THE house in which I was born, in a small Polish town, stood among a number of other Jewish dwellings which clustered around the old synagogue like a flock of sheep around their shepherd. There were also, to be sure, Christian neighbors living within this group of little Jewish houses, and Jews and Christians lived side by side in peace throughout the year. An identical poverty cemented them together, even as the long, cruel winter froze up their houses in the same cold and the same snow. But when religious holidays came along for the inhabitants of these little houses, relations between the neighbors changed for the worse. Christmas could be lived through, for at that time the Christian neighbors were quite well disposed towards their Jewish friends. But at Easter time relations became strained. A severe crisis was reached around Holy Thursday, when the Catholics would lead a procession with their holy images through the poor Jewish street. During that time not a Jew dared show himself outside the house.
Nevertheless, we managed somehow or other to get along. In the city we Jews shared a joint authority with the Christians, but beyond the city limits the Christians were sole rulers. Under their jurisdiction lay the green forest for which I longed so ardently in the springtime; the broad, sunny meadows and the clear, murmuring lake where I loved to go swimming in summer. In order to get to the lake I would have to pass through the Gentile cobblers’ lane. On one beautiful Sabbath afternoon during the Pentecost, at the beginning of June, — I couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old at the time, — I was wearing my brand-new coat which had been sewed for me at Passover, and I decided to start out for the lake; I was stealing through the cobblers’ lane, skipping from house to house in order to keep clear of the dogs, when the cobblers’ lane Christians ‘surrounded’ me. The ‘Christians’ were three or four boys my own age. They were armed with sticks and had two dogs with them. And suddenly, there was my new hat lying in the dust on the ground, and one Christian was holding me down with my curls in his hand. A second had hold of the tail of my new Sabbath coat and was threatening to rip it off. And they kept asking me a simple question, which I had to answer on the spot: —
‘Did you kill Christ? Did you?’
I must confess to my shame that at that time I had not yet heard of Christ. To be sure, I knew that the God of the Christians was called Jesus, but Christ was an unknown name to me. I didn’t even know whether it referred to a human being.
At first I denied that I had killed the Christ. But I saw that my new coat was in danger. ‘Never mind the curls,’ I thought, ‘but how shall I dare go home to Mama with my new coat in ribbons?’ So I confessed to the murder. I was not the first to plead guilty to an uncommitted crime under the torture of an inquisition, and I said, ‘Yes, I killed Christ.’
Well, they needed no more than that. Anyone with a sufficiently lively imagination can form his own conception of the appearance, when the inquisition had finished executing its sentence, not only of my Sabbath coat but of my body, to say nothing of my side curls!
Now, of course, I know the name ‘Christ.’ The followers of his teaching have seen to it that his name is carried far and wide through the world. But it came to me first not through love, not through good works, nor through faith and compassion, in accordance with the teaching of Jesus the Nazarene; it came to me through fear and terror, through blood and fire. Every Christian holiday in my childhood years was turned into days of fright and suffering. All the torments which the Christian world has made us endure throughout the years of our history are awakened in our blood at the mention of his name. Because of this, that name arouses no pride in Israel, no hope and solace, as might be expected, but only fear, pain, and terror. And these lines are intended as nothing more than a way of justifying myself against those boys of the cobblers’ lane who are still holding me even today by my side curls and the tail of my coat in terror of their savage dogs.
Just as the Gentile world has hated the Jew throughout our long history, so it has hated Judaism a thousandfold more. Christian scholars, with very few exceptions, have made it their concern above all to feed the flames of Gehenna that the Christian world, in the name of Jesus’ cross, kindled for the people Jesus descended from.
We are not here concerned whether Jesus and (he first Christian martyrs were in fact tried and condemned by Jews, or by a Jewish Sanhedrin. The question is quite a different one. The question is — and this is the most important thing — whether historic Jewry and the Jews of today, or of all preceding generations, are responsible for the outrages committed in their time by certain irresponsible elements and corrupt priests. In other words, the question must be put as follows: Are those who we assume were members of the court which tried Jesus and the first Christian martyrs really representative of Jewry, venerated and recognized by the Jewry of history and the Jewry of today as their spiritual teachers and leaders? Or were they unworthy individuals who succeeded in setting themselves up on the shoulders of the people and ruling them through violence, as happens in every community?
