Christian Origins of the Holocaust


William S. Abruzzi






November 9th & 10th mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht ("Night of the Crystals" or "Night of the Broken Glass") when Nazis and sympathetic Germans raided Jewish homes and communities throughout Germany.


According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,


In two days and nights, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or otherwise damaged. Rioters ransacked and looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses, killed at least 91 Jews, and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. The attackers were often neighbours. Some 30,000 Jewish males aged 16 to 60 were arrested. . . . The Nazi government imposed a collective fine of one billion Reichsmarks (about $400 million in 1938) on the Jewish community.





Interior of Berlin Synagogue

after Kristallnacht





A Jewish Synagogue set on Fire



Jewish Shops Looted and Destroyed




While most people look on Kristallnacht and the subsequent Holocaust as an inconceivable horror perpetrated by a deranged dictator and his fanatical followers, the reality is that the mass slaughter of Jews perpetrated by the Nazis can more effectively be viewed as the culmination of nearly 2,000 years of violent Christian anti-Semitism.  What Hitler initiated was the industrialization and systemization of what Christians had been doing to Jews for nearly 2,000 years. Hitler was a product of European (Christian) history. Indeed, Robert Michael, in his book, Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism and the Holocaust (2006:186), argues that "when Christian anti-Semitism combined with Nazi ideology and modern technology the resulting "perfect storm" of organized hate made the Holocaust predictable, if not inevitable."



The New Testament:


Christian hostility towards Jews dates to the very beginnings of Christianity.  One need only read the four canonical gospels, where Jews are increasingly presented as the enemies of Jesus, to see this hostility develop and grow. As one moves in chronological order through the four gospels  --Mark, Matthew, Luke and John--  the evilness of Jews increases.  Whereas in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), the word "Jews" appears only 6, 4 and 4 times respectively (and mostly in relation to the claim of Jesus being "the King of the Jews"), in John the word appears 36 times, and mostly in the third person, as in "the Jews did this" or "the Jews did that."  At one point, John (8:44) has Jesus saying to the Jews,


You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Significantly, John has Jesus' apostles referring negatively to "the Jews" in third person, even though they themselves were Jewish.  One of the most infamous gospel quotes, and one that was used over and over for centuries to condemn Jews and to justify Christian persecution of them, was the statement that Matthew attributes to the Jewish population in his gospel. After several verses during Jesus' trial in which Pilate proclaims Jesus' innocence and where the Jewish crowd repeatedly chants "Crucify him!" Matthew (27:24) states,


When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"

And, according to Matthew (and only Matthew 27:25),


All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!"


This quote from Matthew was to live on in infamy for centuries as the theological justification for all the abominations perpetrated on Jews by Christians. Jews were the killers of Christ; they would forever be guilty of deicide.


A major conflict developed between Jews and non-Jews very early within the Christian movement. The Christian Church split early on between the followers of James (Jesus' brother) most of whom lived in Palestine (the "Jewish Christians") and the followers of Paul, who were mostly Gentiles (non-Jews) and who lived outside of Palestine. One of the principle issues dividing these two groups was whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised in order to become Christians (for a more detailed discussion of the conflict between Paul and the original followers of Jesus, see Abruzzi, The Birth of Jesus, note #9). James, the acknowledged leader of the original Church in Jerusalem, believed that even Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the dietary regulations of the Torah in order to become Christians (implying clearly that Christianity was not viewed by Jesus' earliest disciples as a new religion, but rather as a revision within Judaism). Paul (who never met Jesus, but who claimed to have received a visitation from him) did not. For Paul, Christianity was not a revision of Judaism, but a wholly new religion. Paul refers to this conflict and expresses his hostility towards the Jewish Christians in 1 Thessalonians 14-16 (ca. 51 CE):


For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

The Acts of the Apostles (written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke, a gentile and a follower of Paul), repeatedly presents Jews as the "enemy" and Christians as unified in their true faith in the face of external persecution.


"Men of Israel . . . this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (2:22-3)


"You Jews denied the Holy and Righteous One, ...and killed the Author of life .. ," (3:13-15);

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you . . . And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered." (7:51-2).

Acts also renounces Jews three times in conjunction with its description of Paul's missionary travels, implying that it was the Jews themselves who caused Paul to redirect his mission to the Gentiles.


In Antioch:

"The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,

that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district." (Acts 13:44-50)


In Corinth:

"When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'" (Acts 18: 5-6)


In Rome:

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in great numbers. And he expounded the matter to them from morning till evening, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, while others disbelieved. So, as they disagreed among themselves, they departed, after Paul had made one statement: "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

‘Go to this people, and say,

You shall indeed hear but never understand,

and you shall indeed see but never perceive.

