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On Easter, costly Jews – and costly Palestinians

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Jesus on the cross

Jesus on the cross

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Now in the last days of Passover, Easter Sunday appears. Our wonderful progressive Christian brothers and sisters are in full confessional mode.

They should be. Historic anti-Semitism dogs Christians. After all, it’s right there in the New Testament.  Easter brings it all up again. The Gospel of John remains: Did the Jews crucify Jesus? From the religion editor at Huffington Post:

I went to a Good Friday service at my progressive church last year… They sang — in beautiful tones, in a lovely sanctuary — the same crucifixion narrative told in the Gospel of John that claims that Jesus was crucified by the Jews, and the blame is upon them.

So Christians are correct in bringing this to the fore on Easter Sunday. However, they are irresponsible – and self-serving – when they make this confession without confronting the parallel confession of what Jews – with Easter’s confessional support – have done and are doing to the Palestinian people.

Of course there’s push back, especially among well-trained, well-placed pastors who interact with our well-trained, well-placed rabbis. You know the ones who plan regular lunches and visit each other’s place of worship so Christians and Jews can get to know each other, feel each other’s pain and share a joint faith-filled hope.

Whose pain? Hope for what?

Pastor Facebook double-speak goes something like this: “Easter Sunday is about ‘our’ faith, not about politics. I deal with the Palestinian ‘issue’ – among other issues – at another time. And why call out Jews in relation to Israel? That’s wrong. Israel is a state with many political opinions and Jews come in many political persuasions. We need to be careful here. When I talk to my rabbinic colleagues they assure me that this is the right position to take.”

It’s difficult to argue with a supposedly progressive Christian pastor who can’t find a place to stand anywhere that has consequences. I think the subconscious fear is that probing too deeply might force our well-trained, well-placed pastor to run and hide.

What does a Christian pastor – or rabbi – become if by telling the truth they’re suddenly no longer well-placed? Do they become wandering, itinerant preachers who have nowhere to lay their heads? God forbid! Especially on Easter and Passover, holy days that model the suffering of displacement for speaking and acting on truth.

So who is this confession for? Does it really have much to do with flesh and blood Jews? Or is it a well-intentioned rescue package for Christianity? And pastors?

Like Jews on Passover who reach out to Palestinians. Is it really about flesh and blood Palestinians? Or a well-intentioned rescue package for Jews? And rabbis?

There’s another realm other than self-interest. It involves sacrifice. It involves confession which isn’t – only – about rescue.

Broadly considered, the place of personal and communal sacrifice is the prophetic, which risks everything, including exile. It seems that Passover and Easter model the prophetic but where, oh where, is this found in contemporary Jewish and Christian life?

You won’t find it in the endless parsing of the Gospel of John.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought grace came in two varieties, cheap and costly. On Easter, cheap grace is confessing the sin of anti-Semitism without addressing Jewish abuse of power in the present. Costly grace is a new solidarity with Jews which involves confession and a spoken and active movement toward justice for Palestinians.

This Easter, Palestinians rain on the Christian confessional parade. But that means prophetic Jews do, too.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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27 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    pabelmont on April 19, 2014, 11:45 am

    Jesus crucified by “the Jews”? By “The Jews”? Come on!
    But, of course, shorthand rules when you’re in a hurry,
    Jesus’ followers were Jews. He swam in a sea of Jews. The LEADERS (the AIPAC of the day) were also Jews, RICH POWERFUL Jews.

    Maybe, likely, it is correct to say Jesus was crucified (in part, don’t forget the Romans) by RICH POWERFUL JEWS. Just as Palestinians today are crucified (in part) by AIPAC, BICOM, etc. (Don’t forget Israeli government, settler crazies, and and other citizens).

    But, I know, shorthand rules when you’re in a hurry, and its so much fun to blame “The Jews”. Or “The Jewish Bankers who rule the world”. Hmmm, and it appears that Goldman Sachs always appoints the American SecTreas, and G/S appears to be controlled by RICH POWERFUL JEWS, or as some would say (by way of abbreviation) by “The Jews”.