If Jesus the Nazarene really existed and lived on earth as we are told in the New Testament, his earthly existence did not consist merely of symbolism, which is what some would persuade us; his life consisted of actions, of day-today contact with his fellow men. Who were the rulers to whose power and decree every Jew in Palestine during the time of Jesus was subject?
At that time there were two powers ruling over the Jews — Rome and the priesthood. The two competed with each other in taxing the life out of the Jewish masses. The representative of the hated foreign power was Pilate, the cruel and tyrannical Procurator, who employed every inhuman means possible to torment the Jewish masses. And what Rome left over was eaten up by a corrupt and degenerate priesthood.
It is neither the first nor the only time that Satan leaped up to the seat of Moses or of Peter; the sanctity of the Synagogue and of the Church has not always been able to guard the institutions of the Lord from the corruption of the demon. But no one of the present day would think of condemning contemporary Catholicism or of decrying the Catholic faith because an Alexander VI or Paul IV once usurped Peter’s chair in Rome. The Jewish Papacy, or priesthood, was neither better nor worse than any other priesthood. The Jewish priesthood numbers great prophets in its ranks. The greatest part of the priesthood consisted of humble folk exploited by the superior clergy and reduced to the status of a class of temple servitors.
The high priesthood in the time of Jesus had reached the lowest level in Jewish history. In Jewish writings of the period or directly after, there have been preserved sufficiently marked hints depicting the high priesthood as exploiting, corrupt, and degenerate Roman agents. Josephus, who was himself descended from the high priesthood and who in his writings points to his heritage with exaggerated pride, delivers one such judgment on the priesthood of his own time or a little before: —
At that time King Agrippa made Ishmael, the son of Piaby, the High Priest, and a war soon arose between the High Priest and the people of Jerusalem. Both had gathered together for themselves a band of the worst elements among the most debased class of people, and these became their leaders. When they quarreled they used the foulest language and assaulted each other with stones — and there was no one to forbid them this — and this was their [i.e., the high priests’] leadership. . . .
They had the effrontery to send their slaves in to the people’s threshing-sheds for them to take away the tithe and the heave-offering, which the High Priest was to have for himself. . . . Thus it came about that the poorest priests died of hunger. — Jewish Antiquities, Book XX, ch. 8.
The great Jewish historian, Graetz, sums up the priesthood in Jesus’ time as follows, from Jewish sources preserved in the Talmud: —
The high priests constituted an exclusive caste which had seized for itself all power over the Jews, both the Jews in the country and those in the Diaspora. Placed in authority by the Roman government, from whom he had bought the high office for himself, the high priest was the only legitimate representative of the Jews in Roman eyes. He received from the Roman rulers all the physical support necessary for imprisonment, the suppression of rebellion, and the confiscation of property. The families of the high priesthood had already seen to it that all legal power should be concentrated in their hands. Every former high priest was entitled to a seat in the great Sanhedrin; in fact, these families actually did fill every seat there with their own people. The competition for the post of high priest was very intense, and every year in order to mitigate it the Procurator would put the position up for auction, in some cases even several times a year. The retiring high priest, of course, straightway occupied the place awaiting him in the Sanhedrin, the place which gave him and his caste control of Jewish life.
The high priests exploited their power for their own advantage. There are proofs in the Talmud of their having enslaved the other priests, while they themselves possessed fantastic riches, accumulated through the exaction of taxes and the payments for the sacrifices brought by the people. They established a monopoly in sacrificial doves, which were the most popular form of sacrifice, since it was the duty of every woman to sacrifice one after bearing a child. They kept their own shops on the Mount of Olives, where they dealt in heave-offerings, contrary to rabbinic law.
It is a fortunate circumstance that there is a passage preserved in the Talmud which is obviously a verse from a song of hate popular in Jerusalem among the people. This song reflects all the contempt that the Jewish masses felt for these tyrants of the priesthood and their bitter rage toward them, which bore no fruit till much later, during the siege of Jerusalem, when the people tore one of them, Hanan ben Hanan, — who had murdered Saint James, Jesus’ brother, — limb from limb and flung his carcass to the gutter dogs. This is the song the Jerusalem masses sang: —
Woe unto us because of their lead-loaded whips,
Woe unto us because of the House of Ananus,
Woe unto us because of their betrayals.
