There have been various attempts to define how the terms anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism differ from each other. Many have followed political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt who, in her The Origins of Totalitarianism, made a sharp distinction between modern and quite often openly atheist and anti-Christian anti-Semitism and “the old religious Jew-hatred” based on traditional forms of Christian anti-Judaism (New York: World Publishing Company, 1951, p. 7). This distinction captures the idea that modern anti-Semitism has to do with racial theories that emerged in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, while more traditional Christian forms of anti-Judaism have focused on Judaism as a religion.

However, the distinction between modern, secular, and racial anti-Semitism and Christian, religiously motivated anti-Judaism is not as complete as has been suggested. Uriel Tal has argued that modern anti-Semitism had both religious and anti-religious roots and was able to attract the support of the masses only when racial theories were connected to the classical themes of Christian anti-Judaism (“Religious and Anti-Religious Roots of Modern Anti-Semitism,” in Religion, Politics and Ideology in the Third Reich: Selected Essays, by Uriel Tal, pp. 171–190; New York: Routledge, 1984). It has become clear that the rise of modern, racial anti-Semitism cannot be aptly explained if we do not take into account earlier forms of religious, racial, economic, and political anti-Semitism (William I. Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

According to John Gager, anti-Semitism designates hostility against Jews by complete outsiders, while Christian anti-Judaism is a matter of theological and religious disagreement that reflects the strong family ties different early Christian groups had with Judaism (1983, pp. 8–9). Gager also makes a distinction between “intra-Jewish polemic” and anti-Judaism and thus conveys a view that has become much used in recent discussions of the relationship between the New Testament (NT) and anti-Judaism.

The idea that the polemic against Jews in the NT is another variant of intra-Jewish polemic of the time echoes the current scholarly consensus that Jesus and his followers should be placed in the matrix of the manifold Second Temple Judaism. From this perspective, Luke Timothy Johnson has compared the NT’s polemic against Jews to the polemic between different Second Temple Jewish groups and concluded that “the NT’s slander against fellow Jews is remarkably mild” (1989, p. 441). According to Craig Evans, the NT’s polemic continues—even if in a milder form—the prophetic criticism of the Hebrew Bible, while the shift from the in-house criticism to “bludgeoning” of outsiders takes place only after the NT writings (Evans and Hagner 1993 , p. 6.)

These comparisons are helpful in putting the NT’s polemic against the Jews into a wider socio-rhetorical and historical context. However, even if all the NT writers were Jewish—a debated assumption, for example, in the case of the writers of Mark and Luke-Acts—it does not follow that the NT’s polemic could be completely separated from Christian anti-Judaism. The notion that NT writings cannot be anti-Jewish because their writers themselves were Jews overlooks a well-known phenomenon that disagreements between members of the same group quite often lead to growing alienation and even hostility and hate. Proximity does not exclude antagonism but, on the contrary, quite often fuels and escalates it. The much discussed phenomenon of “Jewish anti-Semitism” or “self-hating Jews” is a case in point, how some Jews, rightly or not, have come to be seen as enemies of their own people by other Jews (Levine 2006 , p. 105).

Furthermore, the distinction between inside and outside polemic can be maintained only if the meaning of a literary work is seen to be defined solely by the intentions of its authors and its original historical context. The rise of various reader-oriented literary theories in recent decades has suggested, however, that this view is too simplistic and that due weight should be given the reader’s input into the interpretation process. The emergence and use of various NT writings and eventually the NT canon in an increasingly Gentile context meant that the same material that originated in a context of inner-Jewish disputes could be interpreted in anti-Jewish ways without any change in wording (Donaldson 2010 , p. 150).

Ambivalent Portraits of Jews and Judaism in Some NT Writings.

The portraits of Jews and Judaism in NT writings are much more ambivalent than is often acknowledged in the current research that emphasizes the Jewishness of all NT writings. This observation bears directly on the evaluation of the relationship between anti-Judaism and the NT.


