Dutch Scholar on “The Origins
of Christian Anti-Semitism”

(Remnant News Watch May 31, 2009)

Mark Alessio

(Posted 05/26/09 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) The Institute for Global Jewish Affairs has published “The Origins of Christian Anti-Semitism: An Interview with Pieter van der Horst” (No. 81 - June 1, 2009). Prof. Pieter van der Horst is a retired Professor of Early Christian and Jewish studies, Utrecht University, and a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

According to Prof. van der Horst:

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are the historically more reliable ones, Jesus views himself as a messenger of God to the Jews and as a member of the Jewish people. He wanted to prepare them for what he saw as the approaching end of time and God's imminent kingdom. Jesus was not planning to initiate a new religion. The writer of a later book, the Gospel of John, has Jesus make anti-Semitic remarks.

Van der Horst claims that the “split” between Judaism and Christianity was facilitated by the fact that “perhaps in the second and certainly in the third generation of Christians – by the end of the first century of the Common Era – they began to explicitly call Jesus God.” Van der Horst claims that Jesus, “as a Jew, had never done so.”

In the Jewish parlance of the first century the expression ‘Son of God' had connotations that differ widely from what we are inclined to think of now,” said Van der Horst. “There the term ‘Son of God' is used for the Jewish people as well as for the kings and prophets of Israel.”

Comment: Prof. van der Horst paints a portrait of Jesus as a vociferous, up-and-coming young rabbi, eager to engage in verbal fisticuffs with the establishment, like some hungry young boxer yearning to take on the champ in a “Rocky” movie:

In the three more historically based earlier Gospels, one sees Jesus in fierce dispute with leaders of the various Jewish groups, such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It is clear from these texts that this is an internal Jewish debate. When, according to the Gospels, the Pharisees attacked Jesus because of his behavior, there followed a dispute of a halachic [Jewish law] nature. Jesus reasons in this context, remaining within the fold of Judaism.

When brought before the high priest, Jesus was asked, “Art thou the Christ the Son of the blessed God?” Now, assuming that the term Son of God did, in fact, at the time refer simply to “the Jewish people,” as Prof. van der Horst said, then why would the high priest have brought it up as a bone of contention, using it as an accusation? He would only have done so had it been understood at the time that Jesus’ claim to the title was out of the ordinary. And how did Our Lord reply to the high priest:

I am. And you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming with the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rending his garments, saith: What need we any further witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.

Does this sound like a couple of rabbis sitting around the table, “talking shop”? Can you imagine a bishop at a USCCB meeting standing up and saying, “Hey, guys, you’ll see me sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” No, Jesus’ replies to the Jewish priests of His day are somewhat more than “internal Jewish debates.” He alluded specifically to His Divinity: “Before Abraham was, I AM .... I and the Father are one,” etc.

No matter how you slice it, there is NO way you can whittle Jesus down into a stock character – the “religious activist,” the “enlightened reformer,” whatever. I read something many years ago which expressed this point so well, that, despite having been written by a Protestant, it merits inclusion here:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Prof. Van der Horst stated, "I once argued before an audience of Christian ministers that if we were to confront John with the consequences of what he wrote, he would deeply apologize and say, ‘Please, delete it from my Gospel’.” The enlightened professor – who, like many of his peers, despises St. John’s Gospel because of its rich doctrinal content and testimonies to the Divinity of Jesus – is speaking here of such instances as Jesus telling the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do.” Of course, this is not an “anti-Jewish” remark. Throughout the entire discourse in which these words appear, Jesus points out the obstinacy and lack of humility of his audience. Are these words any harsher than those spoken by God to Israel in the Old Testament? God told Isaias, “Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood .... Woe to the sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a wicked seed, ungracious children: they have forsaken the Lord, they have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel, they are gone away backwards.” Pretty heavy stuff. Was God an “anti-Semite” during the days of Isaias?

The so-called “anti-Semitic” verses of the New Testament are analogous to the admonitions directed towards the people of Israel through the Prophets. God told the Prophet Zacharias, “Be not as your fathers, to whom the former prophets have cried .... Turn ye from your evil ways, and from your wicked thoughts.” Are not these words, in fact, of a kind with those spoken by St. Peter at Pentecost? When he told the people of Jerusalem, “Let all the house of Israel know most certainly, that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus, whom you have crucified,” Peter was not engaging in petty racism or finger-pointing. He was inviting the people to compunction, to a change of heart: “Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.”

New Testament scholars such as Pieter van der Horst would have us view our sacred texts in a shallow light, as an intrinsically useless hodgepodge, written by deceitful, angry and frightened men for a variety of reasons – currying favor with the Romans, demonizing the Jewish establishment, selling a new religion to the non-Jewish world, etc. In attempting to demote Jesus Christ and read the minds of the Evangelists, and in playing up to the agenda of those who have branded the Holy Gospels as “hate-speech” – when a careful and reasoned reading of those texts proves the OPPOSITE! – these scholars have done a disservice to their profession.



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