Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Anti-semitism and the Gospel of Judas

No doubt about it, the Christian Church has a terrible and shameful record of anti-Semitism. Much of this anti-Semitism comes from people who, while claiming to be Christian, were actually no more Christian—in the New Testament sense—than Osama Ben Laden! For example, it is nonsense to imagine that the Nazi generated holocaust was in any sense “Christian." True Christians were those who risked their lives hiding Jews from the Nazis.

The sad fact remains, however, that many genuine Christians, like Martin Luther, for example, were guilty of anti-Semitism. This is certainly inexcusable, but to blame anti-Semitism on the New Testament--as did some of the scholars interviewed on the Gospel of Judas documentary--is a misguided (or deliberate?) misunderstanding of the New Testament.

The fact is that Jews have been critiquing themselves since the very earliest times. The Jewish prophets, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, Amos and others, were merciless in their criticism against their fellow Jews. In fact, even Moses was particularly critical against his own Jewish followers. None of these Jewish prophets, however, attacked the Jewish God of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob—they criticized their fellow Jews for departing from their own God to serve other gods, or for living lives of corruption and immorality, or for piously going through the rituals of sacrifice but then continuing to oppress their neighbor.

Far from being anti-Semitic, the portrayal of Jesus in the biblical Gospels fits precisely the pattern of these earlier prophets. Far from being anti-Semitic, St. Paul, the former Pharisee, writes that he would willingly go to hell if it would save his own Jewish countrymen! That is certainly not anti-Semitism.

On the other hand the Nag Hammadi documents—you know, the ones rejected by those terrible fourth century Christian bishops—have a lot to say about the God of the Jews. In fact, they launch a full frontal attack against the core of Judaism itself. Over against the monotheism of both Christianity and Judaism, these documents are essentially polytheistic! They espouse a world view filled with gods and goddesses, archons, aeons, totalities, etc. In fact, they repeatedly teach that the god of the Jews is an ignorant, evil low order god! Talk about anti-Semitism!

The point of all this is to highlight some amazing hypocrisy. Some biblical critics who attack the New Testament for anti-Semitism—most recently exemplified in the documentary on the Gospel of Judas—are often the same ones who are glorifying the Nag Hammadi documents that are positively vile in their anti-Semitic denunciations of Jewish belief. And yet these critics have the nerve to attack early Christian bishops for rejecting these anti-Semitic documents!