AMDG, a Spanish contributor to the Gates of Vienna blog and writer at the website La Yijad en Eurabia, has suggested that I should start with pre-Christian anti-Semitism, since anti-Semitism is much older than Christianity. He has a point. Greeks and Romans (Europeans, or proto-Europeans) could display real anti-Semitism. Jewish and Greek civilizations clashed with regards to nudity in art, the representation of man etc. Traditional Jews resisted Hellenization successfully, which is some of the background for why Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is celebrated today.
The Romans did destroy the Second Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, but I would be careful with saying that this was because of “anti-Semitism” in the modern understanding of the term. The Romans could be brutal; you don’t create the world’s largest empire by being fluffy little bunnies. However, they were “tolerant” in the sense that they didn’t much care about which religion their subjects adhered to as long as they accepted the political supremacy of the Roman state. Most religious communities did, but the Jews were different. Some of the same applies to the early Christians, who were sometimes persecuted by Roman authorities. They too were “different,” and they were reluctant to honor the emperors as semi-divinities because this was considered to be idolatry and thus conflicted with the Ten Commandments (which they had inherited from the Jews). Jesus of Nazareth himself was executed (according to all four canonical gospels) at the hands of the local Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate.Although Jews have sometimes been vilified as “Christ killers,” those actually carrying out the crucifixion were Romans. So why don’t we hate the Romans?
Among the more recent accusations I’ve heard against Jews among the post-Christian crowd (who don’t care about who did or did not kill Jesus) is that Jews are overrepresented among Marxists and Multiculturalists. It is true that there are quite a few Jews among prominent Multiculturalists. That’s not “anti-Semitism,” it’s a factual statement. I’ve never been able to understand why American Jews vote so overwhelmingly for the Democrats, even for Obama, but they do. I don’t see how that makes Jews substantially different from Christian or post-Christian Westerners, though. There is a suicidal streak to Western culture right now, and it’s almost universally shared by all groups. Those who think that Jews are “conspiring against us” should reflect over the fact that Jews are disproportionately represented among those defending European civilization (Andrew Bostom, Bat Ye’or etc.). Moreover, many of the most prominent “suicide Jews” are suicidal on behalf of Jews, not Gentiles. The prominent left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky has met on friendly terms with leaders of Hezbollah, an Islamic terrorist organization that wants to murder Jews and destroy the Jewish state of Israel.
One possible reason for hatred against Jews is plain old envy, and here there are parallels with ethnic minorities elsewhere. The Chinese in Southeast Asia have been called “the Jews of Asia.” They do disproportionately well in the financial sector and are occasionally distrusted and envied because of this. There were vicious attacks against ethnic Chinese in Indonesia in recent history, although this is hard to separate from the fact that the majority population are Muslims whereas the ethnic Chinese are not. There is frequently mistrust and envy directed against distinct minorities who do better, on average, than the majority population does. This also goes for Indians in East Africa. Still, there is something special about Jews. There is a religious dimension here as well.
In his book Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, Rémi Brague explains how the Romans admired the earlier culture of the Greeks. Christians also recognized that the Jews had an older religious tradition than they did themselves and that they were greatly indebted to it. Christian Europeans thus inherited a twin “cultural secondarity” in relation to their Greek and Hebrew parent cultures. Brague sees this phenomenon of cultural secondarity as the very essence of the West, and dubs it “Romanity.” As he says, Christians recognize that the Hebrew Bible is still authentic, and Jews recognize that Christians have adopted the entire Hebrew Bible unchanged. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that Christians and Jews have falsified their texts, which accordingly have no specific value in themselves:
“One should be careful, therefore, not to make an implicit analogy between what one calls, with an expression that besides is quite superficial, the ‘three monotheisms.’ Islam is not to Christianity (not even to Christianity and to Judaism) what Christianity is to Judaism. Admittedly, in both cases, the mother religion rejects the legitimacy of the daughter religion. And in both cases the daughter religion turned on its mother religion. But on the level of principles, the attitude toward the mother religion is not the same. While Islam rejects the authenticity of the documents on which Judaism and Christianity are founded, Christianity, in the worst case, recognizes at least that the Jews are the faithful guardians of a text that it considers as sacred as the text which is properly its own. In this way, the relationship of secondarity toward a preceding religion is found between Christianity and Judaism and between these two alone.”
To name one example, the leading medieval physician and philosopher Maimonides directed that Jews could teach rabbinic law to Christians, but not to Muslims. For Muslims, he said, will interpret what they are taught “according to their erroneous principles and they will oppress us. [F]or this reason… they hate all [non-Muslims] who live among them.” But the Christians, he said, “admit that the text of the Torah, such as we have it, is intact.”
