Major news outlets around the world1 reported last week (July 18, 2012) the actions of Dr. Michael Ben-Ari2, an Israeli politician, and member of the Knesset3),

Dr. Michael Ben-Ari

who publicly destroyed a copy of the Book of Testaments4 when he ripped out the entire New Testament section of the book. The Book of Testaments includes the Jewish Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament) as well as the New Testament (which includes the four gospels and the epistles and writings after the time of Jesus). Ben-Ari is an orthodox Jew, a Rabbi, and a member of the ultranationalist National Union Party. Ben-Ari is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he was recently denied a visa to enter the United States.5 According to some sources (include Ben-Ari, the Unites States’ denial was because Ben-Ari is a long-time follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose “Kach” party is outlawed in Israel and is considered a terrorist organization in the United States.6

Ben-Ari was one of the members of the Knesset that received a free copy of the Book of Testaments in the mail from a Christian missionary organization, the Bible Society in Israel 7, along with a letter of introduction from its director, Dr. Victor Kalisher.8  Ben-Ari posed with cameras outside his parliament office displaying the torn out sections of the Book. He is reported to have made this statement in reference to tearing out the New Testament section:

“This despicable book galvanised the murder of millions of Jews during the Inquisition and during auto da fe instances,” … .”9

Why does Ben-Ari (and others around the world) make such hate-filled statements about the New Testament? On what basis does he claim that the New Testament is the cause of the death and persecution of millions of Jews since the time of Christ?

You don’t have to look long to find the tragic history of Christianity’s persecution of Jews, labeled as “Christ-killers,” in the early centuries following the time of our Lord. In the links below, I will provide highlights of anti-Judaism by Christians, and the tragedies that followed. Interested readers are directed to the referenced sources for a thorough discussion of the background and history of the separate events.

1. Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (an Apostolic Church Father)10 who was martyred around 110 AD, separated “Judaism” and “Christianism,” and forbade Christians from retaining any Jewish practices in their worship, including worshiping on Saturday rather than Sunday. Ignatius was the first to coin the term “Catholic,” “according to the whole,” with reference to the Church.11

2.  Bishop Melito of Sardes, in his Easter Homily (around 190 AD) 12, wrote a poem as follows: “O Israel, why have you committed this unheard-of crime? You have dishonored him who honored you … you have put to death him who gave you life … He had to suffer, but not at your hands … He had to be hanged but not by you! …”

3.  Origen13 (185 – 232 AD) was a theologian of the early Church and considered one of its most skilled writers. Origen was the first Bishop to extend guilt of the Jews directly involved in Christ’s crucifixion to those who were their descendants. To Origen, all were guilty of deicide, precisely as the Jews of Christ’s day had made proclamation (Matthew 27:25).14

4. At the Council of Elvira in Spain (est. early 4th century15 ), landlords were prohibited from allowing Jews to bless the crops they received from God (Canon 49); and, any cleric or layperson who ate with Jews was not allowed communion (Canon 50).16.

5. At the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), the Council17 separated the annual date for the Christian observance of Easter from the Jewish Calendar and the celebration of Passover. This Council was actually the first ecumenical council to attempt consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. The Emperor Constantine’s vitriolic raving against the Jews is reported in the following statement18:

… it seemed very unworthy for us to  keep this most sacred feast following the custom of the Jews, a people who have  soiled their hands in a most terrible outrage, and have thus polluted their  souls, and are now deservedly blind. … Therefore have nothing in  common with that most hostile people, the Jews. … Let us, most honored  brothers, withdraw ourselves from that detestable association.On what subject are they competent to form a  correct judgment, who, after that murder of their Lord lost their senses, and are led not by any rational motive, but by an uncontrollable impulsiveness to wherever their innate fury may drive them? … Why then should we follow the example of  those who are acknowledged to be infected with serious error? … But even if these  considerations were not laid before you, you should still be careful, both by  diligence and prayer, that your pure souls should have nothing in common, or even seem to do so, with the customs of men so utterly depraved.

6.  St John Chrysostom (347 – 404) “is generally considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit.”19 A summary of his words about Jews follows:

In describing the Jews …, Chrysostom used loaded terms such as ignoramuses, impious, wretches, dogs, Jewish wolves, bull-headed, brutes, and wild beasts. They have driven Christ away. Their synagogues are dens of brigands, the abode of Satan. They have crucified Christ and their souls are the abode of the devil. The “Jewish disease” must be guarded against. Jews are thieves, impure, debauchers, rapacious, misers, crafty, oppressors of the poor. ‘Israel is dispersed because they murdered Christ’. Jews call the cross an abomination and their religion is null and useless to those who know the true faith.20

7.  Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan (340 – 397), was considered one of the most influential church leaders of the 4th century. Ambrose’s attitude towards the Jews can be seen when he joined a mob to burn a Jewish synagogue.  In response, the Emperor Theodocius sought justice by first compelling the synagogue to be rebuilt at the expense of the rioters. Saint Ambrose stood against the Emperor. His words against the Emperor are reported as follows:

Ambrose immediately issued a fiery protest to the emperor. He writes to Theodosius (“Epistolæ,” xl. xvi. 1101 et seq.) that “the glory of God” is concerned in this matter, and that therefore he cannot be silent. Shall the bishop be compelled to reerect a synagogue? Can he religiously do this thing? If he obey the emperor, he will become a traitor to his faith; if he disobey him, a martyr. What real wrong is there, after all, in destroying a synagogue, a “home of perfidy, a home of impiety,” in which Christ is daily blasphemed?

