The Roots of Western anti-Judaism

Over the course of my near 50 years, I have seen countless politicians attempt to fix the wrongs occurring in the Middle East. All have failed. I have come to believe that what is missing from their often well-intentioned efforts is an understanding of the underlying cause of Arab hatred towards the Jewish people, and the Western media’s willingness to take the side of the Arab and frame the Jew as the heartless aggressor. This is seen most clearly in the media’s silence when a terrorist group lobs 50, 60, or even 100 missiles into Israel. When Israel does not respond, and where they should receive commendation, or some sort of recognition, for showing great restraint, the media (and the U.N.) stand silent. However, once a missile finally hits and kills innocents, and Israel responds, Israel is painted as both the occupying force, as well as the aggressor.

We All Have Biases – Even Atheists

Here I will look mainly at the Western media and their bias against the Jews. But before I get started, I think it’s important to point out that each and every one of us, no matter who we are, has a bias. A bias is a prejudice, an inclination to lean to one side over another when it comes to ideology or even our theology. Thus it should be pointed out that we each have multiple biases. We are all partial to certain things we believe in and hold dear; the question we often don’t ponder, however, is how we develop our biases. According to researchers, there are really two broad categories of biases that we hold: explicit biases, which we are consciously aware of having, and implicit biases, which we hold at an unconscious level – we can think of these as biases we absorb from the culture around us.[1] These are biases that we have almost no control over, and thus are “born-into”; but truly understanding the weight of what it means to have biases that we are born into is difficult.

We are raised in such a way that, even at the unconscious level of our youth, we are sponging in information through our environment and home life – and that information, true or false, becomes stamped into our psyche. Simply stated, it becomes a part of who and what we are. The problem is that we don’t recognize this; we don’t even know it is happening because it happens on the unconscious level, and thus we don’t know any better: we are born into it. It might be helpful to think of one of those 60 Minutes type shows that do a segment on a child born into a cult. It isn’t difficult, the way the show frames it, to see that the child is fed information only from within the cult. Therefore, how the cult member sees the world around them, and even the way in which the definitions of their words develop, are influenced by and based on the perspective of the cult’s leadership as well as the environment in which they were raised in. Now, most of us have not been born into a cult; but we are born into a pre-existing perspective or paradigm – a set of values or assumptions that simply ‘go without saying.’ We often don’t realize this, though, because we are born into it. If you were born without a left arm, you simply wouldn’t know what it is like to live with two arms. If you are born into a society that carries certain views and moral standards, you will, to at least some degree, pick them up and they will become part of what is “normal” for you.

It will come as no surprise that today the Western World has been heavily influenced by Christianity – with most Westerners professing to be Christian.[2] Because of this, almost everyone in the West has been influenced by Christian practices and beliefs; even those not professing Christianity. If you were raised in the United States or Canada, for example, you were raised with Christmas, Easter, churches on every corner, television specials that are Christian-based, and if you are old enough, perhaps prayer in school. Even an atheist in the West cannot escape the Christian influences, as proven by the massive numbers of lawsuits by atheists (and atheist groups) to eradicate anything that appears “Christian” from the public space. The atheists wouldn’t be so adamant in their stance if the Christian influence wasn’t as deep as it is. Christianity, whether the modern liberal ideologist desires to recognize this fact or not, was one of the core underlying foundational building blocks of the United States, and it remained, until perhaps recently, its greatest influencing factor.

If Christianity has always been an influence on our cultural environment, then it stands to reason that those influences, whether we recognize their existence or not, would to a greater or lesser extent shape the way we see the world around us. Simply put, Christianity is part of the cultural paradigm we were “born-into.” Its moral standards, its definitions, and its way of seeing the world around us is part of the culture we are born into. And since we are born into it, it is simply part of our perception of what is normal.

So then, allow me to pose a question: what if Christianity has historically had a minor undertone of anti-Judaism? If that is the case, and if we are born into a culture in which one of the societal influences is anti-Judaic, even mildly so, then shouldn’t we expect that to have affected us as well?

When Did Christianity Stop Looking So Jewish?

I would like to share a progression of history that is not taught in many churches today. In fact, there are teachers and leaders in many churches that have never learned of this history; yet this history sheds light on the soil in which the early church grew and was nurtured. Yeshua, or as most of us in the West know him, Jesus, is believed by many to be Messiah and is Jewish. His message was about repentance (turning/returning) and was directed toward a particular people.[3] What he was not doing was attempting to steer people toward another god, nor was he attempting to install a new religious system or set of practices. Those who believed Yeshua was Messiah simply saw him fulfilling prophesies and expectations that were taught and understood within an existing religion. So, until the time of the destruction of the second Temple, and perhaps for a short while longer, Christianity by and large was seen as a sect of Judaism.[4] And not only was the leader of this sect Jewish, his 12 apostles were all Jewish, and his message, for the most part, went forward in and around Judea. On top of this, the Book of Acts contains examples where the disciples retained access to synagogues despite their theological differences with other Jews at that time, and we even see Paul going into synagogues week after week reasoning with both Jews and Greeks.[5] It is actually difficult to ignore the fact that the face of early Christianity was Jewish. So what happened?