Woe unto us because of the House of Katros (Kantiros)
Woe unto us because of their pens
(with which they inscribe their decrees and betrayals)
Woe unto us because of the House of Ishmael (the House of Piaby)
Woe unto us because of their clenched fists.
They themselves have become high priests,
They have made their sons into treasurers
And their sons-in-law into high officers,
And their servants whip us with whips of lead.
I call upon all those who are acquainted with Jewish law and the procedure of a Jewish court trying a man for his life to bear witness that it is impossible, according to Jewish law, to deliver a judgment similar to that pronounced on Jesus by the Sanhedrin. It is impossible with respect both to the time and circumstances of the trial and to the sentence itself.
According to Pharisaic doctrine, the entire trial was impossible from the very beginning. According to this teaching a court deliberating on a human life cannot be convoked at night, but must meet specifically during the day; it cannot sit on the eve of a holiday, but must do so specifically on a weekday; and it may not convene directly after a man’s arrest, but must wait for some time (forty days) in order to give the defense every possibility of preparing itself. And with respect to the sentence itself— this is so unheard of, so unjust, that it cries aloud to heaven, as has been established by the entire body of Jewish scholarship.
As Professor Chvolson and other Jewish scholars after him correctly observe, Jesus had not been struggling against the genuine, upright Pharisees, even if we were to assume that all the passages against the Pharisees which were placed in Jesus’ mouth during the time of the greatest political dissension are authentic. Jesus was struggling against the false Pharisees, the ‘hypocrites’ who imposed declaratory statutes on the people and did not observe the commandments themselves. Not only Jesus fought against them, but many Pharisaic rabbis themselves did so.
There was also an economic factor mixed in with the hatred of the Pharisees. The ordinary, uneducated man of the people, who could not gain entry to the Pharisaic caste, was handicapped by this in buying and selling food, or in bringing his products to the Jerusalem market.
Jesus, with his sensitive feeling for justice and burning devotion to the poor and the oppressed, who consorted with and was surrounded by the lowest of the low, could not, of course, show any enthusiasm for those of the learned who fenced off God’s teaching for themselves. He neither shut his eyes to this nor stopped up his mouth from expressing his feelings towards them. But in no way could that have carried the dissension so far as to cause them to persecute him for it. In the first place, Jesus never said anything against their doctrines, or against the honest Pharisees. On the contrary, he told the people that the ‘Pharisees sit on the seat of Moses. Therefore shall ye do that which they command you to do, only the other also shall ye not neglect.’ Then he added, ‘It is easier for the heavens and the earth to vanish than for one letter of the Law.’ In no way could he have called forth such bitterness as to make them forget themselves and cause the guardians of the law to break the law they themselves had created.
The New Testament reports that they, the judges of the Sanhedrin, sentenced Jesus unanimously. We know of four Pharisaic members of the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ time. Two we know of from the Jewish sources, Johanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Gamaliel; the two recorded in the New Testament were Rabbi Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Rabbi ben Zakkai was the most beloved disciple of Rabbi Hillel and the guardian of Hillel’s tradition, who based the entire Jewish religion on the single foundation of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’ If this man had been present at the trial he would certainly have protested against that judicial murder, carried out in opposition to all the laws of the Torah. The second Pharisee, Rabbi Gamaliel, who also broke the monopoly on the sacrificial doves introduced by the priests, placed himself on Peter’s side during the latter’s trial and saved him; he would never have assented to the session of the court which tried Jesus.
As for Joseph of Arimathea, who pleaded with Pilate for the tortured body of Jesus in order to give it a Jewish burial — would it have been possible for him to agree to the priestly trial? Or Rabbi Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in secret to carry on a discussion with him — the rabbi who canceled the Passover sacrifice in order to attend the burial of the tortured Jesus, he who placed in Jesus’ grave the same spices he had been saving for his own burial? Even though he might have been at the nocturnal trial of Jesus as a member of the Sanhedrin, is it conceivable that he would have cast his vote for the indictment?
