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It is good that Mr Netanyahu should praise the Pope’s book: but it contains nothing new about the Jews

The crucifixion was caused by our own sins: that has always been mainstream Catholic teaching

By on Monday, 7 March 2011

Pope Benedict XVI and Benjamin Netanyahu greet each other at Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2009 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Pope Benedict XVI and Benjamin Netanyahu greet each other at Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2009 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Last week, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, thanked Pope Benedict for making it clear – in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth part II – that there is no basis in Scripture for the accusation that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus’s death. “I commend you for rejecting in your new book the false claim that was used as a basis for the hatred of Jews for hundreds of years,” Mr Netanyahu wrote to the Pope; he added that he hoped that “the clarity and bravery” shown by Benedict XVI would strengthen relations between Jews and Christians worldwide and promote peace in the next generations.

This reaction is certainly to be welcomed, and I certainly hope that this will be one outcome. I have to say, all the same, that I don’t quite see that the pope needed any particular bravery to assert what Catholics have taken for granted for generations. It is surely odd that anyone could suppose (as Mr Netanyahu seems to) that what the Pope has said is any sort of breakthrough, that it represents a new teaching, or creates a new situation. In my lifetime, certainly (and I would have thought for a lot longer than that) it has been normative Christian teaching that the mob who called out “Crucify him”, though in fact Jewish (they had to be something after all), represented humanity as a whole, then and now – that it was ultimately our own sins which led to Our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary. None of us, surely, was taught that the cry from the crowd “his blood be on our head and those of our children” was intended to imply that the Jewish people were collectively responsible for the crucifixion: on the contrary, so far as those who actually encompassed his death and surrounded him jeering as he died, was concerned, the words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” was far closer to the central meaning of Christ’s Passion and death.
Many Jews simply do not and will not accept this. When Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ (from which the cry  “his blood be on our heads” was deliberately cut from the English subtitles) appeared, the writer Melanie Phillips – normally a model of well-informed common sense – wrote this:

As a Jew, I left the screening of The Passion in a state of shock. In the course of two hours, the ancient calumny fuelling centuries of Jewish persecution is boosted by the turbocharge of Hollywood’s most sophisticated form of emotional manipulation.
After decades of decent Christian attempts to interpret the Gospels in a way that does not blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus, this horrific film resurrects the core charge against the Jews of deicide…
Among others, images of the Jewish mob screaming for Jesus’s death will simply be an incitement to hatred. At a time when Jew-hatred has been revived and attacks on Jews are rising around the world, such a film could have an incendiary effect.

Of course, it did nothing of the sort. As the Irish Independent noted:

…as word got out that Mel Gibson intended to direct a film about the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, some Jewish groups, allied with some Bible scholars, moved to stymie it. They feared it would re-ignite barely latent anti-Semitism.
They have been proven wrong… The chief reason for this is that ordinary people are simply not seeing anti-Semitism in it. What they are witnessing instead is the religious authority of the day … moving against a person they regard as a heretic and a blasphemer. The fact that the Sanhedrin is Jewish is incidental… Why have the predictions that The Passion would provoke anti-Semitism fallen so far short of the mark? The answer is that the movie’s critics are badly out of touch with modern Christian opinion.

Am I saying that some Jews are paranoid about the Church: not just the Church, but about the New Testament account of the Passion itself? I suppose so, though that can hardly be an accusation of any kind –the Jews have a lot, after all, to be paranoid about. But I do think that it would be good if more Jews were to recognise that this has led to unjust accusations on their part (such as those against Pope Pius XII) and that if Mr Netanyahu’s hopes for strengthened relations between Jews and Christians (a development for which we should surely all hope and pray) are to be realised, it would be good if this were recognised more often than it is. That, too, is no kind of accusation: but it is an aspiration I think I am entitled to express.

  • Anonymous

    Dr Oddie: prepare for a little culture shock:

    I’ll get back to you when you’ve recovered….

