Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Is The Bible Anti-Semitic?

The Old Testament, I mean. Not the New.

This year for Christmas, I was given some audio CDs of a verse by verse commentary on the Torah by Dennis Prager. The series is quite good, and has given me some much needed perspective on some otherwise difficult or obscure passages in Scripture. If you are lame enough to like such things (and lame is the new cool, I’m told) then I would certainly recommend it.

One of the things Prager repeatedly notes in the series is just how negatively Jews as a group tend to be portrayed in Scripture. The Jews are constantly be depicted as ungrateful unfaithful complainers, constantly failing to live up to even the bare minimum of God’s expectations. Not only that, but many of the heroic figures in the Torah, the Egyptian midwives, Pharaoh’s daughter, Jethro, Caleb, are not Jewish. Not only that, but Moses, the great Jewish hero of the Torah, wasn’t raised Jewish. As Prager says, if the Torah weren’t the Jews’ holy book, it would probably be condemned as anti-semitic. For Prager, this counts as an argument in favor of the reliability of the Scripture accounts, as no group would ever make up a historical narrative about their people that showed them in such a negative light.

This got me thinking. It is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless, that antisemitism has tended to be most prevalent among Christians, Muslims, and/or post-Christian or post-Muslim societies. Could these negative attitudes toward the Jews have something to do with the negative portrayal of Jews in the Old Testament? Could it be that, in the words of the old joke, antisemitism is a Jewish plot?

It’s an intriguing idea, but fortunately also an easily refuted one. There is today no Christian group on the planet more deeply familiar with the Scriptures, including the Old Testament, than Evangelical Christians. If reading the Bible made one an anti-semite, then we would expect Evangelicals to be raving anti-semites. Yet precisely the opposite is the case. Few groups are more friendly in there attitudes towards Jews and Judiasm than are Evangelical Christians. In fact, one of the best arguments against the claim that the Gospels are anti-semitic is the fact that the more a given Christian reads the Gospels, the less likely he is to harbor anti-semitic attitudes. The Jewish people might come off looking pretty bad in the Old Testament, but the lesson to draw from this is not that the Jews are especially wicked, but that all human beings, even God’s chosen people, are fallen creatures, desperately in need of redemption. Likewise, when the Apostles are shown in the Gospels as being uncomprehending and venal, the correct conclusion to draw is not that Christ should have picked better people to surround himself with, but that all of us are prone to the same sorts of incomprehension and venality.

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March 10, 2008 - Posted by | Jews, Scriptire

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