No, neither Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai nor Rabbi Gamaliel, neither Joseph of Arimathea nor Rabbi Nocodemus, nor any of the other Pharisaic rabbis were present at the trial as members of the Sanhedrin, or even knew that such a trial was going to take place.
In that case, who did constitute the Sanhedrin before which Jesus was brought to trial? Matthew, Mark, and Luke are quite clear on this point; the authors of the Synoptic Gospels do not state that Jesus was set before the Sanhedrin of the Pharisees. The account does not mention one word about the Pharisees; the first to make mention of them is the much later John.
Matthew relates: ‘But those who had seized Jesus took him away to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and elders had gathered’ (XXVI. 57).
Mark writes: ‘They took Jesus away to the high priest, and all the high priests and scribes and elders met there with him’ (XIV. 53).
Luke writes: ‘When day broke, the elders of the people all met along with the high priests and scribes, and had him brought before their Sanhedrin’ (XXII. 66).
Not one of them mentions the word ‘Pharisee,’ and we may be quite certain that, considering the mood of the writers of these three books towards the Pharisees, they would surely not have missed making explicit mention by name if they had found the slightest hint that the Pharisees had participated in that session of the Sanhedrin.
We know who the majority of the Sanhedrin were; they were all former high priests who as such were entitled to a seat in the Sanhedrin. At least the elder Hanan and his son Eliezer were present, at the session, not to speak of the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas. And there may have been present a number of former high priests who had occupied the office for a year or less and hence were entitled to a seat. They all belonged to the four or five families we have enumerated, whom the people held in contempt, of which the bitter song about them is evidence. All of them, of course, were Sadducees.
The scribes were present at the trial. And who were they? At one time, during the days of Ezra, directly after the period of the prophets, the word ‘scribe’ meant a lawgiver. The scribes were the successors to the prophets. Ben-Sirah says about them: ‘They are the investigators of the laws and ordinances.’ In the time of Jesus, under the Second Temple, they no longer occupied that position. No doubt what is meant by ‘scribes’ on this occasion is ‘court secretaries’ attached to the Temple-Sanhedrin, which was dominated by the Sadducees. They were a section of the amarcalin (executives, administrators), whose appointments the high priests had divided up among their sons-in-law.
This also applies to the ‘elders of the people.’ An ‘elder of the people’ was no longer a primitive judge, or sheikh of a tribe; the title was merely honorific, bestowed by the high priest on a distinguished citizen. It was unnecessary to be an old man to bear this title. One need not have been old in years at all; one might have been ‘old in wisdom,’ or have distinguished oneself in some respected field. At any rate the word could obviously not have meant judges, or scholars, because there is no indication that it was ever used in this sense at that period. The ‘elders of the people’ were simply citizens entitled to participate in sessions of the Sanhedrin, together with other advisers whom the high priest selected from the lay population to confer with on important matters. They also accompanied committees to the procurator in Cæsarea, or delegations to the imperial seat in Rome. Josephus lists many of them as organizers of the insurrection against Rome. All of them were members of the wealthy aristocracy, and related to the high priest or to respected aristocratic Sadducean leaders.
On the basis of all this, it is possible to form some clear conception of what took place at the trial of Jesus.
At first, according to Mark’s testimony, the high priests wanted to postpone Jesus’ trial till after the holiday, in order to avoid a riot among the people (Mark XIV. 1-2), and to have enough time to bring the Sanhedrin together to prepare the trial in the prescribed manner. All at once they changed their minds. This change could have come about only through pressure from an external force, since a Jewish group never would have dared to disturb the atmosphere of the Holy Day, to which all Jews were equally devoted (see Philo), and risk the danger of provoking an uprising in Jerusalem at a time when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were present, which might have caused much bloodshed.
This stubborn insistence on seizing Jesus at once on the eve of a holiday, and bringing him to trial at night, in order to hand him over to the Roman government for crucifixion, could have been displayed only by the Roman government itself after it became aware of the presence in Jerusalem of this dangerous agitator, whom a great procession of the people had conducted into the Temple and publicly proclaimed as the Jewish king (which is how they understood the word ‘Messiah’).