Ambrose prevailed and the synagogue was never rebuilt.

Other sources that give further details and instances include:

If we continue to the Middle Ages, we find that what began as teaching from the pulpits in the first 1000 years of the Church, opened wide the doors of darkness and evil in the Middle Ages:

  1. France – in 1182, King Phillip Augustus published and edict of expulsion of Jews. They were arrested in their synagogues on a Saturday and all their property and investments taken. Those that did not leave were killed, and many committed suicide.21
  2. England – In 1290, King Edward I issued an edict of expulsion of Jews. This edict lasted for almost 350 years until it was overturned in 1656.22
  3. Spanish Inquisitions – 1492: Christopher Columbus’ diary of 1492 begins with these words:

“In the same month in which their Majesties [Ferdinand and Isabella] issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men my expedition of discovery to the Indies.”

“The expulsion that Columbus refers to was so cataclysmic an event that ever since, the date 1492 has been almost as important in Jewish history as in American history. On July 30 of that year, the entire Jewish community, some 200,000 people, were expelled from Spain.”23

The Crusades are likewise filled with many examples of Jewish persecution. While in route to the Holy Land to rid the land of the Muslim hordes, crusaders attempted to rid the land of Jews; both Jews and Muslims were considered infidels.

A name that all protestants lay claim to is that of Martin Luther. His campaign against the Jews is summarized by his words below (“The Jews and their Lies”)24:

Therefore be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in which sheer self­-glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously . … For, as we have heard, God’s anger with them is so intense that gentle mercy will only tend to make them worse and worse, while sharp mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, in any case, away with them! …What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? …  First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, … This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians. … Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed … Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. … Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. … Fifth, I advise that safe ­conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. … Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. … Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3:19).25

When the Holocaust Museum opened in Washington DC on April 23, 1993, I could have visited the museum26 but I chose not to. I didn’t want to see the pain and sorrows of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis, … again. After all, I had already seen the pictures. I was sorry it had occurred, but what could I do now? It only meant my own sorrows to see what I had already seen, … a few pictures … slipped in by the media… What would it help to see the pictures of emaciated Jews, the corpses of hundreds, perhaps thousands?

Lots of things have happened in my life since then. One of the happenings is I that I have learned that the sorrows of the Jews were not limited to Hitler’s time; Hitler’s time was the watershed event, the epitome of sorrows built up over almost two millennia since the time of Christ. In fact, the words of Martin Luther were cited by Hitler as evidence for the “rigthness” of his actions. When I revealed some of the above details to my church in a Bible study, several of them said, “Why haven’t we heard this before?” So then, if you are wondering why I am giving you some of the details, it is because I am guessing that you may also be thinking, “Why havent we heard this before?”

How can healing occur for the Jews, God’s chosen people? The people that God has reserved a remnant for Himself since the time of Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 45:7)?  Healing occurs best when apologies are made; apologies help us to “let things go.”  It is when the Church acknowledges the sinful acts against the Jews that the “Ben-Aris” of the Jewish people can “let things go.”  This is precisely what happened at Vatican II (October, 1965), when  the Catholic Church made its first statement about its actions against non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate).27. This statement “exculpated the Jews of all time of the charge of deicide (“killing God”) and warned Catholics against thinking that anything in their Scriptures taught that Jews were a people accursed or rejected.”28 Following Vatican II, in March, 1998, a document entitled “We Remember” was released by the Catholic Church discussing papal action, and inaction, during the Hitler period.2930

What about the point of our post? Michael Ben-Ari’s actions in desecrating the New Testament? Were his actions right, wrong, constructive or destructive? Ben-Ari’s actions   continue the cycle of revenge that began when Christians took revenge against the Jews, claiming they were “Christ killers.” Ben-Ari’s actions, in fact, remind me of what the Muslims did when American soldiers in Afghanistan destroyed copies of the Quran.  Anger led to violence, then bloodshed, and death resulted — of both Muslims and non-Muslims, all at the hands of Afghani Muslims who were offended by the actions against their Quran. Praise the Lord — I have not read (nor will I read) of any violent response by Christians in retaliation of Ben-Ari’s desecration of the New Testament. Perhaps, we might conclude that the words of Jesus uttered from the  cross over 2000 years ago are finally making an impact upon the actions of His followers: for it was Christ who said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

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  30. Some may be thinking, “Did not the Jews commit deicide, i.e, the killing of the Son of God? Didn’t the Jews bring the persecution upon themselves when in Matthew 27:35 the Jews declared: “… may his blood be upon us and our children!”” Whether or not you consider Jews as having committed deicide or not is irrelevant to the response Christians should have taken in the years following His crucifixion. Did not the Apostle Paul state, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). The response of the early leaders of the Church and her people for almost 2000 years was anything but overcoming “evil with good.” []