It is well known that Paul’s stance toward the law was often ambiguous (Heikki Räisänen, Paul and the Law; 2d ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1987). Paul himself quite clearly expresses his continuing identification with the people of Israel in Romans 9:2–5, but his letters were directed to congregations where Gentile Christ believers were prevalent. In this situation, Paul’s ambivalent statement about the law (Gal 3:10–14) or his words about the Jews who killed Jesus and persecute Christ believers and thus deserve God’s punishment (1 Thess 2:14–16, regarded as an interpolation by some scholars) open the way for the denunciation of Jews and Judaism. As Terence Donaldson remarks, “in his letters, Gentile readers encountered a portrait of Torah religion that no Jews would recognize and that would inevitably produce misapprehension and misunderstanding” (Donaldson, p. 138).


The remark in Mark 7:3, “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,” suggests that at least some in Mark’s audience, if not the writer too, were Gentiles. This perspective is also seen in Mark’s treatment of various details of the Jewish law (Wilson 1995, pp. 36–46) Mark’s position as an outsider in relation to the law is most clearly seen as the Markan narrator comments on Jesus’s words in Mark 7:19. First, Jesus says that what goes into a person does not defile, and, after these words, the narrator adds an explanatory remark, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” This comment in practice cancels out Jewish food laws. However, because food regulations continued to be a recurrent topic in various early Christian controversies long after Jesus’s death (Acts 10–11; Rom 14:1–4; Gal 2:12), the comment in Mark 7:19 probably does not represent the position of the historical Jesus but is a later development occasioned by the increasing number of Gentile believers in early “Christian” communities. In this kind of context, such texts as the parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1–12), with its closing words, “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others,” could easily be read as supporting the replacement of Israel as God’s vineyard by the new community of Jesus’s followers, even though Mark does not spell this out in his narrative.


Matthew’s Gospel is often described as the “most Jewish” of all the Gospels, but still Matthew’s position in relation to Jewish law is fiercely debated among scholars.

Some scholars agree with Anthony Saldarini who describes the Matthean community as a Law-observant community and interprets Matthew’s polemic against the scribes and the Pharisees (Mat 23) as an intra-Jewish debate (Anthony J. Saldarini, Matthew’s Jewish-Christian Community; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994, pp. 124–164). Other scholars emphasize the newness of Matthew’s description of Jesus as the sole authoritative interpreter of the Torah and claim that Matthew signals a break with different strands of first-century Judaism (Douglas R. A. Hare, “How Jewish is the Gospel of Matthew?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 62 [2000]: 264–277). The end of the Gospel (Matt 28:16–20) shows that Jesus’s message is meant for all people, including Gentiles, and that baptism is crucial for those who become disciples, whereas circumcision is not mentioned here at all. This indicates that even Matthew is aware of and takes part in the development that led to the gradual partition of most Christian communities from their fellow Jews.


Joseph B. Tyson has summarized his review of scholarship on Luke-Acts and Judaism by saying that there is “an impressive if generally unacknowledged agreement” that “there are both pro-Jewish and anti-Jewish materials in Luke-Acts” (1999, p. 140). Those who want to emphasize the continuity of Luke-Acts with Judaism find support for their case in Luke 1–2, where different characters personify righteous Jews who see in Jesus the fulfillment of the scriptures. However, especially the end of the double work in Acts 26:26–27 supports those who urge that NT scholarship should not explain away the anti-Jewish potential in Luke’s portrayal but accept this portrayal as “a condemnation of them [the Jews] for rejecting the offer of salvation in Christ (for which God has rejected them) and for being Christ-Killers” (Sanders 1998 , p. 311). Tyson evaluates these two opposing trends in Luke-Acts from the point of view of the Gentile implied reader of the work, “who would find in the text much that would confirm a positive view of the Jewish people… [but] would finally be persuaded to agree with the negative judgment that Paul expressed through the quotation of Isaiah 6 in Acts 26:26–27” (Tyson, p. 145).


