The term was introduced in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr, a German political agitator. At the time it designated anti Jewish campaigns in Europe. Soon, however, it came to be applied to the hostility and hatred directed toward Jews since before the Christian era.
Long and painful best describes the history of anti Semitism. Among Jews, the tragic facts about anti Semitism are well known, for it occupies a major portion of Jewish history. Today, after more than two millennia, this seemingly ubiquitous evil continues to exist. Hence, sensitivity to the wiles of the would be anti Semite is never far from the collective conscience of world Jewry. In Christian circles, however, the story of anti Semitism, often sordid and self indicting, remains generally untold. This is the case, it would seem, because the history of the church is about as long as the history of anti Semitism, if not in the overt acts of Christians, certainly in their guilty silence.
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The destruction of the temple in 70 AD marked a widespread dispersion of the Jews. In the second century the Roman emperor Hadrian 117 - 38) issued edicts forbidding the practice of Judaism. About this time the great Rabbi Akiba was tortured to death by the Romans by having his flesh stripped from his body with iron combs.
In 321 Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman state. Jews were forbidden to make converts, serve in the military, and hold any high office. Several centuries later, under Justinian, Jews were barred from celebrating Passover until after Easter.
The roots of theological anti Semitism derive from certain teachings which arose from the early Christian centuries. The Jewish revolt of 66 - 70 AD resulted in the death, exile, or slavey of thousands of Jews. Such hardship was thought by the rapidly expanding Gentile church to be chastisement, proof of divine rejection. Gradually the church saw itself as superseding Judaism, a "dead" and "legalistic" faith. Triumphantly, the church now stood over the synagogue as the new Israel of God, heir to the covenant promises. But Jews, as a people, still chafed under the Roman yoke. They failed to understand messianic redemption in terms of a suffering servant; they refused to believe that God had forever cast away his chosen.
The writings of several church fathers reflect a theological invective directed toward Jews. John Chrysostom, the "golden mouthe," is a noted example. He taught that "the synagogue is a brothel and a theater,. . . a den for unclean animals. . . Never has a Jew prayer to God. . . They are all possessed by the devil."
In the Middle Ages, Jews were largely excluded from medieval Christian culture. They sought to avoid social, economic, and ecclesiastical pressures by living behind ghetto walls. They were, however, permitted to practice usury. This led Christians to accuse them of being a pariah people. Jews were required to wear a distinctive hat or patch sewn on their clothing. They were accused of having a peculiar smell, in contrast to the "odor of sanctity." Jews were also maligned as "Christ - killers," desecraters of the host, murderers of Christian infants, spreaders of the black plague, poisoners of wells and sucklers of sows. The First Crusade (1096) resulted in numerous mass suicides as Jews sought to avoid forced baptism. Toward the close of the Middle Ages many Jews became homeless wanderers. They were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from cities in Spain, Germany, and Austria in the following years.
The Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of 1492 resulted in thousands of torturings, burnings at the stake, and forced conversions. In Germany, one generation later, Luther issued a series of vitriolic pamphlets attacking Jews. Of Jews he wrote, "Let us drive them out of the country for all time."
Toward the start of the modern ages a bloody revolt against the Cossacks occurred in Poland (1648 - 58). Caught in the middle, about half a million Jews were killed. In other European countries at the time Jews continued to be persecuted or, at best, viewed with suspicion or contempt.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century the largest Jewish population in the world (6 million) was in czarist Russia. There Jews experienced a series of vicious pogroms which left thousands dead. Others, joining Jews from different European lands, fled to America. In this country they hoped to find a place earlier described by George Washington as offering "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." Between 1880 and 1910 more than two million Jews immigrated to America through New York City. During this time the celebrated Dreyfus Affair in France (1894) drew the problem of aniti Semitism to world attention.
Rooted in the soil of Germany, the Holocaust of the 20th century stand as a unparalleled event. Nazi propaganda stated that the human race must be "purified" by ridding it of Jews. The "final solution" to the Jewish "problem" was camps, gas chambers, and crematoria. Between 1933, when Hitler came to power, and the end of World War II some 6 million Jewish lives were destroyed. Today in Jerusalem the Yad Vashem (the name is taken from Isa. 56:5) stands as a memorial to Holocaust victims and as an institution for research and documentation.
At present anti Semitism persists wherever Jews are found. Jews of Russia and France have been especially oppressed. In European countries and in the United States recent anti Semitic incidents have included synagogue smearings and bombings, desecration of gravestones, vicious graffiti, Nazi pamphlets, and grotesque Jewish sterotypes in the press. At other times the so called polite variety of anti Semitism is found, namely discrimination and / or antipathy displayed toward Jews in the social, educational, and economic realms. The Anti Defamation League and other Jewish agencies continue to make slow but steady progress in seeking to promote understanding among peoples of different races and religions.
M R Wilson
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
A T Davies, ed., Anti Semitism and the Foundations of Christianity; E J, III; E H Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews; R E Gade, A Historical Survey of Anti Semitism; C Klein, Anti Judism in Christian Theology; R Ruether, Faith and Fratricide; S Sandmel, Anti Semitism in the NT.
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