For this people’s heart has grown dull,

and their ears are heavy of hearing,

and their eyes they have closed;

lest they should perceive with their eyes,

and hear with their ears,

and understand with their heart,

and turn for me to heal them.’

Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen. (Acts 28: 23-28)


Numerous leaders of the early church railed against the Jews as well. The earliest surviving charge of deicide against the Jews was expressed by Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165) in his Dialogue with Trypho, and was soon after repeated by other Church leaders, such as Hippolytus (170-235) and Origen (ca. 185-254). Tertullian (ca. 160-225), one of the leading ecclesiastical writers of the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, expressed this view clearly and unequivocally:

“Thus the whole synagogue of the sons of Israel slew him, saying to Pilate, who wanted to release him, ‘His blood be on us and on our children. . . . though Israel may wash all its members every day, it is never clean. Its hands . . . are always stained, covered forever with the blood of the prophets and of our Lord himself.”

Tertullian (ca. 160-225 CE) repeatedly [in 20 passages in 10 books] accused Jews of deicide. He also referred to Jews as “the very anti-type of true virtue.”

Jerome (author of the
Vulgate Bible) in the early 4th century wrote a letter to Augustine opposing the conversion of Jews to Christianity:

“They will not become Christians but will make us Jews. . . . The ceremonies of the Jews are pernicious and deadly; and whoever observed them, whether Jew or Gentile, has fallen into the pit of the devil.”

In a 4,000-word diatribe against the Jews, Jerome initiated the theological association of Jews with Judas, Jesus’ betrayer:

"Christ is saying: 'Judas betrayed Me, the Jews persecuted and crucified Me' .... In particular, this is the story of Judas; in general it is that of the Jews . . . Judas, in particular, was torn asunder by demons-and the [Jewish] people as well. . . . Judas is cursed, that in Judas the Jews may be accursed." . . . [Even] the repentance of Judas became worse than his sins. [Just as] you see the Jew praying; ... nevertheless, their prayer turns into sin....Whom do you suppose are the sons of Judas? The Jews. The Jews take their name, not from Judah who was a holy man, but from the betrayer. . . . From this Iscariot, they are called Judaeans. . . . Iscariot means money and price. . . . Synagogue was divorced by the Savior and became the wife of Judas, the betrayer." (Homilies of St. Jerome 1:255, 258-262)

Ambrose, bishop of Milan (374-397 CE) and one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century, associated the Jews with Cain, who killed his brother Abel and was then forced by God to wander the earth for his sin --the origin of the concept of the “Wandering Jew”:

These two brothers, Cain and Abel, have furnished us with the prototype of the Synagogue and the Church. In Cain we perceive the parricidal people of the Jews, who were stained with the blood of their Lord, their Creator, and ... their Brother, also. By Abel we understand the Christian who cleaves to God.

Augustine (354-430 CE), bishop of Hippo and a student of Ambrose, also promoted the notion that Jews were like Cain and should wander the earth endlessly as punishment for killing Jesus. For Augustine, Jews were the “Witness People”, living evidence of the truth of Christianity and of what happens to people who rejected Christ. For this reason, according to Augustine, Jews should not be killed, but should be permitted to live so that they may suffer the indignities Christian communities inflicted upon them for their crime.

John Chrysostom (347-407 CE), bishop of Constantinople, (for whom Adolph Hitler expressed admiration) was virulently anti-Semitic and referred to the “odious assassination” of Jesus by the Jews, for whom according to him there was “no exception possible, no indulgence, no pardon.” (Idinopulos and Ward 1977:202) According to Chrysostom, Jews “would dare anything for the sake of money, even the murder of God.” Chrysostom is famous for his
Eight Homilies Against the Jews (Based on eight sermons he delivered in 387 CE). Numerous virulently anti-Semitic statements were contained within these sermons, including:

“The Jews are more savage than any highwaymen and do greater harm to those who have fallen among them. They do not simply strip off their victim’s clothes nor inflict wounds on his body as did those robbers on the road to Jericho. Rather, the Jews mortally hurt their victim’s soul, inflicting ten thousand wounds, and leave it lying in a pit of ungodliness.” . . .

“Here [in the synagogue] the slayers of Christ gather together, here the cross is driven out, here God is blasphemed, here the Father is ignored, here the Son is outraged, here the grace of the Spirit is rejected. Does not greater harm come from this place (than from pagan temples) since the Jews themselves are demons? ...What worthy name can we find to call their synagogues? The temple was already a den of thieves.... Now you give it a name more worthy than it deserves if you call if a brothel, a stronghold of sin, a lodging-place for demons, a fortress of the devil, the destruction of the soul, the precipice and pit of all perdition.”