The attitude of the Johannine Jesus to the temple, worship, the Sabbath, circumcision, the revelation at Sinai, law, Moses, and Abraham is highly ambivalent, thereby implying a growing separation from Jewish ethos (Hakola 2005, pp. 215–221). In John, the Jewishness of different festivals and customs is underlined (e.g., 2:6; 4:9; 5:1; 6:4), and the Johannine Jesus refers to the law as “your law” (8:17; 10:34; cf. 7:19, 22; 15:25) or to Abraham as “your father” ( 8:56). This is in line with how John uses mainly the term “the Jews” for Jesus’s opponents. The indiscriminate use of the term “the Jews” shows that, even in those instances where “the Jews” could be understood as a specific group of Jewish leaders or Judeans, the conflict between these groups and Jesus is raised to a new and more general level (Hakola, pp. 225–231).

Scholars have quite commonly explained John’s harsh portrait of Jews and Judaism by placing John in a context in which the post-70 C.E. rabbinic movement persecuted early Christians and finally expelled them from the synagogue (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2; John L. Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. 3d ed.; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2003). However, the external evidence for this kind of conflict is meager, and many scholars are now revising their views concerning the influence and power of the early rabbinic movement (Hakola, pp. 41–86). In light of these revisions, it is simply misleading to suppose that the rabbis were the instigators of any kind of systematic oppression of the suspected heretics in general, or early Christians in particular. It is preferable to see in John’s ambivalent portrayal of Jews and Judaism a more prolonged and gradual process of separation than a traumatic and one-time expulsion from the synagogue.

The earlier sketches illustrate that the seeds for the development that led groups of Jesus’s Jewish followers to turn into more and more Gentile Christian congregations were sown, at least to some extent, in the writings of NT. If this development was well under way, it is all the more complicated to make an exact separation between insider and outsider polemic and locate the shift from the former to the latter in the post-NT period.

The Passion of Jesus and the Jews.

The passion narratives of the Gospels provide a framework that has a strong influence on how different individual Gospel passages are read. It is clear that crucifixion was a Roman way to execute in a most brutal and humiliating manner those who were regarded as criminals or political troublemakers. It is probable that the role of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, jointly with the Jewish priestly establishment close to him, was great in Jesus’s execution. However, scholars have long been aware that one of the major trends in the passion narratives is to emphasize the involvement and responsibility of Jewish leaders or sometimes even Jews in general in Jesus’s crucifixion.

Mark’s depiction of Jesus’s trial before the Jewish council (Mark 14:53–65) is problematic historically but contains a clear apologetic tendency to prove that Jesus was unjustly sentenced to death (Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007, p. 699). The trial scene narrates that the chief priests had Jesus arrested and handed him to Pilate “out of jealousy” (15:10). A clear tendency is to show that the reasons for Jesus’s death were primarily religious, even though it was most probably the political aspects of Jesus’s public activity that caught the eye of Roman officials and their priestly allies.

In his account of Jesus’s trial before Pilate (15:1–15), Mark illustrates how Pilate believes Jesus to be innocent while the pressure from the chief priests and eventually from the crowd manipulates Pilate to condemn Jesus to death (Collins, p. 713). The amnesty of Barabbas (15:6–15) further underlines the presentation of Jesus’s innocence and the culpability of those who desired his death, even though there is no evidence outside the Gospels for a custom to release a prisoner during festivals.

The tendency to present Jewish leaders as culpable for Jesus’s death is not restricted to the passion narrative. In the beginning of his Gospel, Mark presents a series of conflict stories (Mark 2:1—3:6), which culminates, after Jesus has healed a man on the Sabbath, in the Pharisees and the Herodians conspiring on how to destroy Jesus (3:6). While the death sentence was not routinely enforced in the case of Sabbath transgressions in Jesus’s time (Damascus Document 12:3–6. m. Sabb. 7:1, m. Sanh. 7:8), the willingness of these groups to kill Jesus contributes to an important feature in Mark’s narrative plan whereby Jewish religious authorities act as one character in opposing Jesus and finally in handing him over to be crucified (Wilson, pp. 38–39). However, it is noteworthy that the Pharisees do not appear in Mark’s passion narrative at all, and in Matthew and John only in passing (Matt 27:62; John 18:3; cf. also John 11:45–52). This probably reflects the Pharisees’ limited historical role in the final events leading to Jesus death.