    • RoHa
      RoHa on April 19, 2014, 10:42 pm

      If there is any truth in the story (I think the whole thing is fiction) it is obvious that Jesus was crucified by the Romans. Crucifixion was a Roman punishment for rebellion. (Hence the sarcastic “king of the Jews” plaque.)
      The best accusation we can make against Jews is that it was Jewish authorities who arrested him first and then dobbed him in.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 20, 2014, 2:42 pm

        Hello, RoHa.
        Jesus was speaking out against the religious authorities, and Jesus’ close associate John the Baptist was killed by Herod. In the gospels, Jesus goes on trial by the Sanhedrin and Herod first.

    • American
      American on April 20, 2014, 12:23 pm

      Jesus was a heretic to Judaism. Buddha was a Hindu heretic. Socrates was a hereric to the Greek State Gods.

      Religious and State Authorities usually try to kill their heretics to protect their powers.
      Knowing how powers protect themselves says the Roman and Jewish authorities were both on board with getting rid of the heretic Jesus.

  2. MHughes976
    MHughes976 on April 19, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Marc is quoting Mr. Raushenbusch of Huffington Post and satirising the ‘Pastor Facebooks’ that think like him.
    Following pabelmont above, I would think it clear that the Gospels all say that the Romans crucified Jesus and all say, indeed make a point of saying, that the Jewish priests did not have authority to crucify people. However, all attribute a heavy degree of responsibility to at least some Jewish people, Matthew most questionably and disturbingly because he makes a Jewish crowd accept responsibility, Luke being different in that he distinguishes sharply between the Jewish leaders – the rich and powerful, as pabelmont says – and the Jewish masses, who are very unhappy with the event.
    I can sympathise with one of Marc’s aims, which is, as I was suggesting in response to his Passover meditations, to tell us Christians not to be smug. But argument gets very difficult beyond that point. He seems to want us to avoid the facile renunciation, a version of Bonhoeffer’s ‘cheap grace’, of anti-Jewish feeling that comes so easily to Pastor Facebook and wants the current violation of Palestine to be explicitly mentioned. I have some sympathy with Pastor F: it is not easy to mention that violation and to mention specifically, with Marc, the abuse of power by Jewish people, without sounding smug or hostile or worse.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones on April 19, 2014, 1:17 pm

      Hello, M.
      We have a general rule that we should criticize our own sins before those of others. And so one can point out that the Romans and pagans played a main role in the Crucifixion. The Nicene Creed never says “The Jews” killed Jesus, but that Pontius Pilate did!

      On the other hand, isn’t there a tradition about the prophets being sometimes rejected by their community? Is this a theme that Marc Ellis writes about on occasion, with “the prophetic”? Does this explain where the Jewish Christians were coming from in their Passion narrative?

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976 on April 19, 2014, 5:58 pm

        Yes, indeed. I suppose that any decent prophet, especially in Marc’s view of the term, would make powerful enemies. I don’t know if anyone in the time when the creeds were being formed thought of substituting ‘under Caiaphas’ for ‘under P Pilate’ but no such thought was pursued.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 19, 2014, 6:08 pm

        It would not make sense because Pilate was the main ruler of Judea then. So it was “under Pilate”.

      • JeffB
        JeffB on April 20, 2014, 6:25 am

        @MHughes976

        The statement comes from Ignatius of Antioch “Jesus was really and truly crucified under Pontius Pilate” in refutation of docetism. It got into the 2nd century baptismal formulation in that form, and that’s what evolved into the Apostle’s creed. The two statements in terms of their usage would have been identical: an assertion that Jesus’ crucifixion had happened on earth in a historical timeframe that it was not a mythic statement or something that had happened in the heavens.

    • Walid
      Walid on April 20, 2014, 5:05 am

      MHughes, now I see where this week’s series on Passover/Easter and the parallels between them have been heading; Marc has the Christians sharing in the guilt of the oppression of the Palestinians. He could have thrown in the Arabs to complete his picture as they too have had something to do with it or at least for not having done something about it. No matter how much someone tries diluting it, the ultimate guilty ones of Palestinian miseries are the Jews, with a few others chipping-in.

      Speaking of parallels, there’s more of one between Jews and some of the Muslims that commemorate the Ashura that was spawned from the Yom Kippur in the days of the Prophet. The 10-day period of retrospection, penitence and asking for forgiveness is still commemorated by Sunnis in Pakistan and the Far-East for the deliverance of the Jews from bondage. The 10 days of Ashura of introspection, penance and forgiveness are also commemorated by all the Shia Muslims in the world, not for the angel’s passover but because it was on that Ashura holiday that their favourite son, Husayn the Prophet’s grandson was martyred at Karbala.

