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A Response To Hate

EDITOR, The Tribune.

In response to Kevin Evans’ bigoted and hateful letter published in your newspaper on Friday, please see below an article that was published shortly after the tragic shooting at a Pittsburgh Synagogue in 2018. I have highlighted several lines that are particularly relevant as a response to Kevin Evans’ myopic view of his fellow man (and woman).

First published on October 31, 2018

“Jews are the children of Satan” and the danger of taking biblical passages out of context

In the aftermath of Saturday’s tragic mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, much attention has been given to the gunman’s social media presence and virulent anti-Semitic statements. Robert Bowers reportedly yelled “All Jews must die” as he opened fire. His Gab profile appalled many with its use of the biblical verse John 8:44 – “Jews are the children of Satan” – as a sort of slogan and introduction to his account. But is there really such anti-Semitic sentiment in the Bible? Or was the line twisted and taken out of context?

John 8:44: “Uses of that passage and other passages that we find in the New Testament that give evidence of tensions that were there between religious communities in the first century, take them out of that historical context and use them in ways that they were never intended to be used,” explains Harold Attridge, Sterling Professor of Divinity at the Yale Divinity School.

“The Gospel of John does not support or encourage persecution of Jews. It doesn’t support or encourage persecution of anybody.”

Rather, the passage in question is a somewhat heated dialogue between Jesus and the crowds in Jerusalem. According to the story in John, people have been plotting against Jesus for some time, trying to arrest him and stone him to death. So Jesus reacts rather strongly and calls them children of the devil. According to biblical scholars, however, this statement was never meant to be showcased in isolation.

“The Gospel of John is, in some ways, the most Jewish of the gospels. And at the same time, it is the one that displays some of the most polemical lines,” says Attridge. “Those who cite John, saying that ‘Jews are children of the devil,’ ignore statements in John, like ‘Salvation comes from the Jews’.”

Those that utilise John 8:44 for anti-Semitic purposes are also likely overlooking the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew. And while we may never know the precise identity of the author of the Gospel of John, he is most often identified as John, the son of Zebedee, who is a Jew, as well.

“All of the immediate followers of Jesus were Jews,” explains Attridge. “And one of the major controversies in the first generation after the death of Jesus was whether non-Jews could even be part of the movement.”

Still – despite the fact that Jesus was himself a member of the Jewish people – there are many examples throughout history of passages in the New Testament being wielded for anti-Semitic purposes.

Anti-Semitism in the New Testament

“The passage that was probably most widely cited in the persecution of Jews, especially in German anti-Semitism with Nazis and the like, was Matthew 27:25,” explains Attridge: “May his blood be upon us and upon our children.”

That passage occurs in the Gospel of Matthew, when the Jewish crowds in Jerusalem are given the option of releasing either Jesus or the prisoner Barabbas – and they choose to release Barabbas.

“That line was, I think, originally meant by Matthew to say, look, we can explain something about what has happened in our lives with the destruction of Jerusalem by what happened to Jesus,” explains Attridge. “But it was taken out of that context and used as a way of saying Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus from the get-go.”

That sentiment, whether inadvertently or as part of a deliberate strategy by early Christians to rationalize their connection to Judaism, laid the groundwork for centuries of anti-Semitism. Stories about the death of Jesus sparked violence by Christians against their Jewish neighbours, often abetted or actively instigated by local authorities across Europe. In fact, long before the Nazis devised racial theories to push for the annihilation of the Jewish people, leaders of the Christian church itself painted the Jews as a “despised people” meant to wander the Earth in misery and marginality.

Though the Catholic Church came out against such teachings in the mid-20th century, centuries of damage had already been done. The seeds of animosity were sown long ago for those seeking a biblical justification for their modern white supremacist and anti-Semitic views.

Another passage sometimes used for such purposes is First Thessalonians 2:15, where Paul refers to the people in Jerusalem as being responsible for Jesus’s death. But according to Attridge, that passage is controversial as well, because historically speaking, the crucifixion of Jesus was not primarily a Jewish decision.

“Jesus was executed as a Roman political criminal. There’s no doubt about that,” the Yale biblical scholar explains. “The person responsible for making that decision was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. And the method of execution was a Roman method of execution: crucifixion. There was probably collaboration between the priestly authorities in Jerusalem and Pilate, but it’s mainly a Roman decision, based on the judgment that Jesus was probably a political revolutionary.”

Racism and homophobia

The wielding of biblical passages for hate-fueled ends is sadly nothing new to the Jewish community. It is also all too familiar to black Americans and to members of the LGBTQ community, as well.

There are numerous examples of Bible verses which have been used through the course of history to justify the institution of slavery, with all its racial connotations in this country, and that are still being heralded by white supremacists today. First Corinthians 7:21, First Timothy, Second Timothy, Ephesians, Colossians, an entire letter that Paul writes about a fugitive slave... the list goes on and on, with several biblical examples in which the same advice is given to slaves: “Obey your masters.”

“They are there in the Bible and we now recognize that they are not moral guides to what we should do or be,” explains Attridge. “But you know, 150 years ago, people were quoting the Bible to support the institution of slavery. That heritage has lasted in terms of some of the racialism we see on the streets today.”