Other evangelists accentuate in various ways the Jewish responsibility for Jesus’s death. Matthew adds the scenes of Pilate’s wife’s dream and begging of her husband not to harm Jesus (Matt 27:19) and of Pilate’s washing of his hands (27:24), both of which highlight how unwillingly Pilate takes part in Jesus’s execution. In this connection appears a notorious act where “the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ ” (27:25).

In the Gospel of Luke, Pilate pronounces three times his verdict of Jesus’s innocence (Luke 23:4, 13–14, 22). Luke also introduces a scene in which Jesus appears before Herod Antipas who also testifies to Jesus’s innocence (23:15). In various speeches in Acts, the blame for Jesus’s crucifixion is repeatedly put on Jews (Acts 3:12–20; 4:10).

In John, the conflict between Jesus and his opponents, who are mostly called “the Jews,” is developed in a consistent way already from the beginning of the narrative. It is noteworthy that Jesus’s words to his opponents, “You are from your father the devil,” are directly connected to the theme of Jesus’s death (John 8:44). The devil is called “a murderer,” and in the course of the dialogue in John 8:31–59 even the Jews who initially are said to believe in Jesus (8:31) are exposed as seeking to kill him. The Johannine Jesus here lumps the believing Jews together with the Jews who openly seek Jesus’s death in such a way that these different groups lose their distinctive characteristics (Hakola, pp. 180–187).

We should not underestimate the power of the passion narratives to direct the reader’s interpretation of other Gospel materials. The myth that the Jews are “Christ killers” has had far-reaching and tragic consequences for Jewish-Christian relations (Cohen 2007). In light of the larger narrative framework of the Gospels, individual words and scenes are easily interpreted in an anti-Jewish way. As such, it is defensible that there are, in the background of the Gospel controversy stories, genuine disputes between Jesus and his fellow Jews. However, these disputes were taken out of their original context and systematized as a part of the narrative plot that accentuates Jesus’s disagreements with his contemporaries and presents these disagreements as a main reason why Jesus was killed. Through this process, inner-Jewish disputes and polemic were placed into a literary context in which the words, first spoken to Jews, were quite easily understood to be directed against Jews (Levine, p. 111).

Anti-Judaism in the Critical Study of NT.

Beginnings of Critical NT Scholarship.

Many recent studies have revealed how anti-Jewish thought models have found their way into the academic study of the NT from its beginnings. Johann Salomo Semler (1725–1791), who has been described as “the founder of the historical study of the New Testament” (Werner Georg Kümmel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems. Nashville: Abingdon, 1972, p. 68; English translation of Das Neue Testament: Geschichte der Erforschung seiner Probleme, 1970), in his writings advocated the free investigation of each of the NT writings in their own, distinctive historical contexts. However, Anders Gerdmar has revealed how many anti-Jewish themes that became prominent among later scholars already appeared in Semler’s writings (Gerdmar 2009, pp. 39–49). Semler described the Jews and Judaism as the foil for Christianity: The Old Testament has a Jewish-national character, and the Jewish religion is characterized by particularism and outward worship, while Christianity as the true religion supersedes both Jewish and Gentile religions and is, therefore, truly universal. Despite his tendency to denounce the Old Testament and the religion of the Jews, Semler, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, fought for religious tolerance, publicly defended Jews, and argued against anti-Jewish prejudices (Gerdmar, p. 27). This situation shows that there is not always a direct continuation from theological anti-Judaism to political anti-Jewish actions, a paradox that is typical of some other scholars too.

