This is very much a work in progress, with many holes in it. It doesn't deal with modern anti-semitism, except for modern Muslim anti-semitism, and doesn't deal with European anti-semitism after the Reformation. It also doesn't deal with whatever anti-semitism there might be in Asia or Africa.

NOTE 1: Keep in mind that not all Catholics, Lutherans, Muslims or Arabs were or are anti-semitic; this writeup might give the impression of such, since it focuses on anti-semitism.

NOTE 2: Although logically the term "anti-semitism" should refer to prejudices against all Semites, including Arabs, the English language isn't very logical; this writeup uses the terms "anti-semitism" and "anti-semitic" in the way that it is commonly used, to mean anti-Jewish and anti-Judaic prejudices.

Pagan Anti-semitism

Anti-semitism is not a Christian invention, but started in pre-Christian pagan societies. This was primarily because of the way that Judaism looked at itself and at other religions. When pagans traveled in lands that practiced a different religion, it was common practice to participate in the rituals of the native religion; it was sort of a religious common courtesy. The Jews, however, never did this, which was perceived as rude and/or arrogant. Additionally, the Jews went further than claiming that their god was more powerful than other gods, to claiming that the gods of the pagans didn't exist, and that worshiping those non-existent gods was immoral; understandably, this angered a lot of pagans. Some pagans even thought that, because the Jews denied all of the gods of the pagans, that they were actually atheists, whom the ancient pagans disliked just as much as fundamentalist Christians do today.

This, combined with the facts that Jews didn't eat with pagans (since they needed to eat kosher food), that they didn't assimilate, and that they didn't marry pagans (unless they converted first) led many pagans to believe that the Jews were misanthropic, that they hated everyone who wasn't a Jew. Then, to further piss the pagans off (or at least, the fundamentalist pagans), the Jews were rather successful at making converts, and also influenced non-converts to adopt a day of rest, which many pagans considered to be nothing but indulging in laziness.

While pagan anti-semitism wasn't anywhere near as strong as it was under pre-modern Christianity, and it wasn't as pervasive, there were occasional anti-Jewish riots, which sometimes approached the level of a pogrom. Also, some conquerors attempted to eradicate Judaism, not because they hated the Jews, but because the Jews refused to assimilate, and revolted a lot more frequently than other subject nations.

Early Christian Anti-Semitism

The earliest examples of Christian anti-semitism comes from the New Testament. First, Matthew 27:20-25

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.

The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.

Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.

And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

"His blood be on us, and on our children" is the source/justification of the idea "They killed our Lord", that any Jew is just as guilty of killing Christ as clamored for his crucification, and the only way to be rid of this guilt was to convert.

Another example is Revelation 2:9

I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

This quote from Revelations might simply have meant that the rabbis were claiming that Jesus wasn't the Messiah, that he used magic rather than performing real miracles, and so on; however, without any context, it is easy to read this in a much more sinister light.

Before moving onto theology, it should be noted that where the Jews had the power to do so, they harassed, and even put to death, Christian proselytizers, for the crime of heresy. This undoubtedly lead to a lot of of resentment on the part of early Christians.

Although it is impossible to know for certain, it is speculated that part of the reason for this anti-semitism was to distinguish and separate Christianity from Judaism. At first, the followers of Christ didn't consider their religion to be any different from Judaism; they considered it to be the true Judaism. However, thinking like this might make it easier for these followers to "back-slide" to traditional Judaism, so it would be advantageous to make a distinction between them.

Another probable reason for early (and later) anti-semitism was that Jews not converting was a stronger denial of Christianity than pagans not converting. A lot of the New Testament deals with interpreting Old Testament prophecies to show that they predicted the coming of Christ. Since the Old Testament, in a certain sense, belongs to the Jews, the Jews not converting is a strong denial of these interpretations, and thus of Christianity itself. For example, the fourth century St. John Chrysostom told his flock that where the Jews gather:

... the cross is ridiculed, God blasphemed, the Father unacknowledged, the Son insulted, the grace of the Spirit rejected... If the Jewish rites are holy and venerable, our way of life must be false. But if our way is true, as indeed it is, theirs is fraudulent.

