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Part of Jewish history
Jewish deicide is a long-held Christian belief that placed the responsibility for the death of Jesus on the Jewish people as a whole. This deicide accusation is expressed in the ethnoreligious slur "Christ-killer," which has been used as the rallying cry of mobs over many centuries of pogroms and other violent attacks on Jewish communities around Europe, as well as other measures against the Jews.
As a part of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI issued a declaration which repudiated the belief in the collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the document did not address the historicity of Matthew 27:24–25 of the New Testament, on which the charge of deicide is based.
Source of deicide charge
Justification of the charge of Jewish deicide has been attributed to Matthew 27:24–25:
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man’s blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!'
The verse that reads: "All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!'" is also referred to as the blood curse.
According to Jeremy Cohen:
[e]ven before the Gospels appeared, the apostle Paul (or, more probably, one of his disciples) portrayed the Jews as Christ's killers ... But though the New Testament clearly looks to the Jews as responsible for the death of Jesus, Paul and the evangelists did not yet condemn all Jews, by the very fact of their Jewishness, as murderers of the son of God and his messiah. That condemnation, however, was soon to come.
An early documented accusation that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus came in a homily in 167 AD attributed to Melito of Sardis entitled Peri Pascha. This text blames the Jews for allowing King Herod and Caiaphas to execute Jesus, despite their calling as God's people (i.e., both were Jewish). It says "you did not know, O Israel, that this one was the firstborn of God." The author does not attribute particular blame to Pontius Pilate, but only mentions that Pilate washed his hands of guilt. At a time when Christians were widely persecuted, Melito's speech is believed to have been an appeal, not to punish Jews, but for Rome to spare Christians.
The sermon itself is written in Greek, and as such does not use the Latin word for deicide, deicida. According to a Latin dictionary, the Latin word deicida was used in the 4th century by Peter Chrysologus in his sermon number 172, where he wrote Iudaeos [invidia] ... fecit esse deicidas, i.e., "[Envy] made the Jews deicides".
The Holy Friday liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholics uses the expression "impious and transgressing people", but the strongest expressions are in the Holy Thursday liturgy, which includes the same chant, after the eleventh Gospel reading, but also speaks of "the murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews", and, referring to "the assembly of the Jews", prays: "But give them, Lord, their reward, because they devised vain things against Thee."
A liturgy with a similar pattern, historically using the term "perfidious Jews," can be found in the Improperia of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Anglican Church, the first Anglican Book of Common Prayer did not contain this formula, but has emerged in later versions, such as the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, as the The Solemn Adoration of Christ Crucified or The Reproaches. Although not part of Christian dogma, many Christians, including members of the clergy, preached that the Jewish people were collectively guilty for Jesus's death.
Repudiation of charge
As a part of Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI issued the declaration Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), which in part repudiated the traditional belief in the collective Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion. Nostra Aetate stated that, even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus' death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty. The document does not, however, address the historicity of Matthew 27:24–25.
On November 16, 1998, Church Council of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a resolution prepared by its Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations urging any Lutheran church presenting a Passion play to adhere to their Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations, stating that "the New Testament … must not be used as justification for hostility towards present-day Jews," and that "blame for the death of Jesus should not be attributed to Judaism or the Jewish people."
Historicity of Matthew 27:24–25
The accuracy of the Gospel accounts' portrayal of Jewish complicity in Jesus' death is subject to debate. According to the New Testament accounts, Jewish authorities in Roman Judea charged Jesus with blasphemy and sought his execution (see Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus), but lacked the authority to have Jesus put to death (John 18:31), so they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of the province, who consented to Jesus' execution (John 19:16). The Jesus Seminar's Scholars Version translation notes for John 18:31 adds: "it's illegal for us: The accuracy of this claim is doubtful." It is noted, for example, that Jewish authorities were responsible for the stoning of Saint Stephen in Acts 7:54 and of James the Just in Antiquities of the Jews and did not require the consent of the governor.
Pilate's portrayal in the Gospel accounts as a reluctant accomplice to Jesus' death is also questioned. It is suggested that a Roman Governor such as Pilate would have no problem in executing any leader whose followers posed a potential threat to Roman rule. It has also been suggested that the Gospel accounts may have downplayed the role of the Romans in Jesus' death during a time when Christianity was struggling to gain acceptance among the then pagan or polytheist Roman world.
Matthew 27:24–25 has no counterpart in the other Gospels and is probably related to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. Ulrich Luz describes it as 'redactional fiction' invented by the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Some writers, viewing it as part of Matthew's anti-Jewish polemic, see in it the seeds of later Christian antisemitism.
In his 2011 book, Pope Benedict XVI, besides the repudiation of blaming the Jewish people, also questions the historicity of the passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew which has the crowd saying, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children".
- Antisemitism in the New Testament
- Blood curse
- Decretum de Judaeis
- Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism
- Nostra Aetate: a milestone - Pier Francesco Fumagalli
- Jeremy Cohen (2007): Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen. Oxford University Press. p.55 ISBN 0-19-517841-6
- On the passover pp. 57, 82, 92, 93 from Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary
- R.M. Grant "Five Apologists and Marcus Aurelius" Vigiliae Christianae 42 (1988): 1–17
- Charleton Lewis and Charles Short, Latin Dictionary Latin Dictionary
- Cermons of Peter Chrysologus, vol. 6, p. 116, "Sermo CLXXII", at Google Books
- Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002, p. 612 (second stichos of Lord, I Have Cried at Vespers on Holy Friday)
- Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002, p. 589 (third stichos of the Beatitudes at Matins on Holy Friday)
- Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002, p. 586 (thirteenth antiphon at Matins on Holy Friday). The phrase "plotted in vain" is drawn from Psalm 2:1.
- An Anglican Prayer Book (1989) Church of the Province of Southern Africa
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" November 16, 1998
- World Council of Churches "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" in Current Dialogue, Issue 33 July, 1999
- The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes by Bryan F. Le Beau, Leonard J. Greenspoon and Dennis Hamm (Nov 1, 2000) ISBN 1563383225 pages 105-106
- Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 5. (1992) pg. 399-400. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
- Craig Evans, Matthew (Cambridge University Press, 2012) page 455.
- Ulrich Luz, Studies in Matthew (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005) page 58.
- Graham Stanton, A Gospel for a New People, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993) page 148.
- Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI (2011). Jesus of Nazareth. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
- "Pope Benedict XVI Points Fingers on Who Killed Jesus". 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-18.