Scott Hardie | January 23, 2004
I wondered how long it was going to take for someone to bring this up; now here I am doing it. If you haven't heard, "The Passion of the Christ" is Mel Gibson's film about the life and death of a certain religious figure, opening this Easter. As with any film on that subject, it has seen a tsunami of controversy ever since it was announced. While the film itself is positive about Jesus (it doesn't make him homosexual like that old urban legend), the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups have repeatedly expressed concern that the film could fuel anti-Semitism by making people blame Jews for Jesus's death.

...What? But the Jews were responsible, is the answer most people have to that line of thinking, certainly the ones I've asked anyway. I didn't quite understand, chalking it up to my lack of Bible knowledge, but today it dawned on me: The fear is not that the Jews who killed Jesus will be held responsible, but that Jews living today will be held responsible for something that happened millenia ago. Thus, the entire crux of anti-Semitism dawned on me for the first time. I love that swell of relief that comes with finally understanding something that everyone else got already.

At least, that's what I can reason. I open this discussion to ask what I may be missing. Is there more to it than that?

Anna Gregoline | January 23, 2004
As far as I know, there's not much more to it than that. I think that's the sole origin of anti-Semitism, anyway, but of course, it's best to let Mr. Weberg weigh in on this one (Being the scholar that he is).

Anthony Lewis | January 24, 2004
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head.

The pun was not intended.

**sure it wasn't**

Erik Bates | January 24, 2004
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Jeff Flom | January 24, 2004
Under old Christian Law it was illegal to charge someone interest on a loan.

When Jews charged interest it was quite a sticking point.

Kris Weberg | January 27, 2004
Based on the Bible and on general historical knowledge as quoted in the limited amount of stuff I've read about the politics behind the death of Jesus, it's a fairly cmplex issue. Jesus was, in essence, a rabble-rouser, a political dissident in an already quite-strained arrangement between the Judeans and the Romans who conquered the area. The Romans tended to impose Emperor-worship on conquered areas, something they made more palatable by basically conflating the Emperor witht he local god or the chief of the local pantheon, and letting the basic practices of local worship go on with a few changes of nomenclature and not much else.

With the Judaism, however, that was extremely difficult, not only because of Judaism's strongly monotheistic nature, but also because of the long (and mostly Biblically recorded) history of the Jewish people with empires and conquerors. They were quite well-versed in resistance, quite militant about their beliefs and culture, and extremely legalistic to the point that Rome was unlikely to absorb or radically alter Judaism into something more compatible.

As a result, the Romans allowed a high degree of religious autonomy and limited civil powers to the Pharisees and Saducess, the highest of the priests. It was a good deal for all concerned; the Judeans got to keep their religion and culture, and didn't compromise on what mattered to them; and the Romans prevented a potentially embarrassing revolution that might have given other conquered peoples the wrong idea and ruined the Empire.

And then Jesus showed up, with rhetoric that greatly angered the Judeans. Jesus' teachings weren't friendly to the Empire, but his general methods weren't a direct threat to Roman rule. But the priesthood was incensed enough by his claims to be the Messiah, which was serious blasphemy to them; his claims that the temple in Jerusalem would fall, something that had long been a symbol to them of the kind of subjugation that they had endured before and brokered their way free of with the Romans; and worst of all, he wanted to end the strict segregation of Jewish and non-Jewish people that was not only mandated by law, but also an important part of keeping Judaism and Jewish culture from the Romans and the many, many conquerors who'd come before them.

To a Judean who strongly religiously or ethnically identified themselves as such, Jesus looked like someone out to tear down their whole social and moral order, not to mention allowing their history -- something they'd meticulously recorded and preserved through their religion -- in the bargain. He looked at best like a dangerous psychotic, and at worst probably seemed to them the way Communists seemed to Americans during the height of the Cold War.

And of course, anyone who upset the Judeans this much also endangered the Roman rule of the area; violence in Judea could quickly escalate beyond the ability of the Roman army to control, and from there, it could easily become a festering political cancer in the Empire as a whole. In addition, Jesus' teaching weren't much more friendly to the Romans, either. Jesus did initially resist attempts by the Pharisees to cast him as a political revolutionary out to topple the Empire. Jesus' famous adnmonition to "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's" is often interpreted as having this political edge to it as well as whatever theological bearing one wants to acribe to it, especially since it was a question of Roman taxation, something
that was thorny political and religious issue in Judea.