The theology of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) exemplifies how some forms of Christian theological anti-Judaism may present appreciative statements of Old Testament religion, and, at the same time, provide a distorted and biased portrait of Judaism in Jesus’s time. Herder describes the Jews as “the original carriers of divine revelation” and the religion of the patriarchs as “the pure religion of the fathers” that was genuinely universally minded (Gerdmar, p. 53). However, Herder develops the hypothesis that Judaism degenerated after Moses and turned into particularistic, legalistic, and ritualistic religion that only Jesus was able to restore. In subsequent scholarship, the degeneration hypothesis was widely used to preserve the continuity between the Old Testament and Christianity, but there is no place for the positive role of later forms of Judaism in this scheme.

It is now well documented how anti-Jewish themes and structures, presented already at these early stages of critical biblical studies, continued to appear in the works of such leading biblical scholars as Wilhelm M. L. de Wette (1780–1849), Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792–1860), David Friedrich Strauss (1808–1874), and Ernst Renan (1823–1892) (Heschel 1998, pp. 106–161; Gerdmar, pp. 77–131). De Wette developed the degeneration hypothesis by making a distinction between Hebraism and Judaism. Hebraism is characterized by practical monotheism and love for truth and becomes evident in the first books of the Pentateuch and the Prophets, whereas the legalistic and particularistic Judaism started in the Babylonian exile with the compilation of the book of Deuteronomy (Gerdmar, pp. 79–83). These theological ideas were coupled with the philosophically based racial distinction between Oriental and Western cultures when Baur applied the dialectical philosophy of history of Georg W. G. Hegel (1770–1831) to the study of early Christianity. In Baur’s grand historical scheme, Judaism becomes the antithesis of Christianity and embodies the Orient with its empty ritualism, external ordinances, inward nationalism, and particularism. In contrast, Christianity is universal, filled with the spirit of freedom, and continues the best Western traditions established by the Greeks (Kelley, pp. 64–88).

Pharisees and the Degenerated Late Judaism.

Susannah Heschel has shown how Abraham Geiger (1810–1874) was one of the first who offered a thorough criticism of the anti-Judaism evident in mainstream biblical scholarship. While Geiger’s scholarly work has often been dismissed by Christian scholars as apologetic, Heschel proves how Geiger anticipated the major scholarly trend of the last decades of the twentieth century by presenting Jesus consistently as a Jew, and even as a Pharisee, whose message was not unique in his Jewish context and who did not break with Judaism (Heschel 1998, pp. 127–161). Geiger demonstrated that Christian scholarly portraits of first-century Judaism in general and the Pharisees in particular were based to a great extent on uncritical reception of hostile attacks against the Pharisees in the Gospels (e.g., Mt 23) and the selective use of historical sources. Geiger also saw clearly that the Christian religious faith in Jesus’s unique status is quite often turned into a historical argument, in which case “the Judaism of his time must be portrayed bleakly so that he rises radiantly above it” (translation quoted from Heschel 1998, p. 196).

Responses to Geiger’s challenge reveal how deep seated a traditional portrait of the Pharisees—and consequently all Jews—as dishonest, arrogant, and hypocritical was among Christian scholars. One of the most vehement critics of Geiger was Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918). Wellhausen’s rebuttal of Geiger’s views on the Pharisees appeared already in 1874, but his quite short book was translated into English only in 2001, with the publisher acclaiming it as “a masterpiece of interpretation” and “a milestone in biblical studies” that “provides a firm foundation for understanding Judaism’s influential Pharisees and Sadducees” (Julius Wellhausen, The Pharisees and the Sadducees: An Examination of Internal Jewish History; Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2001; English translation of Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer: Eine Untersuchung zur inneren Geschichte, first published in 1874, 3d ed. 1967).