  • Lisa

    My Jewish father will certainly be pleased to hear that it was not Catholic teachings that caused the Catholic school boys to beat the crap out of him every Christmas and Easter, accusing my father of killing their Lord.

  • Linlaf

    You are really horrible and totally ignorant it seems of a good portion of history.

  • Xxychron

    good point. I hope the Muslims are listening.

  • jng

    When Doctor Oddie suggests Jewish paranoia about Catholic teaching, he should, I think, acknowledge that this is due partly to the misinformation which is disseminated about Catholic teaching and history in, virtually, every section of the media. Sometimes, it is just unbelievable, but people are gullible. For example, auto-da.fé, Voltaire tells us, is the result of the brains at Coimbra deciding that the spectacle of people being burnt in a little fire is a sure means of preventing earthquakes. It is a clear swipe at the ato da fé (act of faith) that those accused of heresy had to make, changing the word ato to auto and using the similar sound of the Portuguese word fé to the French word feu (fire) Yet, I find on the internet an entry on the Inquisition claiming to give a balanced account, as Catholic sources were usually apologist and other sources anti-catholic, a reference to the horrific auto-da-fés. I do not think that there is evidence of a single case of anyone being roasted on a spit in Europe, if one excludes Mel Brooks who is American and Count Vlad who got up to all sorts of tricks.
    One could go on forever with examples, possibly filling a thick tomb on World War II alone, but I think that I will settle for placing an advert for a teacher in paranoia lessons: Jews with the relevant experience may apply.

  • Auricularis

    It won’t be long before Israel will be demanding that certain passages of the New Testament be censored as “offensive to the Jewish people”, as well as every candidate for canonisation/papabilli for the papal conclave to receive approval from Israeli government.

  • Jason Clifford

    While it’s nice for us to look back on Christian history with the benefit of all of the fruits of our modern education and a better grasp of some aspects of catechesis the fact remains that any honest review of Christian history must accept that our treatment of the Jewish people over the centuries has been shameful.

    It was never the official teaching of the Church but it was certainly the individual teaching of many Catholic priests, catechists and parents that the Jews were “Christ killers” and never to be trusted. This teaching is what allowed the many persecutions of Jews in these past 2,000 years to flourish, reaching the horrifying zenith of the attempts to completely exterminate the Jews in the last century by the Nazis.

    To claim otherwise is simply dishonest.

  • Anonymous

    Do you realize how ignorant you have made yourself look? The ‘Jew’ gag is satirical humor, it is done for sarcasm and shock value. The word Jew has never in my experience been used as a derogatory term in school, and I was at school whilst South Park was most popular. If you have EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY please post it here.

    Even my high-school friends realized the Jew joke was not serious.

    If we, and the millions of the viewing public to the Emmy-winning show are wrong, then please kindly explain how such racist comments could have been included if the CO-CREATOR of South Park Matt Stone – is of direct Jewish origin?

  • Anonymous

    No – I’m sorry – it’s you that aren’t getting it – we have a whole nation of kids now using the word ‘jew’ as an insult. If you don’t believe me check out myspace, or facebook or listen to schoolkids on the bus…

    I fully know what Southpark is doing – but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had ludicrous effects on teenagers…

    there’s no anti-semitic intention, there’s no antipathy towards judaism ,
    it’s just a word that’s become a fashionable meme…

    and it’s definitely not ignorance on my part

    It was even reported on R4′s p.m. programme.

    These are kids who are taught the holocaust at school –
    but kids invariably have to finish a sentence with “…,you X”

    and at present – the X is ‘Jew’ – and the creators of Southpark areinadvertently responsible for it in a major way – sure it might change to something else soon enough
    ‘queer’ is still popular, ‘paedo’ is popular, anatomical parts remain , but Jew has been added to the vocabulary…

    It’s ridiculous to deny the hostility between Judaism and islam – but to suggest that anti-Semitism has existed in Catholicism [outside the already maniacally right wing of the Williamson ilk] at any time since the war is just ludicrous.
    Netanayahu was merely playing the superiority game again

    This whole ‘Jew’ insult thing is something which could have grave consequences…and it needs to be addressed; not dimissed.

  • Catholicone

    Latest News: The Pope is to send all further public statements to officials in Israel to be checked and edited if need be, before being broadcast or printed.

  • Anonymous

    My point was that is not used as a serious insult, rather a meme or a joke amongst friends. It is precisely funny because people know it is shocking and wrong to say. If people felt it was ok to say then it would not be funny and ridiculous anymore.
    The point is such an ‘insult’ (joke) is only actually allowed in a very tolerant society.

    Despite radio 4′s section on it my personal experience leads me to doubt its prevalence. It is merely quoting from a very funny and intelligently written satirical cartoon.

    …anyway that should be fine, because the Church much prefers the term ‘gay’ as a playground insult, though ‘paedo’ not so much anymore…

  • Xxychron

    Good article William Oddie
    “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”
    I am interested in your thoughts on the footnotes “5 [34] [Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."]: this portion of Luke 23:34 does not occur in the oldest papyrus manuscript of Luke and in other early Greek manuscripts and ancient versions of wide geographical distribution.”
    At this citing:

    I have heard many “forgiveness” sermons, especially on TV, citing this passage as the most concrete example of forgiveness. Is the footnote credible?
    I have seen significant guilt arising from a victim’s inability to forgive, especially, focus on forgiveness of the perpetrator without a requirement of repatriation of property stolen and no effort to clear damaged reputation so as to conceal the theft. The victim sees his resistance to forgive on one hand as spiritual damnation and then the victim is damned economically on the other hand because the family is starving because of theft and damaged reputation.

  • RJ

    Being from a somewhat older generation (pre South Park!), I can remember ‘Jewish’ being used occasionally at school to mean ‘tight-fisted’ or ‘stingy’. Not good.

  • Guest

    Well, it wasn’t. I’m sorry to hear that about your father, though.

  • Anonymous

    paulpriest refers to a phenomenon that simply does not exist. What matters is, as always, context.
    Is it being used in an agressive manner? Is it obvious that it is satire and a joke? Has the sayer of the word watched South Park, and is refering to it in the saying of it? Is it being used as a funny reference in High Schools, or said by children in Primary school that can’t understand?

    All I know is the only context I have heard it said in, was between friends of high-school age, without malice, as a joke, without refering to anyone of jewish origin, and wholly intended to be a shocking, and therefore funny reference to an intelligently written, satirical cartoon.

    Once South Park goes out of popular culture, the phrase will no be used.
    Paulpriest is entirely wrong to call its use widespread, he was just listening to radio 4 one morning and got the wrong end of the stick:

    What teachers hear: (ATL. Association of Teachers and Lecturers)
    Gay (83%)
    Bitch (59%)
    Slag (45%)
    Poof (29%)
    Batty boy (29%)
    Slut (26%)
    Queer (26%)
    Lezzie (24.8%)
    Homo (22%)
    Faggot (11%)
    Sissy (5%)

    With the majority being homophobic slurs, hardly something the Church has done something to improve.

  • Xxychron

    Every religion has an historical past of bigotry and fascism, not just Christians. Those that actually believe in “god” in every religion fall victim to evil persons from their own religion. By act, these evil persons exploit these “historical” atrocities for their own personal enrichment (publicity or financial or land grabbing); and by ignor-ance and omission those faithful to god remain silent while their evil brethren commit these atrocities against the alien.

    The vicious circle continues to eternity, don’t you know.

    And as far as “history” is concerned, “no one” knows from reading which account of the atrocities have or do not have merit; and if the atrocity were true, which ones were righteous in the face of leader in a hopeless situation (kill 10,000 before they slaughter 10 million).

    To the winners of war go the spoils and more importantly the ability to paint history with the rose-colored pallet of the victor’s bigotry.

  • Mike