Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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June 01
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MARCH 6, 2011 7:42PM

Did the Jews really kill Jesus? Pope Benedict says no

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 Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict XVI

You know, sitzfleisch really pays off, even after 2,000 years. Last week, Pope Benedict XVI explicitly repudiated the Jewish people’s responsibility for killing Jesus Christ. In the second volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, entitled From His Transfiguration Through His Death and Resurrection, which is appearing just in time for Easter on March 10, the pontiff rather sensibly asks: “How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus' death?" Come to think of it, that bit has always bothered me too. 

The Pope’s new book isn’t exactly revolutionary. His statements essentially reinforce the Nostra Aetate document, which the Second Vatican Council issued back in 1965. This document regulates the Church’s relations with other religions. It denied collective Jewish guilt and opened up Jewish-Catholic dialogue after centuries of distrust and open anti-Semitism. The document states in part:    

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. […] Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”


Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, also worked to improve Jewish-Catholic relations, and was the first pope to visit the synagogue of Rome back in 1986. 


Jesus of Nazareth 


Benedict’s book is a popular work intended to be read by the Catholic faithful, not just by ecclesiastical scholars. According to the Rev. James Martin, an author and Jesuit, "A Vatican Council is the highest teaching authority of the church. Now that you have the pope's reflections underlining it, I don't know how much more authoritative you can get." 

The Pope pays particular attention to the fateful line in the Gospel of Matthew (27:25), which says: “His blood be on us and on our children.” He looks at anti-Jewish statements in John. Benedict argues that this statement was by no means a curse that justified centuries of pogroms and persecution, but more like a blessing. After all, John himself was ethnically Jewish, as was Jesus himself. Instead, the statement “means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is His blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation.” And Jesus’ blood, the pontiff reminds us, “does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all.” And that, it would appear, includes the Jews. So who was responsible for Jesus’ death? The Romans, the priestly hierarchy, the followers of Barabbas, but no Jews currently walking upon this earth. 

Will Benedict’s words have any impact on lingering anti-Semitism among Catholics? Well, the Anti-Defamation League is buying it. In a statement issued on March 2, National Director Abe Foxman said:


The fact that this Pope is a theologian, and has served as a defender of the faith, makes this statement from the Holy See that much more significant for now and for future generations.  He is continuing in the storied tradition of Pope John Paul II in rejecting the calumny of those charges and in taking Nostra Aetate and Vatican II to the next level.


I’m glad we’ve finally got that cleared up. Now can we please see some action on gender equality, celibacy and the married priest issue, and particularly the pedophile scandal? It’s time to take those issues to the next level. I know that the Church moves slowly when it comes to making decisions, but electronic communications and rising literacy rates have shrunk both the world and our attention spans enormously in recent decades. Another 2,000 years is longer than most of us are willing to wait.

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Well, thank heaven for small miracles...

Glad you blogged about it. I just wonder how many times do they need to say the Jews are not responsible for this to have it really make a difference?
I think the idea is that now that the Pope is so explicit and personal about it, Catholic anti-Semites won't have a leg to stand on. Now regarding those NON-Catholic anti-Semites, that might take a little longer.

Come to think of it, waiting almost fifty years to take Vatican II "to the next level" is a bit much.
i agree wholeheartedly with your post and what you state in the comment above. excellent piece, judy. thanks for writing about a topic that has been much discussed among the jewish and not-jewish members of my family.
What you say rings true. It makes me wonder why Foxman is so eager to embrace the Pope's latest statements without some pretty critical followup questions.
Please forgive me for taking this much space but I couldn't resist:

There's stupid, and then there's very stupid, and then there's total ignorance.

The pope's statement on this subject smacks of total ignorance.

After Vatican II, there was an upsurge in anti-Jewish sentiments in many Catholic communities around the world. Every time any Christian body has attempted to redeem their mistreatment of the Jews, those attempts have been followed by increases in persecution. The Church Fathers know this.

By making the statement that all Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, he actually reinforces the belief that "some" Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

In point of fact, there was only ONE Jew who was responsible for the crucifixion.


Jesus planned and implemented measures leading up to his own crucifixion. He sent Judas to Pontius Pilate to rat him out. He essentially told his own disciples to deny him during his passion, so as to preserve the movement he began. When Pilate offered him opportunities to recant the treasonous statements for which he was being tried, he repeated them.

In the popular musical "Jesus Christ, Superstar," which has tempered much of the popular thinking on this subject, it is said that the Jews in Jerusalem (Palestine did not exist yet as a concept) had no law under which they could execute Jesus, but this is not correct. Death by stoning for various sins was actively practiced by the Sanhedrin, and by the common people, a fact documented in the biblical account in which Jesus stops a crowd from stoning a prostitute to death. Biblical accounts support this misstatement.

