Thoughts upon hearing of the defacement of Judaic texts at Wilson Library

The Bellingham Herald reported recently on the defacement of library materials in the Jewish Studies section of WWU's Wilson Library with anti-semitic symbols on Monday, March 12.

On March 21 one of our parishioners who is an employee of Western Washington University informed me that vandals had one week later defaced materials in this section, and gave me information about what the University is doing in response.

This kind of behavior has a long history.  Unfortunately, the Church encouraged the development of hateful attitudes toward the Jewish people from the earliest days of the church's growth into a separate movement after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Statements from some of our most revered theologians from Augustine to Luther can be cited in evidence.

 One of the earliest images of Jews being persecuted in Britain from the 13th century*

One of the earliest images of Jews being persecuted in Britain from the 13th century*

The Church has taken steps to repent of all of this in modern times.  The reminders are still with us, however, in Holy Week, when we read passages from the Gospel According to John which have been used by anti-semites to justify their attitudes.

So it is that I recommend for your reflection as we enter Holy Week the statement about this which Fr. Josh provided for all of us to read and which we have published in the last couple of weeks.  Fr. Josh says the statement is essentially the work of Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University, whose work is helping Christians understand some background to our own sacred texts.  Here it is:

A NOTE ON REFERENCES TO “THE JEWS”
IN THE SCRIPTURES AND LITURGIES OF LENT & HOLY WEEK:

Jesus was a Jew. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism that took time to form and evolve into the institutional Church of today. There were areas of contention and disagreement among the Jews in Jesus’ time, and the leaders of the early Jesus movement did not shy away from hostile rhetoric against their detractors, as evidenced by a number of New Testament passages. The Greek term usually translated here as “the Jews” varies in meaning and application, alternately referring to the most powerful Jewish religious leaders; Jews of the region of Judea specifically; or to those Jews who had reservations about Paul’s mission among Gentiles. In essence, “the Jews” functions in the New Testament as “the other” against which Christianity came to define itself. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its state religion, Christian rhetoric against Jews gained power, and Christian texts inspired anti-Semitism, most notably during the Crusades and the Holocaust. In our modern context, it is important for us to remember that while New Testament writers took issue with Jews who disbelieved in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, these texts do not take issue with anyone’s race or origin. Nor do they prescribe for us, in contradiction with Christ’s central purpose, mistrust or hatred of non-Christians. 

Christians have every reason to celebrate the heritage we've received from the Jewish people through Jesus, a Jew of Palestine.   We need to follow him, and find every way we can to celebrate God's continued faithfulness to the Jewish people, and through them, to us.  With them, we're called to bring reconciliation and healing to a broken world.

As Holy Week approaches, the recent incidents at Western alert us to the need to always be on the alert against anti-Judaic attitudes, which miss the whole point of being a follower of Jesus.

*Image scanned from Four Gothic Kings, Elizabeth Hallam, ed.

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:en. La originala priskribo estas: Marginal Illustration from the Rochester Chronicle (British Library, Cotton Nero D. II.), folio 183v.