There are 3 events that began to reshape the face of what we now call Christianity. Two of them happened so close in time that it is hard to differentiate the effect that each of these events had on the body. The first is the death of James, the brother of Yeshua. There are some early historical references and hints within the NT that James was the head of the Church of Jerusalem.[6] One might consider this congregation to be the first mega-church as it appears to have had over 20,000 members out of a population of 80,000 that lived in Jerusalem at that time[7]; so much for the teaching that all Jews rejected Yeshua![8]

James is said to have died before the destruction of the second Temple. Early Christian tradition states that James was invited to speak at Passover before many Jews who did not believe Yeshua was Messiah. When James began to speak of the Passover and its relation to the work of Yeshua, he was killed. Shortly thereafter, the Temple was destroyed and many Christians (read: Jews and non-Jews who followed Yeshua) saw this as an abomination, and thus used the warning in Matthew 24:16 to flee to the mountains. It is estimated that about half of the Jews who believed that Yeshua was Messiah left and did not return.[9] The remaining half stayed and began to expand in numbers again until the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132-135AD. Simon Bar Kosiba was a Jewish military leader who led the final revolt against Roman occupation, which ultimately failed. A Rabbi by the name of Akiva, in an attempt to rally support behind the effort, gave him the name Bar Kokhba (a Messianic title) and the remaining Jewish believers in Yeshua would not fight for the sovereignty of Jerusalem under the banner of one whom they believed to be a false Messiah. They too left and did not return to the area.[10]

As this sect of Judaism began to spread geographically, and as those from areas outside of Judea became part of this movement, animosity beyond what already existed between the two groups began to grow. It wouldn’t be long before both sides, but perhaps mainly the Christians, began to pass decrees to make themselves appear less Jewish in appearance. For example, at the Council of Elvira[11] decrees were passed that tried to keep Jews and Christians apart by ordering the latter never to share a meal with Jews, never to marry Jews, never to use Jews to bless their fields, and that Christians were never to observe the Jewish Sabbath (of course, these decrees also serve to substantiate that Christians had been doing these things up until this point).[12] Slowly, over time, more decrees and similar teachings began to come together in such a way that there would eventually be no mistaking Judaism and Christianity. What was once a sect of Judaism became, at least in outward form, a new religion. And within that religion, the view that the Jews were “Christ Killers” was already gaining momentum. For example, in the homily Peri Pascha, Melito of Sardis (circa middle of the second century) wrote “The God has been murdered; the king of Israel has been put to death by an Israelite right hand.”[13] Another example, Justin Martyr (also circa middle of the second century), in his Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew, explains why the Jews have suffered exile and the destruction of the Temple, saying to his Jewish interlocutor “tribulations were justly imposed on you since you have murdered the Just One [Jesus].”[14]

I do want to state, however, that this is not the view of many or even most Christians today. I am simply stating that over the course of history, there have been times where Jews were wholly blamed for Yeshua’s death. For the purposes of this article, I am looking at the general view of early Christians which informed the views of many who would come later.[15]

Forgotten Roots and Anti-Israel Media Bias

We can now fast forward 1850 years to the present and look back at this progression away from that sect of Judaism that flourished in the first, second, and even into the third centuries. For many centuries now, we have become so far removed from what was once a sect of Judaism that the idea that “Jesus was a Jew” was a concept foreign to many Christians; that is, until things like the Internet began to expose believers to many things they had not considered before. I know it sounds incredible, but I have personally met people who were surprised when I said, “Jesus was a Jew!” There is even surprise when some realize he spoke Hebrew as recorded in Acts 26:14 and other places. Christianity has been at odds with Judaism for so long that there no longer exists a perceived connection between these two religions within society. Yes, Christianity by and large stands with the Jewish people; yes it stands by and large behind attempts to protect the people and their land; yet we still retain a desire to convert them away from the practices that define them as a people. We do not see them as the Apostle Paul saw them: as “brothers,” or “our people,” as Paul called them, but rather as distant relatives, far removed at best.[16]

