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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
Jews obliged to pay taxes for support of church to the same
extent as Christians, Synod of Gerona, 1078
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Title: Ideology of Death
Author: John Weiss
Publisher: Ivan R. Dee