Christianity and anti-semitism

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A medieval woodcutting depicting a theological debate between Christians and Jews

The history of relations between Jews and Christians is, in the words of Pope John Paul II "a tormented one."[1] Christianity today "has long been synonymous with tolerance: in general, anti-Semitism is mainly a fringe phenomenon, neither popular nor respectable."[2] The term anti-Semitism was first used by William Marr in 1879, however "documented prejudice, social and economic isolation, persecution and violence against the Jews predates Marr and his supporters by more than 2000 years."[3] Christianity's relationship with Judaism, however, is still unlike that between any other religions. In the words of the Vatican: "The common future of Jews and Christians demands that we remember, for "there is no future without memory". History itself is memoria futuri."

The early Church

By the second century "both Judaism and Christianity were trying to distinguish each from the other in the eyes of Rome, as both had unique political concerns."[4] Eusebius wrote that "the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures were for Christians, and the curses were for the Jews." He argued also that the Church was the true Israel, or "Israel according to the Spirit", heir to the divine promises, and found it essential to discredit the "Israel according to the flesh" to prove that God had cast away His people and transferred His love to the Christians.[5] Justin Martyr further claimed that the Jews were originally selected by God because they were such an unspiritual group and needed added laws. He attacked the Jews for rejecting Jesus, for killing Jesus and for leading people away from salvation. He claimed the destruction of the Temple as being just punishment for the Jews.

The situation shifted dramatically in the fourth century when Constantine appointed Christianity as the official religion of the empire, leading to far-reaching legislation:

  • The removal of former religious privileges
  • The removal of Rabbinical jurisdiction
  • Prohibition of missionary work
  • Prohibition of Jews from holding high office or having military careers
  • Prohibition of contact with Jews
  • Confiscation of Jewish property
  • Prohibition of the sale of Christian property to Jews

The Justinian Code

The Justinian Code was enacted by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-564) and prohibited:

  • the construction of synagogues
  • reading the Bible in Hebrew
  • gathering of Jews in public places
  • the celebration of Passover before Easter
  • Jews giving evidence in a case in which a Christian was a party

Synod of Elvira

Enacted in 306, this prohibited:

  • marriage and sexual relations between Christians and Jews
  • Christians and Jews eating together

Councils of Orleans

Between 533 and 541 the council issued further edicts prohibiting:

  • marriage between Christians and Jews
  • the conversion to Judaism by Christians.

Trulanic Synod

In 692 the synod forbade Christians from being treated by Jewish doctors.

Synod of Narbonne

In 1050 the synod prohibited Christians from living in Jewish homes.

Synod of Gerona

In 1078 the synod made it mandatory for Jews to pay taxes to support the Christian Church.

Fourth Lateran Council

In 1215 the council ordered that Jews must wear distinctive badges to distinguish them from Christians.

Council of Basel

In 1443 the council:

  • prohibited Jews from attending university
  • ordered their compulsory attendance at Christian church services.

Editto sopra gli ebrei

Pope Pius VI issued an edict in 1775, reinstating all previous anti-Jewish legislation, called Editto sopra gli ebrei ("Edict over the Hebrew"). It included 24 regulations, including:

  • A Jew who passes a night outside of the ghetto is condemned to death.
  • The "yellow sign" must also be worn within the town-walls of the ghetto (up to then, the Jews only had to wear it when they left the ghetto).
  • The study of the Talmud is forbidden.

Christian-Jewish reconciliation


  1. His Holiness Pope John Paul II. March 12, 1998 We Remember: A reflection on the Shoah. The Vatican. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  2. Dr. Ron Schleifer Christianity and Antisemitism Jewish Agency For Israel. Retrieved 28 July 2008
  3. Classical and Christian Anti-Semitism The Holocaust: A Guide for Pennsylvania Teachers. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  4. Classical and Christian Anti-Semitism op cit.
  5. Clarence H. Wagner, Jr. Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust Christians United For Israel.