Christian Relations with Jews

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Christian Relations with Jews

Christian Relations with Jews

by Matt Giwer, © 2009 [Jan 20]                      

They got off to a poor start

According to Acts and the letters of Paul the Christian relationship with the Jews got off to a bad start when the Jews tried to exterminate the Christians. If we indulge in the questionable activity of creating stories to fill in the blanks of available history, we can imagine a history of competition for converts between the traditional Jews and the Romanized Jews, aka Christians. Ultimately the Jews lost and abandoned the effort to seek converts in the 6th c. AD.

Meanwhile Christianity spread throughout the Empire and beyond. By the time the tribes of northern and eastern Europe began sacking Rome they were already Christians. The norm of Christian against Christian for political and military reasons was established. When these tribes spread their conquests as christian kings to pagan kingdoms they had to deal with the pagan religions.

The basic rules for these dealings were established by Constantine and his christian successors. The simplest expression of this is that the entire legal system was open to Christians only and no parallel legal system was permitted. The simplest and most effective consequence of this was the only Christians could execute binding wills and only Christians could inherit. In a single generation the upper class either converted to Christianity or replaced by Christians. In cases where pagan kings refused to surrender, extermination was the order of the day.

After the Treaty of Westphalia national courts came to supersede all religious courts save for those which dealt with the internal affairs of the churches. This included dealing with witches.                              

From the time of Constantine to the late 19th century there was one exception to this. The Jews were permitted to maintain their own courts and legal system to judge Jews by Jewish law. They had the power to execute their fellow Jews according to Jewish law. They could execute wills and inherit from other Jews. In many cases they could both impose and carry out the death penalty. The civil authority would support their decisions with force. They continued to function in some parts of Eastern Europe into the late 19th century.                              

This was the essential difference between Christian treatment of Jews and pagans. Jews were permitted to continue to exist. Beyond survival all else pales to insignificance. While the personal animosity between Jews and Christians may have been great its practical consequences are commonly greatly exaggerated. They do not appear nearly as significant when compared to the treatment of members of other religions.                   

Christians tended to be harder on those they declared heretics than on other religions. Albigensians were wiped out completely. Europe was wracked with centuries of wars between Protestants and Catholics. Against this the occasional and relatively rare local pogrom and expulsion.        

The beginnings of religious tolerance were in the late 18th century. It took more than a century to spread to just European countries and is not fully adopted in the US sense even today. None of this is meant to detract from the fact that the West has yet to achieve the heights of religious tolerance which were common in the Roman Empire.

It is reasonable to ask where Christians got their ideas on how to treat other religions. The answer is clear. They got it from the Jews. It is right there in their religious writings commonly called the Old Testament. The Jewish writings set the bad example which the Christians followed. Not only did it give God's opinion of false religions but gave the prescription for how to treat them. Extermination.                                          

Christians always excepted Jews from extermination even though the Jews had attempted the extermination of the Christians. Even when their hatred of Christians became well known from copies of their own Talmud Christian response was generally limited to attempting to eliminate the Talmud but never the Jews themselves.

The contrast between extermination of pagans and survival of the Jews could not be more obvious. Christians treated the followers of Judaism better than the followers of any other religion. Anyone disagreeing with this can ask the opinion of the next Albigensian or Druid pr follower of Odin they meet. At worst Jews were subject personally to the occasional local excess or as a group to mass expulsion for some cause or other.

The reason for expulsion from Spain was very clearly stated. They came with the Moor and they would leave with the Moor. They were given an option to stay. They could convert to Christianity. Many did convert. Many chose to leave although that lead to a forced conversion by Portugal while awaiting transportation in Lisbon. Many were false converts which lead to the original Inquisition to find them. People took religion seriously in those days. Religious tolerance, rising above the Old Testament so to speak, would not be invented until centuries later.

Many expulsions centered upon usury, lending money at interest, which was considered a sin by Christians. Christians also consider prostitution a sin even though they commonly tolerate it. There were occasional reformers who drove out prostitutes and usurers. The mandate for reform and the expulsion of sinners can also be traced to the Old Testament as well as the New in the expulsion of crooked moneychangers from the Temple by Jesus.

The bottom line of all of this two-fold. Do not elevate persecution on religious grounds to the will of god and then complain if it done to you. Do not try to exterminate Christians and then live among them. The latter can also be phrased as, don't start a fight you can't finish. One might also suggest it is better to teach forgiveness than revenge as you never know when you might be on the receiving end.

Jews stole the land. The owners want it back. That is all anyone needs to know about Israel. That is all there is to know about Israel.