Editor’s Note: Excerpted, in shortened form, from Dr. Brown’s recent book 60 Questions Christians Ask About Jewish Beliefs and Practices.
Why have Jewish people been so hated and persecuted through the centuries?
I devoted much of my book, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood, to the subject of anti-Semitism, and on several occasions I have delivered lectures on the question of why anti-Semitism exists. Out of all the hatreds in the world, anti-Semitism is unique.
At the invitation of Christian campus groups, I spoke on this topic at both Yale and Columbia universities, two of America’s most prestigious centers of learning, each time fielding questions from the listeners for better than an hour. My challenge was simple: I have a supernatural, biblical explanation for the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, one which even includes the devil himself—not the most popular theory on a university campus! “Do any of you have a better answer?”
After each lecture, I listened carefully to proposal after proposal, and despite the educational background of many of those in the audience, which included students and graduates of these universities, not one proposal could fully explain the “why” of anti-Semitism. In fact, the best theory that anyone offered was that, perhaps, anti-Semitism was due to aliens! (For more on “alien anti-Semitism,” stay tuned. I’m actually going to address that shortly.) What then makes anti-Semitism such a unique hatred?
First, it is the longest hatred of all time, dating back at least 2,300 years (and even longer if the book of Esther is included). As expressed by the Catholic scholar Edward Flannery, “Antisemitism is the longest and deepest hatred of human history. . . . What other hatred has endured some twenty-three centuries and survived a genocide of 6,000,000 of its victims in its twenty-third century of existence only to find itself still intact and rich in potential for many years of life?” Today, Anti-Semitism is at its highest levels since immediately before the Holocaust, equaling, in fact, those pre-Holocaust levels. How can this be?
These words penned twenty-five centuries ago, still ring true in the hearts of many anti-Semites today: “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples . . whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey [international] laws; it is not in [our] best interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8, with slight modifications made to make this more contemporary). Why has this hatred and fear of the Jews persisted for so long?
Consider this attack on the Jewish people made in Ezra’s day, also roughly 2,500 years ago:
The king should know that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations. Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and the royal revenues will suffer. Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed. (Ezra 4:12-15)
To this day, Jerusalem remains the center of international controversy, the only capital city not recognized by the rest of the nations. Why Jerusalem? Why the Jews?
Second, anti-Semitism is the most widespread hatred of all time. It can be traced from the Greco-Roman world to Christianity (yes, Christianity, including vicious comments from some of the church’s greatest leaders); from Islam to Fascism to Communism (intense anti-Semitism links Muslim terrorists, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin!); from White Supremacists to Black Supremacists (yes, both groups bash the Jews); from university campuses to the world press; from the philosopher Voltaire to the historian Arnold Toynbee; from the composer Richard Wagner to the car designer Henry Ford; from Japan to Russia to Iran. Why the Jews?
A few years ago, a very bizarre group made a big media splash when they claimed to have produced the world’s first human clone. The group, called the Raelians, is a UFO religion, led by its founder Rael, who claims to have been enlightened by aliens. (This is the literal claim: “On the 13th of December 1973, French journalist Rael was contacted by a visitor from another planet, and asked to establish an Embassy to welcome these people back to Earth.”) After hearing the cloning report, which was universally dismissed by scientists as a cheap publicity stunt, I went to the Raelian website, purely out of curiosity. (As of this writing, the site was available in more than twenty-five languages.) To my utter amazement, the featured message from Rael was laced with anti-Jewish sentiments, including the charge that “Israel is engaged in State terrorism” and the claim that “a small handful of the millions of American Jews are holding the rest of the 250 million Americans hostage.” Even the Raelians were polluted by an anti-Semitic stream! Why this widespread hatred of the Jews?
Third, anti-Semitism is the most vicious hatred of all time, and both the incredible violence and the depth of animosity against the Jews defy rational explanation. The enormity and depravity of the Holocaust alone is testimony to the viciousness of this hatred, and yet the Holocaust is simply the worst of countless acts of Jew hatred over the centuries. This horrific crime included several nations and led to the cooperative and systematic execution of six million Jews, including 1.5 million babies and children. So depraved were the Nazis (and other Jew killers) that Jewish infants were sometimes thrown into burning pits alive in order to save a bullet, leading to the oft-quoted dictum of Rabbi Irving Greenberg: “Moreover, summon up the principle that no statement should be made [about the Holocaust] that could not be made in the presence of the burning children.” Nothing more needs to be said.
Fourth, anti-Semitism is the most irrational hatred of all time. The absurdity of the anti-Semitic libels simply defies rational explanation. When the Black Plague decimated Europe, Jews were accused of starting the plague by poisoning the wells with a mixture made of spiders, lizards and the hearts of Christians mixed together with the sacred elements of the Lord’s supper. Outraged mobs slaughtered thousands of Jews as a result of this pernicious rumor. When the Catholic Church declared in 1215 that the elements of communion literally became the body and blood of Jesus, Jews were accused of stealing and torturing communion wafers, leading to whole Jewish communities being burned at the stake. In the Muslim world today, it is still believed that every year, Jews kidnap and torture a priest (or other victim), using his blood to make Passover matzah (unleavened bread). The Muslim world also takes seriously the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forged document from the nineteenth century that claims to report the secret plans of a hidden group of Jewish leaders who are poised to take over the entire world—ultimately bringing it into subjection to the Hindu god Vishnu! (To quote from the Protocols: “Our kingdom will be an apologia of the divinity Vishnu, in whom is found its personification.”). Jews have also been blamed for the spreading of AIDS as well as for orchestrating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (several Muslim cabdrivers in New York City explained this to me with real conviction, not realizing that I was a Jew). Jews have even been accused of controlling the Catholic Church!
