Edited Under Fr. Leonard Feeney M.I.C.M. — Saint Benedict Center
THE REJECTED PEOPLE OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
Why the Jews Fear the Bible
With the coming of summer and those languid days traditionally given to resting and reading, The Point would like to make a suggestion. We recommend that this year you ignore all the frothy tomes which have been specially confected for your beach-chair entertainment, and read instead that most substantial and engrossing of all books, the Holy Bible.
The prime incentive for reading God’s word is always, of course, just that: it is God’s word — the thundering, inspired account of man’s long climb from Genesis to Apocalypse; how he fell from grace, how he was redeemed, what he must do to be saved.
But there is another reason also why now, particularly, we ought to take our Scriptures off the shelves. The notion has got around (at whose prompting, we will let you guess) that the Bible is a book which celebrates the Jews; and that since we Catholics are supposed to reverence the Bible, we ought also to honor the race to whom it is devoted.
The number of people who have been deceived by this artful dodge indicates one thing: how crass and colossal is our present-day ignorance of Holy Scripture.
No one could possibly read the seventy-two books which constitute God’s revelation and conclude that Jews deserve the esteem of Catholics. For albeit the Bible presents Jewish history, it is not the sort of history the Anti-Defamation League would approve. It is the story of how a few faithful Jews in each generation championed God against the rest of their race — a proud, stubborn, ungrateful, and unbelieving multitude. Far from promoting love for the Jews, the Bible is thus the font of Christian anti-Jewishness. No other book gives such a strong, sure taste of their perfidy.
It is in the New Testament that the Jews are shown at their ultimate worst — when they are confronted with the Messias, reject Him, crucify Him, call down His Blood as a curse upon them, and then do their utmost to prevent His gospel from being spread through the world. A partial report on this New-Testament portrayal of the Jews appears below. But even under the Old Law it is evident what the Jews are coming to. Prophet after prophet castigates them for their wickedness and warns them that they are going to be rejected by God in favor of the Gentiles; and prophet after prophet is killed by the Jews in defiant retort. As early as the book of Exodus, God has said to Moses: “See that this people is stiff-necked. Let me alone, that my wrath may be kindled against them, and that I may destroy them: and I will make of thee a great nation.” (Exodus 32:9)
Plainly, it is not for their own sakes, or for any goodness inherent in the race, that the Jews are kept at the center of the Old-Testament stage. It is, rather, because through some Jews — a holy, beleaguered handful, like Moses and Joshua and David and the prophets — the true Faith is kept alive down to the time of Our Lord. And the other reason for God’s sustained interest in the Jews is that eventually from their thorny midst there will blossom His one perfect creature, the Virginal Mother of His Son.
But if the Jews make such a poor showing in the Old Testament, how do they bear to read it? The answer is, they don’t. Their religious reading time is devoted to a post-Crucifixion book of their own devising, the Talmud. The Jews have rejected the first part of Holy Scripture as surely and as violently as they have rejected the second. Nor is it merely the treatment of their ancestors that the Jews object to; it is equally the Old Testament’s prophecies of the coming Messias, so blazingly and unmistakably fulfilled in Jesus.
Yet it should not be assumed that in shunning the Faith of Moses and David the Jews have abandoned all religious doctrine. Everyone familiar with Jewish practices knows that they still do believe most fervently in a Messias. And they profess this belief constantly — when they force Gentile merchants out of business and take over a city’s shopping district; when they take control of a nation’s newspapers and other means of disseminating ideas; when they demand that laws be passed forbidding anyone to speak against the Jews; when they drive a million Arabs from their homes and appropriate the land for themselves; when they insist that Western nations not only allow this outrage, but support it with their wealth and the blood of their youth — in all these ways and in hundreds of others, the Jews testify to their belief in a Messias.
And if anyone is still wondering who the Jews think the Messias is, Dr. Joseph Klausner, internationally recognized Jewish spokesman, supplies the answer. In his book, The Messianic Idea In Israel (Macmillan, 1955), Dr. Klausner declares that a personal savior has long since been an old-fashioned notion with the Jews and that, “Thus the whole people Israel, in the form of the elect of the nations, gradually became the Messiah of the world, the redeemer of mankind.”
It is a common complaint of public Jews that the most anti-Jewish book in the New Testament is the Fourth Gospel. The Point would venture to propose, however, that the Fourth — Saint John’s — Gospel has a close rival in the book which is placed immediately after it in every edition of the New Testament. That book is the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke’s inspired account of what happened to Saint Peter and, at greater length, to Saint Paul from the time the Church was born at Pentecost until the year of Saint Paul’s imprisonment at Rome, A. D. 62.
In chapter one of the Acts (there are twenty-eight chapters in all), Saint Peter establishes the anti-Jewish theme with a resounding speech about the traitor Judas, who “being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out.” By the time you reach the fifth chapter, Saint Peter has five times pontifically berated the Jews for crucifying Jesus. And, not surprisingly, he and the rest of the Apostles have made their first of many trips to jail.
The deacon, Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, is the hero of chapters six and seven. Just before the Jews take up their stones to silence him, Stephen concludes his summary of the Jewish situation by addressing his executioners as, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and the murderers!”
The Acts of the Apostles’ ninth chapter introduces us to Saint Paul, who after his miraculous conversion, tries to convert the Jews at Damascus, who in turn try to kill him. Paul escapes their rage only by the most stealthy resourcefulness, being lowered over the city walls in a basket.