Early Christian leaders, such as John Chrysostom, Jerome and Ambrose, variously referred to the synagogue as a “whorehouse”, “a den of vice” and “a refuge of insanity.” Jerome in one homily against Jews that formed part of the Good Friday liturgy wrote [in Jesus’ voice],

“My enemies are the Jews; they have conspired in hatred against me, crucified Me, heaped evil of all kinds upon Me, blasphemed me.”

Ambrose defending violent attacks against, and even the burning of, synagogues wrote of synagogues:

"If you call it a brothel, a den of vice, the Devil's refuge, Satan's fortress, a place to deprave the soul, an abyss of every conceivable disaster or whatever else you will, you are still saying less than it deserves.”


The proclaimed view of the synagogue as the den of Satan persisted throughout the history of Christianity. In 1081, Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) addressed a letter to King Alphonso VI of Spain, insisting that he follow the longstanding exclusion of Jews from public offices in which they would exercise authority over Christians, a policy that had just previously been reiterated in the Roman Synod of 1078):


We are compelled out of duty to warn Your Affection, that you ought not permit Jews in your land to be lords over Christians, or to wield any power over them any longer. For what is it to set Christians beneath Jews, and to make the former subject to the judgment of the latter, except to oppress the Church and to exalt the Synagogue of Satan, and, while you desire to please the enemies of Christ, to condemn Christ himself?”


The same phrase was later used by Pope Pius IX in his Syllabus of Errors (1864) attacking the secularization that was spreading throughout Europe at the time, which was heavily blamed on the Jews.

Ferrant Martinez, deputy for the bishop of Seville and Confessor to Queen Mother Leonora, like Ambrose, called for the razing of synagogues “in which the enemies of God and Church practice their idolatry.” When he became the administrator for the diocese of Seville in 1390, he demanded the destruction of Jews and Judaism. His sermons instigated an anti-Jewish movement that spread throughout most of Spain. The violence began on Ash Wednesday 1391 and lasted for decades during which municipal officials and common people looted and massacred as many as 50,000 Jews, forcing thousands of others to be baptized. According to one Jewish chronicler at the time, Christians “set fire to its [the ghetto’s] gates and killed many of its people, but most changed their religion, and some women and children were sold to the Moslems.” (Michael p. 99) These riots marked the beginning of the buildup that led to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.

Numerous other “Church Fathers” could be quoted for the anti-Jewish comments they made; indeed, the literature on this subject is voluminous. Built on this early foundation, anti-Semitism became a core aspect of European Christian society. It is significant that as soon as Christianity became the state religion of Rome, in the fourth century CE, Jewish equality of citizenship was ended. "The Church and the Christian state, concilium decisions and imperial laws, henceforth worked hand in hand to persecute the Jews” (Michaels (2006:16). Significantly, as Michaels point out, there were “no pagan pogroms against the Jews.”

In 1935, the Nazis instituted what have become known as “The Nuremberg Laws”, laws which defined the restricted legal status of Jews in areas occupied by the Nazis (just as the American South and the Apartheid Government of South Africa established laws that defined the restricted legal status of blacks and the current Israeli Government has established laws that define the restricted legal status of Palestinians). Raul Hilberg, in his book,
The Destruction of European Jews (1965), examined the various laws passed by the Nazis and found that many of those laws had precedence in Canon Law (laws passed by the Church). Canon law included laws prohibiting intermarriage between Christians and Jews, Jews and Christians from dining together, Jews from hiring Christian servants, and Jews from working in the civil service. Laws were also passed prohibiting Jewish doctors from treating Christian patients. In addition, Canon Laws were issued that required Jews to pay special taxes, to live in ghettos separated from the non-Jewish population, and to wear a badge on their clothing displaying their Jewish identity.






Papal Bulls:


Christian anti-Semitism is also clearly seen in numerous Papal Bulls [authoritative encyclicals issued by a Pope]. Examples include:




1218   Pope Honorius III,  In general concilio:


Demanded the enforcement of the 4th Lateran Council decree that Jews wear clothing to distinguish themselves.  Jews were also made to pay tithing to local churches.


1239   Pope Gregory IX,  Si vera sunt:


Ordered the seizure and examination of Jewish writings, especially the Talmud, which was suspected of blasphemies against Christ and the Church.


1244   Pope Innocent IV, Impia judeorum perfidia:


Stated that Jews could not hire Christian nurses.


1267   Pope Clement IV, Turbato corde:  


Legally barred Christians from converting to Judaism.