Wellhausen continues the Christian tradition that presents Judaism in legalistic terms by saying that “the Pharisees killed nature through statute” and thus “left no place for the conscience” (pp. 14–15). In his writings, Wellhausen develops a theory of degenerated “late Judaism,” a concept that is indebted to de Wette’s distinction between Hebraism and Judaism (cf. above). The Pharisees become the prime examples of late Judaism when Wellhausen colorfully states, “the once young and fermenting wine settled on the lees” (p. 15). Wellhausen rebuts the claims against the authenticity of Jesus’s vehement condemnation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 by saying that “even a Jew will not deny that the wrath in Matthew is justified” (p. 113). This wrath is without doubt based on Wellhausen’s description of the Pharisees as the “most outstanding representatives of Jewish educational arrogance” who are “very unattractive as soon as they set themselves up as models for everyone” (p. 16).

Geiger’s criticism against biased portraits of the Pharisees and Judaism was advanced by later Jewish scholars who tried to demonstrate that the Pharisees were the very opposite of what Christian scholarship says about them. These Jewish scholars were often quite disillusioned by the reception of their recurrent criticism among Christian scholars. For example, Israel Abrahams wrote in 1924 that Matthew’s attack against the Pharisees “belongs to a period later than Jesus…[and] is too indiscriminate to be effective. It has been often pointed out how forcibly Pharisaic leaders themselves satirized and denounced hypocrisy.…It is disappointing to have again and again to argue this point” ( Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, 2d Series; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1924; repr., Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2004, pp. 30–31).

Transcendent Judaism.

George Moore (1921) and later E. P. Sanders (1977, 33–59) have shown that these early Jewish critics of Christian scholarship were right and that Christian theological anti-Judaism continued to flourish in twentieth-century NT research. They have pointed to the influential interpretation by Ferdinand Weber (1836–1879), who shared a common understanding that legalism is the essence of Judaism. For Weber, the logical conclusion from this is that, in Judaism, God’s holiness is emphasized to the extent that God becomes absolutely exalted above this world and separated from human beings. Moore and Sanders demonstrate how the idea of the remoteness of God was variously developed in subsequent scholarship by such scholars as Emil Schürer (1844–1910) and Wilhelm Bousset (1865–1920). Bousset, a leading figure in the history of religions school of biblical studies, asserts that the God of Judaism in Jesus’s time was withdrawn from the world, which justifies the definition of Judaism as “an abstract, transcendent monotheism” (Moore, p. 242). This idea gained widespread circulation among NT scholars, especially because it was adapted and developed further by Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976), one of the most influential biblical critics in the twentieth century (Sanders, pp. 42–47). The image of the remote God has become especially useful in later scholarship as scholars have sought to prove the superiority of Christianity to Judaism by maintaining that Jesus’s teaching of God as the Father was an innovation that challenged traditional Jewish transcendentalism.

Conservative Christian Anti-Judaism.

Theological anti-Judaism did not appear only among liberal-minded, enlightenment theologians but influenced many of their more conservative opponents as well. Anders Gerdmar has shown how many conservative, salvation-historical oriented biblical scholars developed various anti-Jewish themes in their works (Gerdmar, pp. 213–326). Frans Delitzsch (1813–1890), the founder of Institutum Iudaica in the 1870s, was renowned for his study of Hebrew philology and various Hebrew primary sources. He even defended the Jewish community against anti-Semitic attacks but, however paradoxically, fell prey to standard Christian anti-Judaism. Delitzsch gives a specific place for Israel in God’s salvation plan and describes Jesus as a Jew but also “talks about the narrow Judaism of the Pharisees and people having become fanaticized (fanatisiertes Volk), which led to Jesus’s death” (Gerdmar, p. 230). When discussing the role of the Jews in Jesus’s crucifixion, Delitzsch bravely says that the time when every Jew is held responsible for it should be over. But he continues that “we cannot evade the conclusion that the handing over of Jesus to the Romans…is a national debt that weighs on the Jewish people” (as quoted by Gerdmar, p. 227).

