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It’s that time again. Nope, I’m not talking about cute fuzzy bunnies, tasty candies, nor little kids in cute Easter suits or dresses. I’m afraid that I’m talking about the time of year when Christians become their most anti-Semitic. The reasons behind this are varied. Christians rarely remember that they are (or at least originally were) a branch of Judaism. Most often when Christians do remember the Jewish origins of their faith it’s couched in problematic supercessionism claiming that Christians got God’s message right and other Jews got it wrong. The worst part may be that they usually forget the “other Jews” part because they forget that Jesus and his followers were all Jews. Christians claim that (other) Jews don’t know their own scriptures and that applying certain texts to Jesus is the only correct way to read them or at least the most proper way.

The New Testament scriptures are tinged with the internecine fight between the communities of the scripture writers and Jews who did not view Jesus as a messiah nor great teacher. Later readers of these passages tend to forget this slant and read the descriptions of Pharisees (Jesus’ natural allies in reform and those closest to him religio-political culture of his time), Herodians (a possibly fictional group), and Sadducees (collaborators with the Roman occupation forces) all come off looking bad. Zealots don’t get much play. Sicarii and Essenes are either not mentioned or get very few details. Christians reading back end up thinking of Jesus and his disciples as non-Jewish Christians instead of Jews who founded a movement that would, much later, be called Christianity.

The most dangerous part of Christian antisemitism around Easter comes from the idea that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death. The tensions get far worse when it comes time for Good Friday services and Passion Plays. A dear friend of mine recently framed Jesus’ execution by Romans as the Sanhedrin arranging for Jesus to be killed. At best my friend’s framing is an exaggeration. The Romans probably did have agreements with Jewish religious and political leaders for keeping the peace particularly at festival times like Passover. Now the Romans probably wouldn’t take no for an answer and rather than being legitimate Jewish leaders the leaders who had agreements with the Romans were more likely to be illegitimate collaborators who gained power by working with the Romans.

The Gospel accounts work hard to exculpate the Romans for Jesus’ death. Pontius Pilate appears to be manipulated by the crowds, the sort of leader the Romans would have quickly removed from power rather than the harsh, effective leader who knew how to put down rebellions that he was. They even have him literally wash his hands of the matter.

Yet, Jesus was executed by the Romans, in a Roman way (crucifixion) for Roman reasons (Jesus offering a political challenge to the Roman appointed King Herod and to the Roman Caesar). Jesus was Jewish and was involved in both reform within the Jewish community the Jewish effort to overthrow Roman occupation.

Later Christian portrayals of the last week of Jesus’ life can be even worse than what’s shown in the Gospels. After seeing the Passion play at Oberammergau, Adolf Hitler said, “There one sees Pontius Pilate, a Roman racially and intellectually so superior, that he stands out like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry.” Passion plays have often inflamed anger of Christians against Jews. In 1539, Passion plays were stopped in Rome because of the regular result of the plays being Christians sacking Jewish ghettoes.

Even if you have a hard time conceding that it was not the Jews who killed Jesus, surely you can at least see that attacking Jews as a part of Easter celebrations is a serious problem. If you’re willing to take time to consider this issue more closely, I urge you to read Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus by John Dominic Crossan.

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