The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew/Chapter 13
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THE PRESENT ATTITUDE OF THE JEWS IN RELATION TO CHRISTIANITY
ONE of the first questions which arise in our minds, after a bird's-eye view of the nation as a whole is presented to us, is, " What attitude do these different sections assume to Christianity?" I say to " Christianity " ; and looking over its history in relation to the Jews, one becomes painfully impressed with the fact that the term " Christianity " must be distinguished from Christ and the gospel.
It may sound like exaggeration in the ears of Christians in England and America, when I say that millions of Jews are as ignorant of Christ as are the unevangelised tribes in Central Africa ; and as to the New Testament, except to a growing minority, its very existence is unknown.
It is a fact that the great bulk of the " orthodox " Jews think and speak of the New Testament, when they first come in contact with it, as a modern produc- tion written by some missionary, so little do they know of its history and contents. In one of my missionary journeys about sixteen years ago I spent two or three days in the ancient town of Thorn on the Vistula. On the Sunday morning I went out by the riverside, where
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I met a party of Galician Jewish " Chassidim," wood merchants, who owned some of the huge rafts that are being continually floated down the river from Russia and Galicia to Memel for export. After a few words of salutation I pulled out a Hebrew New Testament from my pocket, and asked them if they had ever seen this book, or heard of Him of whom it speaks. Taking it out of my hand, and coming across the name of Jesus, which in the Hebrew is "Jeschua," he looked up and said, " I know ; it is about Joshua " ; whereupon another took it out of his hand, and turning over some pages and seeing it was in the sacred tongue, and that some of the names such as Abraham, Moses, David, &c., were familiar to him from the Old Testament, he put it to his lips and reverently kissed it.
They had never in their lifetime either seen or heard of the book before, and if they had known that it was the book on which the so-called Christians around them, whom they call " Goim," are supposed to base their religion, they would most probably have thrown it to the ground and spat upon it.
" Christianity," or more correctly, " Christendom," the seven or eight millions of Jews in Central and Eastern Europe have seen and, alas ! felt, and it they hate with great detestation and abhorrence ; so that I can testify to this fact from experience, that there is less opposition to the gospel when first preached, on the part of the Jews who live in Mohammedan countries, like Morocco and Asia Minor, than there is on the part of those who live in Christendom.
In 1899, while on a Mission journey in Slavonia, we visited in a town on the Danube a rich and learned Jew who is well known in that district. Before we parted, after a long discussion, the venerable old man stood up quite excited and said, "Look here, what I have
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read of the New Testament I like very much, but I don't see what this book has to do with the Christians around me. Christianity as you represent it I know nothing about, but I will tell you this, that if the Christ whom the Christians around vie worship was what they represent Him to be, then He deserved to be crucified" This is the language of a typical Jew speaking in the bitterness of his soul ; and what wonder, seeing that the outward aspect of Christendom and the cruelty of Christians has led the Jews in those parts to associate two ideas with the holy name of our Saviour, namely, idolatry and cruelty.
The attitude of the Reformed and more enlightened Jews in countries like Germany, Austro-Hungary, England and America is somewhat different. Most of these are intelligent and educated, and are brought in constant touch with " Christian " thought and literature ; though it is a sad fact, greatly to be deplored, that the so-called Christian books which this class of Jews read, are written almost exclusively from the neological and rationalistic point of view, and only help to spread unbelief amongst them. Hence it is that though un- consciously they have been permeated with Western ideas, and cannot but see and feel that the coming of Christ has wonderfully affected the history of the world, speaking generally, the tendency of this class is towards rationalism and negation, and, from a gospel point of view, they are less hopeful than even the most bigoted of their orthodox brethren, who still tenaciously cling to the hope of Israel.
Some prominent leaders of this " Reformed " or " Progressive " school have taken up the untenable and inconsistent position of regarding the Lord Jesus as a great and good man, and have even extolled the ethical teaching of Christ as in advance of Moses and
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the prophets, while they repudiate utterly His claims of divinity, and regard Christian doctrine, especially the great and central fact of atonement, " as a return to the crude and barbaric ideas of primitive times, and altogether opposed to progressive views of religion."
The attitude of these " enlightened " rationalistic Jews to the Person of our Lord Jesus, may be summed up in a letter of one of the best known Jewish writers, Dr. Max Nordau, in answer to one addressed to him by Pere Hyacinthe of Paris, in which he compared Dreyfus with Christ, and invited the Jewish people to revise the judgment which condemned Jesus of Nazareth, even as France ought to have revised that against Alfred Dreyfus. Nordau's reply was as follows :
" I can only answer for myself, having no authority to speak for my brethren. It is not for me to discuss the question whether Jesus is a historical figure or a legendary synthesis of several real personages, or even a mythical incarnation of the thought and sentiment of the epoch in which tradition places His existence. In any case, He whom we see through the recitals of the Gospels is a figure typically and ideally Jewish. He observes the law ; He teaches the moral of Hillel, ' Love thy neighbour as thyself.' He is constantly preoccupied with eternal things ; He feels Himself in spiritual com- munication with God. He has contempt for what is mortal in Himself, and for all the ephemeral con- tingencies of eternal life. The same traits characterised the best Jews at the time of the Roman Conquest, and more particularly the Essenes, whose religious life was so intense. Like His origin, like His moral physiog- nomy, the language of Jesus is absolutely Jewish. For each of His parables we can cite one or more parallel passages from the Talmud. His prayer, the finest which a believer had ever invented, is a resum<? of
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Jewish ideas on the relation of man to his Creator. The Sermon on the Mount is the quintessence of Rabbinical ethics, and is adorned with images and comparisons familiar to the Rabbis. Jesus is soul of our soul, as He is flesh of our flesh. Who then could think of excluding Him from the people of Israel? St. Peter will remain the only Jew who has said of the Son of David, ' I know not the man.' If the Jews up to the present time have not publicly rendered homage to the sublime moral beauty of the figure of Jesus, it is because their tormentors have always persecuted, tortured, assassinated them in His name. The Jews have drawn their conclusions from the disciples as to the Master which was wrong a wrong pardonable in the eternal victims of the implacably cruel hatred of those who called themselves Christians. Every time that a Jew mounted to the sources and contem- plated Christ alone without His pretended faithful, he cried, with tenderness and admiration, 'Putting aside the Messianic mission this man is ours. He honours our race, and we claim Him as we claim the Gospels flowers of Jewish literature and only Jewish.'
