This latest article article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was first published at the Algemeiner but in a much more truncated form, and republished here in the original version with the author’s consent.
JEWS SUFFERING FROM POST TRUTH FOR 2000 YEARS
In recent years, post-truth has become a very fashionable term. However, for about 2000 years before this expression was known, Jews have seen the dangers of these phenomena. This new term became Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016 for both the US and the United Kingdom.1 Post-truth is defined as circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.2
About two thousand years ago the most effective fake news message in history was that Jews killed Jesus. Pieter van der Horst, a leading international scholar of early Christianity and Judaism and a member of the exclusive Royal Dutch Academy, substantiates the untruth of this accusation. He asserts that under Roman rule Jews could not execute anyone. That was the sole prerogative of the Romans.3
When Jesus was increasingly represented as a God, the post-truth ‘alternative news’ environment was enhanced. The basic lie that Jews had killed Jesus now transformed them into the epitome of absolute evil, as nothing worse is conceivable in a Christian world than killing God. This ultimate sentimental appeal against the Jews led to pogroms, murders, extreme discrimination, dispossessions and expulsions over the centuries around the world. In the Nazi era this version of post-truth morphed into another epitome of absolute evil: Jews were depicted as genetically inferior, to be exterminated in the Holocaust.
Matthew invented an alternative fact in his gospel. According to him the Jewish killers of Jesus allegedly said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”4 This was then interpreted as: “We take the responsibility for Jesus’ death.” Van der Horst says ““Why then does Matthew exculpate the Romans from the death of Jesus? The text has to be understood in the context of his time, around the 80s of the first century. In the middle of the 60s CE, under the Emperor Nero, the first persecutions of Christians had begun. There are indications that after that period there were further minor persecutions on a local level. This frightened the Christians.
“For political reasons Matthew was keen that his writings should give the Romans the impression that Christians were not a danger to their empire. If a highly positioned person like Pilate says about Jesus ‘This man is completely innocent,’ it implies that Christianity is not something Romans have to fear. This in turn leads to the story of the Jews supposedly shouting ‘Let his blood come over us’-which means, ‘We take the responsibility for his death.’ Shifting the responsibility for Jesus’ death to the Jewish people is at odds with what Matthew says in the earlier parts of his Gospel to the effect that Jesus enjoyed immense popularity with the masses, that is, with the majority of the common Jewish people.”5 Here was a politically expedient alternative fact: The Jews were scapegoated for a crucifixion by the Romans.
Later, the fake news of the Jews killing Jesus was expanded to other dangerous fallacies in a post-truth reality. For example, at most an insignificant percentage of the Jews living in the Holy Land could have been present at Jesus’ crucifixion. However, their Christian enemies introduced collective responsibility of all Jews for an act they had not committed. To this, an even worse defamation was added: Jews were held eternally responsible for what their ancestors did [not do]. If such responsibility were applied to Germans, who actuality did commit the massive atrocities they are accused of, German responsibility for Nazi crimes would last forever.
The long-term effect of fake news can be enormous. A 2005 ADL poll in Europe asked whether the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Nineteen percent of Belgians, 21% of Danes, and 19% of the Swiss peopled polled answered affirmatively.6 The 2012 ADL poll in Europe asked the same question. It was found that among those polled 18% of Austrians, 14% of Germans, 38% of Hungarians, 15% of Italians, 16% of Dutch, 19% of Norwegians, 46% of Poles, 21% of Spaniards, and 18% in the United Kingdom believed this fallacy.7 In a 2011 ADL poll in Argentina, 22% also believed the Jews killed Jesus.8 Agreeing with this statement is a stereotypical example of anti-Semitism.
As post-truth is now a popular phenomenon, the history of Christian antisemitic accusations of deicide can illustrate how dangerous and enduring its impact can be. This should be a warning against fake news, alternative facts and the cult of sentimental appeals.
4 Matthew 27:15-26
6 “ADL Survey: Attitudes Toward Jews in 12 European Countries: Country by Country Results,” Anti-Defamation League, 7 June 2005.
7 “Attitudes Toward Jews In Ten European Countries,” Anti-Defamation League, March 2012.
8 “Attitudes Towards Jews in Argentina,” Anti-Defamation League, Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations, and Gino Germani Research Institute, September 2011.