In fact, the leadership of the Jewish community had the motive, means and opportunity to execute Jesus for heresy....but they didn't do so at least in part because there is no such crime in Judaism as heresy. They had neither the right - nor the law - to convict and execute Jesus for treason because he never made any treasonous statements against the Jewish Kingdom, and treason against Rome was not a crime under Jewish law.

In order for there to be heresy, there must be a prescribed doctrine and, believe it or not, there's no prescribed doctrines in Judaism as there are in Christianity and Islam. Much of what non-Jews believe are Jewish doctrines are, in fact, customs, and the customs change depending upon which Jewish community you're from. There are 613 commandments, but no one - no one - has ever followed all of them, so Jews are accustomed to falling short and to forgiving each other for falling short. (The numbers 6 1 3 are numerologically equal to 10, which is where the concept of the ten commandments comes from. The ten that were on the stone tablets were merely the first ten.)

The idea that the Jews turned Jesus over to the Romans is belied by the actual biblical account of the event, in which Roman soldiers, led by Judas Iscariot, arrested Jesus on charges of treason that were attested to by Judas Iscariot. Later, when the Sanhedrin testified against Jesus – a story of questionable veracity – they simply repeated the facts of the case.

In doing this, Judas was simply following his master's instructions or, if you prefer, he was simply following the course of action that he himself had already determined, with the explicit consent of his master.

The entire story of the Passion and the Crucifixion of The Christ - or at least the version in which the Jews bear the guilt for the Crucifixion - was inserted in the Christian Gospels in order to expunge the guilt of the Roman Empire which, in 312, found itself in the uncomfortable position of having executed the founder of the religion to which that Empire now subscribed.

The Romans needed a fall guy to take the blame for the execution of Jesus, and the Jews were convenient since everyone else hated already them.

That hatred was based upon the role the Jews played as the deniers of Jesus. In the biblical accounts, they are portrayed as having denied Jesus during his life. After his death, they were portrayed as being the persecutors of those who embraced Christianity. Later, they were guilty of refusing to accept at face value the story of a failed Messiah who did not achieve the objectives set forth for the Messiah in the Jewish texts on the subject.

The question, you see, is one hell of a lot more complicated than a bland statement that ALL Jews were not responsible for killing Jesus.

This pope, like his predecessor, is whitewashing history again.

I only wish John Paul the First had lived long enough to tell us what he thought about these things. I rather think we would have gotten a very different answer from one of the few men who deserved the title of “His Holiness.”
It did, yes, seem somewhat odd that this pope felt the need (?) to reiterate what John XXIII already did. r.
You mean he actually read the book?
Sometime between 1958 & 1961, in a Dominican elementary school, my class was taught explicitly, probably by Sr. Marie Annette, O.P., "The Jews did not kill Jesus. The Romans did." She expanded with an explanation of the colonial oppression and manipulation of the Jews by the Romans and pointed out that we obviously don't continue to blame the Romans for Jesus' death because, uh ... well, look where the Vatican is. She may also have been the one who told us, "To be a good Christian, first you have to be a good Jew," but I don't she's the one who conducted a Seder in class around Passover. Too bad Ratzinger never knew her, he might not have so much catching up to do.

Hatred of Jews is entrenched and insidious and not limited to Catholics. Probably not even deepest in Catholics. (KKK et al.) We humans are going to find someone to hate and the Jews are a longstanding tradition and just so handy for some of us. (Just look at them coming back from hell on earth and getting all rich and successful in Israel and all ... there must be something wrong with them.)

(That last is sarcasm in case it's not as obvious as it seems to me.)
The Romans killed an Egyptian Isis Cult Hippy who raged against the machine. Christians, like the New Testament, came much later in reaction to the Temple's destruction and use of its pillaged treasures to build the Coliseum in Rome. Anyone who puts any credence whatsoever on the Fairy Tale cooked up in response to this lives in a world of complete fantasy- one where an Aramaic speaking hippy can give his best buddies nick-names based on Greek puns, despite not speaking Greek (of course, it never happened and was penned by yet another forging, fruading Church Father) and never even have this little "problem" debated while going on and on about how Jews killed ONE OF THEIR OWN when Roman crucifications were a daily occurrence. This Pope is a former Nazi Youth: If there was a White God with a long Beard who picked apostolistic succession- he would NOT pick such a coward ... no real Holy Man would kowtow to Hitler ... wasn't that the point of this non-story to begin with?

When dealing with the Pope and the Fairy Tales of Christ it is highly instructive to read the Catholic Encyclopedia which does go back 16 Centuries (NOT 20!!!!) and allows you to often read the truth between the forging, frauding lies of the scribing Priests.

A terrific book on all of this is Robert Eisenmann (a translator of the DS Scrolls), JAMES, THE BROTHER OF JESUS. It's the most comprehensive out there aside from J. D. Crossan's many books on the subject, incl. JESUS: A REVOLUTIONARY BIOGRAPHY. The latter is an easier read. Both are vital to these discussions.
Sage's comment came up while I was typing but, yeah. considering that Sr. MA was talking to 4-6 graders she was consistent with Sage's accounting, in a very simplified don't-say-anything-about-Jesus-that-might-make-him-look-bad way.
Thanks for an excellent piece of exposition. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story? I was intrigued by one review of the Pope's first volume, where the reviewer said that whenever the "scholar" Benedict came across a piece of historical information that didn't fit Church teachings, he simply ignored it.

