Did Jews found the Catholic Church?

Anti-Semitism in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages

Antiquity research disagrees about the causes of pre-Christian, anti-Jewish attitudes. Some explain it with the controversial thesis that the Jewish belief in one god was a provocation for the beliefs in a multitude of gods that were widespread at the time. Sources describing attitudes and violence against Jews can increasingly be found for the time after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 (CE) and the subsequent dispersion of Jews over the Roman Empire. The Roman-Jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus (approx. 37/38 - approx. 100 C.E.) reported anti-Jewish stereotypes. However, the available ancient sources do not describe a uniform picture of the perception of Judaism and Jewish people. In addition to negative comments, there are also positive descriptions, sometimes by the same author. There can be no talk of a widespread, fundamental devaluation or exclusion of Jews in pre-Christian antiquity.

Origins of Christian anti-Judaism

Anti-Semitism today has its spiritual roots in the religious prejudices and stereotypes of Christianity's traditional rejection of Judaism. The competition between the followers of Jesus and the Jews initially began as an internal Jewish dispute. Biblical texts, above all the New Testament, provide information on this. From a scientific perspective, these traditions are not an authentic source of real events, but a mythical text of faith. The possible historical core of these stories can therefore not be proven.

In justifying their faith, the first Christians tied in with the religious tradition and the sacred writings of Judaism. They immediately transferred the predictions from the Hebrew Bible to themselves and denied the original Jewish religion its right to exist.

Ancient Christian anti-Judaism was characterized by a number of motifs intended to illustrate the ultimate break between Christianity and Judaism. This included, for example, the strict rejection of Jewish rites, traditions and festivals and the accusation that Jews did not recognize Jesus Christ, who was sent by God according to the Christian faith, as their Messiah and Savior. They were therefore accused of religious blindness and obduracy. The most fatal accusation of Christian hostility towards Jews is that of the murder of God. He claims that 'the Jews' and not the Roman governor in Jerusalem are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. With this guilt, Christians justified the theological rejection of the Jews as God's chosen people and their ostracism.

The tensions between the first Christians and Jews grew in the first two centuries. In the course of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire and its establishment as the state religion in 381, various councils issued anti-Jewish ordinances, which made Jews a tolerated minority, but a discriminated minority. With the Christianization of Europe, accusations against Jews also spread north of the Alps. The first massive anti-Jewish acts of violence in Central Europe occurred in the Middle Ages when, in 1096, Christian zealots set out from what is now France on the first crusade to conquer the “Holy Land” and attacked Jewish communities on their way.

Discrimination and Stigma

In the centuries that followed, new aspects and images of religiously motivated hostility towards Jews were added to the biblically transmitted motifs of anti-Judaism. The stereotypes and prejudices arose against the background of social, economic and religious-cultural changes in Christian-medieval society. Depending on the context, anti-Judaism took different forms (e.g. accusations, insults, violence) and was carried by various actors in the population, from peasant classes to secular authorities and parts of the clergy. Especially in times of religious uncertainty and internal church conflicts, the denunciation and persecution of deviating beliefs led to attacks on Jews.

In medieval societies, Jews were supposed to be marginalized, but not destroyed. As long as they did not convert, they were seen as opponents of Christianity. Separated from the mediaeval majority society in Jewish alleys and Jewish quarters, they were stigmatized by special dress codes ('Jewish hats') or by colored markings on their clothing. They were excluded from agriculture and handicrafts, the most important branches of the economy in the Middle Ages, as well as from the intellectual class. Jews were therefore tolerated in this economic niche of money lending, as in some other areas of trade.

In the High Middle Ages, population growth began, which led to the founding of new cities, the development of long-distance trade and the spread of the money economy. The interest prohibition that had existed up to that point ceased to exist over time and competition with Christian moneylenders increased. After Jews had first been forced into the frowned upon money trade by the church, they were now accused of being traders and usurers. This anti-Jewish motif has been particularly persistent ever since.

New motifs were added to the arsenal of religious hostility towards Jews at the beginning of the 12th century. Based on the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that bread (host) and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Lord's Supper, a process of mental transmission took place. Jews have now been accused of using blood for religious purposes, even though the Jewish faith strictly forbids the use of blood. From this developed the legends of the desecration of the host in the Christian world and especially that of ritual murder, according to which Jews abducted and killed Christian children in order to use their blood for ritual purposes. First documented in England in 1144, this rumor spread throughout mainland Europe. Over time, there was also the charge of conspiracy, which claimed that high-ranking representatives of the Jewish community would meet regularly in a secret place to mock Christ and gain dominion over the entire world.

Replacement of hostility towards Jews from Christian anti-Judaism

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, religious anti-Judaism was supplemented by other elements of popular piety and superstition. In the middle of the 14th century, particularly in what is now Germany and Switzerland, there were cruel attacks and entire Jewish communities were exterminated, as Jews were accused of having poisoned the wells to trigger the plague. From the 13th to the end of the 15th century they were expelled from almost all of Western Europe. In Central Europe, too, they were not safe from persecution and expulsions. Until the 16th century they were driven out of most of the important cities and countries of the Holy Roman Empire.

The change in the mediaeval hostility towards Jews is represented by the spread of the disgraceful image of the "Judensau", which shows Jews in intimate contact with pigs, which are considered unclean in Judaism and depicts them as their relatives. Since the pig stood as a symbol for the devil in Christian imagery, Jews were comprehensively demonized with this image in the late Middle Ages. The anti-Jewish hostility no longer only refers to the confession of Jews to their religion, which they could change by converting to Christianity, but is aimed directly at their origin.