The Early Christian Apologists, as we have seen, alleged that the Jews were the inventors and disseminators of a scurrilous propaganda campaign accusing the initiates of the new Christian sect of believing in risible myths (the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, etc.), and participating in a sinister ritual involving idolatry, human sacrifice, cannibalism, and mass sexual licence. The writings of the early Talmud, in which we encounter the same polemical themes, confirm that such a propaganda campaign existed from the nascency of the Church, and continued to be prosecuted through several centuries.
The nature of, and inspiration for, this campaign are clear enough. Jewish contempt for the false teachings and repugnant rituals of the early Church is of a piece with ancient Hebrew contempt for Gentile religion, culture, and mores in general. It is impossible not to recognize in the idolatry, child sacrifice, cannibalism, and sacred prostitution that allegedly constitute the core of the Christian sacrament the main polemical motives of the Old Testament Prophets’ fulminations against the pagan “high places”. In the first centuries of the common era, with the deliquescence of the pagan rites as a threat to the survival of the Jews – and an excuse for the preservation of the separatist Jewish ethos –, the black masses of the Christians would come to replace them. Thus, the Hebrew Prophets’ anathematizations of the cults of Ashtoreth, Moloch, and Baal were merely redirected toward a new and more formidable competitor and claimant of the mantle of exclusive religious truth. Christianity became Judaism’s new paganism, and Christians its new Gentiles, after whose Triune God(s) the people of the covenant might, unless properly admonished, go a-whoring.
It came as something of a shock, as I have already said, to hear these primitive calumnies hurled at contemporary Christians by my teenage friends in the self-ghettoized Jewish suburb where I grew up. Since there was little chance that either they or their parents had been studying the religious controversies of the first centuries of the Christian era, one wonders how such detailed and specific repudiations of Christian doctrine and liturgy could have leapt with such alacrity to their lips. Apparently, that the Virgin Birth was the face-saving fiction of a loose woman, and that Christian communicants sacrificed innocent children and ate them, whilst engaging in wild sexual orgies, were widely held opinions amongst Jews: opinions that must have been handed down orally from generation to generation.
In Hebrew antiquity, similar calumnies had been propagated by the Priesthood to keep the children of the Jealous God safely within the fold: to guard against, that is, the apparently ever-present temptation of syncretism and miscegenation. In the North American suburbs of the late ninety-sixties, they continued to inspire a primordial fear and revulsion of the Satanic dromena supposedly enacted within Christian churches, as I discovered when I naively invited my friends to join me on an anthropological field trip to Midnight Mass.
The history of such anti-Christian libels, from the early Rabbinic period right down to the present day, has been widely known for years. Modern Talmudic scholars, both Jewish and Christian, have been aware of the Rabbis’ animadversions on Christianity since the late-nineteenth century. Oddly, their main interest seems to have been to prove that the Talmudic passages did or did not shed any credible light on the “historical Jesus”. Meanwhile, Jews world-wide were laying at the threshold of the Church evidence of its vilest crimes: the pogroms, and the Holocaust, which supposedly arose from a congenital Christian anti-Semitism. Surely the evidence of an age-old Jewish anti-Christianism would have furnished a valuable perspective from which to reflect upon so intractable and complex an historical and moral problem as that of religious bigotry. But such evidence has been scrupulously ignored, since it hardly accords with the modern stereotype – a benign one, but a stereotype nonetheless – of the Jew as the religiously tolerant victim of religious intolerance.
It need hardly be said that Jews have every right to criticize, indeed, to ridicule the beliefs of Christians; but it takes no great exertion of the imagination to conceive of the outcry amongst Jewish groups in particular and – in this age of racial hypersensitivity – polite society in general, were Christians to deride such central tenets of Judaism as the Election of the Chosen People, the Lawgiving on Sinai, or the parting of the Red Sea – in the contemptuous tones, that is, in which Jews have heaped scorn on the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and other New Testament miracles, for centuries and, apparently, still today.
The accusation that the Eucharist involves human sacrifice, cannibalism, and the drinking of the victim’s blood is especially ironic in the context of the long history of the anti-Semitic “blood libel”. Every school child, Jewish and Gentile, is now taught about the scurrilous charge, supposedly leveled by Christians since the time of Apion (and recently renewed by militant Muslims), that Jews regularly kidnap the young children of non-Jews, ritually slaughter them, and drink their blood. Along with the Inquisition, the pogroms of eastern Europe, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the Holocaust, this is one of the prime exhibits in the case against Homo Gentilis as innately anti-Semitic.
But, once again, the complex religious-historical circumstances and history of the “blood-libel” have been conveniently obliviated. Apion was a Greek pagan controversialist of the second century B.C., hardly a Christian. It was Jews, mocking the eucharistic miracle of the Transsubstantiation, who first accused Christians of fattening children for slaughter, eating their flesh and drinking their blood: a charge that medieval theologians subsequently parried back at them. It is an irony at least worthy of mention, is it not, that the medieval Christian propagators of the anti-Semitic blood-libel had been schooled in the effectiveness of such vicious lies by the Jews themselves?
As I have argued at length in earlier numbers in this series, Christian anti-Semitism is now practically a phantom, kept alive by a Jewish mindset that, it seems to me, is equivalently morbid and ultimately self-defeating. Historically, anti-Semitism was real enough, but it hardly existed in vacuo; and as I’ve also argued at length, a racially motivated sense of Jewish moral superiority and contempt for the “Goyim” has been a central tenet of Jewish religion and consciousness since the time of Abraham. We only trivialize the human capacity for mendacity and pride when we pretend that certain groups are incapable of them, and avert our eyes to the countervailing evidence.