Additionally, Christ was supposed to be the Messiah of the Jews, and came for them first, so why do they reject Him? This conflict between Christianity and Judaism is probably a lot of what fueled religious anti-semitism.

When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, few anti-semitic measures were carried out by the state or the Church. It was made illegal for the Jews to proselytize, but any non-Christian proselytization was illegal; they also greatly diminished or revoked whatever legal autonomy Jews might have in their settlements, so they no longer had any leeway in enforcing Judaic laws on their fellow Jews. However, citizens and lower level members of the Church were often harsher. For example, in the 4th and 5th centuries there were examples of Christians who either stole or burned synagogues; those in power in the government attempted to force the Christian to pay restitution, but Christian "saints" intervened and prevented this.

Official, Church sanctioned anti-semitism didn't start until the 6th century. In 535 Jews weren't allowed to hold public office, and in 538 they weren't allowed to be out in the streets during Passion Week. (These canonical laws were passed at the Synod of Clement and the 3rd Synod of Orleans, respectively).

During the 6th century various anti-semitic rules, not ordered by canonical law, were implemented by the state. Under the Justinian Code, Judaism was left with almost no legal protections, the Mishnah was banned, the synagogues in North Africa were closed, and there were even some orders to put Jews to death; in the 7th century some kingdoms engaged in forced conversions of the Jews. The killings and forced conversions happened in spite of the fact that the Church was against it.

However, even for all this, the period of time from the institution of the Holy Roman Empire to The First Crusade (430 to 1095) is considered to be a better period for the Jews than what came afterwards. This is even considering some of the Church canonical laws passed during that period:

  • Burning of the Talmud and other books, 12th Synod of Toledo, year 681
  • Jews obliged to pay taxes for support of church to the same extent as Christians, Synod of Gerona, 1078

Medieval Anti-semitism

However, with the First Crusade. As the crusaders traveled across Europe to Palestine to recapture the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, they attacked the Jewish quarters of towns along the way, since "Why should we travel all the way to the Holy Land to kill the enemies of God when there are enemies of God living amongst us?" The crusaders offered Jews the alternatives of conversion or death. Most of the Jews chose collective suicide in sanctification of their faith (kiddush ha-shem) rather than convert. From 1/4 to 1/3 of the Jewish population of Germany and Northern France were killed in the first six months of 1096. In 1099, when the crusaders took Jerusalem, there was a mass slaughter of Jews there, including the burning of the synagogue of Jerusalem with many Jews trapped inside.

In addition to the tragic loss of life, these massacres seemed to increase the popular hostility towards Jews, which was amplified by The Second Crusade which started in 1146. Some of the anti-semitic canonical laws passed by the church after the crusades include:

  • Jews not permitted to be plaintiffs, or witnesses, against Christians in the courts, 3d Lateran Council, 1179, Canon 26
  • Construction of new synagogues prohibited, Council of Oxford, 1222
  • Compulsory ghettos, Synod of Breslau, 1267

It was starting in this period that many of the restrictive laws upon Jews were started, including restrictions on what occupations they might take up. These news laws were based on some old theology and civic laws which hadn't been applied so thoroughly before. One was a snippet from the Justinian Code:

They [the Jews] shall enjoy no honors. Their status shall reflect the baseness which in their souls they have elected and desired.

From Romans 11:7-11, from "The Living Bible, Paraphrased":

So this is the situation: Most of the Jews have not found the favor of God they are looking for. A few have -- the ones God has picked out -- but the eyes of the others have been blinded. This is what our Scriptures refer to when they say that God has put them to sleep, shutting their eyes and ears so that they do not understand what we are talking about when we tell them of Christ. And so it is to this very day.

King David spoke of this same thing when he said, "Let their good food and other blessing trap them into thinking all is well between themselves and God. Let these good thing boomerang on them and fall back upon their heads to justly crush them. Let their eyes be dim," he said, "so that they cannot see, and let them walk bent-banked forever with a heavy load."

Does this mean that God has rejected his Jewish people forever? Of course not! His purpose was to make his salvation to the Gentiles, and then the Jews would be jealous and begin to want God's salvation for themselves.

