repugnant lie—a “blood libel.” It was a lie then, it has been a lie for centuries, and it is a lie today. Yet Christians, Muslims and others, in many places and times, repeat it as if it were fact.
This would be disgusting enough by itself, but countless other accusations—equally without foundation and equally willfully ignorant of Jewish belief and practice—have been made to vilify, degrade, oppress and then murder Jews.
Is it any mystery that Jews are wary of Gentiles?
You have heard the claim made, and perhaps were taught as a child, that the Jews are all “Christ killers.” Many a Jewish child has been beaten by Christian classmates, and many a Jew of every age has been beaten or murdered (including during the Crusades and the Inquisition), for their “inherited guilt” for the death of Christ.
But since Christians affirm that we believe “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3), doesn’t this logically make us the true “Christ killers,” rather than the Jewish opponents of Jesus, or the Romans, or…? We assert that it was our sin that He died for!
But if we have the willfully illogical and ugly theory that all of the descendants of all of the Jews of Jesus’ day are to be held accountable for His death, shouldn’t we also hold everyone of Italian descent equally accountable? They are, after all, the descendants of the Romans! This whole line of reasoning is preposterous, flawed and evil—regardless of who affirms it.
Yet look at what even the most revered of the Church fathers, all Gentiles, have said:
Ignatius of Antioch (Greek, ca. A.D. 50–117): “Those who partake of the Passover are partakers with those who killed Jesus.”
Justin Martyr (born in Nablus, modern-day Israel, from a Roman Gentile family, A.D. 100–165): The persecution and dispersion of the Jews from Israel was “fairness and justice” because they had “slain the Just One.”
Irenaeus (Smyrna, modern Turkey, A.D. 130–202): “The house of Jacob and the people of Israel are disinherited from the grace of God… have rejected the Son of God… slew Him.”
Others who spoke similarly of the guilt of the Jews and their rejection by God for the crime of the death of Christ:
- Melito of Sardis (Greek, died ca. 180)
- Clement of Alexandria (Greek, ca. 150–215)
- Hippolytus (Italian, 170–235)
- Tertullian (North African, ca. 160–225)
- Cyprian (North African, ca. 200–258)
- Origen (Egyptian, ca. 184–253)
- Eusebuis (Greek, ca. 260–339)
- Hilary (French, ca. 300–368)
- Chrysostom (Greek, ca. 349–407)
- Jerome (Illyrian, ca. 347–420)
- Ambrose (Italian, ca. 340–397)
- Augustine (North African, 354–430)
- Aquinas (Italian, 1225–1274)
- Luther (German, 1483–1546)
…and so many more. These writings are often so bitterly perverse as to shock any tender conscience. Two examples from this list:
Chrysostom (Greek/Syrian, A.D. 349–407), a highly honored leader and preacher whose name means “golden throated,” said, “The synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater, it is also a den of robbers and a lodging place for wild beasts… Jews are inveterate murderers possessed by the Devil. Their debauchery and drunkenness gives them the manners of a pig… This is why I hate the Jews.” He claimed they worshipped Satan and deserved to be hated by Christians.
St Ambrose (Italian, ca. A.D. 340–397): “The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ. They worship the Devil. Their religion is a sickness. 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 Jew must live in servitude forever. God always hated the Jews. It is essential that all Christians hate them.”
This hatred and blindness spread unrelentingly:
Visigoth (Spain / Portugal) profession of faith for a Jew converting to Christianity, from the 7th century A.D.: “I do here and now renounce every rite and observance of the Jewish religion, detesting all its most solemn ceremonies and tenets that in former days I kept and held. In future I will practice no rite or celebration connected with it, nor any custom of my past error, promising neither to seek it out or perform it. In the name of this Creed, which I truly believe and hold with all my heart, I promise that I will never return to the vomit of Jewish superstition. Never again will I fulfill any of the offices of Jewish ceremonies to which I was addicted, nor ever more hold them dear. I altogether deny and reject the errors of the Jewish religion, casting forth whatever conflicts with the Christian Faith, and affirming that my belief in the Holy Trinity is strong enough to make me live the truly Christian life, shun all intercourse with other Jews and have the circle of my friends only among honest Christians. With them or apart from them I must always eat Christian food, and as a genuinely devout Christian go often and reverently to Church. I promise also to maintain and embrace with due love and reverence the observance of all the Lord’s days or feasts for martyrs as declared by the piety of the Church, and upon those days to consort always with sincere Christians, as it behooves a pious and sincere Christian to do. Herewith is my profession of faith and belief as given by me on this date…” (‘Professions of Faith Extracted from Jews on Baptism,’ from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook compiled by Professor Paul Halsall of Fordham University; www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/jewish-oaths.asp)
From the Church at Constantinople: “I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish…” (ibid)
During the later Middle Ages, the “blood libel” rose again. It began apparently with the death of young boy in England, William of Norwich, whose dead body was found in the woods with stab wounds in 1144. It was rumored that he had been killed by Jews.
A local monk, Thomas of Monmouth, claimed that a converted Jew had told him that every year an international council of Jews chooses a country in which to ritually murder a Christian child, believing this will restore the Holy Land to their possession. He unsuccessfully promoted William of Norwich for sainthood, and invented a story of William’s crucifixion at Easter by the Jews. This story spread quickly in England and Europe, and ultimately led to the murder of many Jews, and finally their expulsion from England in 1290.
In 1171, the accusation of the Jews using a Christian child’s blood for Passover matzo led to 30–40 Jews being burned to death. In all, some 150 such accusations—and the murder of Jews so accused—transpired throughout Europe in the following years.
