This past Friday, actor and musician Jamie Foxx posted an instagram post including the “fake friends” and “fake love” Hashtag, which read: “They killed this dude name Jesus… What do you think they’ll do to you?”
To whom Jamie Foxx was referring and to whom the “they” in his post referred to was unclear, but the following apology letter after calls of antisemitism revealed that Jews were not the subject of the post. Nonetheless, the post awoke a painful trope in the Jewish world, that of the charge of deicide during the Passion Narrative, written in the Gospels.
The Passion Narrative contains a number of anti-Jewish tropes that have been deeply calcified in Christian thought, theology, and even liturgy. For centuries after the Gospels were written, Jews were subjected to harsh attacks through “Passion plays” as well as the condemning works of the early Christian writers. Though not a historically accurate event by any means, the Gospel accounts are seen as history and divinely inspired by millions (if not billions) of modern day Christians. Unfortunately for Jews, the Synoptic Gospels work hard to paint the Romans as innocent bystanders in the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Jews as the true enemies, from those that arrested him, tried him, and sought his execution. The Gospels paint a dark story of greed, corruption, a thirst for power, blood, and revenge. As Roberto Finzi in his work Antisemitism from its European Roots to the Holocaust summarizes:
“The Christ-killing of which the Jews have stood accused for centuries is not merely a distant and abstract theological idea. It is a story endlessly repeated from childhood onwards, supplemented by an infinite number of sacred images, which refer to it directly or indirectly. It is the story, above all, of a betrayal – a betrayal for money.”
History, outside sources, and scholarship understand a series of points on this Passion Narrative, that unfortunately are not taught to the average Christian layman. For one, the Gospels were written decades after Jesus’ supposed date of death, and were not written by any of his followers or those alive during his 3 year ministry. Importantly, the Sanhedrin trial most likely did not occur, as trials never occurred at night, never on a festival day, never dealt with criminal matters, and never imposed a death penalty. Even if it did occur, the Jewish court had no power in the Roman government. Obvious to most, but yet often discarded in the place of conspiracy theories, the idea that a small group of Jews could influence a Roman government official such as Pilate is utterly absurd. The reputation of Rome was well understood to be an impenetrable wall of brute force and authoritarianism. Additionally, modern Jews were not present during the alleged time of Jesus’ crucifixion; in fact, only 30% of the Jewish population of the time lived within the borders of Israel. Moreover, the majority of those Jews did not know of Jesus, and even if a small group of Jews were present at Jesus’ death, they did not know him personally, nor were they to blame for Jesus’ execution. And finally, By the time the first Gospel was written, Christianity, in its infancy, was mostly an apocalyptic off-shoot of 1st Century Judaism, but it quickly became political in its attempt to distance itself, considering the view of Jews by the Romans after 70 CE and the Bar Kochba rebellion. Thus, Jewish-Christians, as they were known, quickly became Judaism’s biggest critics for the purposes of self-preservation. Living under a violent and ruthless Roman occupation, the Evangelists could not write the story with Rome as the villain, but rather developed a shift in blame, from Rome to the religious group Jewish-Christians hoped to defeat.
So, when Jamie Foxx posted about “fake friends” and a “they” who crucified Jesus, the inevitable thought by most was that the “fake friends” referred to Judas or those that “betrayed” Jesus in the Gospel narrative, and that the “they” referred to the old trope of Jews being at the center of Jesus’ execution, despite all the logic seen in the points above. The are masses of Christians who attempt to wrestle with this charge of deicide, attempting to minimize it, by saying perhaps “we don’t refer to all Jews, but just the Jews who were there.”
As a teacher on Jewish-Christian relations, I remind them that it was the author of Matthew that wrote the infamous “blood curse”(27:25): “All the people answered, ’His blood be on us and our children!’” Here Matthew is commonly said to expand a mere “crowd” (Mark 15:11) into “All the people” so as to show the entire Jewish people as calling for Jesus’ death. This has been documented countless times by Christian theologians and even inserted as dogma to mean that the Jews’ blame is transmissible over time, even in perpetuity. It was not until the mid 20th century that the Catholic Church even addressed this charge in Nostra Aetate, Vatican II; sadly, since then the Vatican has gone backward, not forward, and a multitude of other Christian denominations still keep to Matthew’s words.
The Gospel of Matthew’s charge against the Jews is recorded in the book of Acts: “God…glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up…in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead.” And again in 1 Thessalonians 24:14: “The Jews…killed…the Lord Jesus and the prophets…But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” This final passage is one of the bases of “divine punishment” against the Jews which has been used in genocidal incidents including the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Pogroms, and the Holocaust.
While Jamie Foxx was not meaning to invoke this trope that incurs generational PTSD to Jews everywhere, even in his words the trope came to life. The “Fake friends” refer to the narrative that the Jews surrounding Jesus were “fake.” Using those (non-historical) perspectives, Jamie Fox used the Jew as a metaphor and an example of those who would be treacherous or two-faced. Further, Foxx did not clarify as to the “they” who crucified Jesus, and while modern scholars and intellectuals understand that Jesus was condemned by Rome, charged a Roman crime, and crucified (a Roman punishment), still the millions of Christians reading the post immediately went back to the “they” that had been taught to them, the Jews.
Even in his innocence, like so many other good-hearted Christians, Jamie Foxx stepped on an antisemitic landmine that blew up because he was unaware it was there. Why? Because most Christians of today do not even know that some of the language used is antisemitic, as so many liturgical themes have become standard and ideas about the Jews of the time have become a use for slurs of Jews worldwide. We see this over and over again with Christians calling each other “Pharisees” to denote a person who is hypocritical, not realizing that Pharisees were real people, Jewish people, who eventually evolved into the rabbis who created all of Modern Judaism. In essence, a Christian telling another Christian to not be such a Pharisees is saying “Don’t be so Jewish.”
This incident with Jamie Foxx is a learning moment and opportunity for Jews and Christians alike. One need only look at the antisemitic responses that inevitably came with Foxx’s post to see that despite his intentions, there is a mob of those online and offline who will repeat the charge of deicide against the Jews, whether Foxx meant it or not.
In my book, “Let’s Talk: A Rabbi Speaks to Christians” (2022) I discuss and teach accidental antisemitism incidents like this, and I have been grateful to the many Christians who have purposely changed their language, verbiage, and liturgy to be more sensitive to the malicious anti-Judaism found in Christian texts and beliefs.
It is my sincere hope that Jamie Foxx and his followers, desire to learn about how these incidents occur and how they can be prevented. I thank Mr. Foxx for his apology and good character, and I hope education will follow!