Also, St. Augustine, in the 4th century, claimed that, because of their crime of diecide, the Jews should be subordinated to the Church, the older brother serving the younger brother. St. Thomas Aquinas, during the 12th century, solidified this in the theory of Servitus Judaeorum, or "the eternal servitude of the Jews". During the same time period, Pope Innocent III said that "the blasphemers of the Christian name" needed to be:

forced into the servitude of which they made themselves deserving when they raised their sacrilegious hands against Him had come to confer true liberty upon them, thus calling down His blood upon themselves and all their children.

Thus the anti-semitic laws were passed both with the intention of punishing Jews for the killing of Christ, and in the hopes the Jews, when comparing their low status and suffering to the prosperousness of the Christians, would wish to convert.

It was around this time that Jews got their reputation for being usurious and greedy. They hadn't been considered usurers in Pagan times, since back then Jews had been present in all occupations; similarly, Jews were found in many occupations in pre-Medieval Christian Europe. Also, while the Jews had been accused by Christians of being greedy, they were also accused of being pretty much everything else too; greediness didn't stick out as a defining negative stereotype.

This started changing after the crusades, when the occupations available to Jews were greatly restricted; this was in addition to Jews being excluded from many artisan jobs, since who could work at various crafts were controlled by Christian guilds, which didn't allow for Jewish members. One of the few occupations that Jews weren't restricted from was lending money at an interest (usury), something which Christians were, for the most part, not allowed to do; thus, Jews often became the predominant moneylenders. While we would consider money lending necessary to do such things as buy cars and start or expand businesses, peasants only needed to borrow money when they hit hard times, and thus considered money lending to be a way of preying on other's misfortunes.

There were also many Jews involved in commerce and trade, since these were some of the few occupations open to them. Since many Jews were seen as moneylenders and traders, but there weren't any Jewish artisans or farmers (since Jews weren't allowed to own land), they were perceived as being overly concerned with money, hence greedy. Also, since there were few, if any Jews, who Christians saw making things (again, no Jewish artisans or farmers) they were perceived as being parasitic. For instance, trading was considered to be parasitic because the traders made money off of a product that they had no part in producing; while most people today can see the usefulness of a middleman, this is because of a general understanding of economics, which few people (especially peasants) understood back then.

It is during the Medieval time period that three anti-semitic myths were born: blood libel (that Jews kidnapped Christian children and performed ritual murder upon them), host desecration (that Jews stole consecrated holy wafers and tortured them), and well poisoning. When the Black Death swept Europe from 1347 to 1360, Jews were accused of causing the plague by poisoning wells. Added to this scapegoating was the charge that the Jews did this in order to wipe out Christians and take over the world; this is the first known instance of the accusation that the Jews had the goal of world domination. These myths were believed, and Jews were killed because of them, in spite of the fact that the Church claimed the accusations were false, and forbade anyone from killings Jews because of them.

A final Medieval phenomenon of note are the 15th century Jewish to Christian converts of Spain, or conversos. Christians in Spain were highly suspicious of crypto-Judaism, the secret practicing of Judaism by supposed converts. This became acute among long time Christians as the conversos began to ascend the social hierarchy, to the point where they came to believe that Jewishness was something in the blood, that could not be eliminated by conversion. This is the first known instance of racial anti-semitism.

Post-Medieval Anti-semitism

When Martin Luther started the Reformation, he was empathic towards the Jews. In his 1523 pamphlet Jesus Christ was born a Jew, he wrote on how the Catholic Church treated the Jews:

If the Apostles, who were also Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles as we Gentiles deal with the Jews there would never have been a Christian among the Gentiles... we in our turn ought to treat the Jews in a brotherly manner in order that we might convert some of them... we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins and brothers of our Lord.

Luther expected the Jews to flock to Protestantism, a Christianity that had been stripped of "popery" and corruption of the Catholic Church; he ignored the fact that when Christianity was brand new, and supposedly uncorrupted, not many Jews converted. When his hopes of massive Jewish conversions were dashed, he became embittered against the Jews, believing them to be evil and unconvertable (though not because of race, but because of religious upbringing). An example of his anti-Jewish haranguings can bee seen in The Jews and Their Lies.

