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Why won’t the deicide charge just die?
May 4th, 2001
I don’t believe in supernatural sources of evil — vampires, witches, werewolves, devils, demons, all the fantasies of Halloween and many malodorous movies and television shows. Yet sometimes I understand the impulse to think that the source of evil might be supernatural. How else explain the recurrence of evils that one thought were thoroughly dead?
The blood-soaked lie that “the Jews killed Jesus” I thought was, if not dead, at least an evil as under control and near extinction today as smallpox. If one encountered this idea at all today, it was in contexts like old works of art that showed how antiquated and musty it is.
Almost nobody really believes this lie any more, I had thought. Scholarship on the Christian scriptures has shown for years that crucifixion was an ancient Roman, not Jewish, death penalty. Christian scholars also know that the anti-Semitic passages in Christianity’s holy books were written by early Christians in direct competition with Judaism. Since, today, one of every four people on earth is a Christian while only one of every 450 is a Jew, you’d think no modern Christians would feel the same insecurity vis a vis Judaism that Christians felt when their religion was brand new and they were a tiny minority.
Above all, since Vatican II in the 1960s, most Christian movements have officially acknowledged the falsity of the idea and the incalculable injustices and crimes against the Jewish people that have flowed from it; and they have worked to remove it from their official teachings.
So how does it happen that within the last few weeks, two Christians in the public eye made statements about how “the Jews” killed Jesus?
From political activist Paul Weyrich, who put his statement in an Easter essay on a Web site, I might expect such a thing. From everything I’ve read about him over the years, Weyrich is a rabid reactionary who makes George W. Bush look like Ralph Nader.
But where did Charlie Ward, point guard for the New York Knicks basketball team and a born-again Christian, learn to believe this lie and so matter-of-factly repeat it in a recent New York Times interview?
At least the statements by Weyrich and Ward made news and brought criticism on their heads. Ward apologized, and colleagues of Weyrich have felt they had to defend him from charges of being an anti-Semite.
Still, this stench from the Middle Ages shouldn’t be lingering in the 21st century. Let’s hope that the increased outreach and interfaith dialogue that seems to have resulted from these two episodes will hasten the day when it is washed from Western civilization forever.