1414    Pope Benedict XIII, (title unknown):  


Jews prohibited from studying the Talmud and Talmudic Literature. All copies of the Talmud to be confiscated. Jewish communities forbidden to build more than one Synagogue. Jews not allowed to eat, bathe or trade with Christians. Jews not allowed to hold any public office. Jews not allowed to participate in any artisan trades or to practice medicine. Jews required to wear a red or yellow badge three times per year: during Advent, on Easter and during the summer. Jews were required to attend Christian sermons. (Benedict was deposed before these rules could go into effect, but most were subsequently imposed by later popes,)


1442   Pope Eugene IV, Dundum ad nostram audientiam:  


Complete separation of Christians and Jews (formation of Jewish ghettos)


"Such are the carnal Jews, who seek only what sense perceives. Who delight in the corporal senses alone.  , , ,  Herod is the Devil, the Jews demons; that one is King of the Jews, this one is King of the demons."  --Pope Innocent III (1198-1217) (Synan 1965: 88-89).



Ecumenical Councils:

Several Ecumenical Councils also focused on Jews, including:

The Fourth Council of Toledo in 633: Christians were forbidden to eat with Jews, receive medical care from Jews, or to bathe with Jews and condoned the kidnapping of Jewish children and having them raised as Christians (Rowan 1985: 83).


Canons 67 to 70 passed by the Twelfth Ecumenical Council (IV Lateran) in 1215 dealt directly with the Jews and became part of Canon Law.


Canon 67 dealt with the growing preoccupation of the Jews with money lending. The princes (who derived advantage from Jewish wealth) were urged to compel the Jews to abstain from immoderate usury. At the same time, Jews must be made to pay the tithe to the local churches for property formerly owned by Christians and now fallen into the hands of Jews.


Canon 68 dealt with the question of keeping Jews and Christians apart. This was the regulation establishing the Badge. 


Canon 69    re-asserted the prohibition against Jews holding public office.


Canon 70    dealt with converts from Judaism to Christianity, who must be compelled to stay within the Christian fold. The regulation takes on added significance from the forced conversions that accompanied the Albigensian crusade and the anti-Jewish activities of the crusaders on the way to the Holy Land. One of its paragraphs called upon the secular authorities to compel the remission by Jews of debts owed them by those who took the cross.

According to Grayzel (1967: 287), Jews and Judaism figured to some extent, directly or indirectly, in almost every one of the first 20 ecumenical councils.


Numerous other Ecumenical Councils over the centuries dealt with issues related to the Jews.  The 20th ecumenical council (First Vatican) (1869-1870) was called to strengthen faith in response to the challenge of liberalism and secularism, both strongly connected with Jews. The rise of liberalism in America and western European countries led to the emancipation of Jews from medievalism. This council established the doctrine of papal infallibility, partially in response to that challenge. (Grayzel 1967:311)

Other discriminatory policies were directed at Jews throughout the centuries, including forced conversions (frequently involving the kidnapping of Jewish children); locking Jews in ghettos at night so that they could not leave; and requiring Jews to listen to sermons condemning Judaism and accusing them of the killing of Christ.  Thousands of Jews also suffered torture, punishment and death, typically through burning at the stake and quartering (using four horses or oxen to tear a person apart by the limbs), resulting from trumped up charges of kidnapping and killing Christian children in order to obtain their blood for ritual purposes ("Blood Libel"). Similar punishments resulted from charges of stealing and torturing of hosts (wafers representing the body and blood of Jesus used in Eucharist rituals) (see Hsia 1988; Dundes 1991).


One of the most ubiquitous accusations leveled against Jews was for the ritual killing of Christian children in order to provide blood for Satanic Jewish rituals. Hundreds of such accusations mere made, resulting in the torture and death of thousands of Jews. Guldon and Wijaczka (1997:139) document eighty-one cases of ritual murder accusation between 1547 and 1787 in Poland alone: 16 during the sixteenth century, 33 during the seventeenth century, and 32 during the eighteenth century. Trials generally involved the repeated torture of accused Jews until they "confessed" to their crimes. The Strappada (hanging a person by their arms tied behind their backs) was one of several methods commonly used to get a desired confession. Individual accusations (which were all without basis) often resulted in the trial and execution of several innocent Jews, and in some cases in riots that led to the killing of dozens or more Jews and the destruction and looting of Jewish property.