It is evident that Pilate had ordered the high priest to ignore the risk of a holiday disturbance and pay no attention to the danger of bloodshed, but to seize the agitator at once; and also not to let himself be hampered by any Jewish procedure or any Jewish law, but to place Jesus on trial immediately with a finished indictment and then hand him over to the Procurator, who was the only one who had the right to carry out the sentence of death. The fact that the government had not wished to rely on the high priest’s messengers to seize Jesus, and had these messengers escorted to the garden of Gethsemane by one of their own tribunes and a full cohort of legionaries, proves that Pilate could not have been so unpleasantly surprised on the next day when the Jews led Jesus before him. Unfortunately, however, the agitator had not been preaching revolt against the Roman government or against the Emperor, which is the only thing for which a sentence of crucifixion could have been carried out. On the contrary, he had even said: ‘Render unto Cæsar that which is Cæsar’s,’ and he had personally submitted to taxation. His crime was against religion and against the Temple — and only the high priest could decide on such matters. The only way to avoid sparing the life of this agitator would be to have a trial by the Sanhedrin. Accordingly he was taken off to the high priest instead of being brought bound into the chambers of the Procurator.
He is not set before the Sanhedrin — no, the august Sanhedrin does not sit at the house of the high priest, but in the house beyond ’the slippery stones on the bridge at the entrance to the Temple court.’ The Sanhedrin is not in session tonight; tomorrow, on the eve of a holiday, a session will be impossible. A legal session of the Sanhedrin can be called only on a weekday, and because of this Jesus is brought to the house of the high priest, in the courtyard of Joseph Caiaphas. There is a small courtroom there, in which, to be sure, priests or civilians may be tried for such minor crimes against the Temple as are punishable by the lash. A call is immediately sent out to those members of the Sanhedrin who can be found at once, and who can be relied upon not to make any difficulties about the extraordinary time and place of sitting, and who can also be relied upon to hand down a severe sentence. Those are the Sadducees. (Josephus relates that the Sadducees were far more severe in court than the Pharisees.)
Not one of the Pharisees is called. The former high priests are called in, all of them accredited members of the Sanhedrin. They are all in the great palace of the high priest in office: the ‘scribes,’ the officials of the Temple, perhaps also the interpreters of the law in the Sadducean tradition, and a number of the ‘elders of the people’ — that is, councilors, wealthy aristocrats from the Sadducean families, sons-in-law, brothers-in-law, fathers-in-law of the high priests’ families, all of them high officials in the Temple administration. Many of them dwell in the great house of the high priest himself; a few have come from the provinces or from the rich city of Jericho as pilgrims over the holiday, and are certainly, as is customary, stopping at their relatives’ houses as guests. And it is also very easy to find those who are not living at the palace of the high priest — they are all in the luxurious aristocratic quarter in the topmost part of the city.
The plenum of the seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin was not necessary for this court deliberating on a matter of life and death; a small plenum of twenty-three was sufficient. And these twenty-three members of the Sanhedrin, with the requisite scribes and court officials, are rapidly assembled, without causing any great disturbance to the dangerous slumber of the city. And the prisoner is found guilty of blasphemy against God, not on any testimony offered by impartial witnesses, but by his own words, spoken in the presence of his judges. And in these words he did not explicitly mention God by name, but by a euphemism or substitute. What he did — in the manner of every Jew of his time — was to address God by one of His attributes (power); for this he might have been punished, according to the Jewish law, with thirty-nine stripes. But instead his judges handed down the fatal sentence which became one of the most important factors in the history of the world, and a source of misery and suffering which festers like a perennial sore in the flesh of the nation which bore him as a light unto the nations.
As for the Pharisees, on the second day they and the rabbis were confronted by a fait accompli, just as twenty years later they were confronted by a fait accompli when one of the high priests, Hanan ben Hanan, who was undoubtedly present at the trial also, murdered the brother of the condemned man, Jacob ben Joseph, or Saint James. The one difference was that when Hanan ben Hanan committed that crime the contemporary spiritual leaders of the Jews, the rabbis, had someone before whom they could protest the legal murder — and in fact they did address the sharpest possible protest to Agrippa the Second, the Jewish king, who removed the high priest from office. But on the occasion of the legal assassination of Jesus they did not have anyone to protest to, since the only one to whom they could address a protest and a petition of justice for the murdered was the victim’s executioner himself — Pilate.