In addition, some of those who condemn homosexuality point to biblical passages like Leviticus and Romans 1:24-27 as proof that the Bible agrees. But in this case, too, Attridge argues that these passages are being taken out of their proper historical context.

“Paul talks about men having sexual relations with men and women exchanging the natural for the unnatural,” says Attridge. “They’re probably reacting not in general to homosexual activity, but to specifically the forms it was taking in the Greco-Roman world, reacting to the ways in which people were exploiting people of the same sex, as well as people of other sexes, for various personal reasons. This has to be, I think, understood in the same way as a lot of stuff in the Bible that simply reflects the cultural assumptions of the period, which have long since proven to be problematic – that the world is flat, that lending money at interest is evil, etc.

“Lots of things in the Bible that were assumed to be correct at the time without a careful analysis, human experience has corrected over the course of the last couple millennia,” he said.

So, as the world reels from yet another hate crime at the hands of a man justifying his actions with a misinterpreted biblical verse, scholars are emphasizing the importance of understanding the full context and deeper meaning of the text.

“I think any serious engagement with the Bible has to take it, not in terms of the particularities of an individual verse, but in terms of the whole of the witness,” says Attridge. “And the whole of the witness of the Bible is God’s relationship with humankind and God’s call to do justice and live rightly and walk humbly before your God. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t recognize those as the governing principles that should be used in engaging any particular text. But I think all passages need to be read within, first of all, a historical context and what the assumptions were governing that historical context, and then critically evaluated on the basis of what we now know about life.”

SASKIA D’AGUILAR

Nassau,

November 28, 2020.

Comments

FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 2 weeks ago

First and foremost : I read Mr. Evan's article from this previous Friday the 27th of November, and I found his tone not becoming for a Christian. The line that I particularly took issue with was the one that seemed to suggest that homosexuals were not children of God. God made them just as any other, they can be saved like any other sinner provided they repent of their sins and change their lifestyle to one that is pleasing to the Lord. One person has a problem with homosexuality, another lying, yet another stealing, etc. we all have our sins that we struggle with, and God can forgive them all if we truly seek Him. That being said, there are many half-truths and historical inaccuracies in this article designed to parrot a specific political agenda.

Firstly, I am not sure where the topic of anti-Semitism fits into discussing Mr. Evan's article, but to suggest that centuries of anti-Semitic feelings were created from Bible Scripture alone is very naïve and ignores the context of these Scriptures entirely. Firstly, the issue of usury (the key issue between Christians and Jews in historical Europe) is never discussed. The writer of this article ignores the fact that usury was forbidden (by religious and government authorities) among Christians for many centuries, while Jewish populations had no such restrictions placed on them. Religiously speaking, nothing in the Jewish faith forbid a Jew from charging interest to a non-Jew, and in most instances, Jews were not held to the same laws that Christians were during this time period. This is how many Jews ended up becoming powerful merchants and wielding significant economic influence in whatever areas they resided. In addition, the context of what was occurring when those Scriptures were written is completely ignored. The persecution of Christians just got started with the crucifixion of Jesus; the early Church was heavily persecuted by the Jewish people of that area in an attempt to suppress the faith. What past did Paul have? This persecution is a major reason for the tone of the Scriptures quoted.

"“Jesus was executed as a Roman political criminal. There’s no doubt about that,” the Yale biblical scholar explains. “The person responsible for making that decision was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. And the method of execution was a Roman method of execution: crucifixion. There was probably collaboration between the priestly authorities in Jerusalem and Pilate, but it’s mainly a Roman decision, based on the judgment that Jesus was probably a political revolutionary.”"

This paragraph is just deliberately misleading. Yes, Pontius Pilate absolutely had to sign off on the execution of Jesus, the Sanhedrin had no power to put their sentence of death into effect, but the writer completely ignores the context of history in this statement. Pontius Pilate held a neutral at worst, favourable at best disposition towards Jesus as evidenced by Pilate trying to free Jesus in letting the

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 2 weeks ago

(cont) crowd choose between Barabbas and our Lord. Pontius Pilate did not reside in Jerusalem, he actually resided on the coast, he was only in Jerusalem to monitor the Jewish people in case of rebellion during the Passover. There had been a history of rebellion in the province, and yet another one would have landed Pilate in hot water with Rome. Pontius Pilate had no choice but to order the death of Jesus in order to prevent another rebellion from occurring. Who forced his hand, the Jewish people. Pontius Pilate could care less about Jesus, some accounts seem to have him holding Jesus in a favourable light, but he would have more than likely been recalled to Rome had another rebellion took place under his watch. To stave off the riotous Jewish crowd, he gave them what they wanted and ordered the execution of Jesus. No such evidence has ever been put forth that Pilate viewed Jesus as a revolutionary.

