Saturday, April 10, 2010

Matthew 27:24-25: anti-Jewish or anti-rich?

My favorite gospel is Luke's for a lot of reasons. Until today, one was that it doesn't include a version of Matthew 27:25, the line that has been used for centuries to justify horrors against Jews. Here's the King James Version:
24When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

25Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
I've known forever that the line can't be a condemnation of all Jews:

1. Though the speakers are called a multitude, they're not everyone in Israel or even everyone in Jerusalem. They're just a blood-thirsty mob, maybe a hundred people, perhaps a couple thousand at most. Given that Jerusalem was a city of 25,000 to 70,000 people at the time, that's an awful lot of Jews who didn't take responsibility for killing Jesus.

2. If you're a literalist, the line only covers two generations, the speakers and, presumably, their children who have somehow agreed to the deal. After all, God doesn't punish kids for their parents' sins. (Deuteronomy 24:16: "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." Ezekiel 18:20: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.")

So who are these people who accept responsibility for the death of Jesus?

This morning, I realized the obvious: they're the rich. They're the people who are threatened by a man whose advice for being perfect is to sell all you have and give the money to the poor.

That realization helped me make sense of another of the Bible's problematic passages, Exodus 20:5-6:
5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
The children of the rich tend to be rich. They accept the unjust privileges that the Bible opposes, so even though they're born into their parents' sin (literally, "error" or "missing the mark"), by failing to share the wealth, they accept their parents' sin as their own.

But some of them will be able to change their ways and join the "thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."

The greatest of which are to love God and love people.

Which you demonstrate by sharing.

O my brethren and sistren, here endeth the sermon.

Researching this, I came on this:

Joseph Telushkin wrote: "...the word 'antisemitism' was created by an antisemite, Wilhelm Marr [in 1879]. Marr's intention was to replace the German word Judenhass (Jew-hatred) with a term that would make Jew-haters sound less vulgar and even somewhat scientific.... Throughout history, antisemitism has been directed against [the religion of] Judaism and its values. ...Until about 1800, the societies in which Jews lived were generally piously Christian or Muslim, and so antisemitism focused on Jewish concepts of God and law. In the last two centuries, during which nationalism became a dominant value in the Western and Arab worlds, antisemitism increasingly focused on the Jews' peoplehood and nationhood."

"Antisemitism" has always bugged me, because technically, semites include Christians and Muslims. I'll try to use Judenhass or Jew-hatred from now on.