Illustration of a Jew Ritually Torturing a Christian Child





A Jew hung and burned to death between two dogs





The Strappada



The Crusades:


Violence against Jews increased significantly with the rise of the Crusades. The Christian Church launched nine "Holy Wars" against "Infidels" in order to gain control of Jerusalem.  Hundreds of thousands of Christian soldiers invaded the Middle East between 1096 and 1272.  Additional Crusades were also launched against the Cathars in Southern France (1208-1242), the Hussites in Bohemia (1420-1431), and a host of other Papal adversaries.  A central feature of the Crusades was the wholesale killing of non-believers and the destruction of their communities.  The Crusades were bloodbaths, involving even the slaughter of Byzantine Christians by invading Christians from Western Europe.  Jews were also to suffer from this bloodletting.  Many crusaders questioned why they were traveling hundreds of miles to fight Muslims when an even worst enemy --the Jews-- lived within their midst.  This sentiment was expressed quite forcibly by Peter "The Venerable", abbot of Cluny:


"What does it profit to track down and to persecute enemies of the Christian hope outside, indeed far beyond, the frontiers, if the evil, blaspheming Jews, far worse than Saracens, not at a distance, but in our midst, so freely and audaciously blaspheme, trample underfoot, deface with impunity Christ and all Christian mysteries?"


As a result, the mass killing of Jews began with the very first crusade in 1096 and continued until the last crusade was competed.  French Crusaders in 1096 slaughtered thousands of Jews in the Rhineland on their way to Jerusalem.  One group of crusaders attacked the Jewish communities in the Rhineland under the slogan: "Why fight Christ's enemies abroad when they are living among us?" They attacked the synagogue at Speyer and killed all of those who defended it. An additional 800 were killed in Worms. Another 1,200 Jews committed suicide in Maintz rather than be forced to convert to Christianity.  Some 5,000 Jews died in this series of killings. Michaels (2006:64-68) provides a description of the slaughter in the Rhineland taken from both Christian and Jewish chroniclers of the time.


At Mainz, the Crusaders asked, "Why should we let them [the Jews] live? Why should they dwell among us? Let our swords begin with their heads. After that we shall go on the way of our pilgrimage." The Crusaders then approached the Jews' houses. "When they saw one of us, they ran after him and pierced him with a spear." At Mainz also, Count Emicho "showed no mercy to the aged, or youths, or maidens, babes or sucklings -not even the sick . . . killing their young men by the sword and disemboweling their pregnant women."  Albert of Aix confirms the premeditated nature of Emicho's assault on Mainz, adding that "Emicho and the rest of his band held a council and, after sunrise, attacked the Jews . . . with arrows and lances. . . .They killed the women also, and with their swords pierced tender children of whatever age and sex."  . . .


Two days later, at Worms, after a rumor held the Jews responsible for attempting to poison the wells to kill the townspeople, the Crusaders and burghers unsheathed their swords and cried out, " 'Behold the time has come to avenge him who was crucified, whom their ancestors slew. Now let not a remnant or a residue escape, even an infant or a suckling in the cradle.' They then came and struck those who had remained in their houses."  At Mainz, most townspeople fought alongside the Crusaders. But a minority of burghers tried unsuccessfully to help the Jews. In the end, the Jews were blamed for the conflict  between  townspeople  and  Crusaders  and  slaughtered.


So many Jews were slaughtered during the First Crusade that many historians refer to the year 1096 as the "First Holocaust".  Indeed, as Christians were to demonstrate for several centuries thereafter, they took a back seat to no one when it came to killing people in the name of God. In addition, all Christians who went on a crusade were released of all obligations to pay back loans owed to Jews, which bankrupted many Jewish merchants and moneylenders.


Jews were also repeatedly blamed for the various plagues that infected Europe.  The 12th Council of Toledo (681) associated Jews with the plague.  As a result, it enacted 28 laws against Jews and called upon the faithful to "Tear the Jewish pest out by the root."  One of those decrees, according to Michael (2006:213), stated that "Jewish parents who circumcised their children were to have their property confiscated and their noses cut off." Pope Innocence III wrote to King Phillip Augustus of France in 1205 that "when [Jews] remain living among Christians, they take advantage of every wicked opportunity to kill in secret their Christian hosts."



Talmud Trials


The Church also conducted several "Talmud Trials" to determine to what extent the Talmud contained beliefs that could be considered blasphemy.  The Talmud became a central focus of Christian hostility towards Judaism. Beginning in the thirteenth century Church authorities periodically called for the destruction of all copies of the Talmud. In 1240, Pope Gregory IX ordered all prelates and monarchs of Europe to see to it that all copies were handed over to the friars of the two new mendicant orders --the Franciscans and the Dominicans-- who would burn them. The king of France, later to be canonized as St. Louis, had more than twenty wagons filled with the manuscripts, containing more than twenty thousand copies in all, and publicly had them burned. Three centuries later, in 1553, a renewed papal campaign against the Jews was kicked off with the public burning of the Talmud throughout the Papal States.