I'm intrigued by the Pope's subtle assertion that even if "the Jews" didn't kill Christ, he died FOR them all the same. It sounds that even though they have no guilt, they're still supposed to feel guilty. Le plus ca change...

nerd cred,
"we obviously don't continue to blame the Romans for Jesus' death because, uh ... well, look where the Vatican is."

That's really the whole story in a nutshell!
As I have always maintained, Rome sucks!

But although I tend to like the Jews, I reserve the right to be mad at Israel the nation-state.
What Oahu said!!

If anyone actually believes any of this word of mouth bullshit, I have a bridge and some swampland to sell to you.

Religion was invented when the first fool met the first charlatan.
2,000 years to finally get it right. I'm not even Jewish and I knew it wasn't their fault. It was part of the plan.
It’s a start but it still doesn’t address the way people are indoctrinated into religions, Catholic or not. If the Catholics abandon their prejudices because of this, it will only be because their religious leader told them to. When they learn to think for themselves they won’t need these religious leaders to do their thinking for them.
I was taught solely by priests and nuns until the 11th grade, before Vatican II, and my father through graduate school. As "parochial" as that education was never once do I recall being taught the "official" position of the church was that the "Jews killed Jesus."

It was then and is now a view perpetrated by the ignorant and those who have no idea what "Christianity" has meant to the evolution of moral consciousness--regardless of who is speaking for those views at any historical time.

Fair is fair. Apply this rule to the organized religion as a whole and see where you get.
I'm intrigued by the Pope's subtle assertion that even if "the Jews" didn't kill Christ, he died FOR them all the same. It sounds that even though they have no guilt, they're still supposed to feel guilty. Le plus ca change...

Judy, if it makes a difference, the official position is that he died for everyone and no one should feel guilty, just grateful and be really really good to show your gratitude. My schools were so progressive that we got everyone into heaven following canon law including Jews who really, truly believed they were right and tried real hard to be good and were sorry for their sins. Even Abraham and Moses..

More to the point, you'd be surprised how many Catholics blow off the theology - they know what they know, for good or for bad, and feel Catholic no matter what the pope says. It's the identity that matters for some people, more than dogma.
I love Pope B.'s hat and his logic here....never thought I'd say either thing.
If you're really worried about anti-Semites, I'd not look to the Catholic world in today's, well, world. Look to the mid-East. Look at some of what is taught in Iranian, Egyptian, Palestinian and other middle-Eastern schools. Recall that, at least I've heard it reputably reported, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is a best seller in Egypt. I doubt a future threat to Jews will come from contemporary Catholicism, but I'd bet money it'll come from a, sadly, large part of contemporary Islam.
Unlike many Lefters, I do not believe in collective guilt. Accordingly, even if the Sanhedren, understandably, wanted the Romans to get rid of the guy, it does not reflect badly on the general Jewish Population. Some of whom, were Jesus Supporters to begin with.

However, subsequent 'anti semitic' Western social culture became so for more then one reason. Specifically, the historical Jewish Religion was WAY 'anti-goyim'. Most people have not studied the Talmud from that era, but it is an absolute abomination. Non-Jews were very specifically described as something like Natural Resources for Jews.

My favorite, among many choices from The Talmud, is this. A jew asks his rabbi if it is lawful, upon the death of his non-Jewish neighbor, to approach the deceased's family and state the deceased borrowed such and such an object and ask that it be restored to him.

The Talmud gives this answer. "No, it is not unlawful, as long as the neighboring family does not know you are lying." And I offer this caution. Don't get me started on this subject. It gets really ugly, really fast.
nerd - Re Jesus died for everyone.

I am convinced the Roman Catholic church, among certain authorities, does not support never ending hell. Specifically, at the "End of Time" those in Hell will appeal to those in Heaven for forgiveness. Those in heaven are obliged to provide it.

I was raised Roman Catholic and back in the 1960's my own priest described hell as simply a very distant part of heaven.
zack - You wrote: "When they learn to think for themselves they won’t need these religious leaders to do their thinking for them."

The Roman Catholic Church has much to account for. However, it is clearly the reason we are not, this very day, banging our heads five times a day towards Mecca. I refer to Charles Martel [the battle of Tours] and the two separate 'investitures' of Vienna in later years.

The Roman Catholic Church was the entire repository of Western Civilization for century after century. And I put this to you. The Crusades were a counter attack, and were directly responsible for the cohesion and survival, reprehensible as you might believe it to be, for our current representative forms of government.

Replace the Norman Conquest of Britain with an Islamic Conquest. Don't think it is an absurd notion.