Antisemitism and Modernity: Innovation and Continuity by Hyam Maccoby

By Hyam Maccoby

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In contrast, Jewish literature of the period hardly concerns itself with Christianity. The reason is that Christianity could only define itself in terms of its split from Judaism, while the advent of Christianity was not, from the Jewish point of view, a significant theological event. The Jews were mainly concerned to develop their own tradition in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds and in the Midrashim. Thus the impression given by Christian writers, of this and later periods, that hatred of Christianity was an important factor in the mental life of the Jews is very far from the reality, which was largely one of indifference.

He declared also that the Jews worshipped demons in their synagogues. St Augustine, the great theorist, laid down the lines for the treatment of the Jews in future centuries. They were to be regarded as Cain, because of their deicide, but, like Cain, they were to be exempt from extermination, as their misery testified to the judgement of God upon them, and so they acted as ‘witnesses’ to the truth of Christianity. This attitude of partial toleration was a kind of protection to the Jews even during the worst persecutions of later years.

Antisemitic attitudes at this time were largely confined to the Christian clergy, and there is much evidence that ordinary Christians fraternized with Jews, attending their weddings and even enjoying Jewish sermons. It took centuries of haranguing by the clergy before the ordinary Christian acquired the hatred of the Jews that later seems to be almost inborn. Two Christian teachers were especially influential in this respect, St Chrysostom and St Augustine. The diatribes of St Chrysostom against the Jews were rivalled only by Hitler.

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