Selected Examples of Anti-Semitic Actions:


A clear picture of the extent of endemic Christian anti-Semitism can be seen in the list of incidents presented below. Significantly, this list covers less than 250 years and contains only a small fragment of the total number of acts perpetrated by Christians against Jews in Europe during the time period covered by the list. Many more incidents could easily have been included. Moreover, several additional centuries of persecution were to follow. Even with this caveat, the incidents listed below illustrate the extent to which persecution of Jews was a fundamental feature of European Christian society.


Selected Incidents:

1189    A Jewish deputation attending the coronation of Richard the Lionhearted was attacked by the crowd. Pogroms in London followed and spread around England.

1190    All the Jews of Norwich, England found in their houses were slaughtered, except a few who found refuge in the castle.

1190    500 Jews of York, England were massacred after a six day siege by departing Crusaders.

1236    Crusaders attacked Jewish communities of Anjou and Poitou in France and attempted to baptize all the Jews. Those who resisted (est. 3,000) were slaughtered.

1240    Pope Gregory IX puts the Talmud on trial on the charges that it contains blasphemy against Jesus and Mary, as well as attacks on the Church.

1242    24 cart-loads of hand-written Talmudic manuscripts were burned in the streets of Paris.

1242    James of Aragon (France) orders Jews to listen to conversion sermons and to attend churches. Friars are given power to enter synagogues uninvited.

1244    Pope Innocent IV orders King Louis IX of France to burn all copies of the Talmud.

1254    Louis IX expels the Jews from France, confiscates all their property and their synagogues.

1267    In a special session, the Vienna city council forces Jews to wear Pileum cornutum (a cone-shaped headdress, prevalent in many medieval illustrations of Jews). This distinctive dress is an addition to the yellow badges that Jews were required to wear.

1282    John Pectin, the Archbishop of Canterbury, orders all London synagogues to close and prohibits Jewish physicians from practicing on Christians.

1283    Phillip III of France causes mass migration of Jews by forbidding them to live in the small rural localities.

1289    Jews are expelled from Gascony and Anjou (France).

1290    Edict of Expulsion: Edward I expels all Jews from England, allowing them to take only what they could carry, and has all their other property transferred to the Crown.

1305    Philip IV of France seizes all Jewish property (except the clothes they wear) and expels them from France (approx. 100,000 people).

1320:    Shepherds' Crusade attacks the Jews in 120 different localities in southwest France.

1348    European Jews are blamed for causing the plague in the Black Death persecutions. (They were charged with poisoning wells). Massacres spread throughout Spain, France, Germany and Austria. More than 200 Jewish communities were violently destroyed. The residents of many communities were expelled and migrated to Poland.

1349    Erfurt Massacre: 600 Jews burned at the stake in Basel, 140 children forcibly baptized, and the remaining city's Jews expelled. The city synagogue was turned into a church and the Jewish cemetery destroyed.

1370    The Brussels Massacre resulted in the end of the Jewish community in Brussels.

1386    A Jewish boy is accused of plotting against a priest. The mob slaughters approx. 3,000 of Prague's Jews, destroys the city's synagogue and Jewish cemetery. Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia insists that the responsibility lay with the Jews for going outside during Holy Week.

1391    Violence incited by the Archdeacon of Ecija, Ferrand Martinez, results in the destruction of the Jewish quarter in Barcelona. The campaign quickly spreads throughout Spain (except for Granada) and resulted in the destruction of Jewish communities in Valencia and Palma De Majorca. Thousands of Jews are murdered or forced to accept baptism.

1421    Vienna Edict: Persecutions of Jews in Vienna resulted in the confiscation of Jewish possessions, and the forced conversion of Jewish children, with 270 Jews were burned at the stake. All Jews were then expelled from Austria.

1543:   Johann of Kustrin, Margrave of Neumark, revoked the right of safe-conduct for the Jews who were under his jurisdiction. (Singer 2009: 405).

(SOURCE: Timeline of Antisemitism / Wikipedia


Religious Orders:


"Francis of Assisi refused to utter the word 'Jew' lest he soil himself with its filth." (Michael 2006:94)


The fate of Jews was put in the hand of the Inquisition, an institution controlled by the Dominican and Franciscan Orders and dedicated to eliminating Jews by either conversion or expulsion (see Cohen 1982).  On May 7, 1288 Pope Nicholas IV ordered Dominican Inquisitors in France to proceed against relapsed Jewish converts as heretics, (those who had previously undergone forced baptisms)  (Michael 2006:96)


As part of the growing anti-Jewish persecutions that preceded the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the Franciscan, Vincent Ferrer's passionate sermons led to mob attacks between 1411-1413.  During these attacks, the "scourge of the Jews," as he was called in contemporary chronicles, oversaw 20,000 forced baptisms and the conversion of the Toledo synagogue into a church. He also pressured King John to expel Jews from Spain unless they converted. (Michael, p.100)


At Toledo in 1449 conversos (converted Jews) were tortured and burned.  In 1460, a Franciscan monk, Alfonso de Espina called for the establishment of an Inquisition to root out converso heresy and Jewish blasphemy.