But in the long run, the unrest Jesus was creating and the growing tendency of his Messianic declarations to sound like genuine calls for sudden and great political change made him too much of a risk to all involved. Roman rule, as I mentioned earlier, was still conferring divinity on the various Caesars and Emperors, and proclamations contrasting the eternal nature of God's kingdom with the limited nature of temporal rule directly contradicted this facet of Roman imperialism. The Emperors were gods, and the Empire was going to spread to all the world and endure forever. Too, there was the fact that the Romans knew full well how many Jews saw the Messiah as the ultimate extension of the warrior kings of their tradition -- a new David who would lead them to retake the Promised Land and make thier portion of the Earth into God's literal and figurative kingdom. A self-styled Messiah, however small his following, was potentially a serious threat.

The priesthood managed to convince the Romans that Jesus would spark a revolution of some kind -- if not his own sect growing and becoming a threat, he'd inevitably wreak havoc by creating massive rioting and religious schisms in the already conflicted region. And from a Roman perspective, things wouldn't much improve if Jesus managed to convert the whole region, either; the strained rule over Judea they'd managed to craft over years would give way, and they'd have a new sect, likely militant with zeal, to contend with. The legend inscribed above the cross, "Jesus King of the Jews," represented blasphemy to the Pharisees but also indicated Rome's worst fear -- a strong, maverick Judean leader who could lead a revolution.

Pontius Pilate, as procurator of Judea, was the representative of Rome. He wisely took advantage of Jewish claims against Jesus to justify his execution as a dangerous political enemy, and also arranged things witht he Pharisees so that it appeared that the Romans were maintaining respect for Jewish custom and culture in arranging the execution. Jesus arguably fell victim to a complex political and social situation, one in which his radical Messianic claims were seen as a grave threat by all sides.

Jeff: There are also some who argue that part of European anti-Semitism has to do with the Roman Church wishing to both a) convert as many as possible and b) downplay the role of, well Romans in Christ's death as recorded in the Bible.

On to the Middle East: In Islam some believe that Christ didn't actually die; and of course, all believe that he wasn't the Messiah, merely a prophet and not a tremendously important one at that. So no, Muslims aren't that annoyed about the death of Christ.

Really, Islamic anti-Semitism of the scale and virulence we see it today is very much a 20th century phenomenon, and has more to do with the imposed boundaries created by the retreating colonial powers. Even before the creation of Israel, this was creating a lot of tension, as was the violent fringe of the Zionist movement. Before that, I'd guess you were more likely to see anti-Christian sentiments from Muslims. It wasn't Jews who launched the Crusades, for example.

But in the end, it boils down to territorial and likely vestigial tribal aggression on all sides. Islam is certainly ethnically divided within, as are most major religions -- the Iran-Iraq war of the 80s is a great example of a religiously justified war over territorial rights, and one probbaly traceable to the haphazard way the British and others drew boundaries without regard to the region's preexisting ethnic divisions. Taking another chunk for Israel redirected a lot of anger, sure, but the initial causes of Middle Eastern aggression predate Israel and have less to do with deep religious differences than you'd guess fromt he current rhetoric.

The situation of the Kurds in Iraq is another example of this -- they've always been persecuted, and neither Turkey nor Iraq wants an independent Kurdistan because of the broader territorial ambitions of all parties involved. (Even the Kurds want more land than they could practically be given.) And going back to the Old Testament, the Israelites (12 tribes in themselves who sometimes were at odds) are simply one tribe moving through the Middle East, coopting or warring on other tribes like the Canaanites and so on. Basically, I see a lot of it as fallout from various colonialisms -- in fairness, not all of the Euriopean colonizations -- with the effect that religious sentiments and prejudices have become inextricably entangled with and murderously aggravated by geopolitical disputes.

Anna Gregoline | January 27, 2004
Like I said, we should let Kris talk. =)

Jackie Mason | January 27, 2004
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Matthew Preston | January 31, 2004
When I saw a preview for this film, it was called, "The Passions (plural) of the Christ." Now, the website has dropped the s... or did the Movie add the s and the website hasn't been updated? Come to think of it, I seem to remember it being called just "The Passion" or at least that's what it was being referred to as in Hollywood during early production. Minor details, but noticeable nonetheless.

