Thursday, April 9, 2009

"The other end of these traditions"

Still making my way through Paula Fredriksen's fine book, Augustine and the Jews. A while ago Paula commented to me that my work is at "the other end of these traditions", and here's an example. On page 81, she's discussing how internal Jewish discussions became fodder for something far more sinister:
The evangelists, in short, present a fairly typical portrait of Jewish interactions both in Jesus' day and in their own. All the noise, all the argument over scripture, all the fraternal name calling, is one of the most unmistakably things about the Jesus movement and about its earliest literature. Within a first-century intra-Jewish context, such arguments would and did sound like conflicting ideas about the right way to be Jewish. That way would be the way urged by the writer of the text. The gospels, when we regard them as sectarian Jewish literature, deny any legitimacy to "Israel" or as "the people of God" or of "those from above" at odds with their authors' own self understanding...

Do the sectarian texts of these earliest Christians promote negative stereotypes about fellow Jews? Unquestionably. But that is what Jewish sectarian texts do, and that is what polemical rhetoric does. Further, all Jewish texts, beginning with Genesis, include warts-and-all presentations of some of their Jewish characters. In this sense, the gospels are no more intrinsically "anti-Jewish" than is the Bible itself. But again like the Bible itself, the gospels, once they drifted out of their communities of origin into a wider gentile world, were read as a standing indictment and perpetual condemnation of Jews and Judaism as such, rather than as a narrative exhortation to change from the wrong kind of Judaism to the right kind of Judaism (that is, to the author's kind of Judaism). Jewish sectarian rhetoric, shorn of its native context, eventually becomes anti-Jewish rhetoric.
I think you can reasonably say that's a constant dynamic of Jew-hatred from the 2nd century until the Danny Zamir episode of last month, and it's not going to change anytime soon. Jews argue among themselves loudly and stridently, while their haters listen in, indifferent to any context, and choose the choicest quotations with which to damn the Jews.

Though I'd note this describes a dynamic, but doesn't explain the decision to use it. The determination to hate the Jews precedes listening in to their conversations. The reason Haaretz' website is world-famous while the Irish Times' isn't, has to do with the fodder for Jew-hatred one can cherry-pick from Haaretz.


ChuckL said...

Interesting take. Very interesting indeed. It must be a different breed of evangelicals she is talking about.

As a Christian pastor, I am quite familiar with the Christian Scriptures. I am a conservative, evangelical, American Christian. I am, to the best of my knowledge, completely gentile.

It has never entered my mind in all of my reading and studying the Gospels that they are anti-Jewish rhetoric. Personally, I have never been led either by Scripture or any other source to be anti-Jewish.

The Gospels, or any other part of Scripture, become anti-Jewish only when the reader allows satan rather than Jesus to rule his/her life. Sorta like Judas Iscariot of the original twelve. Know what I mean?

Yaacov said...

I can accept that, Chuck. Still, I'd request that you likewise recognize that while it was never true that all Christians hated Jews, it was true that from its earliest days until the 18th century, Christianity was the single most important vehicle of disseminating Jew hatred in the world. (Yes, I know Christianity is a broad term). Moreover, serious mainstream attempts to detoxify Christianity are mostly a story of the second half of the 20th century, post Holocaust, and they have been successful to varying degrees, some more encouraging than others. Indeed, the most successful attempts are mostly in the United States: American exceptionalism has much to commend it. European detoxification, which must take place on the geographical site of the crime, may well take many generations. It's no coincidence hatred of Jews and animosity towards Israel are at their weakest in places that never knew Abrahamic religions, such as (Hindu) India and China.