Historic Jewry which developed according to the teachings of the Pharisees — that historic Jewry and the Jew of today do not bear any responsibility for a sentence handed down by the small clique of Temple priests which came entirely from the sect of the Sadducees, This Sadducean sect became totally obliterated in Jewish life after the destruction of the Temple.
It is painful to think that everything we know of Jesus dates from at least thirty years after his death, when passions and not facts were already in possession of the floor. This historical silence has enabled honest and adventurous scholars to set up speculative theories of the most diverse kinds, but as a rule it has merely been of service to them in settling accounts with their enemies, the Jews, permitting them to pour out their Satanic hate on the people from which Jesus sprang.
I have the utmost reverence for the authors of the New Testament. As a Jew, I believe with all my heart that many chapters and parables were written in the holy spirit. I am thankful to these men for having enriched Jewish literature with many profound moral passages. The Epistle of the Apostle James is a part of Jewish literature, not to speak of many passages in the Synoptic Gospels — as, for example, the Sermon on the Mount. The war between ourselves and James and Simeon was a war between brothers. And is it so remarkable that Luke, the companion of Paul, began to share the mortal anger and primitive hatred of Paul towards his brethren? That same bubbling Jewish passion with which Paul pursued Jesus’ followers at Damascus was carried over by him after Damascus on to his own compatriots. He infected all those around him with a sectarian passion for his faith, and Paul sacrificed everything for his faith — not only his health and his life, but also his great love for his own people.
And the Pauline creed was victorious over the Jacobite. Not deeds but faith is important. Faith atones for everything, even for Paul’s guilt against his own people.
It is from this Pauline version that everything we possess concerning the life and death of Jesus originates. Is it strange, then, the stubbornness with which this creed has taken Pontius Pilate under its protection and made Israel into the scapegoat for the sin of Jesus’ murder?
If Pontius Pilate had genuinely desired to rescue Jesus from the hands of the Jews, would it have been so difficult for him? Since when had Pontius paid attention to the wishes of the Jewish masses and hastened to give in to them? This man, who had on his conscience thousands and thousands of Jewish lives, who had made the Temple court into a blood bath many times over and mingled the blood of the Galileans with the blood of their sacrifices, who had never omitted a single opportunity of degrading and humiliating the Jews, whom the testimony of Jewish historians like Josephus and Philo makes out to have been proud, arrogant, brutal, venal, and merciless — this man is supposed to have suddenly taken up the cause of a Jewish rebel whom the priests brought before him. He did his best to rescue him from their hands, but, alas! the poor fellow couldn’t manage it, because the Jewish masses were standing outside and demanding the liberation, not of Jesus, but of Barabbas.
If this is so, what is the reason he had Jesus tortured and beaten by his soldiers? Why did he have the crown of thorns and the purple mantle put on him, and make a mockery of him with the inscription ‘King of the Jews’? It was not the Jewish stoning which killed Jesus, but the Roman crucifixion. And to ascribe to Pontius Pilate the Jewish custom of washing his hands after the murder of Jesus appeals to common sense just as much as to say that Hitler would rend his garments and sit in mourning over a Jew murdered in Nazi Poland.
No, it is not the Jews of that time, and certainly not the Jews of today, who are to be held responsible for the murderous deed committed against Jesus of Nazareth! The blame for this is to be laid at the door of Rome, as none other than Tacitus himself testifies in the only place he mentions Jesus’ name. In connection with Nero’s outrages against the Christian martyrs he innocently writes: ‘Christ, the founder of the religion of that name, was executed by Pontius Pilate as a criminal.’
And at the beginning of the second century this was the accepted opinion among the pagans and throughout the Roman Empire. It was only later, with the spread of the new faith, that the guilt for Jesus’ death was placed on the shoulders of our race.