" The revision of His trial has long since been made. The most learned authorities on Jewish criminal law and procedure have proved irrefutably that the trial of Jesus, as it is presented to us by tradition, could never have taken place, at least before a Jewish tribunal. If Jesus was condemned to death, He was so condemned by Roman judges, and no Jew, faithful to the law of his nation, could have taken the least part in the condemna- tion. Before a Jewish tribunal, a holy man, professing the Essene or Ebionite doctrine, even emancipating himself from the law of the Sabbath, even exalting the spirit and denouncing the letter, even proclaiming him- self the promised anointed of the Lord, could never
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have been condemned to death on the cross, which is not the form of execution admitted by the Jewish law, and He could never have been executed on the Friday before Passover, the law absolutely prohibiting any execution on such a day. If the Jews had condemned Jesus in the conditions in which the trial was accom- plished according to tradition, they would have com- mitted a series of crimes each of which exposed itself to the severest punishment according to the Jewish law. Therefore, it is certain that all the story of the trial of Jesus is only a vengeance of those who wished to punish the Jews for not having recognised the Divine mission of Christ.
"To sum up, we claim as ours Jesus, His moral doctrines, His conception of life, and the Gospels, except that of St. John. We are under no need to revise His trial, seeing that, according to the Jewish law, Jesus could never have been condemned to death and crucified. But were we to make all the amends for a crime which our fathers never committed nineteen centuries ago, or at all, and for which, even if they had committed it, we should certainly not be responsible, that would change nothing of the disposition and spirit of the anti-Semites."
In spite of the almost patronising and merely literary homage " to the sublime moral beauty of the figure of Jesus," this is one of the most daring epistles which has ever issued from the pen of man in relation to Jesus of Nazareth. Putting aside the attempt to revive the so-called " mythical theory " of the life of Jesus, which is now discarded by every critical scholar of any note, Dr. Nordau's letter is a cool and flippant denial of the history of the last nineteen centuries, and is full of assertions which are contrary to facts, and could only be made by one who, though a brilliant writer and
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orator, has evidently only a second-hand acquaintance with Jewish history and Jewish literature, and whose sources for the unhistorical picture of Christ which he draws are the daring fancies of Renan and the absurdities of Strauss. Take, for instance, the asser- tions that " the most learned authorities on Jewish criminal law and procedure have proved irrefutably that the trial of Jesus, as it is presented to us by tradi- tion, could never have taken place before a Jewish tribunal. That He could never have been crucified . . . that He could never have been executed on the Friday before Passover," &c.
That the proceedings at the trial of Jesus were for the most part in flagrant contradiction with the established laws of procedure both of the Jewish and Roman tribunals, and that the record of it is a humiliating story to Gentile as well as Jew, are facts of which the whole world is aware, but that the most learned autho- rities on Jewish criminal law have repudiated that trial is not true.
Perhaps the most illustrious exponent of Jewish law and procedure is Moses Maimonides, and he, far from repudiating, speaks of Christ and His death as historic facts, and adds that the Jews, by handing Jesus over to be crucified, "have done to Him as He deserved." 1 In a passage also from the Talmud, which is already quoted in this volume, 2 the trial of Jesus is not only acknow- ledged as an historic fact, but it is expressly said that it was on the Passover Eve that Jesus was led forth to be " hanged," or crucified.
1 See especially the " Iggeret Teman," the letter addressed by Maimonides to the Jewish communities in Yemen, written in Arabic in 1172, and translated into Hebrew in 1210 by Samuel Ibn Tabon, now printed from a MS. in the possession of the late Dr. Jellineck, Vienna, 1873. 2 See page 18.
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But I quote Dr. Nordau's letter here, not to refute the false assertions which are made in it for to do that in detail would require a good-sized treatise but only as an example of the attitude of this class of Jews to Christ and Christianity.
Reformed Judaism speaks sometimes in vague and impudent terms of its future mission on earth, when Christianity shall have become effete, regardless of the fact that it is in itself utterly apostate from God, and has nothing but cold negations and abstractions to offer which have never yet brought hope and comfort to any man.
The Christian standing on the impregnable rock of New Testament truth, against which even the gates of hell shall never prevail, can well afford to smile at such vain, empty boasting ; but I refer to it simply to show the spirit of this type of rationalistic Judaism, which is in a measure responsible for provoking unenlightened Christians in Germany and other lands to join in the anti-Semitic agitation a movement altogether opposed to the spirit of Christ, and fraught with many dangers to Christendom itself.