Jackie Mason | February 18, 2004
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Steve Dunn | February 19, 2004
In my experience, some Jews think Christiantiy is anti-Semitic per se.

Which is true, in a way. And also false.

This is not the last time I will post on TC under the influence of alcohol.

But it is the first.

Lori Lancaster | February 19, 2004
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Jackie Mason | February 19, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | February 20, 2004
There are lots of bars with $1 drink nights - Deliah's on Lincoln (?) is one, The Long Room has one too. Hmm...oh, and Thursdays at Goldstar, I think.

Kris Weberg | February 20, 2004
And of course the University of Chicago's Pub, in the basement of Ida Noyes Hall, charges one dollar cover to non-members (basically non-students) and always has a beer called "Huber Bock" for $1.

Kris Weberg | February 20, 2004
Also, why does every conversation about religion inevitably become a conversation about drinking?

Anna Gregoline | February 20, 2004
The $1 beer I last consumed was at Deliah's, and it was called, I do believe, "Americana," capturing the "spirit and strength of America." I wish I'd saved a can. Too funny.

How come drinking leads to conversations about religion?

Kris Weberg | February 21, 2004
Because of the wine at Communion...and the Nazarene sect's tradition of...well, I'll stop before I offend and/or bore more people....

Erik Bates | February 21, 2004
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Kris Weberg | February 24, 2004
Someone with a sense of civic pride should post or link to a good litany of dollar beer nights in Chicago.

John Lane | February 26, 2004
Just thought I'd point out..ALL muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified, as the Quran states just that, and all muslims believe that Jesus IS the messiah, as the Quran states that also. Muslims believe that when Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane for God to spare him, God accepted his prayer, raised him to heaven, and made someone else to look like Jesus, who was crucified in his place. The Quran says, translated and paraphrased: they said "we have killed the messiah, Jesus, son of Mary." But they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it appeared thus.

As for anti semitism in the Muslim world, it was unkown until recently. Medieval Rabbis wrote letters thanking God for sending the Ishmaelites, who purified the temple mount (the christians had used it as a garbage dump), and believed the coming of the messiah to be near. For centuries, when the Europeans persecuted the Jews, they would flee to the accepting Muslim world. The British intentionally created Arab nationalism to prevent a unified muslim state from arising, and with the creation of Israel, arab anti-judaism (i use this term because the Arabs are semites too) was born. In fact, there was no Arab tradition of anti-semitism, and works had to be translated to arabic from German for that purpose.

As to why Europeans persecuted the Jews: Europe is a continent of war and persecution. We can expostulate various justifications for the persecution of Jews, but the true motivation was that they were viewed as outsiders. Europeans have extensive history of internecine domestic conflicts, as well as exterior ones. Minority ethnicities are purged or oppressed, nations conquer and pillage each other, and may God help anyone else.

Hope this clears it up :)

Jackie Mason | February 26, 2004
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Scott Hardie | February 26, 2004
Apparently it can also be fatal. I wonder how this will affect its repeat business?

Anna Gregoline | February 26, 2004
Wow. That's all I can say, wow.

Jesse wants to see it, but I don't think we'll see it until it's in the cheapo theatre or on Netflix. I don't really care, but it's ok to see what all the fuss is about. For me, it's just as much about the hype as it is about seeing how far down Mel Gibson is in the deep end.

Erik Bates | February 27, 2004
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Jackie Mason | February 27, 2004
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Erik Bates | February 27, 2004
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Lori Lancaster | February 27, 2004
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Jackie Mason | February 29, 2004
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Jackie Mason | February 29, 2004
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Scott Hardie | February 29, 2004
That certainly is "interesting," Jackie. :-) I'm glad the nun found a way to reaffirm her faith with the findings; too often results like these are seen as irrefutable proof of science over religion. I've read that all kinds of sensations can be caused by electrically stimulating specific parts of the brain, including the sensation of deja vu. Imagine recreational drugs that could give you an overwhelming feeling of deja vu... and, if you're cynical, the new-age devotees who would take it to explore their past lives.

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