The Jewish admixture in the new church was so strong that the outer pagan world could not form any clear line of demarcation between Jews and Christians. The contempt the pagan world had shown for Judaism had of course been carried over to that branch of Jewry calling itself Christian, after the name of a ‘criminal’ who was known as ‘Christ,’ whom Pontius Pilate had executed. Even the purely pagan element that went over to Christianity were so Judaized before their conversion that they were also without more ado cast into the cauldron seething over the flames of Gentile hate which had been kindled for the Jews. It must not be forgotten for a moment that in the first century the synagogue was the threshold to the church — to say nothing of the church in Jerusalem, at the head of which stood Saint James. And even Paul, who went out to the Gentiles, could never find any Gentiles willing to listen to him in the temples of Zeus or Aphrodite, Venus or Diana, nor even in the philosophic porches at Athens. It was only in the synagogue that he could find his Gentiles. Because of this, no matter how many times Paul renounced the Jews, — ‘and now I shall go out unto the Gentiles,’ — as soon as he arrived at a city he would look for the synagogue.
What sort of ‘Gentiles’ were they, who could be found in the synagogue? They were the ‘Gentiles’ who ‘were seeking out God ‘ — that is, the Judaized pagans. The translation of the Old Testament into Greek, as well as other Jewish writings written in Greek or translated into it, bore its fruit on a soil ripe for the Jewish doctrines. Many pagans began to seek out the Lord. These were the pagans who besieged the synagogue, listened to rabbinic homilies, and ‘searched for God.’ In Jewish writings they were referred to as ‘the pious ones of the nations of the world ‘ — and were thought to be entitled to their portion in the next world. They were the centre of the war which broke out between the Jerusalem church and the Pauline church — on the question of circumcision and other burdensome Jewish rituals.
These Gentiles were found on the most diverse levels of society, from the very lowest to the wealthiest and most aristocratic families. They often penetrated even as far as the insulated entourage of the Emperor himself; Poppæa, first the mistress and then the wife of Nero, was one of these God-seeking pagans (it is mentioned somewhere that she was officially converted to Judaism). Paul was sent to them as the apostle to the uncircumcised. Many of them were Judaized to such an extent that they insisted on being circumcised; they also kept certain other Jewish commandments, and in this way were distinguished from the other sensible Christians. Paul, whose goal was the establishment of a unified church, declared himself against them, and castigated them in his epistles.
In order to win over these pious Judaized pagans from Judaism, and elaborate a unitary religion accessible to every pagan and founded not on deeds but on faith alone, it was necessary to sever the bond which still connected Judaism with the new religion. It had to be demonstrated that from the very beginning the divine mission of Jesus met with obstacles, not from the pagans and the Gentiles, but specifically from the Jews. The people whom God had selected from among the nations for the sake of Jesus had been so stiffnecked in rejecting the Messiah that God had rejected them and poured his wrath out upon them. And of course it was necessary to transfer the guilt for the murder of Jesus from his pagan executioner Pontius Pilate to a Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, or Jewry as a whole.
This is not intended to mean that Jesus met with no opposition at all from the Jews, or that they were prepared to accept him as the Messiah. Beyond any doubt Jesus encountered severe opposition to certain of his acts and speeches. There is no question here of justifying the Jewish opposition, and a Jew living today certainly need assume no responsibility for it.
The community into which Jesus was born was impoverished, but well ordered. Here is how Josephus describes it: —
As for ourselves we inhabit a land which does not lie along any sea. We are not concerned with commerce, nor do we associate with people connected with these two occupations. The cities in which we live are far from the sea. We possess a fertile land which we try to cultivate for our inhabitants. Our chief concern consists of giving our children a good education. We regard that as our most essential duty. — Against Apion Jesus was born into an ordered community ruled by laws and decrees. He knew very well what to expect in laying hands on any of the laws or traditions which so much of their blood had made sacred for the people. Jesus was prepared to pay for the mission in which he had such holy faith with not merely his life, but his agony and torment. He had foretold it often, and he did not break faith. What befell Jesus among the Jews would have befallen him in any other community of the ancient or modern world if he had come to lay it asunder. But what is at issue here is not the price Jesus paid for committing a crime against his own society. The point is that Jesus paid this price in utter guiltlessness. He committed no crime that might have justified the high price. Jesus did not come to tear asunder the society he lived in; on the contrary, he came to strengthen, to secure, and to extend it. Jesus was not a Christian; he was a Jew.
