In This Article Anti-Semitism and the New Testament

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Encyclopedia Entries
  • Editions of the New Testament
  • Historical Jesus
  • Other New Testament Writings
  • The Parting of the Ways
  • The New Testament, the Holocaust, and Anti-Semitic Interpretation

Biblical Studies Anti-Semitism and the New Testament
by
Jeffrey Siker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0153

Introduction

The topic of anti-Semitism (or anti-Judaism) in the New Testament is an area of significant debate. Since most of the first generation of Christians (c. 30–60 CE) were Jews who came to believe that Jesus was the messiah, and a dying/rising messiah at that, what does it mean to call Christian Jews (or Jewish Christians) anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish? While it is certainly anachronistic to talk about a clear split between “Judaism” and “Christianity” as two distinct religions in the 1st century, to what extent does the polemic and vitriol between early Christians and non-Christian Jews represent an intramural fight between rival siblings? And to what extent does this polemical relationship represent a growing extramural separation between nascent forms of Judaism (rabbinic Judaism, with an emphasis on interpreting the Jewish law for a post-Temple reality) and Christianity (messianic Judaism), with an emphasis on Jesus as the messiah who now becomes the focus of reinterpreting all of Jewish tradition)? Gentile worship of Jesus as a divine figure who did away with the need for law observance marks perhaps the most important shift in early Jewish/Christian relations, a shift that led to anti-Semitic/anti-Jewish defenses of Christianity and increasingly polemical rhetoric of Christians against Jews and Jewish tradition.

Introductory Texts

The anti-Semitic/anti-Jewish character of New Testament writings and of Christian interpretation of the New Testament really only came into focus in events leading up to and following World War II (1939–1945). Such pioneering works as Parkes 1934 and Isaac 1948 were crucial early voices that called attention to language in the New Testament that appeared to be anti-Semitic (e.g., John 8:44; Matthew 27), and to Christian interpretation of the New Testament that was perhaps even more problematic. Baum 1961 and Ruether 1974 provide central parameters of the discussion. Donaldson 2010 gives the best current overview of the subject, while Davies 1979, Gager 1983, Segal 1986, and Wilson 1995 present thorough treatment of the most important dynamics of early Christian anti-Semitism and its interpretation, as do Eckert 1967 and Henze 1997.

  • Baum, Gregory. The Jews and the Gospel: A Re-examination of the New Testament. Westminster, MD: Newman, 1961.

    E-mail Citation »

    A developed response to Jules Isaac’s Jésus et Israël, arguing that the New Testament writings do not contain the seed of anti-Jewish contempt but instead reflect an intramural debate over Christian claims. Later Christians are responsible for interpreting the New Testament from an anti-Jewish perspective. Reprinted in 1965 (Is the New Testament Anti-semitic? A Re-examination of the New Testament. Glen Rock, NJ: Paulist).

  • Davies, Alan T., ed. Antisemitism and the Foundations of Christianity. New York and Toronto: Paulist, 1979.

    E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays by leading scholars that explores whether the New Testament writings are essentially anti-Semitic.

  • Donaldson, Terence L. Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament: Decision Points and Divergent Interpretations. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    A thorough survey of anti-Semitism in the New Testament writings that explores issues of self-definition, social location, and rhetorical treatment of Jews and Judaism.

  • Eckert, Willehad, N. Levinson, and M. Stöhr, eds. Antijudaismus im Neuen Testament? Exegetische und systematische Beiträge. Munich: Kaiser, 1967.

    E-mail Citation »

    Survey of different aspects of anti-Judaism in the New Testament writings.

  • Gager, John. The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

    E-mail Citation »

    A clear treatment of pagan and Christian attitudes toward Judaism in the first two centuries, highlighting both positive and negative understandings of Jews and Judaism. Gager sees the origins of anti-Semitism in later Christian misinterpretations of Paul.

  • Henze, Dagmar, ed. Antijudaismus im Neuen Testament? Grundlagen für die Arbeit mit biblischen Texten. Gütersloh, Germany: Kaiser, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    Collection of essays on historical and contextual approaches to what appear to be anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament.

  • Isaac, Jules. Jésus et Israël. Paris: Albin Michel, 1948.

    E-mail Citation »

    A passionate argument that the Gospels have a polemical bias against the Jews, a bias not grounded in the historical Jesus (a Jew) nor in the earliest Church.

  • Parkes, James. The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Anti-Semitism. London: Soncino, 1934.

    E-mail Citation »

    A groundbreaking early work on the history of Christian anti-Semitism. Saw the Gospel of John in particular as source of Christian anti-Semitism.

  • Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism. New York: Seabury, 1974.

    E-mail Citation »

    A thorough study that traces the Christology of the New Testament and early Christianity in relation to anti-Semitism; argues that Christian theology is fundamentally anti-Semitic; anti-Semitism is the left hand (backhand) of Christology.

  • Segal, Alan. Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.

    E-mail Citation »

    An excellent survey of Jewish/Christian interaction and sibling rivalry as reflected in early Christian literature.

  • Wilson, Stephen. Related Strangers: Jews and Christians 70–170 C.E. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    Traces the complexities of Jewish/Christian relations from the New Testament writings through the late 2nd century, showing the parting of the ways was later than the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

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