I want to apologize ahead if my questions sound disrespectful to anybody. This isn't my intent. I grew up in East Asia which has very few Christians, but I have been very interested in the history of Christianity and the content of Bible.

I have trouble understanding the persecution of Jews by Christians in Middle Ages. According to the Old Testament, Hebrews/Israelites are the "Chosen People" of God. The whole Old Testament is about how Jews struggled to find their land of promised. Isn't it against God's will, to persecute Jews? How did Middle Age Christians manage to explain these from theological point of view?

Another related question is, Old Testament was written in Hebrew. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, that Middle Age Christians would treat texts written in the language used by people they didn't like.

I am not trying to offend anybody. I have no doubt that modern Christians don't hate Jews. I just have trouble understanding how Middle Age Christians explained what they did in theological point of view.

English is not my native language, and I have been self-studying Bible. My knowledge could have serious defects and my terminologies could be way off. I would appreciate if you guys can bear with me, and help me understand the history and the Bible better.

  • 2
    Welcome to Christianity.SE. You have come to the right place. We are always happy to have sincere questions. Your question is good, however, the body has a bit of unnecessary stuff. The Third paragraph can be completely removed because it hints on a very different topic. The faq is a good place to start on how we like questions to look and what we expect their scope to be. The next step it to read highly voted questions on the site to get a good idea of the format that is expected. BTW, I think it is rather hard to offend most of us.
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 4:23
  • It's late so I don't want to get into a full answer right now, but one of the things to grasp is that God sometimes allows bad things to happen to his chosen people. Whether to test and strengthen them, or to punish them or simply because it brings him glory, sometimes things don't go like we want them to
    – SSumner
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 4:35
  • I think you are asking how people defend the idea of the crusades. That was basically Roman Catholic history, so Catholics and Protestants might not have the same view on it. A Catholic has to try and defend it to some degree because the crusades were led by Popes (but I do not know if persecution of Jews were intended, as I do not know the history well). Protestants do not have to defend any Christian history as they do not see its leaders as incorruptible. Biblically, anyone who hates someone is not a Christian by default. You need to ask for a Catholic, Protestant or Biblical basis answer.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 5:58
  • @Mike The crusades were largely about taking the Holy Land from the Muslims. Reasons for this still elude me. As far as persecution of the Jews, I think that is different entirely because the Jews of Europe have suffered quite a few persecutions over the centuries.
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 18:07
  • @fredsbend - Crusades were principally against Muslims but also Jews. For example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogroms_of_1096.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 1:42

3 Answers 3


This is an important question. While we today decisively reject the terrible things that people in the past thought and did, we should not shy away from recognizing what they did and why. And as Christians we must be honest about the role of religion and the church.

The "Middle Ages" covers a thousand years and the whole of Europe - and Jewish life varied considerably in different times and places - so this is going to be a bit general. If there are specific things you'd like to know more about, please do ask more questions.

Among the arguments used to justify antisemitism at the time are the following:

  • Supersession. The mantle of 'the chosen people' passed to Christians, and the old covenant has been superseded by the new.
  • Christ-killing. The Jews were held collectively responsible for the death of Jesus: his blood was on their heads. This is related to supersession, because it shows the covenant being broken.
  • General heresy. Anyone who did not share the Christian faith was not truly part of the community. This was used to justify various restrictions on holding public office, receiving university education, entering into mixed marriage, owning property, testifying in court, entering into contracts, etc. In addition it was common to think that Jewish people were particularly devious and untrustworthy, more so than regular Christian heretics.
  • Usury. New Testament prohibitions on usury were invoked as a sign of Jews being evil (exploitative of "honest Christian folk").
  • Evil magic. Again related to Christ-killing and general mistrust, some thought that Jewish people were in league with the devil, who granted them magical powers which they used to the ruin of the local community - especially by spreading disease. The infamous blood libel (that they murdered and ate Christian babies) was seen as a Satanic parody of the Eucharist.

As you can see, the basic theological root is the idea that by rejecting Jesus, the old covenant was abrogated and the Jews were no longer the chosen people. However, medieval antisemitism is not just about theology: it also has a lot to do with not liking people who are different. There is also a tremendously important political and economic angle. It would be too simplistic to say that the religious or political establishment was solely responsible, or that it was all about popular prejudice. These aspects all strengthened and supported each other.

Meanwhile, you also wanted to know about the Old Testament being written in Hebrew. This is true. But there was a long period when knowledge of the language was pretty scanty - certainly among everyday clergy. The standard circulating text was in Latin, which was also the language of liturgy, scholarship, law, and public administration. The Greek "Septuagint" was also important - again, though, a bit more specialised. Most people would not have encountered any Hebrew text. But even for those who did, the idea of succession of covenants allowed them to receive the Old Testament scripture as part of Christian patrimony. They could praise the great virtue of Abraham, Moses, or David, even speaking in glowing terms of the magnificence of the Temple and the detail of Jewish religious life, while still rejecting Jewish people who were born in years AD instead of BC.

  • The last sentence of the third point became a very big motivator especially shortly after the close of the Middle Ages. The persecutions in 19th Century Russia and Nazi Germany come to mind. The fourth is a bit on the same level. The fifth is superstition (Middle Ages Europe was very superstitious) derived from the third. +1 Good answer.
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 18:15

Basically to claim that the new religion Christianity was valid it needed to:

1) base itself off an older religion. At the time of the start of Christanity, age of a theology was that gave it validity. So claiming it's based in Judaism gave Christianity a fighting chance to get accepted.