In addition, slavery was not a uniquely black experience. I am sick and tired of this lie being perpetuated to the point where most individuals only know of the West African slave trade when hearing the term slavery. Romans enslaved Greeks, British enslaved Irish, Barbary pirates enslaved whoever they could capture, Arabs enslaved blacks, etc. Point is that slavery occurred on a much broader scale than the West African slave trade alone. To imply that the Bible has racial undertones in these Scriptures is just foolish and reeks of a political agenda. The writer of this article also fails to take into context that the idea of considering slavery as evil is very new relative to the known course of human history. The abolition movement only started to gain prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries (Brazil did not abolish slavery until 1888 – almost into the 20th century!), for thousands of years of recorded human history, slavery has been the norm. As a matter of fact, the early Church was revolutionary in the fact that they held abolitionist beliefs themselves. I suggest that the writer of this article read the book of Philemon. As it regards Onesimus, the slave that had been instructed to return to his master, Paul made every subtle attempt possible to encourage Philemon to manumit his slave. It was not Paul’s place to directly suggest this to Philemon, so he approached the question in a more subtle way. When it comes to the context of the quoted Scriptures, the principles behind them still apply to this day. Instead of slave/master, we can substitute employee/employer. Employees are to work diligently for their employers and do a good job, while employers are to treat their employees fairly and pay them their wages.

With regards to homosexuality : you can twist the Word of God however you want, but the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin. Marriage is always defined as a man and woman, and even if you throw out the entire Old Testament, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (among other Scriptures) speaks on the matter in (cont..)

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 2 weeks ago

(cont…) definitive terms in the New Testament. Stop twisting the Word of God to suit your perverted political purposes. If you want to support homosexuality, you have every right to your opinion, but you certainly are not a Christian in any sense of the word. Apologies to anyone reading for this long post, I am just so sick of the Bible bashing that occurs on this forum. So many Bahamians are still in the angsty teenager phase where “God doesn’t exist because I hate Him” and cannot provide a single logical argument to support their assertion that God does not exist. It is nothing but one liner insults that prove the D average of this country is an overestimation of our national educational level. I will end with a warning to any so called “Christian” that tries to suggest that homosexuality is not a sin : Revelations 22:18. You can try all you want with the legalistic interpretations, but the Bible speaks on the matter very clearly. There is no grey area when it comes to the Bible’s view of homosexuality.

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joeblow 1 month, 2 weeks ago

... people tend to make that which is simple complicated for any number of reasons. Start with the fact that there are only two kinds of truth, absolute and relative. Gods perspective is absolute truth, it does not change. Of course people can misinterpret it for their own purposes. Temporal views are usually relative truth and subjective.

Sin is to fall below Gods standard. We are born below that standard, but a remedy has been made to breach that deficit if we chose to accept it.

Man did not create sex, marriage or intimacy, God did and for specific purposes. To choose to live outside of the parameters He made is to willfully reject His standard. Those who want to believe in LGBT ideology are free moral agents and can believe what they want. At the end of the day when people breathe their last, it is not your local LGBT chapter that will judge on consensus. Your spirit returns to God and He will judge by the standards He imposed whether we like it or not. People have a right to choose or reject truth-- the consequences of that choice is for each individual alone to bear.

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hrysippus 1 month, 2 weeks ago

This is s typical Christian statement; "and cannot provide a single logical argument to support their assertion that God does not exist.." Now please provide a single logical argument to support the assertion that The Tooth Fairy does not exist. I'll wait. LOL.

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FrustratedBusinessman 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Not a single part of my statement refuted with historical fact, or even an opposing theory, what a typical atheist response consisting of a snarky one liner that fails to refute any part of my statement.

If you are not in Nassau or an area otherwise contaminated with large amounts of artificial lighting, go outside and take a look at the stars sometime. Mankind is not even close to knowing everything about earth, the heavens, and cannot even get back to the moon at this point, yet somehow, atheists in their arrogance know for certain that God does not exist.

Answer me one question, and answer it in the best of your ability, if God does not exist, as you claim, how did the universe get here? At the end of the day, no matter which theory you subscribe too, someone had to create the universe.

I know that God exists personally because I wouldn't be alive today without His intervention. Unfortunately, I cannot impart my personal life experiences onto you. I can only pray for you (and will do so) that you have a change of heart. No Christian ever wants to see a soul lost. At the end of the day, we are both going to see who is right on the matter.

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joeblow 1 month, 2 weeks ago

@FrustratedBusinessman... quite frankly I am surprised you responded for only one with puerile thoughts would attempt to draw a contrast between the manifold complexities of God and the universal realities of something or someone greater than man and a story confined to former English colonies!

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anlin412 1 month, 2 weeks ago

SUCH a well written response to the misuse of biblical scripture as it is abused in the name of Christianity with the purpose of committing HATE-FILLED crimes against other human beings! Thank you for shedding light on the nature and subjectivity of the Holy Bible as it is a book which should not be taken so literally. Hopefully others reading D'Aguilar's response and the article it is in reference to will realise that ignorance and misuse of theology/philosophy serves no human any good in this modern world.

-Alistair D. Stevenson

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joeblow 1 month, 2 weeks ago

... the other extreme of your argument is to approach it with an open-mindedness that strips it or the moral authority it ought have and bend it to conform to the will of the reader. The bible is first and foremost a spiritual book that must be engaged with ones spirit, not just the limited biased mind!

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