Maimonides lamented the aggression and humiliation Jews faced from Muslims: “You know, my brethren, that on account of our sins God has cast us into the midst of this people, the nation of Ishmael, who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us… No nation has ever done more harm to Israel. None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us. None has been able to reduce us as they have… We have borne their imposed degradation, their lies, and absurdities, which are beyond human power to bear.”
This is quite interesting, since he lived in the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic occupation and we are now told how Spain and Portugal under Islamic rule were beacons of tolerance. Islamic apologist Karen Armstrong says that “until 1492, Jews and Christians lived peaceably and productively together in Muslim Spain — a coexistence that was impossible elsewhere in Europe.” The U.S. State Department has proclaimed that “during the Islamic period in Spain, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together in peace and mutual respect, creating a diverse society in which vibrant exchanges of ideas took place.”
Nevertheless, it is certainly true that Jews did suffer from repeated attacks and pogroms in Christian Europe over many centuries, and they were expelled from Spain and Portugal after the Reconquista. Because of this, Rémi Brague believes that although individual Jews have been important throughout history and have in some cases been intellectually influential (Maimonides, for instance), Judaism was forced to play a low-key role in European societies:
“Judaism as such has only been able to exercise an influence on European culture from a rather late date. The Jewish communities have been excluded for a long time from any participation in political power that goes beyond the private role of certain of its members. In order for Judaism to make itself understood publicly and get away from the confidential character imposed on its written productions by the exclusive use of Hebrew, one had to await the emancipation. This arrived in the eighteenth century, first in Germanic countries (Austria and Prussia), and then continued on in the wake of the French Revolution. During this period, Europe was already a cultural reality, and it was already conscious of its unity on this particular level. In this way, Judaism has been able to leave its mark, a decisive mark, on an already constituted Europe, but it has contributed only a little to making Europe.”
The emancipation led to an explosion of Jewish creativity in nineteenth century and pre-Holocaust twentieth century Europe. Jews had made their mark long before this, but not quite on the scale we find from this period onwards. By far the most important reason for this was the secularization of the Christians, which granted the Jews a more equal place in society, but was it also a result of a secularization of the Jews themselves?
According to The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy by Joel Mokyr, “the failure of European Jews over many centuries to contribute to useful knowledge (as defined here) in anything like a proportional amount in view of their literacy and learning remains something of a puzzle.” To Mokyr, the creation of useful knowledge presupposes that the research agenda “is not entirely dominated by knowledge with no conceivable immediate application (as was the case, for instance, for Jewish rabbis).” He also writes that “Many societies in antiquity spent a great deal of time studying the movements of heavenly bodies, which did little to butter the turnips (though it helped work out the calendar). For many generations Jewish sages spent their lives on the exegesis of the scriptures, adding much to wisdom and legal scholarship but little to useful knowledge as defined here.”
There is not necessarily a contradiction between being a religious person and a secular scholar. Many Christians have managed this feat well, and so have quite a few Jews, both in ancient and in modern times. Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that Jews have in certain periods focused too much on religious scriptures, as opposed to secular knowledge. A similar example on a much larger scale is to be found in medieval and early modern China, where the imperial examination system ensured that a significant proportion of talented men had access to literacy and learning. However, these examinations tended to focus exclusively on classics of Confucian philosophy instead of engineering, mathematics and science, and thus added less to the development of useful knowledge than might otherwise have been possible.
According to Italian scientist and historian Giorgio Israel, professor at La Sapienza University in Rome, the Roman Jewish community, one of the oldest in the world having lived at the same place since Julius Caesar, has traditionally suffered from cultural impoverishment compared to Jews elsewhere in the Italian Peninsula:
“The situation in the rest of Italy was quite different, and may be considered a melting pot of extremely fertile cultural interactions. Such interactions occurred with Spanish Judaism as early as the 11th century and again very intensely after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, which made Italy a place of transit or new residence for refugees. But significant interactions occurred also with Eastern Europe, above all through the cities of Trieste and Venice. Italy is a country where eminent Kabbalists, such as Abraham Abulafia or Moshe Hayim Luzzatto, lived and prospered, and where fertile relations existed between the Jewish Kabbalah and the Christian Cabala, as represented in particular by Pico della Mirandola. In this sense, Jewish thinking made a significant contribution to the development of Renaissance philosophy.”
