[Riccardo di Segni - Chief Rabbi of Rome
Image from European Jewish Press]
In the second century, Literalist (orthodox as opposed to gnostic) Christians began turning against the Jews with a vengeance. They wanted to claim the Jewish bible but not the Jewish faith or Jewish traditions.
Thus they began calling the Jewish bible the "Old" Testament, and ensured that it was "suitably rearranged so that it ended with a prophesy, which appeared to lead seamlessly into its apparent fulfillment in the gospels."
Not only that, but New Testament material was rewritten to cast aspersions on the Jews. Thus in the Gospel of Matthew we read that at the trial of Jesus, the "Jews" cried out to crucify him and demanded that "His blood be on us and our children."
One modern theologian notes:
"The legacy of these words has been terrible. They have been cited to justify centuries of Christian persecution of the Jews. It is significant that only at the recent Vatican council has a formal declaration been made exonerating subsequent generations of Jews from responsibility for the murder of Christ."
Hatred for the Jews was fired up as early as the second century by numerous Church "fathers." "Bishop Melito of Sardis (c. 170) denounced them as 'God-killers'--criminals who had invented an 'entirely new sort of crime.' The devastation the Jewish nation had suffered at the hands of the Roman Empire was deemed to be God's just revenge. The Jews had brought their sufferings upon themselves."
Circumcision became a rallying point for Christian anti-Judaism. Justin Martyr wrote:
"For the circumcision according to the flesh was given to you from Abraham as a sign so that you might be distinguished from other nations and from us, and so that you alone might suffer what you now rightly suffer; so that your land might become desolate, and your cities burned, and strangers eat the fruits of your land before you, and not one of you set foot in Jerusalem."
Many other church leaders wrote even stronger and more hateful diatribes against the Jews, including the revered St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom.
All of which brings us to the present. Pope Benedict XVI is bringing back the old Latin Mass, and with it the Good Friday prayers which pray for the conversion of the Jews. Minor, but insufficient changes have been made in the modern mass.
Although the Roman Church has backed away from blaming Jews and their descendants from killing Christ, and even though the Roman Church has said that the Jews are God's chosen people and will be saved in the end, offensive language remains. It appears to many that the Roman Church speaks with forked tongue.
Jewish leaders in Italy and elsewhere have made their feelings known and relations between the Vatican and these leaders have cooled considerably.
Now the Vatican is hitting back. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, is complaining about "excessive" Jewish complaints relative to the Good Friday prayers in the traditional Latin Missal, which does, still, pray for the conversion of the Jews.
Damian Thompson, a conservative/traditional Catholic writer for the Telegraph in the UK, says "'Enough, already!' is the message from Rome. And quite right, too."
You see, Thompson and evidently Pope Benedict and probably most of the high and mighty poohbahs don't believe that the Jews are or will be saved. Thompson is forthright, if nothing else:
"But if you ban all prayers for the conversion of the chosen people, then you end up misrepresenting the founder of Christianity. It's an inconvenient fact that Jesus of Nazareth called loudly for the conversion of the Jews."
Not even close to true! I wonder if Thompson has read the Gospels. His first error is to claim Jesus founded Christianity. Oops! Not so! Paul would be the most likely founder of Christianity if you had to blame any one person. The legendary Jesus as presented in the gospels was a devout Jew for all of his brief life. There was no such thing as Christianity when he walked the earth so what on earth would he have the Jews to convert to?
Thompson simply does not know what he's talking about. In fact, Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the law, every single piece of it. He knew nothing about converting anyone.
And the entire Passion story is suspect from beginning to end, with contradictory tales told by the writers of the four gospels which contain episodes that could not have happened in any first century context, such as a Sanhedrin trial on the eve of Passover.
In other words, the trial and crucifixion of Jesus is so garbled and non-historical in content, even if it weren't essentially mythology, we would have no clue as to what actually happened.
The Jews were made the scapegoats for Jesus' death many years later, and anti-Judaism reached fever pitch in the late second century when Christian writers edited the gospels in such a way as to remove the blame for the crucifixion from their Roman rulers, and forged other letters which now appear in the "New" Testament and which target the Jews for the death of the Christ.
So, I would urge Jewish leaders around the world to stand up to the Vatican, which remains an historically anti-Semitic organization, and insist that if religious dialogue is to continue, Benedict needs to delete, excise, erase, burn those prayers for the conversion of the Jews!
Then we'll talk.
[Some of the material above comes from "The Jesus Mysteries," by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy]