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                            CHRISTIAN ANTISEMITISM: 
                     A History of Hate by William Nicholls. 
                     Northvale, Jason Aronson. 499 pp. $40. 

                              By Edward Alexander 

         Those who complain, perhaps with some justification, that Jews
         are  overly  occupied  in  the study  of antisemitism  and the
         Holocaust do not necessarily intend to scant the importance of
         these subjects. Rather, they imply that, since the ideology of
         Jew-hatred and  its catastrophic  modern result  originated in
         Christendom,  it is  Christians more  than Jews  who should be
         searching  out  their  roots  and  trying  to extirpate  them.
         William Nicholls,  who  served for  many years  in England and
         Scotland as  a priest in the Church of England before founding
         the  Department  of  Religious  Studies at  the University  of
         British Columbia in Vancouver, shares this view.

         Nicholls  believes  that  neither  modem antisemitism  nor the
         Holocaust can  be understood  without taking  into account the
         way the  people of  Europe had been taught about the Jews from
         their  childhood  up  by  their own  religious tradition.  The
         popular view that the Nazis chose Jews as their primary target
         because 2,000 years  of Christian  teaching had accustomed the
         world to do so is, in Nlcholls's vicw, essentially correct. In
         fact, he traces all modern forms of antisemitism, from liberal
         and Marxist to conservative and Nazi, to the Christian myth of
         Jews as  the killers  of Christ.  His  book,  a rare  blend of
         prodigious  scholarship,  criticaI  scrupulousness,  and moral
         passion,  declares that  repentance by  the various  Christian
         communions for  their historical  mistreatment of  Jews is not
         only  a  moral  imperative  but a  means to  revitalization of
         Christianity itself.

         According to  Christian Antisemitism,  the myth that has given
         Christianity its  vital energy  casts Jews  as the  enemies of
         Christ and  God.  The Jews,  because  they rejected and killed
         Christ,  have themselves been rejected as God's chosen people.
         Since they  broke their  ancient covenant with God,  He made a
         new  one  with  a  new  people  drawn  from  the Gentiles.  As
         punishment for  their crime,  the  Jews lost  their Temple and
         were exiled  from their  land.  The lethal  combination of the
         theology  of  supersession  (which  gave  the  world the  "Old
         Testament" in place  of the  Jewish Bible) and the myth of the
         deicide people  made the Jews a permanent target for Christian
         hostility and  contempt,  destined to  be preserved  in misery
         that would be the eternal mark of their perfidy.

         The first part of Nicholls's book, "Before the Myth," distills
         and  applies  the  results  of modern  biblical criticism  and
         historical scholarship  that undermine the Christian mythology
         of Jesus  as the  founder of Christianity,  a pariah among his
         own  people,  and  a  crucified  Messiah.   On  the  contrary,
         "historical  scholarship   now  permits  us  to  affirrn  with
         confidence that Jesus of Nazareth was a faithful and observant
         [though not typical] Jew,  who lived by the Torah,  and taught
         nothing against  his own  people and  their faith.  He did not
         claim to be the Messiah....  The Jews did not conspire to kill
         him and were not responsible tor his death."

         Since  the  investigation  of  Christian origins  requires the
         investigator  to   make  his  historical  imagination  Jewish.
         Nicholls  systematically  uses Jewish  sources to  build up  a
         picture of  the world in which Jesus lived,  a picture sharply
         at  variance  with  that  of the  Gospel writers.  All  these,
         Nicholls persistently  reminds us,  were Christians,  and most
         were Gentiles; they  composed their  works late  in the  first
         century,  after  the  Church  had  been in  existence for  two
         generations, and therefore imagined Jesus to be more Christian
         than he  actually was.  The  historical Jesus was lost because
         scholars  attempted  to reconstruct  him from  sources already
         corrupted by a Gentile myth, developed by Gentile writers from
         Gentile audiences  (in whom  Jesus himself had no interest) as
         part of a missionary effort that was ignorant of and alienated
         from the Jewish way of life.

         Nicholls's criticism  of the Gospel account of Jesus' "trial,"
         which would form the basis of deicide charges, exemplifies his
         method. Writers familiar with Jewish religion would have known
         that it  is not  a religious  offense at  all in Jewish law to
         claim to be the Messiah. Even if Jesus had made the claim (and
         he had  not),  he could not have been charged or condemned for
         it by the Sanhedrin. Moreover, Jesus could not have been tried
         for blasphemy as a result of making unfounded claims to be the
         Messiah for  the simple  reason that "an unfounded claim to be
         the  Messiah  could only  be blasphemous  for those  [like the
         Gospel writers] who  regard the  Messiah as  the divine son of
         God.  Since  Jews  did not  and never  have believed  that the
         Messiah will be the Son of God in this sense...  it would have
         been impossible  for his  judges to  have regarded  a claim by
         Jesus to be the Messiah as constituting blasphemy."