This split between the community in Rome and those in the rest of the country still exists, in his view:
“Even today, a century and a half after Italian unification, the differences have by no means been cancelled out and the diversity among the Jewish communities in cities like Rome, Milan, Turin or Livorno is still quite apparent. For instance, smaller communities distrust the larger communities of Rome and Milan, especially the former, the overwhelming numerical size of which is perceived almost as a threat. The establishment of a Napoleonic kingdom in Italy in the early nineteenth century, a kingdom which immediately set about knocking down the ghetto walls and introducing complete emancipation based on the French model, encouraged Italian Jews quickly and wholeheartedly to embrace the principles of democracy. Once again the case of Rome was different: the city had been returned to papal ownership for a period, and the gates of the ghetto were opened only in 1867 when the city was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy and the temporal power of the [Roman Catholic] Church definitively ended.”
Giorgio Israel believes that the Jewish community in Italy is in a better position than that of France, where a large Muslim community has triggered a wave of violence, also targeting French Christians but especially Jews: “[T]he Italian situation is without doubt one of the most tranquil and favorable for Jews in Europe. The situation is much more difficult in Spain and France. It is no coincidence that the French Jewish community, the largest in Europe, is experiencing wholesale immigration to Israel. In both absolute and percentage terms the actual figures are relatively low. But they are nevertheless significant and betray a profound malaise when it is considered that the French community is firmly anchored in the national reality. Nothing of this kind happens in Italy.”
His most interesting comment, however, is regarding the secular assimilation of Jews into mainstream society from the European Enlightenment into the nineteenth century:
“This process resulted in a loosening of ties with Jewish religious and cultural roots. The Italian Jewish community was subjected to that process that Gershom Scholem described so accurately with reference to Jewish mysticism. When, towards the end of the 18th century, Western European Jews so resolutely chose the path of European culture, the religious sphere, and in particular its mystical component, was experienced as alien and disturbing, and so distant from enlightened rationalism that it was abandoned as rapidly as possible. In my research work on the history of Italian science after the country was unified under the Savoyard monarchy, I have always been impressed by the fact that so many top-ranking Jewish Italian scientists–above all in the field of mathematics, physics and biology, but also in the humanities and philosophy–showed no trace of the slightest influence from or attachment to their own Jewish roots. In the writings and letters of great personalities such as Federigo Enriques, Vito Volterra (the eminent mathematician considered to be the greatest representative of Italian science, who was indeed nicknamed ‘Mr. Italian Science’), or Tullio Levi-Civita, not once is the word ‘Jewish’ or ‘Judaism’ used.”
Professor Giorgio Israel laments the fact that “other” forms of knowledge have become largely excluded from the public sphere, for Jews and Christians alike. For instance, he attributes opposition to Pope Benedict’s appearance at La Sapienza University to fear of a dialogue between faith and reason: “This is just a part of the secularist culture that has no argument, so it demonizes, it does not argue as a real secular culture, but creates monsters.”
Israel feels that mathematics is being hijacked by the technosciences: “In his Principia Mathematica, Newton states that the mission of the philosophy of nature is to seek causes.” He fears the disappearance of this unitary system of knowledge, which expired with the theory of relativity and quantum physics in the twentieth century: “Today, only physics seems still to be bound to this scientific model, but it is no longer at the heart of big science, being less attractive to younger generations who prefer other fields close to the life sciences or business sciences. Research in mathematics is drying up. A number of my colleagues have adapted to this by undertaking practical research with immediate applications, for which there is a demand.”
Instead of science we now have technoscience, where science and technology are one and the scientist, concerned mainly with ideas with immediate practical applications, is half researcher, half businessman: “The worst thing would be to believe that scientific rationality is reason’s only means of perception. For me a novel by Dostoevsky is just as much a manifestation of rationality as a work of history or psychology. And science, which advances by means of trial and error as well as seemingly irrational intuition, is just one form of many forms of knowledge.”
The West has at least two parent cultures, as Brague indicates: The Greek and the Hebrew ones. In my view, the essence of the Greek achievement is rational debate as exemplified by Socratic dialogue. The essence of the Greek achievement was rejected by the Nazis (they were clearly not great believers in free speech and unfettered debate), but also by the Muslims. This is one of the main reasons why Muslims failed to fully internalize the Greek spirit, whereas Christian Europeans did.
The essence of the Hebrew parent culture is the moral component, which was transferred in a major way to Christianity, a religion founded in the tradition of Judaism. According to his architect Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler was fond of saying things such as: “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”
Nazism was essentially a new religion of Jihadism, which had more in common with Islam than with the silly compassion of Christianity. Jews represented the moral dimension of Western culture. By eliminating Jews, they could cut Christianity off from its roots, and thus weaken it and make it more like Islam. The Nazis killed Jews because they hated Western civilization and wanted to destroy it. If they thought that by eliminating Jews they could weaken the West, this demonstrates that they actually had a better grasp of what is “Western” than many brainwashed university students do today.