Now, many Christians today certainly embrace Israel and the Jewish people, but for the moderate “Easter Christian,” or the secularist, or even the atheist who grew up around Christianity but now rejects it, they do not have, in their heart, the same loose tie to the Jewish people that the practicing Christian does. And this is where the reporting of the current conflict is nothing less than remarkable (not to mention reporting on the many conflicts leading up to this time). Without having a perceived connection to the Jewish people, coupled with the subtle anti-Semitic undertone within the society they were born into, it becomes natural for the secularist, or atheist, or more liberal Christian, to take the side of the enemy of the Jewish people. Thus, when we turn on the news, we see the Hamas terrorist running at the Jewish soldier with a knife in one hand and a baby in the other, and the Jewish soldier is portrayed as the aggressor. When the Hamas terrorist beats the Palestinian who is trying to leave an area that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has warned him will be attacked, the IDF is portrayed as being heartless. When the Hamas terrorist loads a missile battery on the top of a school filled with children and fires, and he does so knowing that Israel will fire back and hit the school, the Israelis are reported as the murderers of innocents, and not the terrorist who deliberately created the situation.

So one-sided is the paradigm of the media, that when Hamas fires blindly and kills both Jewish and Palestinian people, it is still reported that the Jew is the one causing harm to the Palestinians. How blind are we that we can’t see how the Palestinian is nothing less than a puppet being used by terrorist groups who are seeking to destroy Israel? And it will go on until, as Golda Meir once said, “Peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us!” Yet is that even possible? The paradigm of the Arab children is being shaped by their parents who have open contempt and hate for the Jewish people. Human beings naturally absorb the ideas and biases they are exposed to during their youth. If your parents are racist, chances are you will likely be racist. If the parents of an Arab child not only hate the Jews but work with others toward their destruction, there is more than a good chance that a child raised under those conditions will grow up and take that desire to the next level.

Western culture contains an undertone of anti-Judaism that is just strong enough, that when coupled with a lack of awareness that it even exists, it causes our politicians and media to chop the legs off our Messiah’s blood relatives, the Jews, and all but neuter them in their attempt to retain the only free and democratic nation in that area of the world, not to mention the only nation in the world where the Jewish people can be assured freedom from centuries-long persecution. It is a place where the Jewish people have been free to worship God according to their own convictions, as well as their customs, traditions, and centuries-old practices.

Many Christians are questioning the paradigm and presuppositions that we have inherited. Yet there remains far too many who don’t even realize that these implicit biases exist. When we are born into a particular paradigm or situation, we often don’t realize the need to question what we can’t even see. So how then do we share with someone who has this paradigm: who has biases that need to be checked, and questions that need to be asked? The answer to such questions is beyond the scope of this short paper. I do know that like a race horse that wears blinders to keep him from seeing anything but what is directly in front of him, we need to remove our blinders, so to speak, and see what is not only before us, but also to our right or left. We must be able to see through the eyes of one another. And when we do, perhaps as Paul Harvey would say, we would “know the rest of the story.”


[1] FAQ on Implicit Bias. MED.STANFOD.EDU. Web. Accessed 26 Aug. 2014.

[2] By “Christian” I am referring to all sects that claim to follow Yeshua (Jesus)

[3] See Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, and Matthew 15:24

[4] See Acts 24:1-6, also verse 14, and Acts 28:22

[5] Acts 18:4

[6] Fragment X of Papias, Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2:1:2, 3:5:2, Acts 15:13, etc.

[7] Estimating the Population of Ancient Jerusalem, Magen Broshi, BAR 4:02, Jun 1978

[8] See Acts 21:20 and look at the underlying word for “many thousands.”

[9] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3:5:3, de Mens. et Pond., 15, Haer 29:7, etc.

[10] Justin, “Apologia”, ii.71, Eusebius 4:6:2-3, Orosius “Hist.” vii.13

[11] Generally accepted to be 306AD

[12] The Council of Elvira. CUA.EDU. Text of 81 Canons in English. Web. Accessed 22 Aug 2014. Law/ElviraCanons.htm

[13] On the Pascha, 68; Melito of Sardis. On Pascha and fragments, ed. S.G. Hall (1979), p. 55.

[14] Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 16

[15] For a more in-depth historical treatment of this topic, see Jeremy Cohen’s Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[16] Please don’t misunderstand me here – this is not meant to be a comment on soteriology or ecclesiology (i.e. who’s in the spiritual family and who’s not). Rather, I mean to simply point out that even after coming to faith in Yeshua as Messiah, Paul still considered non-Yeshua-believing Jews as “brothers” and as “his people.”

About the Author
Ken Rank was born and raised in South Jersey and moved to Kentucky in 1995. Married with two children, Ken is a conference speaker as well as author, working currently on a new book called, United 2 Restore.