The thirteenth-century Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas, considered one of the greatest Catholic thinkers, took the position that the Jews were not only servi (slaves) of the Church, but were also the enemies of Christianity. Aquinas held that the Jews' behavior was no longer determined by the precepts of Scripture but instead by the Talmud, a work written by those "malicious" rabbis who had murdered Jesus.  Paraphrasing the most anti-Semitic of the Church  Fathers, John Chrysostom, Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae referred to Jews as


"Those who blasphemed against the Son of Man . . . [who] had no excuse, no diminution of their punishment. [T]he Jews were forgiven their sin neither now nor in the hereafter, for they were punished in this world through the Romans, and in the life to come in the pains of Hell."


One of the most influential preachers of the fifteenth century was the Franciscan Berthold of Regensburg. Attracting huge audiences for more than thirty years in central and Western Europe, Berthold sermonized against the Jews.  His association of Jews with those whom Christendom directly sought to exterminate --heretics and pagans-- and his virulent rhetoric had a significant impact. Berthold associated the Talmud with heresy, and the Jews with the Antichrist and the devil as the public enemies of Christendom. He argued that it was a crime to let the Jews survive.  He claimed, the "Talmud is completely heretical, and it contains such damned heresy that it is bad that (the Jews] live." (Michael 2006:56)



The Protestant Reformation:


The Protestant Reformation did not provide relief for Jews. Indeed, Martin Luther and other Reformation leaders were vehemently anti-Semitic. Martin Luther lambasted Jews in his infamous On Jews and Their Lies (see Martin Luther). John Eck published a similar treatise entitled Refutation of a Jew-Book (Ains Judenbuechlins Verlegung). Eck fulminated against the "cunning, false, perjured, thievish, vindictive, and traitorous Jews," In his book, Eck explained that Jews needed Christian blood in order to wash away their own blood stains which God had inflicted on them because they had crucified Christ. He concluded that,


"it is no wonder that the Jews now buy the blood of innocent children, just as their fathers had bought the innocent blood of Jesus Christ from Judas with thirty pennies." (Hsia 1991:119-120)



The Catholic Press:


Anti-Semitism increased significantly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the increased secularization and liberation that occurred throughout Western European society.  One aspect of the social and political changes that were taking place was the emancipation of the Jews and their becoming protected citizens of modern European society.  As part of this process there was an increase in Jewish wealth and influence and participation in the growing European intellectual scene.  Many Jews became wealthy entrepreneurs and financiers, as well as leading figures in various literary and scholarly fields.  Much of the anti-Modernist press was associated with the Catholic Church.


The Church crusade against the Jews in the closing decades of the nineteenth century involved two semi-official publications associated with the papacy, plus a large and growing network of Catholic newspapers throughout Europe. The two journals under direct Vatican authority were Civiltā Cattolica (a Jesuit publication) and L'Osservatore Romano.  Both of these journals published virulently anti-Semitic articles blaming Jews as the force behind the secularism and modernism enveloping European society.




La Civiltà Cattolica

(October 1889)





L'Osservatore Romano

(April 1934)


The most influential of these Catholic periodicals, Civiltā Cattolica , was founded at the request of Pope Pius IX and supervised by the popes and their secretaries of state. This Jesuit journal kicked off its long campaign against the Jews in December 1880 with a series of thirty-six fiercely anti-Semitic articles published over the following forty months. The central theme of these articles is summarized by David Kertzer (2001:134):


"We told you to keep the Jews in the ghettoes, to prevent them from coming into contact with Christians, and yet you ignored our warnings and gave them equal rights. Now look what's happened! Thanks to the Jews, religion is everywhere threatened and social disorder spreads. Our only hope of restoring social harmony and economic security is to bring back the special laws that kept them in their place."


Father Giuseppe Oreglia di Santo Stefano, appointed to head the journal by Pope Pius IX, was one of the journal's founders. The Jews, according to Father Oreglia, were at the heart of all modern social ills, a point he expressed openly in his articles in Civiltti Catholica (Kertzer 2001:136)


"The Jews--eternal insolent children, obstinate, dirty, thieves, liars, ignoramuses, pests and the scourge of those near and far-- . . . immediately abused [their newfound freedom] to interfere with that of others. They managed to lay their hands on . . . all public wealth . . . and virtually alone they took control not only of all the money . . . but of the law itself in those countries where they have been allowed to hold public offices."


