On Saturday, October 27, 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and murdered at least eleven people in what is being called the worst anti-Jewish attack in US history. The victims were observing the biblical commandments of Shabbat and a new baby’s brit milah (covenant of circumcision) when they were slaughtered. The murderer had reportedly published many antisemitic online posts, including this one claiming to quote the Bible: “jews are the children of satan. (john 8:44) – –- the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh.”

Anti-Jewish hatred and murder of this type are by no means new in history. As Joshua Trachtenberg wrote in a classic study, Christian literature of the Middle Ages expresses anti-Jewish hatred “so vast and abysmal, so intense, that it leaves one gasping for comprehension…. all [of Christian popular literature] painted the Jew as the fount of evil, deliberately guilty of unspeakable crimes.” He goes on to explain that, already in ancient times, Christian preachers insisted that “the Jews do not worship God but devils”; later preachers, writers, and artists portrayed Satan and the Jews as virtually identical, interchangeable, eternal enemies of the Church and Christianity. “New Testament” texts these medieval Christians cited to justify their anti-Judaism often included John 8:44 and Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 (The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism, 12, 20-21).

Such anti-Jewish hatred frequently led to horrific persecutions and murders in the Middle Ages as well as later. To give just one example among a myriad, in 1453 “Saint” John of Capistrano ordered dozens of Jews in his town stripped naked, tied to boards, and (according to a contemporary witness) “then at his command four executioners ripped out pieces of their flesh with atrocious iron spikes and threw the pieces into the cauldrons to burn there.”

In the Bible, the people of Israel are the children of God and his chosen nation (see, e.g., Exod 19:5; Deut 14:1-2; Jer 31:20; Hos 11:1; Amos 3:2). So how did we Jews come to be portrayed as “the children of Satan” in Christian preaching, teaching, literature, and art? Many books have been written on this topic, but the answer can be summarized in two words: translation and theology. Flawed and sometimes malicious translations and interpretations of the Bible described all Jews as “the synagogue of Satan” and “the children of Satan.” The original texts don’t actually say those things at all when understood in their proper linguistic and historical contexts, but to this day masses of people are still strongly influenced by those same mistranslations and misinterpretations.

These things represent one very sobering reason why we at the Israel Bible Center take issues of translation and interpretation seriously, devoting time and resources in an attempt to help remedy some of the errors of the past. Though often perceived as “quibbling over semantics,” in reality these are vital issues with fateful and often tragic real-world effects. Yet if we can somehow penetrate through all the accumulated mistranslation and misinterpretation of centuries, perhaps we can also find that ancient wisdom for which the Pittsburgh synagogue itself is named: “a tree of life to those who take hold of her” (Prov 3:18).

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

110 COMMENTS

  1. So sad but so true what you explain. We need to go deeper in the understanding of GOD's Word. Thanks for all your efforts in this mission!
  2. It is very unfair and bigoted when Jews are single out as being complicit in the sins of the flesh when humanity as a whole is guilty as well. In his eye-opening book, "Israel and the Church: Two Voices For The Same God", Dr. Jacques Doukhan stated that Christian anti-semitism started in the Roman Catholic Church which explains the deviant views and interpretations of the Bible which remains to this day even among Protestant groups. It is very encouraging and helpful that Messianic Jews are on the forefront to correct and remedy this gross injustice.
    • Thank you for pointing this out, James. I think that even many well-intentioned Christians (and others) who don't consciously have any bigotry are nonetheless still influenced by the long tradition of Christian anti-Judaism. Hence it is important to try to explain the texts and the history anew...
  3. It is sad to see how people have been blinded by the "Enemy". Hatred is not from our God nor from Yeshua our Savior.

    Our prayers go out to the families affected.

    Be Strong, Be Strong and Be Strengthen.
  4. If only more Christians and Jews accepted the notion as Dr Eli posits, primal Christianity was an expression of Judaism within the Judaisms of the time.
    • Thank you, Luis. This understanding is now well-accepted within academic circles; however, that includes only a relatively small number of people. A large part of the work of IBC is to help bring the ideas and findings of scholars (Jewish, Christian, and other) to a larger audience.
  5. In John 8:44 Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, not to the Jewish nation. If individuals look at the correct translation they will see. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
    I wish you would have corrected the statement from the murderer.
    • Thank you for the comment, Benny. I did mention that "the original texts don’t actually say those things at all when understood in their proper linguistic and historical contexts"; but unfortunately there wasn't space to get into what I regard as more accurate readings of those texts. I will try to do so in future posts. Actually, I think that "the Pharisees" (as a whole) is probably not exactly the right way to understand that passage either. (It's worth mentioning that many Pharisees apparently joined the Yeshua/Jesus movement in the first century.)

      + More answers (2)
  6. The devil is deceiving a lot of christians with the "covenant theology" teaching that Jews are no more in God's plans but the church have come to replace Isreal. Secret antisemitic documents are working underway for a coming holocaust that bring back the glory of Israel when the remnants come to receive Christ.
    • Thank you for commenting, Eugene. Several different forms of Christian theology have contributed to antisemitism through history.
  7. Dear Dr Gruber, Shalom!
    Thank you and all the many good people with you, who work tirelessly to bring home a better understanding of the Bible and the Torah. It is greatly appreciated, but your efforts shall be rewarded by the King when He comes! May I stress one aspect of our religion, or maybe two? Israel is and will always be the Lord's chosen people. Since time immemorial, His Commandments have been explained against the backdrop of love, love for HIM our Father and for one another, our neighbours.
    Kind regards
    Schalk
    • Thank you, Schalk! If only it were the case that love has always been the backdrop to religious teachings (of any stripe)... I think we can agree that it should be.
    • Thank you for the comment, Virgilio. Believe it or not, many people even today don't know this (or somehow "forget" it)!
  8. So sorry about this happening in Pittsburgh, praying to Hashem to protect Israel and all people around the world, our heart is with you
Load more comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your name here
Words left: 50
Please enter your comment!