19

THE "HOLY," "UNHOLY," AND "TRUE ISRAELITES"

Proclamations claiming Christian superiority over Jews began early.  St. Ignatius (ca. 100) Letter to the Magnesians (X): "Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, so that every tongue which believeth might be gathered together to God" (ANF vol.1, p. 63; also, Wilde, p. 84).  St. Melito of Sardis (ca. 170): "The [Jewish] Temple was precious, but it is worthless now because of the Christ above" (MacLennan, p. 115). 

Christians also used Jewish self-criticism, such as Biblical pleadings against idolatry, as contrast to Gentile Christian "virtue."  Thus, Tertullian's Adversus Judaeos (ca. 198) counters Jewish opposition to Christian worship of Jesus Christ by claiming it is Jews who are the unholy idolaters whereas Christians are idolatry's holy opponents: "¼it is proven that they [Jews] have ever been guilty of the crime of idolatry, whereas our lesser or posterior people [the Gentile Church] quit the idols¼and converted to the same God from whom Israel, as we have shown, departed" (Ruether 1974, p. 126).  According to Origen (ca. 230), Jewish understanding of their Jewish Scriptures is grossly defective because Jews are "more fleshly and sexually depraved than their Christian counterparts" (S. Drake, p. 40).

St. Aphrahat (Demonstrations Against the Jews, ca. 330): "Israel has played the whore, and Judah has committed adultery.  And the people which is of [the Christian Church] is the holy and faithful people, which has gone down and adhered to the Lord" (Ruether 1974, p. 136).  St. John Chrysostom (Against the Jews, Oration 1, ca. 386): "The point is that, if their [Jewish] rituals are venerable and great, ours are false.  But if ours are true, as indeed they are true, theirs are full of deceit" (Mayer and Allen, p. 161). 

St. Augustine's Epistles (ca. 400) follows St. Paul (Galatians 4.22-31) in audaciously revising Scriptural Genesis' straightforward  genealogy: "This Apostolic and Catholic doctrine shows sufficiently plainly to us that according to the origin of the flesh, the Jews belong to Sarah and the Ishmaelites to Hagar, but according to the mystery of the spirit, the Christians belong to Sarah and the Jews to Hagar" (Simon, pp. 148; translated from the Latin on p. 511).  Gentile Christianity's birth is thus placed a millennium before the first C.E. century's appearance of Jesus Christ and pinned to Abraham's wife, Sarah, "who is our mother eternal in the heavens" (Against the Pelagians 3, 13; NPNF Series 1, vol. 5, p. 408).  Through such unrestrained exegesis Christians perversely affix novel unique beliefs and practices on any personage or saying in the Jewish Scriptures.  For example: "That saying, 'the elder shall serve the younger,' is understood by our writers, almost without exception, to mean that the elder people, the Jews, shall serve the younger people, the Christians" (St. Augustine, City of God and Christian Doctrine, NPNF Series 1, vol. 2, p. 331).  Schaff (p. xi), feels such "exegesis" is extreme, but not blameworthy: "In the Old Testament he [St. Augustine] looks upon almost every character and event as symbolic of Christ and Christian institutions.  But as Trench well says, 'it is indeed far better to find Christ everywhere in the Old Testament than to find Him nowhere'."

Transforming Biblical passages into allegories that change or reverse their meaning became accepted exegetical practice allowing self-serving Christian fancies to assume the status of holy writ.  Christian theologians thus "dejudaized" Jewish Scriptures (Barclay 1996, p. 180), claiming that only Christians can discern hidden Scriptural messages which Jews cannot see or comprehend.  St. Paul (2 Corinthians 3.15–16): "Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their [Jewish] minds; but when one turns to the Lord [Jesus Christ], the veil is removed."  Little respect for Jewish understanding and the Jewish religion thus became a hallmark of Christian theology.  Even St. Jerome (ca. 400), dependent on Jewish help in translating the Jewish Scriptures into Latin, left abusive antisemitic diatribes: "Jews are 'serpents,' 'haters of all men,' 'Judases'" (Flannery, p. 50).  To St. Jerome, Jewish prayers are like "the grunting of a pig and the crying of donkeys" (Charlesworth 1988, p. 47).

St. Paul also set the stage for the Christians claim to replace Jews as "God's Chosen People," by denying that circumcision (Genesis 17.10) and fealty to the Torah (Deuteronomy 30.6, 9–10) validate the Jewish covenant with Israel's God Yahweh.  "[A] person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart — it is spiritual and not literal" (Romans 2.29).  "It is not the children of the flesh [Jews] who are the children of God, but the children of the promise [Christians] are counted as descendants" (Ibid. 9.8).  "For it is we [Christians] who are the circumcision, who … boast in Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3.3; also Note #7.2).  "Our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3.5–6).  "All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse" (Galatians 3.10, also Notes #18, #10.5).  This theme of Gentile Christian superiority and Jewish ignobility was then repeated by Christian theologians as though St. Paul's imagined "Christian Covenant" must incontestably be true.

Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 100, IV): "Their [Jewish] covenant was broken in order that the covenant of the beloved Jesus might be sealed upon our heart" (ANF vol. 1, p. 139).  "Moses, as a servant received it [the Torah]; but the Lord himself [Jesus], having suffered on our behalf, hath given it to us, that we [Christians] should be the people of inheritance" (Ibid. p. 146).  St. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew CXXXV, ca. 150): "Christ is the Israel and ¼we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelite race." (ANF vol. 1, p. 267, also Donaldson 2013).  "For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham ¼ are we [Christians]" (Ibid. XI, vol. 1, p. 200).  "The blood of that circumcision is obsolete, and we trust in the blood of salvation; there is now another covenant, and another law" (Ibid. XXIV, vol. 1, p. 206). 

St. Irenaeus (ca. 180): "Inasmuch as [the Jews] have rejected the Son of God, and cast Him out of the vineyard when they slew Him, God has justly rejected them, and given to the Gentiles outside the vineyard the fruits of its cultivation" (ANF vol.1, p. 515).  St. Cyprian (ca. 250): "In repudiation of these [Jews], we Christians, when we pray, say Our Father; because He has begun to be ours, and has ceased to be the Father of the Jews, who have forsaken him" (ANF vol. 5, p. 450).  Didascalia Apostolorum, (ca. 300): "That the Jews were disinherited, because they rejected Christ, and that we, who are of the Gentiles, were adopted into their place, is proved by the Scriptures" (XLVII, ANF vol 7, p. 242).

St. Augustine (ca. 400, Reply to Faustus XII.11): "The Church admits and avows the Jewish people to be cursed, because after killing Christ they continue to till the ground of an earthly circumcision, an earthly Sabbath, an earthly Passover, while the hidden strength or virtue of making known Christ, which this tilling contains, is not yielded to the Jews while they continue in impiety and unbelief, for it is revealed in the New Testament. While they will not turn to God, the veil which is on their minds in reading the Old Testament is not taken away" (NPNF Series 1, vol. 4, p. 187).  "[T]he unbelief of the Jews has been made of signal benefit to us; so that those who do not receive in their heart for their own good these truths, carry in their hands for our benefit the writings in which these truths are contained. … They testify to the truth by not understanding it" (Ibid. XVI.21, p. 227).

Jewish insistence on being Yahweh's favored "Israelites" was pronounced illusory because Jews rejected the newly invented Christian Scriptural exegesis. To St. Paul, non-Judaized Christian recruits "of faith" are the "true Israelites" (Galatians 6.16, Romans 11.26), whereas "faithless" Jews, even Jewish Christians, who dispute Pauline Scriptural renderings, are not Israelites at all.  "Not all those from Israel are Israel" (Romans 9.6).  Disconnecting "Jew" from "Israelite," allowed Gentile Christianity to use the "Christ event" (Galatians 3.24) to oppose any ethnic identity with Jews tied to Scriptural covenantal "works," yet claim "Israelite ancestry" as "Abraham's Children of the promise" (Galatians 3.16, 3.29). "Israelites," was therefore an ancient identity that could only be assumed by St. Paul's Gentile converts.  This "supersessionist" theme — assumption of an antique origin by replacing Jews as a Scripturally ancient "True Israel" — extends through Gentile Christianity's history even to modern times.

James Dunn, a prominent Christian theologian, declares (1998, p. 508): "A Christianity which does not understand itself in some proper sense as 'Israel' forfeits the claim to the scriptures of Israel."  Christian claims to being the "True Israel" thus continue to serve the "supersessionist" basis for Christian antisemitism.  Dunn, in fact, infers that dialogue between "'Judaism' and 'Christianity' cannot really begin" because of conflicting claims as to who are the true bearers of "Israel's" identity (Ibid.).  Contrary to Dunn and others, the Jewish Scriptures were clearly based on the unique history, customs, rituals, and laws made by Jews for Jews and not by Gentiles for Gentiles.

Although some may view the term "True Israelites" as unity of Gentiles and Jews under a new Christian banner, there is little to commend it since the Christian Fathers obviously defined the term to appropriate for themselves Jewish covenantal "Israelite" identity.  (See also Lieu 2011.)  "For Christian thinkers intent on establishing the legitimacy of the religion as ancient only one real option was available: to present the Christian faith as the 'true' form of Judaism, a religion that could be traced as far back as Moses … and beyond him all the way to Abraham.  In a world that respected antiquity and suspected novelty, Judaism was a religion with venerable roots, and Christians needed to claim them as their own" (Ehrman 2013, p. 482).  In a sense, St. Paul's Gentile Christian offshoot of the Jewish religious tree, proclaimed Gentile Christianity as the tree itself.

Omitted in these Christian "supersessionist" claims is a rational explanation of why and how St. Paul and Christian Fathers gained "divine authority" to blatantly controvert history and confer upon themselves, and their newly minted Gentile religion, exclusive ownership and interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures.  Again: how can Gentile Christianity be the ancient "True Israel" when there is nary a hint of Gentile Christian theology, Gentile Christian practices, Gentile Christian liturgy, or Christ-worshipping Gentile Christians until first century C.E.?  Where were such uncircumcised "True Israelite" Gentile Christians during the more than thousand-year period between circumcised Abraham and circumcised Jesus?

Ruether (1981, p. 32): "Christian theology set out to demonstrate the rejected status of the Jewish people and the spiritual blindness of its exegesis and piety in order to vindicate the correctness of its own exegesis and its claim to be the rightful heir of Israel's election."