      • libra
        libra on April 20, 2014, 7:15 am

        Walid: MHughes, now I see where this week’s series on Passover/Easter and the parallels between them have been heading…

        Now? Don’t underestimate your own prophetic powers, Walid. Back on April 15th, the second day of this seasonal saga from Professor Ellis, the very first comment was this prescient paragraph penned by your good self:

        Marc sees Judaism sinking because of its failure because of the Palestinians and he’s insisting in dragging Christianity down with it. Would have liked to do likewise with Islam, but there was nothing paschal to it.

        link

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976 on April 20, 2014, 8:01 am

        I think that Marc is very anxious to show his readers that he is very much a follower, with whatever degree of critical gaze, of the Jewish religion and that, though he condemns the support given by contemporary Judaism to Zionism, he is no renegade and has not gone over to the specifically Christian version of the idea that the promises of the ancient scriptures can and should be fulfilled without a kingdom in the Holy Land. Maybe he tries a bit too hard.
        Thank you all for these comments. I’m sure that the Letters of Ignatius do, as Jeff says, tell us something, though I understand that they are a very difficult text. Maybe I have my own version of Marc’s problem with certain elements of historic Judaism in the form of discomfort with Christian literature from the second century, the world of the Church rather than of the Bible, when the alienation between Christianity and Judaism was producing certain wounds which have never quite ceased to bleed.
        The reference to Pilate could have little to do with fixing responsibility – it could be used, as I think WJ suggests, simply as a practical marker of a date in characteristic Roman terms about who wielded real power at a certain time in a certain place and it could be used to insist, contra the Docetists, that Jesus really suffered rather than to identify the person who inflicted the suffering. I still would note that the early Christians resisted, or never felt, the temptation to go as far as to state in their most recognised creeds that ‘Jesus suffered by the malice of the Jews’ or something really dangerous like that.

      • American
        American on April 20, 2014, 11:56 am

        Walid says:

        April 20, 2014 at 5:05 am

        MHughes, now I see where this week’s series on Passover/Easter and the parallels between them have been heading; Marc has the Christians sharing in the guilt of the oppression of the Palestinians.
        >>>>

        I have to agree, thats the impression I get from a lot of his writtings.
        Its in the same vein as everthing Israel does is because of ancient anti semitism of Christians and Gentiles, which led to the Nazi holocaust, which led to more Jews taking up Zionism, which led to the creation of Israel, which led to dispossing the Palestines, which led to the conflict with Palestines, which led to the occupation of Palestine, which led to having to seize more land and kill more Palestines for Jewish security.

        Nothing is their fault, its everyone else’s fault. Jews innocent good, world guilty evil.
        Taking responsibility for their own choices and actions and examining the flaws in Judaism as they point to in other religions is not in their DNA.
        Hopeless. SFP to the bitter end.

  3. Walid
    Walid on April 19, 2014, 12:44 pm

    Today, 2 fresh elements added to Marc’s Easter paralleling, the Sacrament of Penance and the reintroduction of the Jewish deicide even though it has now become redundant. As part of the Second Vatican Council that ended in 1966, Pope Paul VI had repudiated the traditional belief in the collective Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion. Paul VI stated that, even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus’ death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty. At the time, the Jews were angered for having been “forgiven” by Paul VI and felt that he was actually rubbing it in.

    In 1998, Church Council of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted its resolution urging any Lutheran church presenting a Passion play to adhere to their Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations, stating that “the New Testament … must not be used as justification for hostility towards present-day Jews,” and that “blame for the death of Jesus should not be attributed to Judaism or the Jewish people.” (Wiki)

    In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI published his book in which he totally repudiated the blaming of the Jews and went as far as questioning the historicity of the passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew about blaming the Jews.

