WeeklyWorker

28.11.2019
Charles Louis Müller, ‘Give us Barabbas’ (1910)

Inconvenient truths

Rather than the Labour Party, it is Christianity which is ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’, writes Eddie Ford.

Labour’s supposed anti-Semitism became an election issue at the beginning of this week - or at least that was the intention - following the intervention of the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. He wrote in The Times that “a new poison - sanctioned from the very top - has taken root” in the party, asking people to “vote with their conscience” in the general election. He also declared that Labour’s claim that it had investigated all allegations of anti-Semitism in its ranks was a “mendacious fiction”, further adding that “the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety” at the prospect of a Labour victory on December 12. Forgive me for being dubious.

Mirvis’s views were immediately endorsed by Mike Katz, the chair of the so-called Jewish Labour Movement (ie, Zionist Labour Movement), saying the chief rabbi was “absolutely right”, as there had been a “failure of leadership” over anti-Semitism - which is true if you think Jeremy Corbyn has already conceded far too much ground to the likes of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the JLM. Getting in on the act, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, proclaimed on Twitter that Mirvis’s “unprecedented” intervention “ought to alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”. This follows the action of Jonathan Romain, a senior rabbi in Maidenhead, who wrote to all 823 families in his congregation, suggesting that “a Corbyn-led government would pose a danger to Jewish life as we know it” - clearly a crazy statement. The Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement saying the chief rabbi’s comments highlight “the real fear many British Jews have regarding the unacceptable presence of anti-Semitism” in Britain - “whether from the left or the right”.

However, an incident at the end of last week shed an entirely different light on the question of anti-Semitism - exposing some inconvenient truths. We are talking, of course, about the video of a man on the London Underground loudly berating a Jewish man and his two sons. A fellow commuter who recorded and uploaded the video on his phone, Chris Atkins, said the man was “just screaming at these children” - it was “horrific in every sense”.

Blood curse

So far, so bad. But what exactly was the bloke berating the poor Jewish father about? The answer is simple. He was haranguing them because he had been reading the Bible - the video clearly showed him holding a copy - and anyone who has ever read the book, especially the later sections, knows only too well that it becomes increasingly anti-Semitic (or anti-Judaic). Hence the man was shouting about “the synagogue of Satan” and how the “Jews killed Jesus”, as “they are all slave masters”. In the words of Atkins, the man appeared to be “a very committed Christian”, who “believed this was the word of God”.

Of course, this was a reference to the notorious anti-Semitic passage from the Gospel of Matthew, which describes (or misdescribes) the events taking place in Pontius Pilate’s court before the crucifixion of Jesus - and specifically the apparent willingness of the Jews to accept liability for Jesus’s death. We are told that there was a Passover custom in Jerusalem that allowed Pilate, the governor of Judea, to commute a prisoner’s death sentence by popular acclaim.

This is complete bogus history, of course - there was no such tradition - but it is a convenient Bible story to convey a certain message: the Big Lie, as Joseph Goebbels would understand. Should Pilate release the “notorious prisoner”, Barabbas, or the lovely Jesus? Naturally, the crowd roared for the killing of Jesus. About this incident, St John Chrysostom (c.347-407), archbishop of Constantinople, wrote: “Observe here the infatuation of the Jews; their headlong haste and destructive passions will not let them see what they ought to see, and they curse themselves, saying, ‘His blood be upon us’, and even entail the curse upon their children.”

The man on the tube was reading out these particular sections of the Bible to the Jewish man - look at what it says: you killed Jesus. Just read the book! Funnily enough, this is not something emphasised in most press reports, yet this is the founding myth of the New Testament, and hence what eventually became Christianity. But there is an obvious big problem - Jesus is Jewish. In two of the gospels there is an elaborate family tree, going all the way back to David and before that to Adam. David is a king, which is important, as it enables Jesus to say, ‘I’m the king of the Jews’.

So how do you get around that awkward fact? Answer, rewrite the entire story and make the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus. Remember how the apostles do not recognise Jesus as the son of God, because they are too stupid, not understanding that he is not here to become the king of a real kingdom. No, he has been turned into an other-worldly, non-Jewish Jesus up there with the fairies and unicorns.

