‘Jesus was Jewish’ shock

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There’s [a rather angry piece by Howard Jacobson in the Grauniad->http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/09/christianity-judaism] saying the Jesus was Jewish. Good lord, I never realised…

OK, Western Christendom has a long and terrible history of anti-Semitism which, for some of the time at least, it backed up with spurious readings of the gospels. There is – and should be – no defence for this. Where I have a problem with articles like Jacobson’s is that they give the impression that anti-Semitism somehow began with the church. But that’s just not true – you’d be hard-pressed to find a more anti-Semitic group than the Romans. Medieval Christianity warped the gospels to fit the prejudices of its world, but anti-Semitism itself goes way back. The first account of a pogrom I know is in the book of Esther, where it is the Persians who want to wipe out the Jews.

All of which doesn’t excuse or expunge the stain on the church caused by the behaviour of certain so-called ‘christians’ throughout history. Nor does it do much to lessen the obvious pain still felt by Howard Jacobson when remembering the bigotry of his youth.

But it’s an over-simplification to imply that Christians en masse are unaware of the Jewishness of Jesus, or that we want to expunge it. On the contrary, there has been growing scholarly interest in the Jewish Jesus since at least the 1970’s and I detect a massive interest among the church for the truth about the ‘historical Jesus’, which by its nature includes the Jewishness of Jesus. (Indeed, my new book is solidly placed in that area – more of which anon). And if you want sweeping generalisations then the article is full of them. To take a verse out of context and accuse the gospel writer John of being anti-Semitic rather ignores the fact that he was Jewish. (The gospel shows clear evidence of originating with a Jerusalemite Jewish disciple).

I know what Jacobson is doing. All of us writers in the popular sphere use the shock horror approach to sell their wares. We all talk in generalisations (see?) But I think we have to be a lot more careful when we’re talking about such a difficult and tragic subject as anti-Semitism.

There’s a lot in my new book about this. I’ll start posting on that in the next few days.

Meanwhile, [some Christians have reported the present humanist advertising campaign to the Advertising Standards Authority->http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7818980.stm]. Apparently ‘marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims’. So the statement ‘There’s probably no God’. Needs to be backed up. But notice that word probably. Even, apparently, the people funding these adverts aren’t sure…