Another scholar who was both a vehement critic of liberal biblical studies and highly learned in various Jewish sources was Adolf Schlatter (1853–1838). In a manner similar to Wellhausen (cf. above), Schlatter develops the degeneration hypothesis and the opposition between prophetic and later legalistic Judaism represented by the Pharisees (Gerdmar, 256–260). Schlatter emphatically describes Jesus as a Jew but, by the same token, repeats highly defamatory classic charges by describing Jews as examples of greed, pride, and double standards (Gerdmar, p. 275). Schlatter, like Delitzsch, holds Jews guilty of deicide.


The preceding discussion has suggested that it is difficult to maintain a precise distinction between anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism, and intra-Jewish polemic. While these concepts can be separated in theory, the survey of Christian scholarship shows how intra-Jewish polemic is quite easily turned into anti-Judaism, especially because intra-Jewish debates appear already in the NT within the larger canonical context that reflects the increasingly Gentile character of Christianity.

There are obvious risks if NT polemic is identified as intra-Jewish and characterized as harmless and mild. It has been extremely hard for scholars representing various theological positions to avoid anti-Jewish themes in their scholarship if they are not ready to distance themselves from the NT’s portraits of Judaism and the most virulent attacks against Jews. If these attacks and the passion narratives in the Gospels are accepted as unbiased and authentic reports, it is difficult if not impossible to fight against Christian anti-Judaism.

Christian, theological anti-Judaism has taken different forms. Some scholars have followed Marcion (second century C.E.), who criticized heavily the Old Testament and saw a clear break between Judaism and Christianity. The attempt to purify Christianity from all that refers to Judaism reached its culmination when some Nazi theologians developed fantastic theories of Jesus’s Aryan pedigree and thus dejudaized Christianity (Heschel, 2008).

We should not, however, regard the efforts to untie the bond between Christianity and Judaism as the standard of Christian anti-Judaism. Stephen Wilson has remarked that Marcion, when subjecting the Hebrew Bible to severe criticism and finally rejecting it, “attacked the symbols but left the people alone,” while his orthodox opponents “took over the symbols and attacked the people. Judaism was the loser in either case” (Wilson, p. 221). Many later scholars have followed Marcion’s opponents when they have attacked either the Jews in Jesus’s time or modern Jews but emphasized the continuity between the Old Testament and Christianity. For this form of Christian anti-Judaism, Jesus’s Jewishness has never been a real problem. Therefore, while the emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus and early Christianity in recent scholarship is a genuine advancement, this emphasis is not a sufficient antidote to all forms of theological anti-Judaism.

Christian theological anti-Judaism is not necessarily a thing of the past, even though, since the appearance of E. P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), the majority of scholars have become increasingly sensitive to the polemical nature of the traditional Christian picture of first-century Judaism. However, there is always a temptation to present a distorted and biased portrait of first-century Judaism if the defense of the historicity of the NT is coupled with an attempt to give historical reasons for a Christian theological conviction of Jesus’s exceptional, divine status.

Amy-Jill Levine has exposed how various recent attempts to elevate Jesus above his historical context have resulted in biased portraits of Judaism (pp. 119–190). When various feminist or postcolonial approaches have been applied to the NT, scholars have repeatedly represented Jesus as the spokesman of the poor, the suppressed, and women while Judaism appears as hierarchical, repressive, and misogynistic. These portraits bring into life and replicate one of the basic assumptions of theological anti-Judaism, an idea that, despite its Jewish origins, Christianity surpasses its predecessor and makes clear its faults.