Paul’s flight from the Jews serves as a likely prelude to the events of the next chapter, when Saint Peter beholds the great vision in which God signifies to him that he must work for the conversion of the Gentiles to the infant Church. And in his catechism instructions to the Roman Cornelius, immediately after, Peter repeats once more that the Jews have murdered Our Lord. Back at Jerusalem, Peter explains the Church’s mission to the Gentiles, while Saint Paul, up in Antioch, has the distinction of hearing himself and his converts called, for the first time, Christians.
This brings us to chapter twelve, which begins with the information that King Herod “killed James, the brother of John, with the sword, and seeing that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take Peter up also.” Peter is delivered from the designs of his Jerusalem enemies, and from chapter thirteen until the end of the book, the Acts tells the story of the mission work of Saint Paul. Everywhere the pattern is the same: Paul preaches, many are converted, the local Jews are aroused, and the Apostle is forced to flee for his life.
In Pisidia, for example, “The Jews stirred up religious and honorable women, and the chief men of the city and raised persecution of Paul and Barnabas: and cast them out of their coasts.” Again, in chapter fourteen, we read about the near-stoning of Saint Paul at Iconium, and the Jews’ pursuit of him throughout Lycaonia, until finally he is mercilessly beaten, dragged out into a country place, and abandoned as dead.
Restored to his work, he is, of course, re-exposed to the Jewish plots against him. In the city of Thessalonica, “The Jews, moved with envy, and taking unto them men of the vulgar sort, and making a tumult, set the city in an uproar.” Paul survives this onslaught also, and when we arrive at chapter eighteen, he even sees a temporary victory over the Jews. The Gentiles of Achaia soundly trample upon the ruler of the synagogue who was there plotting against Paul.
From chapters twenty-one to twenty-eight, Saint Paul is a prisoner of the government, with new and bitter complaints constantly being brought against him by the Jews. The local authorities are at last most grateful to be rid of their controversial charge when Saint Paul, under appeal to Caesar himself, is dispatched to Rome. It is at Rome, shortly after Paul’s arrival, that the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles is terminated.
The final verses of the last chapter give us Saint Paul’s electric speech to the Jews of Rome. Reproving them with the words of Isaias, he says, “The heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have heard heavily, and their eyes they have shut; lest perhaps they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted.” And the Apostle prophetically concludes: “Be it known to you, therefore, that this salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”
* * * * * The examples set by Saints Peter and Paul, and preserved in the pages of Holy Scripture, have of course had the precise effect which God intended when He inspired them. They have been a source of edification, and a prod to imitation, for the Christian leaders of all the Christian centuries. Thus, the saints of every age, in aspiring to be “other Christs,” have contracted to assume not only the sunlight of Christ’s meekness but, quite as much, the thunders of His indignation.
The resultant warfare between the canonized children of the Church and the crucifiers of Jesus has left an abundant literature of its own; which is most sublime when it takes the form of Biblical commentaries, and most authoritative when written by that select group of Catholic theologians, the twenty-nine Doctors of the Universal Church. From the writings of two of these saints, we have chosen passages which will indicate the intensity (though, regrettably, not the extensiveness) of the anti-Jewish sentiments provoked by the Bible.
Among the works of the fourth-century Doctor, Saint Ephrem the Deacon, there is no selection more representative in style and content than his poetical “Rhythm Against the Jews, Delivered on Palm Sunday.” Anticipating the Jewish treacheries of Holy Week, Saint Ephrem comments upon the Gospel story of Our Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish people, whom he calls “that asp that loveth adulterers.”
“What is thine iniquity, O daughter of Jacob,” he asks, “that thy chastisement is so severe? Thou hast dishonored the King and the King’s Son, thou shameless one and harlot … The Jews, then, not only made themselves strangers to the covenants, but dishonored the Father and killed the Son in envy. The Prophet invites the congregation of the house of Israel to praise Him, but it went about to kill Him, and hastened to do evil.”
Our second Doctor, the great Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, has often been cited by Jewish apologists as “the saint who liked the Jews.” Bernard’s qualification for this title rests upon the sole circumstance of his plea to twelfth-century Catholics that they must find some other means than annihilation for resolving the Jewish problem.
In commenting upon the book of the prophet Isaias, Saint Bernard places himself staunchly within the ranks of the Church’s anti-Jewish Scriptural commentators. He says, “O intelligence coarse, dense and, as it were, bovine, which did not recognize God, even in His own works! Perhaps the Jew will complain, as of a deep injury, that I call his intelligence bovine. But let him read what is said by the prophet Isaias, and he will find that it is even less than bovine. For he says, ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood.’ (Isaias 1:3) You see, O Jew, I am milder than your own prophet. I have compared you to the brute beasts; but he sets you even below these.”
Readers who are determined on a re-look at the Bible should be wary of an English version, available at many Catholic book-stores, advertised as the Knox Bible. This appropriative title derives from the name of the translator: ex-Protestant minister, Monsignor Ronald Knox.
Had he not taken up with the Catholic Church, Ronald Knox might be presently remembered among readers of English as the author of two first-rate murder mysteries and of several uncommonly clever limericks. This kind of literary endeavor, however (even when supplemented by innumerable witty sermons), would leave any Englishman tragically ill-equipped for the prayerful, reverent, anything-but-clever vocation of translating the revealed Word of God.
And we were prepared to believe that it was chiefly this secular smartness which made Monsignor Knox’s translation of the Bible so repugnant; until we happened upon his rendering of Isaias, 7:14, that portentous prophecy of Our Blessed Lady: “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Monsignor Knox’s presentation of this text not only fails to call Our Lady a Virgin, but gives the Virgin Birth all the clinical air of a maternity-ward delivery. He writes: “A Maid shall be brought to bed of a son.”
By Christian standards, such a statement is neither clever nor orthodox. What further worries us is that, by Jewish standards, it is both.