Is the Christian story antisemitic?
The Gospels make crystal clear that the Jewish leadership of the day were responsible for Christ's execution. It is a sad day when that tale can no longer be told. It is the central event of the Christian faith
To say that Jewish leaders of today are responsible in any way for their predecessors of 2000 years ago is simply childush but the current Jewish leadership in Australia seems to have heard that message in what is just another retelling of that 2000 year old tale
In an age of social media, when facts and interpretation are often melded into the same narrative, the result can become a nasty mixture, as Gerry Riviere, a chaplain at a Baptist school in Melbourne, has found.
Riviere had to apologise for his remarks in a Christmas school newsletter about the role of the Jewish elders in Jesus’ crucifixion.
The furious reaction of Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich, followed by an apology from the school, was based on a perception of anti-Semitism.
There are two separate issues here. First, whether Riviere’s remarks, published in this newspaper and online, were in fact anti-Semitic or simply based on an interpretation of a viewpoint that deemed it anti-Semitic.
Second, in a broader context, since we live in an age of outrage, due especially to social media, if any accusation, whether an alleged breach of standards or even a contrary view to current ideological “right-think”, is always a matter of guilty as charged.
This is part of what the unfortunate chaplain wrote of the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus: “Whilst Rome was the dominant political power, the religious power within Judaism belonged to those in leadership. The leaders had misinterpreted who God was and what he was like, and so when the people looked to their religious leaders for some comfort and encouragement, they found neither.
“The religious leaders were intoxicated with the power their system afforded them. Thus, neither the political nor the religious systems gave the people any hope.
“Jesus entered that environment to bring a message of hope and love. “He challenged the thinking and actions of the religious leaders who, rather than accepting they were wrong, constantly challenged him, and finally, in an attempt to silence him, placed him upon a cross.”
When I read this I thought the reaction from Abramovich seemed puzzlingly over-the-top. Riviere’s statements were, he said, “beyond belief … inflammatory and outrageous” and, not willing to stop there, “full of classic anti-Semitic slurs”.
However, the most controversial element of the post that annoyed Jewish critics was the idea of Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ death, which in the past led to the idea of collective Jewish guilt
The story of Jesus’ passion and death with slight variations in the narrative depending on which of the gospels is used, is read and enacted with great drama in Catholic churches, every Passion (Palm) Sunday. Another version is read on Good Friday. It is harrowing, dramatic and very interesting too. In every gospel version the basic outline of the story is that the dominant Jewish elders in the council had been plotting against Jesus for some time and are the ones who deliver him to his ultimate death by the Roman civil authority.