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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ANTISEMITISM

Antisemitism offers a bastion of psychological/emotional comforts, however imaginary.  For example: relieving anguish and anxiety by projecting one's own uncomfortable desires and feelings of avarice, lust, cheating, conspiracy, subversion, cowardice, heresy, onto Jews.  Thus, whatever the conditions of Christian society, its embedded Jew-hatred always lies available to relieve personal as well as social angsts, blaming "the Jews" for social and economic failure; and even in prosperity, blaming "the Jews" for personal anguish or discomfort.

Tertullian's complaint (ca. 198 C.E.) that Romans persecuted Christians as scapegoats for any problem, can just as well pertain to later Jewish persecution by Christians (Note #23): "They think the Christians the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction with which people are visited.  If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is 'Away with the Christians to the Lion!'" (Apology XL, ANF vol. 3, p. 47).  "For Tertullian as for Justin [Martyr] and many 'church fathers,' anti-Judaism was a tool that could be applied to almost any problem, a weapon that could be deployed on almost any front" (Nirenberg, p. 104).

In a sense, canonizing Jews in the New Testament as "Christ killers," sanctioned their role as resident ghouls of society in Christian paranoia.  Jewish images could then be called up at any time and place to perform the role of blasphemy, treason, wickedness, betrayal, and deicide.  In 1936 Nazi Germany, a leader of the German Christian Movement made the statement: "Even if I know 'thou shalt not kill' is a commandment of God or 'thou shalt love the Jew' because he too is child of the Father, I am able to know as well that I have to kill him, I have to shoot him, and I can only do that if I am permitted to say 'Christ'" (Heschel 2011, pp. 258–259).  As Rubin and others have pointed out: to antisemites Jews are convenient internalized icons of uncomfortable, even indigestible self-contradictions that can be acted upon externally. 

Among religious factors, antisemitism rooted itself in early Christian fears that basic Scriptural claims for Christian antiquity are open to challenge by the mere existence of non-believing Jews.  Again, once instituted, hatred of Jews became so embedded in Christian culture that antisemitism could sprout even in the absence of Jews.