  • Cohen, Jeremy. Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Traces the Christ-killer myth from antiquity to the present day and exposes anti-Judaism inherent in Christian renderings of the passion narratives.
  • Davies, Alan T., ed. Antisemitism and the Foundations of Christianity. New York: Paulist, 1979. Essays that respond to and debate with the thesis in Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Faith and Fratricide; includes a concluding response from Ruether herself.
  • Donaldson, Terence L. Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament: Decision Points and Divergent Interpretations. London and Waco, Tex.: SPCK and Baylor University Press, 2010. A nuanced and perceptive discussion of the ways scholars have interpreted the New Testament in relation to anti-Judaism.
  • Evans, Craig A., and Donald A. Hagner, eds. Anti-Semitism and Early Christianity: Issues of Polemic and Faith. Minneapolis: Fortress. 1993. Essays discussing prophetic critique in the Hebrew Bible and the question of anti-Semitism in relation to Jesus, different NT writings, early Church Fathers, New Testament Apocrypha, and Gnostic writings.
  • Farmer, William R., ed. Anti-Judaism and the Gospels. Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity, 1999. A collection of essays and responses to them that discuss each of the canonical Gospels, the interpretation of the Gospels in the early Church, and anti-Judaism in the critical study of the Gospels.
  • Gager, John G. The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. Argues that Christian anti-Judaism and Greco-Roman bigotry against Jews evident in some authors (Apion, Tacitus, Seneca) are two different things; claims that Paul’s theology is not at all anti-Jewish.
  • Gerdmar, Anders. Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann. Studies in Jewish History and Culture 20. Leiden: Brill, 2009. A thorough survey of how the Jews and Judaism were constructed as the antithesis of Christianity in the salvation-historical and enlightenment-oriented German biblical scholarship from the 1750s to the 1950s.
  • Hakola, Raimo. Identity Matters: John, the Jews, and Jewishness. Novum Testamentum: Supplement 118. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Challenges the hypothesis that John reflects a violent persecution of early Christians and proposes that John’s portrayal of Judaism is ambivalent.
  • Heschel, Susannah. Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Discusses how Abraham Geiger challenged anti-Jewish currents evident in nineteenth-century Christian biblical studies and boldly presented Jesus as a Jew and a Pharisee.
  • Heschel, Susannah. The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. Discusses the emergence and influence of the efforts by some Nazi theologians (most notably Walter Grundmann) to “dejudaize” Jesus by presenting him as an Aryan.
  • Johnson, Luke Timothy. “The New Testament’s Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 419–441. Compares polemic against Jews in the NT to inter-Jewish disputes and the conventions of ancient rhetoric.
  • Levine, Amy-Jill. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Discusses how Jesus should be seen in his Jewish context and exposes how Christian anti-Jewish readings of the NT have presented Judaism in a stark contrast to Christianity.
  • Kelley, Shawn. Racializing Jesus: Race, Ideology and the Formation of Modern Biblical Scholarship. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. Reveals how nineteenth-century Orientalism and Romantic Nationalism were coupled with racial thinking that influenced also modern biblical scholarship.
  • Moore, George Foot. “Christian Writers on Judaism.” Harvard Theological Review 14 (1921): 197–254. A classic but often neglected article that betrayed the apologetic, biased disposition of mainstream Christian scholarship toward Judaism.
  • Parkes, James. The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism. London: Soncino, 1934. One of the first systematic surveys of Christian anti-Judaism.
  • Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism. New York: Seabury, 1974. Makes a controversial claim that anti-Judaism is intrinsic to Christian faith by analyzing NT texts and later early Christian literature.
  • Sanders, E. P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977. Argues against the earlier scholarly consensus that Paul denounces the Judaism of his time because it was filled with rabbinic legalism.
  • Sanders, Jack T. “Can Anything Bad Come out of Nazareth, or Did Luke Think that History Moved in a Line or in a Circle?” In Literary Studies in Luke-Acts: Essays in Honor of Joseph B. Tyson, edited by R. P. Thompson and T. E. Phillips, 297–312. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1998.
  • Tyson, Joseph. P. Luke, Judaism, and the Scholars: Critical Approaches to Luke-Acts. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Argues that the Holocaust was a major turning point in NT scholarship and shows how the text’s mixed signals have left room for scholars to emphasize either positive or negative aspects of Luke’s portrayal of Jews and Judaism.
  • Wilson, Stephen G. Related Strangers: Jews and Christians, 70–170 C.E. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995. A balanced discussion of Jewish-Christian relations from the NT Gospels to second-century Christian and Jewish evidence.

Raimo Hakola