It is true, of course, that Jesus did and said certain things which might have called forth excitement among the scholars and had him brought to judgment — to give them an explanation, for instance, of the desecration of the Sabbath, which as a matter of fact in this case was in complete harmony with Jewish law. Not so easy to accept were his angry responses to the question concerning ritual ablution, or his consorting with women of base and sinful conduct. But it was not his failure to wash his hands before eating (which is a tradition, not a law), nor his consorting with publicans and sinners; it was not even his calling the Temple a nest of murderers, nor his saying that he would destroy the Temple in three days and then rebuild it; nor was it his declaring that he would be sitting on the right hand of Power, in which he did not utter God’s name but expressed it after the manner of every Jew as ’power’ — not one of these offenses called for the penalty of death. All the minor ‘crimes’ were punishable with thirty-nine stripes at most, or a pronouncement that the miracles in question were accomplished with the power of the devil. There were other respected rabbis who committed similar crimes, for which they were flogged, without losing any of their esteem in Jewish eyes — the confession of sin was Jewish custom. But, to balance all that, Jesus held discourses and expounded parables that taught the world of the love and the fear of God, of the resurrection of the dead, and of the Kingdom of Heaven, and many other things which not only are in harmony with Jewish teaching and tradition, but are of its essence, profoundly rooted in the Jewish soul.
I venture to say that the Jews of today have a deeper spiritual communion with the primitive Christian church of Jerusalem than with the apostate Sadducean sect which indicted and sentenced Jesus. Our entire past before Paul was a bond with the primitive church, as well as the whole Jewish conception of the immortality of the soul, which the Sadducees did not accept. Rome vanished away like melted lead in the furnace of the new Christian faith, and so also did the Sadducees. The rituals in the Temple were the essence of their faith, and when the Temple collapsed and the sacrifices came to an end they also ceased to be. The survivors mingled with the pagans or were, no doubt, submerged in the sea of Gentiles that poured through the gates of the new faith which Paul had thrown open.
While the Temple was still standing in all its splendor, and wreaths of smoke were still curling up from the sacrifices on the altar, the Pharisaic rabbi, Johanan ben Zakkai, in the midst of the tumult of insurrection against Rome, slipped out through the gates of the beleaguered city in a casket like a corpse, and presented himself to Vespasian with a single request: he asked for the city of Yabneh and its learned men! Through this he found a Jewry that could live without a Temple and without Jerusalem. Instead of a material temple hewn out by hand, he set up a shrine dedicated to God in the hearts of Jews. The Torah and the ethical law — that is the new fatherland which the Jew can carry with him wherever he may be driven. And it. is that new fatherland, that new temple which Johanan set up in our hearts, which has preserved us till this day.
On Cæsar’s throne in Cæsar’s city there sits the new Pontiff Maximus, the vicar of the Jewish fishermen from Capernaum. In place of a corrupt priesthood and a semi-idolatrous caste of Sadducees a purified and refined Judaism has emerged. Those guilty of Jesus’ death have received a just punishment; they have been annihilated and blotted out. The bonds uniting the two faiths have been sundered. The child has been cut loose from its cord. And even though they spring from the same seed and are both intertwined about the ark of the covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and the Prophets — nevertheless both faiths, the Jewish and the Christian, stand distinct in all their forms.
Why cannot a bridge be thrown between the two faiths, a bridge between two great moral forces whose essence is professedly a belief in God — a bridge that shall rest on the twin pillars of love of God and love of Man?
The bridge could not possibly have been built in the Old World; there were too many painful memories in the past and evil deeds in the present. America, which itself arose out of religious persecution, and was founded and nurtured in the highest ideal of divine aspiration imminent in the two faiths — America, which has produced the greatest Amos of modern times in the figure of a new prophet, Lincoln, and which has become the only haven of God in a world steeped in its own sinful blood and the only moral force of a world in upheaval — it is America whom God has chosen to fulfill the new religious mission entrusted to its hands.