Article Seventeen of the Hamas Charter states: “Zionist organizations under various names and shapes, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, espionage groups and others are all nothing more than cells of subversion and saboteurs. These organizations have ample resources that enable them to play their role in societies for the purpose of achieving the Zionist targets and to deepen the concepts that would serve the enemy.” Even the Masons are controlled by the Jews!
So irrational are the lies told about the Jews that even an utter rationalist like Sigmund Freud had to say, “With regard to anti-Semitism, I don’t really want to search for explanations; I feel a strong inclination to surrender my affects in this matter and find myself confirmed in my wholly nonscientific belief that mankind on the average and taken by and large are a wretched lot.”
What then are some of the explanations offered to explain the phenomenon of anti-Semitism?
(1) “It all traces back to Christianity,” meaning that the charge that the Jews killed Jesus (see #45), thus making them guilty of deicide (killing God) has so permeated Western history and culture that “Christian” anti-Semitism provides a link between all manifestations of anti-Semitism. But this theory is seriously flawed. How do we explain pre-Christian anti-Semitism? And does Christian anti-Semitism adequately explain Islamic anti-Semitism? And what of Christian philo-Semitism, a direct result of the testimony of the very New Testament that allegedly produced worldwide anti-Semitism?
(2) “It is because there always has to be a scapegoat,” meaning that someone always has to be blamed for bad things that happen in the world. But this begs the question rather than answers it. Why are the Jews always being blamed? As George Orwell remarked, “However true the ‘scapegoat’ theory may be in general terms, it does not explain why the Jews rather than some other minority group are picked on, nor does it make clear what they are a scapegoat for.”
(3) “It is because of the Jewish religion, which makes the Jewish people different,” and so people attack what they don’t understand. The problem with this view is that secular Jews have often been singled out for persecution. In keeping with this, it has often been said that at the time of the Holocaust, most German Jews were more German than Jewish. Not only so, but the Nazis slaughtered Jews who were even “one-quarter” Jewish—meaning only one grandparent was Jewish—also murdering Jews who had converted to Christianity. There is also worldwide animosity toward the modern state of Israel, despite the fact that the nation is far more secular than it is religious. And why haven’t Muslims been universally hated for being different?
(4) “It is because the Jewish people are especially bad” (this was actually stated to me by a Pakistani cabdriver with whom I discussed the question of anti-Semitism)—but this theory hardly needs refutation, since Jews are often some of the most moral and ethical people in the world, and, to be sure, there are plenty of rotten Gentiles! So, to put it mildly, Jews certainly don’t have a monopoly on being bad.
(5) “It is because the Jews always have all the money”—which, in fact, is not a theory but rather another anti-Semitic libel! In any case, through the centuries, Jews have often been the poorest people in their societies, often because of oppressive laws passed against them. But they were hated and persecuted nonetheless.
(6) “It is because of Jewish guilt, leading to divine judgment”—a harsh-sounding charge, but with some truth to it, since the Torah clearly states that national obedience would be blessed while national disobedience would be cursed (see Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). But the hatred has been too intense, too vile, too destructive to be explained by this alone and even within the Tanakh itself, God often expressed His displeasure with the nations whom He used to judge His people, stating clearly that they had gone too far (see, e.g., Isaiah 10:5-19; more broadly, see Zechariah 1:14-15).
Clearly, all of these theories fall short in one way or another, failing to explain the intense, irrational and long-lived nature of anti-Semitism and failing to connect all the dots. What then is the explanation for anti-Semitism in the world? It is simply this: God has singled out the Jewish people as His instrument for world redemption, He has promised that they will always remain on the earth as a distinct people—despite their sins and failures—and the devil himself has marked them out for destruction. Ultimately, it is through the Jewish people that the knowledge of the one true God has come to the world, through the Jewish people that the Messiah has come, and through the Jewish people that the message of the Messiah went to the nations. And it is the Jewish people in Jerusalem who will ultimately welcome the Messiah back to earth to set up His kingdom (see Matthew 23:37-39). That’s why the devil hates them so!
As I wrote in Our Hands Are Stained with Blood:
Why does Satan so passionately despise the Jews? For one thing, it is a reflection of his hatred for God. The Jews are God’s chosen people! By hurting them he seeks to hurt the Lord and take revenge for his own sentence of death. His effort to annihilate the Jews is also an attempt to discredit the Lord, since He has sworn in His Word that they will never be destroyed. If Israel ceases to exist as a distinct people, then God did not, or could not, keep His promise. That would mean that He was either powerless or that He lied!
But there is another reason the devil despises the Jews: The salvation of Israel means the return of Jesus, the resurrection of the righteous, the revival of the Church and the restoration of the earth. The fulfillment of the Jews’ destiny will seal the devil’s doom. Yes, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20) . . . and he is beginning to squirm! The time to favor Israel is upon us and Satan is quaking with fear. The countdown has begun.
Understanding, then, that anti-Semitism is ultimately a spiritual phenomenon rather than a cultural, ethnic or even religious phenomenon, we can also understand that anti-Semitism has to do with God and His purposes rather than with the Jewish people themselves. That is to say, it is not because the Jews are better or worse than anyone else; it is because God chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to bring redemption to the world, the Messiah Himself being a Jew. In that light, it will be a bad day for anti-Semites when they realize that the all-powerful King coming in flaming fire is a glorified Jew.