“Long before Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier på Antisemtismens Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne [Stages on the Way of Anti-Semtism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews] appeared, the theological rationalizations were already lined up,” writes Danish theologian Lone Fatum in Kristeligt Dagblad. “No one had read the book, but everyone had an opinion on it. When the book finally appeared, on the anniversary of Kristalnacht, reviewers immediately banded together. ‘Kierkegaard was not anti-Semitic–end of discussion!’”
Tudvad explained in my interview with him, as well as in the Danish media, that he believes that what really incensed critics of his book was less that he had charged Kierkegaard with anti-Semitism than that he had argued there was a disposition toward anti-Semitism in Christianity itself. Denmark, after all, still has a state church, the Danish Lutheran Church. Christianity, for many Danes, is as much a cultural institution as a religious one. Danes have prided themselves, and not without reason, on their historically liberal attitude toward Jews and Judaism. To argue as Tudvad does in his book that Christianity has inherently anti-Semitic tendencies is thus to strike at something that is very near the heart of Danish culture.
Fatum asserts that the numerous efforts to explain away Kierkegaard’s anti-Semitic remarks “appear to support Tudvad’s claim that [the persistence of subtle forms of anti-Semitism] is an problem people are unwilling to face.” Fatum argues, however, that the disposition toward anti-Semitism in Christianity is more pronounced than even Tudvad suggests. All the Gospels, she asserts, were written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, which many early Christians saw as God’s punishment of the Jews for their having killed Christ. Anti-Semitic sentiment, she asserts, is clear throughout the Gospels, but particularly in John (e.g., John 8: 21-47 where Jesus appears to assert that the devil, not Abraham, is the father of the Jews).
But are the Gospels really that anti-Semitic? There is no question that Fatum is correct in her claim that there are numerous passages throughout the Gospels that lend themselves to interpretation as anti-Semitic. According to many New Testament scholars, however, there was a great deal of ambivalence among early Christians concerning their relation to Judaism and this ambivalence is reflected, I would argue in at least the synoptic Gospels, if not in the entire New Testament canon.
There can be no dispute, however, concerning the presence of strong anti-Semitic tendencies among the early church fathers and later Christian thinkers such as Martin Luther, just as there can be little doubt that Kierkegaard was influenced by these thinkers. It is less clear whether Kierkegaard’s anti-Semitic attitudes came directly from this tradition or whether their evolution had a more subtle and complex origin. That’s part of what makes Tudvad’s book such an important work. He attempts to trace the evolution of Kierkegaard’s views on Jews and Judaism. Scholars who actually engage with his arguments may come to have legitimate disagreements with him and one hopes that other treatments of this important topic will eventually emerge. For now, though, all we have is Tudvad book. It is nice to see that it is beginning to receive the recognition it deserves.
Considering Tudvad’s thesis that christianity is inherently antisemitic, I think it is interesting to take a look at what has become of the Catholic Church’s teaching on this issue. After having been for a long time rather anti-Semitic, it has changed drastically in it’s teachings since approximately council Vatican II. It suffices to take a look at what the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” now states concerning the famous thesis that the Jewish people is a “deicide” race:
“Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus’ death
597 The historical complexity of Jesus’ trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles’ calls to conversion after Pentecost. Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept “the ignorance” of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders. Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd’s cry: “His blood be on us and on our children!”, a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence. As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council: . . .
Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. . . the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture.”
And elsewhere, it is made mention of the link between the church and the jews, this link being a consequence of the Jews’ acceptance of the same revelation from God. This would seem to indicate that, at least according to the Vatican, you can conceive a form of Christianity that isn’t anti-Semitic.
I absolutely agree with you. Far from being antisemitic, Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism and is still, in my opinion anyway, essentially an extension of Judaism in its emphasis on neighbor love. Unfortunately, the history of Christianity as a sociological phenomenon is full of antisemitism. To charge, however, that Christianity is essentially antisemitic is, in my view, to through the baby out with the bathwater.