Hence the Bible is steadily rewritten to make it more and more anti-Jewish. Jesus goes from being a Jew, the son of a Jew, to someone who could not possibly be a Jew because he has no mortal father. Mary is now a virgin, so that problem is sorted - disappearing all that Jewish history. Not only does Jesus not have a Jewish father - it was the accursed Jews who murdered Jesus, not Pontius Pilate and Roman imperialism. This is what the “committed Christian” on the Northern Line was trying to get the Jewish passenger to understand.

More generally, it can be reasonably argued that the founding of Christianity as a religion separate from Judaism was entirely the work of Paul of Tarsus - a Hellenised Jewish convert. His writings betray an ignorance of the original Hebrew scripture and the intricacies of Jewish law. Indeed, a thorough exegesis of the New Testament strongly suggests that Paul knew no Hebrew at all, relying exclusively on the Greek texts.

From all this, we can deduce that Paul fused the historical story of Jesus’s crucifixion with elements of contemporary mystery religions and Gnosticism, developing new, non-Judaic mythic ideas, such as the Trinity, the Last Supper, etc. It also becomes apparent that he attempted to find prophetic justification for his newly forged myths, or religion, in the Old Testament - reverse engineering or retrofitting, you could say. Paul presented Jesus as a dying and rising saviour deity similar to those from the Hellenistic mystery cults.

According to various scholars, there are at least 10 themes in the New Testament that have been a source of anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism, including the idea that the Jews are culpable for crucifying Jesus. Then there are: the tribulations of the Jewish people throughout history constitute god’s punishment for killing Jesus; Jesus originally came to preach only to the Jews, but, when they rejected him, he abandoned them for the gentiles; the children of Israel were god’s original chosen people by virtue of an ancient covenant, but by spurning Jesus they forfeited this status; etc, etc.

In this way, we see the transformation of Christianity from a Jewish sect, consisting of followers of a Jewish Jesus, to a separate religion, often dependent on the tolerance of Rome - proselytising among gentiles loyal to the Roman empire. The story of Jesus came to be recast in an anti-Jewish form: Jesus was now a man-god.

Incendiary

When Tony Blair introduced the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, he specifically excluded the ‘holy books’ from prosecution. He backed amendments to the bill requiring the intention to “stir up religious hatred”, removing the previous “abusive and insulting” concept, which in theory could have made major religious works like the Bible and the Quran illegal in their current form. You can easily read out passages in an incendiary way, which the guy on the tube did with great gusto - but you cannot ban the texts themselves.

Like very many people of my generation, I was taught this ‘blood curse’ crap about Jesus in a Church of England school every morning at service, maybe unconsciously imbibing anti-Jewish propaganda. I am not anti-Semitic, but it would hardly have been surprising if I had been after such an education. Then you hear stories about children being asked by family members, ‘Who would you rather save - a Jew or a Christian?’ A flabbergasting question, but not an uncommon attitude at one time.

Unarguably, the New Testament is profoundly anti-Semitic - go to the National Gallery or look at the stained-glass windows or pictures in churches and cathedrals for further confirmation. It is everywhere. No wonder some non-Christians or scholars on the subject cannot bring themselves to step foot in a church or cathedral: they feel too nauseated. Then again, the Quran has the idea that the prophet would be recognised wherever he went. But an angered Muhammad gives instructions to wipe out three Jewish tribes in Medina that did not recognise him.

If we want to talk about genocide - and there is no reason not to - the Old Testament is full of it. Maybe the most spectacular genocide was committed by Saul, the first king of Israel. God generously promises him military victory if he annihilates the Philistines and everything they have got. As it says in the Bible, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts ... go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (1 Samuel 15:2-3). But, when it comes to the crunch, Saul - having some common sense - cannot bring himself to slaughter all the animals. Why not distribute them amongst the poor? This mightily displeased god, needless to say, who gave Saul the sack and replaced him with David.

Going back to the Northern Line, the unnamed man (who was black) has been arrested on suspicion of a “racially aggravated” offence. In reality, he is probably mentally disturbed - but anybody would be after untutored reading of the gospels of Matthew or John.

eddie.ford@weeklyworker.co.uk