It should be noted that Calvinists of this time period were generally much less anti-semitics than the Lutherans. While there might have been some anti-semitism in their writings, it was a lot less than that of the Lutherans, and there were little or no anti-semitic laws or rules in Calvinist countries.

Muslim and Arab Anti-semitism

Although in Muslim lands there were occasional Jewish expulsions, Jewish ghettos and massacres (6,000 Jews killed in the Moroccan city of Fez in 1033, 4,000 Jews killed in riots in Granada in 1066), overall life for Jews there was better than in Europe, especially after the crusades. Both Jews and Christians, as "People of the Book" (Ahl al-Kitab), had their religions officially recognized, and were given the status of "protected people" (dhimmis). The occupations of dhimmis were not restricted, and they could own land. However, they were not allowed to bear arms, could not ride horses (donkeys were the most allowed to them), had to wear distinctive clothing, and weren't allowed to build new places of worship, though this last item wasn't always enforced. Discrimination against dhimmis was carried out equally against both Jews and Christians, with no special malice reserved for the Jews.

Real resentment by Muslims against Jews really started in the 19th and 20th centuries. During European colonial rule of Muslim areas, resentment against both Christians and Jews increased because of their perceived collaboration with the occupiers. But what really set off Muslim anti-semitism was the conflict between Zionists and Arabs in Palestine. Although anti-Zionist sentiments were present among Muslims in the late 19th century, what really got it going was the Balfour Declaration, issued by Britain in Novermber 1917, which promised to establish a Jewish Home in Palestine.

Rising Arab nationalism, along with the fact that Palestine had been under Muslim rule for about 1,300 years, was what started Muslim anti-Zionism. However, it was intensified because of the political and lifestyle liberalism of many of the Jewish settlers, which went against the traditional Muslim way of life. They formed political organizations with their own self-defense units, and created socialistic communes (kibbutzim). Jewish women who didn't cover all their flesh, who enjoyed political freedom and equality with men, and who also enjoyed sexual freedom, were seen by many Muslims as a challenged to their idea of family values. The third wave of secular Jewish settlers were even more politically radical, and were heavily represented among the founding of the Communist Party in Palestine, lead many Arabs to link Zionism with Communism.

Although Arab and Muslim leaders usually made a distinction between Zionists and Jews, the masses made no such distinction, and demonstrations and riots were directed against both the long-time, non-Zionist Jews and the new Jewish settlers. However, as Arab and Muslim anti-semitism increased, due to the founding of the state of Israel, and such military incidents as the Six Days War, fewer and fewer Arab and Muslim leaders made this distinction either, so that anti-Zionism and anti-semitism fully merged.

This rising anti-semitism also saw the integration of European anti-semitic ideas and myths integrated into Arab and Muslim anti-semitism; for example, in the 1970s King Feisal of Saudi Arabia publicly leveled the blood libel charge against Jews.

Finally, here are some examples of parts of the Quran that have been used by some Muslims to justify anti-semitism.

From al-Baqarah 2:61

And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah's revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully. That was for their disobedience and transgression.

From al-Ma'idah 5:41

O Apostle! let not those grieve thee, who race each other into unbelief: (whether it be) among those who say "We believe" with their lips but whose hearts have no faith; or it be among the Jews,- men who will listen to any lie,- will listen even to others who have never so much as come to thee. They change the words from their (right) times and places: they say, "If ye are given this, take it, but if not, beware!" If any one's trial is intended by God, thou hast no authority in the least for him against God. For such - it is not God's will to purify their hearts. For them there is disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter a heavy punishment.

From al-Ma'idah 5:60

Shall I tell thee of a worse (case) than theirs for retribution with Allah ? (Worse is the case of him) whom Allah hath cursed, him on whom His wrath hath fallen and of whose sort Allah hath turned some to apes and swine, and who serveth idols. Such are in worse plight and further astray from the plain road.

From al-Ma'idah 5:78

Those of the Children of Israel who went astray were cursed by the tongue of David, and of Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and used to transgress.


Title: Antisemitism; The Longest Hatred
Author: Robert S. Wistrich
Publisher: Methuen London
ISBN: 0-413-65320-X

Title: Ideology of Death
Author: John Weiss
Publisher: Ivan R. Dee
ISBN: 1-56663-088-6

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