         In addition,  the  writers of  the Synoptic  Gospels (Matthew,
         Mark,  and Luke) have  Jesus arraigned before the Sanhedrin on
         the first night of Passover, an absurdity which only a Gentile
         audience  ignorant   of  Jewish  law  and  custom  could  have
         credited. The Gospel of Matthew adds the most implausible (and
         sinister) absurdity of all,  the words "His blood be on us and
         our children." These are the very words, of course,  that have
         been invoked  through the  centuries to justlty persecution of
         Jews not  only by believing Chnstians but by their secularized
         offspring who  declared that  "there is  no God,  and the Jews
         murdered him."

         THE SECOND  part of  Nicholls's book,  entitled "The Growth or
         the Myth," studies the impact of Paul. the first major thinker
         of  Christianity  and  analyzes  the  strategies  developed by
         Christian theology,  institutions  and custom  for making  the
         Jews  into  permanent  objects  of hatred  and candidates  for
         victimization and  scapegoating.  One of its most,  intriguing
         chapters  is  the discussion  of "Popular  Paranoia," in which
         Nicholls,  tenaciously adhering  to his axiom that the origins
         of antisemitism  are always  to be  sought not  in Jews but in
         antisemites, imputes such phenomena as the blood libel and the
         allegation of host desecration to paranoid projection.

         In the  case of  the former,  "Christians  were subconsciously
         aware that  they imagined  and took  satisfaction in literally
         killing and eating Christ, and drinking his blood.  Since they
         could not  allow this awareness to come to full consciousness,
         it surfaced  only when they attributed the same wish to Jews."
         As for the charge that Jews were desecrating the host,  it can
         hardly be  believed that  the Jews,  whatever  their hostility
         toward  Christ  was by  the Middle  Ages,  cou1d satisfy  that
         hostility "by  maltreating a piece of bread that in their eyes
         had nothing  to do  with a  long dead  apostate from Judaism."
         Only  Christians   themselves  would  believe  that  the  host
         provided a means of harming their savior, if they wished to do

         The concluding  section of  the book  "The Myth  Secularized,"
         studies ideologues, who were emancipated from that part of the
         Christian  myth  that  stressed  spiritual  love  of God,  but
         nevertheless preserved and even enhanced the anti-Judaic part.
         Nicholls ranges widely but also profoundly, covering a variety
         of abominations  ranging from "liberation theology' to liberal
         and  black  antisemitism  and  the  ferocious  anti-Zionism of
         Jewish leftists  like Noam Chomsky.  He astutely observes that
         at the current time "Jewish self-hatred is more dangerous than
         antisemitism  itself" and   that  the   Jewish  struggle   for
         self-respect that  began at  the dawn of modernity has not yet
         been won.

         The book's  final chapter  grapples at  last with the question
         that  many  readers  will  have anticipated  from the  opening
         chapter.  If the Church as a whole could be induced by critics
         like Nicholls,  to  abandon its anti-Judaism would it still be
         Christian? Nicholls  himself  concedes  that  once the  Church
         seriously embarks  on the  project of  abandoning "layer after
         layer" of anti-Jewishness,  it  cannot logically stop anywhere
         short of  Jesus the Jew,  and the intolerable paradox that "If
         Jesus was indeed God incarnate,  it follows that in becoming a
         believing and  observant Jew  God must  have validated Judaism
         for  all   time  against   its  religious  rivals,   including

         The  whole  thrust  of  Nicholls's argument  is that  once all
         anti-Jewish elements  are removed  from Christianity,  what is
         left  is  Judaism.  lf so,  can  one realistically  expect the
         majority   of   Christians   to   embark   on   the  task   of
         demythologizing  their  religion? For that  matter,  could one
         realistically expect  Jews,  after all  that has  been done to
         them in  the name  of Jesus,  to repossess him as a Jew (not a
         Messiah) and the  synagogue to  "receive the Church"? Nicholls
         keeps   insisting   that   "Christianity   without  Jesus   is
         unimaginable.  Christianity  with  Jesus  may  be impossible."
         Nevertheless, he sternly adjures Christians: Choose your side;
         you can no longer halt between two opinions - the anti-Judaism
         that culminated  in the Holocaust or the return to your Jewish
         origins.  It is a measure of the power of this remarkable book
         that the  reader,  even while  recognizing that life and logic
         rarely converge, expects this challenge to be taken seriously.

         Reprinted  with  permission from  Congress Monthly,  Vol.  61,
         no.1. *1994, American Jewish Congress

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