Book Review: Has Anti-Semitism Roots in Christianity?, Jules Isaac.

41nI8BT9kCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In 1947, Jules Isaac delivered his “Eighteen Points,” bullet points for the removal of anti-Judaism* from Christian doctrine. A French schoolteacher who had lost his wife and children in the Holocaust, Isaac would spend the rest of his life tracing the Christian tradition of anti-Judaism throughout history, a project that culminated in his magnum opus Jesus and Israel and his meeting with Pope John XXIII that influenced the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate so heavily.  This short book, a transcript of a lecture Isaac gave, is a short introduction to his ideas. Isaac traces Christian anti-Judaism back to the second and third centuries at least, to the “deplorable divorce” between the two religions. He argues that while the pagan Romans were anti-Jewish, Christian anti-Judaism was even worse, more systematic, and rooted more directly in religious teachings. So developed the ideas that Jews were degenerate, sensual, rejecters of Christ and committers of deicide. Isaac calls on Christians to repudiate these teachings, which he says are not part of the essence of Christianity.

These days it is pretty commonplace to admit the fact of anti-Jewish bigotry through history. Now scholars see it not just in patristic writings, but even in the New Testament itself. But much of that conversation was sparking by the Holocaust and its immense psychological impact on both victim and aggressor. This book was a good entryway into the work of Isaac, a real visionary, who I imagine must have been despised by many for his efforts to trace the Holocaust not simply to 19th-century racial ideologies, but theologies dating back to the first centuries of Christianity.

*Throughout his work Isaac uses the phrase “anti-Semitic,” as that was the lingo of his day. However, the more accurate term is anti-Jewish, to emphasize the religion rather than the race, and the fact that there many Semitic groups who are not Jewish.

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