Pope Benedict has made it clear that the Jews bear no collective responsibility for the death of Christ. But it is hard to give the Church much credence for backing away from an accusation that it was overwhelmingly responsible for in the first place. Given that, according to the Gospel reports, Jesus was killed by a Roman method of execution by Roman soldiers under the authority of a Roman official, the lack of collective Jewish responsibility even at the time is perfectly clear. It is underwhelming that almost two millennia later that it is news that a Pope wishes to make it clear that Jews have no enduring moral responsibility.
Not that the Deicide accusation was ever the only issue. The early Christian Church, particularly after the alliance with Constantine, had a range of reasons for hostility to Jews and Judaism.
Competition: rabbis and priests competed for believers. We forget that within the Roman Empire, Judaism was an evangelising religion: it was only pressure from the Christianised Roman state (later reinforced by Islam as a ruling religion) that turned Judaism inward.
Preserving Jesus’s status as Messiah: if Jews were God’s Chosen People, yet failed to follow Christ, then either Christ was not Messiah or the Jews were betraying their role as the Chosen People. Holding Judaism and Jews to be at fault protected Jesus’s status as Messiah.
Allying with a Deicide state: if the Romans killed Jesus, then in accepting the alliance with Constantine, the Church was allying with a Deicide state. But, if the Jews killed Jesus, that protected Christian alliance with the Roman state, emphasized their “betrayal” of their role as Chosen People and improved priestly rhetoric against their rabbinical competitors. The accusation of Jews as a Deicide people was extremely useful for the Church and was kept going for as long as it was so useful.
Defusing Christ’s critique of priestly power: According to the Gospels, Jesus spent a great deal of time criticising priests and clerics. If that was identified as purely a rejection of Jewish priests and rabbis, then the Church was protected from having Jesus’ critique of priestly power being applied to it. So emphasizing how wrong specifically Jewish teaching was provided a shield against Christ’s critiques of misuse of priestly power being taken as having general (and so potentially embarrassing) application.
Subverting love thy neighbour: Critiquing Judaism and Jews created a category of person that the authority of God could be used against, further establishing the power of priests to invoke God to unilaterally strip people of moral rights and protections, and so giving them great authority as ‘gatekeepers of righteousness’. This is particularly clear in the preaching of St John Chrysostom.
While notionally these are generally attacks on Judaism, they naturally became attacks on Jews: for rejecting the true preaching, for rejecting Christ, for being Christ-killers, for following false teachers. In the case of subverting love thy neighbour, it had to be an attack on Jews, to create the category of those outside the full moral community as defined by priests.
This is why Philo of Alexandria’s adoption of natural law theory to justify a homicidal intolerance of queers was so dangerous (particularly, it turned out, for Jews) for it created a category of human beings who were in “metaphysical revolt” and (implicitly, a claim later made explicitly) metaphysically deformed who “put themselves” outside the moral community to the extent that they should be killed. (The accusation of being metaphysically deformed also being made against the Jews.)
The bigger the gulf between the anathematised and “proper” people, the more the effect of creating categories of morally rejected people to be unilaterally stripped of moral protections becomes both accepted and invisible. This move is very clear in the preaching of St John Chrysostom, when he goes from utilising Philo’s metaphors in preaching on a passage from St Paul which itself fairly clearly shows Philo’s influence to his preaching against those who fraternise with Jews.
The process of exclusion, of unilaterally stripping people of moral protections on the basis of metaphysical sins or claims, never just stops with the queers.
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