2) However it's a different religion, with a lot of opposite believes to Judaism. So it was claimed to be replacing Judaism as a better, newer version. All this was while being quite different. Also it was much better to project all the upset with the Roman persecution onto the much less powerful Jewish group than saying straight out loud that the Romans were harming Christians. (So that's why in the Christian Bible Jesus is claimed to be killed by Jews, when it's not logistically possible based on historic information in the bible, and is very possible to be a Roman trial and killing.)

3) So Christianity in it's implementation (not in it's core theology but in how it was implemented) developed an elaborate and complex way of describing itself as "replacement" for and "better than" Judaism. With that came intense put downs of Judaism and Jews. The funny thing was that as Christiaity took over Europe and so many other groups' theology diappeared, Judaism was kept alive but crippled as part of this theme. Hard to prove you are better than, and replacing something, if the something (judaism) disappears. Meanwhile you have to revile it and keep it down. (A great chance for power hungry people to take advantage of this misuse of Christianity and abuse it for their own purposes and abuse Jews.)

4) With that comes the projection onto the Judaism and the Jewish population of every morally evil trait a society can think of and doesn't want to find amoungst itself. So instead Jews because "evil" "money grubbing" "out to control the world" "hateful of Christ" and every other negative thing you can think of. That's part of why antisemitism can be so hard to describe. It morphs and adjusts to every new setting, and has such elaborate and non-descript hate concepts in it. (Compared to calling blacks "childlike" or "oversexed" and any other ridiculous but straightforward character trait intended to keep them enslaved emotionally.)

5) In the late middle ages, as religion was challenged by scientific reasoning, hate of Jews shifted from a reviled group to the more scientific claim of genetic / inherited inferiority. Before then, you could leave the "evil" by converting out of Judaism. With that shift opened the door for the Nazi-style decision that all Jews must be wiped out. It's also when the hate of Jews changed from anti-Jewish to anti-semitism. The term was invented by a hater of Jews to make it sound more scientific and genetic based. (Since Hebrew is a semitic language.)

Other people gave accurate answers. I hope this adds to them.

Sources.... I explain a little in the comments. To continue: This site used to have a wonderful set of pages explaining a lot. It's from the National Catholic Holocaust Education Center. http://www.setonhill.edu/ncche/resources Those pages were taken down. Now revisiting the site today, I've never seen the current first article. It's a teaching guide that goes into a lot of detail. Here's one blurb from it:

"In its quest to establish itself as the superior bearer of God’s Covenant, the early church interpreted the Christian Scriptures with three decidedly anti-Jewish themes. The church fathers claimed that according to scripture: 1. the divine election of the Jews as the chosen people of God had passed to the Christians, 2. that God had rejected the Jewish people, and 3. that the Jews were directly responsible for the death of Jesus (the charge of “deicide”)"

For my fifth item about the shift from religion to science, one of the many sources was the book "The Popes Against the Jews." It's written by a well respected historian who was let into the Vatican vaults to research for it. It only covered a limited sliver of concepts, but makes convincing arguments using original documents.

On the NT's descriptions not fitting properly into Jews having done it -- there are a number of sources as well. It was a big study & insight that shifted the Jewish-Christian relationship in the 50's, 60's... part of what fed into Vatican II. The Jewish Sanhedrin met and had rules that make the likelihood of it happening as described, as likely as the US Supreme Court deciding a landmark death penalty case in one of the judge's backyards on a Sunday after a BBQ with plenty of alcohol. The rules are in the Talmud & well-known in Jewish study. The application to the NT & working with Christians was very new.

On antisemitism being about projecting on morality, it's something I heard recently, but it gives a summary to it that fits completely. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/183033/israel-insider-guide?fb_comment_id=fbc_710619675659231_711027128951819_711027128951819#fecd11f44fbbe

To see the list of accusations at Jews, a good source is the Nazi favorite forgery book "The Elders of Zion," still motivates antisemitism today. I haven't read through, just skimmed. It's gross and irrational. A few sites with decent descriptions -- well, I'm not allowed to post more than 2 links, so I'll post these in the comments below.

  • Hi and welcome! Your answer could be greatly improved by including citations in order to show this is not merely your personal opinion. Please refer to our help centre for further info on our site guidelines. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 8:17
  • My sources would take a lot of time to track down. It's based on several years of research. I'm Jewish (and been active part of the Jewish community and education all my life) but a lot of it, I didn't know. I guess comments are meant to be short - so I'll edit my answer.
    – curls
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 3:12
  • Additional links for Protocol of the Elders:
    – curls
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 3:42
  • Thanks for your contribution! btw do you know about the Jewish Stackexchange site - Mi Yodeya? Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 6:53

Isn't it against God's will, to persecute Jews?

When the political leaders of a nation adopt a religion like Christianity, it is unrealistic to assume that everyone in the country will be desirous of deeper things of the religion.

When a religion is administered as an organizational system, the administrators will be more likely to be motivated by political and economic rather than religious concerns.

Those who grow up in an essentially tribal environment learn that it is easier to get away with exploiting those outside the tribe than inside.

Very few people who call themselves Christian actually seek God's will.

It didn't make a lot of sense to me, that Middle Age Christians would treat texts written in the language used by people they didn't like.

1 Corinthians 10:10-11 (KJV):

Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

There are a number of reasons to keep the Old Testament. One is that we are supposed to learn from the mistakes made by the nation of Israel.

In the middle ages you find the Christian persecution of the Jews sporadic and often done by individuals or by political edict as opposed to an integral doctrine of the church.

Christianity was always intended to be relational (us with Jesus and each other). Christianity done organizationally always seems to fall short of what the Bible describes. It is difficult to look at the history of churches and see success.

Ephesians 4:11-13 (KJV):

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Churches are supposed to help us all become like Jesus. By this measurement standard it is difficult to think of anything but our failures.

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