    Anyway, from Jews for Jesus that have him being crucified a second time at Auschwitz since he was a Jew, which sort of blend in with what Marc and pablemont are saying here:

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones on April 19, 2014, 1:08 pm

      Hello, Walid.
      Your clip cited Isaiah 53, which says in part:

      we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
      Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God,

      The idea that the nation would reject the Messiah is somewhat reflected in this verse. You can also see this in David’s life, when David was temporarily rejected by the Nation. David is also considered a forerunner of the Messiah. The prophets themselves were at times rejected by their people. I wonder if Ellis’ writing about the “prophetic” also takes this into account. Did you or Ellis consider the possibility that the idea of the people, along with the Romans and pagans, rejecting the Messiah may actually be within the ancient Israelite religious tradition?

      • Walid
        Walid on April 19, 2014, 8:41 pm

        “… the possibility that the idea of the people, along with the Romans and pagans, rejecting the Messiah may actually be within the ancient Israelite religious tradition?” (W. Jones)

        W. Jones, the narrative is based on various Jewish prophecies. These served as the yeast for the New Testament biography that was constructed; some say the story actually began with the end prophecy and was reconstructed backwards to fit and to terminate with the foregone conclusion that you cited in Isaiah 53 that prophesied The Passion and the essential giving of his life for the sins of mankind.

        The Bethlehem birthplace of the divine ruler is prophesied in Micah 5:2, his Abrahamic roots in Genesis 12:1-3; his Davidic seed in 2 Samuel 7:12-13; his Virgin Birth in Isaiah 7:14; God-made-man in Isaiah 9:6-7; the humility of the Messiah entering Jerusalem on a lowly donkey in Zechariah 9:9 and of course, the final chapter in his life that you cited in Isaiah 53.

        Fairuz sings al-Massih Qam in Syriac:

        As to your question about the rejection, Jesus is quoted in Luke and Mark saying that no man is a prophet in his own country. But that too is rooted in a Jewish prophecy found in Isaiah 53:3 that says “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

        In a nutshell, it’s the retreading of Judaism. A while later, Islam came along and retreaded both, but they all go back to the Jewish original .

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 19, 2014, 9:13 pm

        Thanks for sharing the Syriac (Aramaic song). I noticed some Greek: Christ is risen from the dead.

      • Citizen
        Citizen on April 19, 2014, 9:36 pm

        “…but they all go back to the Jewish original .”

        maybe that’s the key problem. A God who has chosen a group of people to be the apple of his/her eye? Maybe the gods of the pagans or those who worship the earth itself are problematic, but it’s not because they are, were biased? They applied their program universally–when Cupid shot his dart, it was not to my knowledge biased in any way. When Mars was the god of war, it was universal, yes? And so on.

      • JeffB
        JeffB on April 20, 2014, 6:39 am

        @Citizen

        Lots of people’s had tribal deities. The Greek gods for example had special relationships with particular cities: Zeus with Olympia, Ares with Sparta, Athena with Athens… There are national gods as well: Horus was identified with the current Pharaoh in a unique and particular way. The Babylonian gods like Markduk claimed a special relationship with Babylon…

        There is nothing unique about Judaism’s henotheism where Yahweh was a particular tribal deity within El’s pantheon. There is nothing particularly unique with this tribal deity then being seen as a universal God, the only true God, that happened to most cultures during the Iron age. There is something unique about an Iron age religion having survived through the Hellenistic period but that’s what’s unique not the particularism.

      • Walid
        Walid on April 20, 2014, 11:00 am

        Citizen, I used “all go back to the Jewish original” as a shortcut. Judaism itself isn’t all that original since a lot of its trappings were assimilated from the Babylonian/Assyrian paganism from the days of the captivity. The creation, the fall of man/Eve, the flood, tree, moon and sun worship, circumcision, sacrifices, and so many others were picked up by the Jews during their forced stay in the East. I think it’s mostly an issue of the people having chosen themselves to be the chosen when they adopted other people’s sociological pagan patrimony as their own by altering its colours and writing it up as their own God-given history accordingly. I read that the worship of the 6-pointed star was actually a Babylonian thing, used for centuries for magic amulets and cabalistic sorcery; the six-pointed star, called “David’s Shield,” or “Mogen David,” was only adopted as a Jewish device in 1873, by the American Jewish Publication Society.

        http://www.come-and-hear.com/dilling/chapt07.html

      • puppies
        puppies on April 20, 2014, 4:22 pm

        @Citizen – Chosenness is simple enough; all tribal societies had their own gods, Jews no different. Then the evolution (which left linguistic traces) to a single tribal meanie god with the pig as a totem forbidding offerings to his rivals, then forbidding any offerings to other tribes’ gods (so common in the tolerant theology of the Antique world) under threat of death penalty; and the pissing contest, affirming that he is more powerful than the nations’ gods anyway (look what I do to the Egyptians). So, being a tribal meanie, he protects the faithfully sacrifice-burning tribe against all others, by enforceable commercial contract.