During the Black Plague in the 14th century, Jews were charged with using lepers to poison Christian wells in France. Thousands were murdered as a result. It is thought by some that fewer Jews died from the plague than Christians—perhaps because of their Kosher sanitary practices—and this high survival rate was taken as evidence that the Jews created the Plague. The killing of Jews for this charge spread throughout Europe.
Luther’s Legacy of Hate
Martin Luther (A.D. 1483–1546), the founder of Protestantism and highly revered by virtually all Protestant denominations, in his younger years was sweetly disposed toward Jews, and believed that loving them would bring them readily into faith. When his hopes went largely unfulfilled, he grew bitter and raged against the Jews. This is sadly little known nor reported among most Christian groups, but it is true.
Luther once wrote this about a decoration on the outside of a local church:
“Here in Wittenberg, in our parish church, there is a sow carved into the stone under which lie young pigs and Jews who are sucking; behind the sow stands a rabbi who is lifting up the right leg of the sow, raises it behind the sow, bows down and looks with great effort into the Talmud under the sow, as if he wanted to read and see something most difficult and exceptional; no doubt they gained their Shem Hamphoras from that place.”
“Shem Hamphoras” means “the secret name of God,” and can be seen on the writing above the sow. This is just as sarcastic and anti-Semitic as it seems—both the sculpture itself, and Luther’s remarks about it. Such depictions of Jews were and are common in the cathedrals of Europe, and are known collectively as Judensau—Jewish pigs. The term is used both as an insult to Jews, who consider pigs unclean and unfit for consumption (and prohibited as food in the Old Testament), and as a label for Jews to show profound disrespect. A link to learn more of this particularly ugly history is at the end of this article.
As he grew more bitter, Luther wrote a 65,000-word treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies, later one of the revered and most quoted texts of Nazism. Here is some of what Luther said:
“Accordingly, it must and dare not be considered a trifling matter but a most serious one to seek counsel against this and to save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death. My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire… Second, that all their books—their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible—be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted… Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country… Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it…”
Luther’s words did not go unheeded. They were quoted constantly in Nazi propaganda, and after Kristallnacht (November 9–10, 1938), when some 1000 synagogues were burned, 7000 Jewish businesses destroyed, and 30,000 Jews arrested, German Lutheran Bishop Martin Sasse happily wrote, “On Luther’s birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany.” He told the German people to listen to Luther’s words, calling him “the greatest anti-Semite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews.”
One of Hitler’s most ardent supporters was Julius Streicher (1885–1946), the founder of the viciously anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer (“The Attacker”). It regularly accused the Jews of killing Christian children to make matzo—the blood libel begun by Apion and repeated especially in the Middle Ages. As a gift to Streicher, the city of Nuremberg gave him a first edition of Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies, while describing it as “the most radically antisemitic tract ever published.”
Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, said of Hitler, “The Führer is deeply religious though completely anti-Christian. He views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so; it is a branch of the Jewish race.”
Even so, Hitler used Luther’s writings and reputation, and the Church in Germany, to his own ends, and referred to Luther with admiration in his speeches and in Mein Kampf.
Hitler also referred to, admiringly and in defense of, an astonishing and awful forgery called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It originally appeared as a nine-part serial in the Russian newspaper Znamya in 1903. It was supposedly from a document titled The Protocols of the Sessions of the World Alliance of Freemasons and of the Sages of Zion. It alleges to be the master plan of the Jews to dominate the world. It is today constantly quoted by anti-Semites, white supremacists, racists and anti-Jewish Christians and Muslims.
(Though this article is focused on Christian anti-Semitism, there is worldwide a profound and widely promoted Muslim anti-Jewish propaganda. It uses much of the centuries of Christian anti-Semitism to prove and reinforce its own agenda against the Jews. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf, both translated into Arabic, are among the best-selling publications in many Muslim areas of the world.)
The whole history of Christian anti-Semitism, and all of the Jews who have been maligned, beaten, herded into ghettos, prohibited from working, expelled from cities and countries, and killed in the name of Christ, surely is a most grievous sin. It is so contrary to everything Jesus taught as to be beyond comprehension, yet it is true, and it continues. Virtually all Jews know this history, either explicitly or in their gut.
Is it any mystery that Jews avoid Christian evangelists, or that their families consider conversion to Christianity to be a betrayal of all that they hold sacred? Or that Jewish families bewail mixed marriages, where a Christian is married to one of their own?
We cannot pretend this vicious history isn’t important, or claim ignorance and innocence, and we cannot be insensitive to the painful weight of it upon our Jewish neighbors and friends.
And so, before all else, we must repent of this in our history and repudiate it in the Church, and beg the most profound forgiveness of God. May we never repeat such sin!
Respect those of the tribe of Israel, the Jews. Jesus is one of them. Jesus loves them, and if you are one of his followers, so should you.
Articles and video:
More detail on Judensau—depictions of Jews with pigs: www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Judensau.htm
The Evil of Replacement Theology.
Read it here:
See it here: The Evil of Replacement Theology.
“The Re-emergence of Anti-Semitism: A View From America,” by Theresa Newell. From Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism Bulletin, issue 70, November 2002.
Our Hands Are Stained With Blood, by Michael L. Brown. 1990.
Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History, by James Carroll. 2002.
A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism, by Phyllis Goldstein. 2012.
A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, by Robert S. Wistrich. 2010.
Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin. 1983, 2003.
Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, by David Nirenberg. 2013.