What is generally considered to be the oldest still functioning parliament in the world is the Althing on Iceland, founded in 930 AD by people of predominantly Norwegian, which means northern Germanic, descent. The late Viking Age was a period when Christianity grew rapidly in the Nordic countries, which enjoyed frequent contacts, peaceful as well as not-so-peaceful, with continental Europe. Yet the blueprint for this institution was not the Greek model of “democracy,” it was an indigenous, pre-Christian one. These Germanic societies had regional governing assemblies called ting or thing already in the early Middle Ages. Some of the parliaments in these countries, the Althing on Iceland, the Folketing in Denmark and the Storting in Norway, have retained this legacy in their names to this day.
Creating a totalitarian state is not a specifically “Germanic” thing to do. Traditional Germanic societies, all the way back to Roman times, had more freedom for women than some “civilized” cultures had at the time, and Islamic countries have to this day. The repressive state the Nazis created has no precedent in traditional northern European history, which means that the Nazis didn’t just attack the Greek and Hebrew components of Western civilization, but also the Germanic one.
Was the Nazi Holocaust during the Second World War an extension of traditional anti-Semitism in Europe? Robert Spencer in Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t argues that it was not, although the Nazis certainly tapped into traditional anti-Semitism to shore up support for their actions. According to Spencer:
“Historian Daniel Jonah Goldenhagen minces no words: ‘The main responsibility for producing the all-time leading Western hatred [of Jews] lies with Christianity. More specifically, with the Catholic Church.’ However, Rabbi David G. Dalin, a historian of the Catholic Church’s relations with the Jews, says this is ‘bad history and bad scholarship.’ Malcolm Hay, who chronicles in searing detail the mistreatment Jews suffered in Europe at the hands of Christians, notes also that the most basic right, the right to live, was ‘one which no Pope, no Catholic theologian, has ever denied to the Jews — a right which no ruler in Christendom ever denied to them until the advent of Adolf Hitler.’ Clearly, however, the Nazis sought justification for their actions from Christian anti-Semitism.”
Dalin points out that the papal record is not monochromatic: “The historical fact is that popes have often spoken out in defense of the Jews, have protected them during times of persecution and pogroms, and have protected their right to worship freely in their synagogues. Popes have traditionally defended Jews from wild anti-Semitic allegations. Popes regularly condemned anti-Semites who sought to incite violence against Jews.”
Pope Leo X ordered the entire Talmud to be printed by a Christian printer in Rome so as to discourage anti-Semitic rumors about its contents. This is good, but it is indirectly a testimony to the fact that anti-Semitism was widespread enough to constitute a real problem in many parts of Europe. In early Christian times, clear anti-Semitism was expressed by some Church leaders, for instance John Chrysostom.
According to Robert Spencer, “the Nazis reprinted John Chrysostom’s words in support of their activities. There is nevertheless a large gulf between the anti-Judaism of Chrysostom and other Christian leaders, and that of the Nazis, who were for the most part anti-Christian and certainly anti-Catholic. Their anti-Semitism was rooted in Darwinian racial theories that posited the Aryans as the master race and the Jews as untermenschen.” Spencer points out that “While Christian anti-Semitism has been minimized, it still exists, particularly in the Middle East where some Christians have absorbed the anti-Semitism of the Islamic culture which surrounds them.”
The rabid rhetoric of the Nazis regarding Jews is widely supported by Muslims today. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the Jewish state of Israel a “filthy bacteria.” This is too often presented as something Muslims have “imported” from Europeans. Historian Bernard Lewis in his book What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East states that “The earliest specifically anti-Semitic statements in the Middle East occurred among the Christian minorities, and can usually be traced back to European originals.”
This is clearly nonsense. Hatred of Jews among Christians does exist, but Jew hatred has a much stronger scriptural basis in Islam than it has in Christianity. The Australian Jihadist David Hicks, who has trained with Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan, writes that “Muslims fight against Jews and they kill them.” He can base this directly in Islamic religious scriptures, both the Koran and the hadith. For instance, one authentic (according to Sunni Muslims) hadith states that: “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.'” (Bukhari 4.52.177)
There is nothing like this in the Christian Gospels. After all, Jesus of Nazareth was himself as Jew, as were many of his early disciples. Muhammad was not. He spent his days murdering many Jews, among them the Medinan tribe of Banu Quraiza. Jesus never killed anybody, nor did he encourage others to do so for him