  4. W.Jones
    W.Jones on April 19, 2014, 1:22 pm

    Our wonderful progressive Christian brothers and sisters are in full confessional mode.

    That’s nice.

    Historic anti-Semitism dogs Christians. After all, it’s right there in the New Testament.

    So how does one explain the idea that the New Testament is anti-Semitic if it was written by Jewish believers?

    • JeffB
      JeffB on April 19, 2014, 10:51 pm

      @W Jones

      So how does one explain the idea that the New Testament is anti-Semitic if it was written by Jewish believers?

      First off I think you need to break out various books. In general though I’m not sure if I would call them people who wrote the New Testament “Jewish believers” anymore. I think it can depend book by book and verse by verse but IMHO most of the New Testament is several generations removed from Judaism though some of it can be quite close.

      For example we know that Romans 9-11 was not in Marcion’s Romans. Assuming you are willing to accept this was a later Catholic addition that makes it mid 2nd century generations after Jews were involved. That’s not authored by Jewish believers. On the other hand Rom 1:18-2:29 is mainstream Hellenistic Judaism. Nothing even particularly Christian about this sermon excerpt. Romans 4 you clearly have someone educated in Judaism this is post-Jewish ideology (I’m going with Simonianism for reasons that would take us too far afield).

      Let’s go back a bit….

      Hasmonean Judaism splits into
      Pharisees and Sadducees are they both “Jewish believers”?
      Assuming you are are answering yes: Tzadok movement forks off from the Sadducees. Tzadok considers the Pharisees heretics and their religion a distortion. Christianity is going to mostly have evolved out of Tzadok in about 200 years after Tzadok splits off. Obviously one sect is being harshly critical of the other even though they are both “Jewish believers”?

      The Luke / Acts frame was a Catholic frame designed to unify factions long after Christianity had split from Judaism. It falls apart quite quickly and is simply misleading.

    • jon s
      jon s on April 20, 2014, 1:50 pm

      Walid, The link you provide is to an Anti-Semitic source:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Dilling

      As to the Star of David being adopted as a Jewish symbol only in 1873 – nonsense.
      See here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_of_David
      or visit any existing medieval Jewish cemetary.

    • Citizen
      Citizen on April 20, 2014, 2:09 pm

      @ Walid
      Thanks for reminding me, refreshing my recollection. Reminds me of still basically unregulated derivatives (Obama’s fringe Wall St regulation which does not reinstate, e.g., Glass Steagall’s chinese wall between commercial and investment banking. Basically, sell worthless crap with a new superficial package, rated AAA by bribed independent rating agencies. See worthless investments as we sell God. They teach that in the ivies. Each year, Israel selects the most promising whores from the cream of the crop in the USA.

  5. W.Jones
    W.Jones on April 19, 2014, 1:48 pm

    Dear Marc,

    You wrote:

    What does a Christian pastor – or rabbi – become if by telling the truth they’re suddenly no longer well-placed? Do they become wandering, itinerant preachers who have nowhere to lay their heads? Especially on Easter and Passover, holy days that model the suffering of displacement for speaking and acting on truth.

    It involves sacrifice. Broadly considered, the place of personal and communal sacrifice is the prophetic, which risks everything, including exile.

    Are you talking about people risking rejection by their community and sacrifice? Isn’t this the essence of John the Evangelist’s passage that you find offensive? Would you be willing to reconsider then whether John’s writing is really “anti-Semitic” as it may seem to you, as the theme is a Jewish Christian writer talking about the difficulty of communal rejection?

  6. American
    American on April 20, 2014, 1:05 am

    ” This Easter, Palestinians rain on the Christian confessional parade. But that means prophetic Jews do, too”>>>>

    Sounds like you want the Christians to clean up the mess the Jews made for Palestines.

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