Father Oreglia added that despite all this the Jews had the nerve to complain that they were being persecuted.


"at the first shout by anyone who dares raise his voice against this barbarian invasion by an enemy race, hostile to Christianity and to society in general."


When Oreglia became ill, leadership of the Civiltā Cattolica passed on to others, in particular to Father Raffaelle Ballerini. In one article written by Bellerini titled "The Jews-Why They Remain Jews", he argued that Jews believed they were ordained to rule the world: "The whole Jewish race  . . .  is conspiring to achieve this reign over all the world's peoples."  Claiming (quite remarkably!) that the Church always treated the Jews with compassion, the Jews, according to Ballerini, displayed


"a remorseless, constant war against the Christian religion and especially against Catholicism. And then [the Jews also began] an unbridled campaign of usury; monopolies, and thievery of every sort, to the detriment of those among whom they have enjoyed and continue to enjoy civil liberties."


For the Jews, Ballerini concluded,


"brotherhood and peace were and are merely  pretexts  to  enable  them  to   prepare -with   the   destruction of Christianity, if possible, and with the undermining of the Christian nations --the messianic reign that they believe the Talmud promises them."


In 1872, L'Unitˆ Cattolica, the Vatican-linked paper in Florence, published one of its earliest articles on the Talmud. The Talmud, it reported, commands Jews to kill Christian children to use their blood for their matzah.


L'Osservatore Cattolico  (a Milanese catholic publication) offered a similar assessment of Jewish perfidy.   During March and April 1892, forty-four articles focused on ritual murder trials in which Jews were accused of killing Christian children to satisfy their lust for Christian blood to be used in Jewish rituals. These articles were reprinted in whole or in part in many Catholic publications throughout Italy, Germany, Austria and France. One of these articles opened with the following statement:


"The trial against a Jew accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy has barely begun, and it has already been established by many unimpeachable witnesses that Jews practice ritual homicides so that they can use Christian blood in making their Passover matzah.  . . .  It only confirms the conviction that the Jews truly do murder Christians to use their blood in their detestable Talmudic and rabbinical rites, and that to help them conceal these crimes, as well as for others no less atrocious, the judiciary is entirely in the synagogue's control."


L'Osservatore cattolico's director, Father Davide Albertario, wrote gratefully of the praise he had received from Pope Leo XIII during a private audience with the pope for the good work his magazine had done:


"I don't know how to tell you how much my soul filled with joy, comforted by His Holiness's smile, how brightened it was by the Sovereign's most beautiful expressions of satisfaction."


In 1934, the Polish Catholic Journal Pro Christo claimed that even after seven generations, converted Jews still gave off a "Jew-stink," due to the relation of Jews to the devil, who smelled like feces (Michael 2006:9).


Given the virulent anti-Semitism disseminated by leading Catholic magazines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is not surprising that Hitler and other Nazis quoted frequently from these periodicals.


Thus, while many tend to view Hitler and the Nazis as an aberration, completely outside mainstream Western thought, the fact is that they represented the culmination of 2,000 years of mainstream Christian teaching and practice. The extent to which Nazi attitudes and behavior towards the Jews fits within the main thrust of Western (Christian) Civilization is aptly summarized by Hilberg (1985: 8-9),


"The destruction of the European Jews between 1933 and 1945 appears to us now as an unprecedented event in history.  . . .  Yet, if we analyze this singularly massive upheaval, we discover that most of what happened in those twelve years had already happened before. The Nazi destruction process did not come out of a void: it was the culmination of a cyclical trend. We have observed the trend in the three successive goals of anti-Jewish administrators. The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The German Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live.  . . . The German Nazis, then, did not discard the past; they built upon it. They did not begin a development; they completed it."



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Kisch, G. (1957). "The Yellow Badge in History." Historia Judaica 19(2): 89-146.

Martin, Luther H. 1989. Roman Mithraism and Christianity. Numen 36 (1): 2-15

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Rembaum, J. E. (1982). "The Talmud and the Popes: Reflections on the Talmud Trials of the 1240s." Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 13: 203-223.

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Stacey, R. C. (1998). "From Ritual Crucifixion to Host Desecration: Jews and the Body of Christ." Jewish History 12(1): 11-28.



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Irony of Ironies

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The Birth of Jesus




When Was Jesus Born?







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President Obama

Needs to Read His Bible!






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