Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Daniel Goldhagen is justly famous for his penetrating analysis of ordinary German participation  in the Holocaust. His latest work focusses on Christian and Catholic involvement in the Holocaust. Here is a recent letter sent to him.

29/9/2004  Home

Dear Dr Goldhagen, 

I have recently read your book 'A Moral Reckoning', with great interest.

I am a gentile Protestant, from an atheistic background, and having spent  6 years recently in [the Arab world] doing medical work, have a good sense of the extraordinary and vitriolic anti-Semitism, racial, religious and national, expressed in the region, much of it regurgitated from Europe. It has given me time to weigh my own community's anti-Semitic legacy. I largely agree with your definition of anti-Semitism and its manifestations. It has three essential characteristics: a malicious motivation (usually disguised), a falsification of facts, and its object is to harm or denigrate. It is diametrically opposed to the spirit of Leviticus 19.17-18. I would certainly welcome a similar summary and charge for the Protestant churches of Europe, although being focussed on local congregations, and often wary of larger hierarchies, such a work would necessarily be less lucid and probably less conclusive. Of course, it is our community's responsibility to execute the task, but the help of outsiders would be valuable, however painful or disturbing. It might dampen the dangerous momentum behind liberal Protestant, anti-Zionistic anti-Semitism.

However my main purpose is to offer a short critique of some aspects of your book, in the hope that you may  find these reflections valuable and effective in sharpening our response to Christian anti-Semitism. I do not expect to receive a reply, although of course one would be appreciated.

I address three things in particular.

First, the issue of communal responsibility.

Second, the anti-Semitic character of the New Testament (in your terms the Christian Bible).

Third, the specific charge of Jewish involvement in Christicide (not Deicide, for God cannot die), and the extent of responsibility entailed.

I realise that each of these are painful and difficult matters, fraught with the vicious spilling of much Jewish blood.

First, you seek consistency, and from the outset in denying communal and intergenerational responsibility, you properly apply this across the board whether to Germans, the Catholic Church or to the Jewish people. You show its misuse as a smokescreen to conceal heinous, myriad individual evils, and contrarily that it is the foundation stone of much modern anti-Semitism, up to and including Bashar Al Assad's infamous comments. However none of this is sufficient to deny that communal and intergenerational responsibility are insisted on in the Tenach. In executing judgement, a son may not suffer the specific punishment due his father or vice versa, Deut 24.16, but innumerable passages teach that God does and will hold to account future generations for failing to denounce and forsake the evils of their forebears, (Deut.5.9, Numb 14.31-2; 16.31-3; 2 Sam.24.17, Ezek.18.14). What enormous responsibility a parent or leader holds, when his or her charges, even in childhood, are justly subject to suffer with them and for their offences, particularly in following by example!

Second, you take great offence as do many Gentiles at the description of sinfulness in the New Testament. But with respect, I think you have missed the point. There is a vast gulf between the NT and anti-Semitism on all three counts of definition. Yes, Jews, leaders and teachers in particular, are described as the offspring of vipers, children of Satan, the father of lies, slaves of sin, but Gentiles are described as dogs, puppets of Satan, children of disobedience, children of wrath, and of both it is concluded that there is none good, no not one, whose throat is an open sepulchre, with deceitful, deadly poisonous tongues. Christians are described as adulterers and adulteresses, destitute in spirit, wretched, miserable, naked and blind. The issue is not whether the truth is offensive, but whether it is true. In the precious Tenach, so vehement are God's arguments with Judah and Israel that at time his reasoning verges on the obscene (1 Kings.14.10, Ezek.16 & 23) and rings with a note of exasperation (Jer.2.5,11). Yet would a pious Jew claim the Tenach is anti-Semitic? What folly - it is the greatest heritage and the richest ennobler. More precious than praise are reproofs in a friendly spirit. Of course a distinctive case could and was made that passages of the Tenach are anti-Semitic. How could it be otherwise when Jeremiah for example was called to oppose virtually the whole nation and call for surrender to its bitter enemies, Jer.21.3-5? Paradoxically to have silenced very sharp words of appropriate and jealous criticism was the work of anti-Semites, albeit Jewish ones.  Similarly you rightly claim that Christians failing to deal with our murderous legacy are actually anti-Christian. God is an impartial judge, His words of truth are often highly unpalatable - but they stand the test of time, as innumerable prophecies and the incisive analyses of man's evil demonstrate. In this respect the Tenach is very distinctive from the Apocryphal writings, like the Maccabees, which though pleasant and challenging to read, sometimes have a self-congratulatory flavour. I accept that many NT passages have primary reference to the evil of the Jews, but often this is also in accord with the principle, found in Tenach, that Israel is a plumbline by which all the nations will be measured, and also that the new message was first directed to the Jews, only secondarily to the Gentiles. Contemporary Jews were judged more harshly for their rejection of their light, now the situation is reversed, the light against which we have sinned is still greater and stronger, our guilt is the greater for that. Christian anti-Semitism rehearses Zechariah’s ancient warning to the Gentiles, Zech. 1.14-15.

Indeed what is the essence of anti-Semitism in all its protean forms? Even against the assimilated, and even when directed by professing Christians – is it not hatred of Torah? Can then Torah be anti-Semitic? Yet many have judged that it is, Numb 16.3, 1 Ki.18.17, and Jer.43.2 come to mind.

Have you neglected the yearning and longing for the blessing of Jews that characterises the NT? the Lord Jesus wept as he offered the terrible denunciations of Jerusalem, Luke 19.41-44, Paul intensely yearned over the tragic blindness of his kinsmen and their neglect of privilige, Rom.9.2-3, longing for better days Rom 11.15. Did this lead him like Luther out of frustrated attempts at conversion to rage and malice, to political restraint or control, to discrimination, to elimination? On the contrary he calls true disciples of Christ to humility and mercy, and to provoke the Jews to emulation by acts of kindness, Rom 11.14,25,31. In doing this he recalls Moses’ ancient prophecy, Deut.32.21. His Master calls for blessing not cursing, prayer not retaliation, kindness not resentment, echoing Solomon before Prov.25.21.

I confess to you frankly, I am deeply ashamed of how badly Protestants and Catholics have violated this sacred call,  but only reparative action will prove this. Please do not attribute this evil to God, and not to the values of the Tenach also found in the New Testament, God will be vindicated in spite of the folly of His people.

The third issue is by far the most difficult, and lies at the fulcrum of your case. Yet I want to preface it with three points, which you will find difficult to read. I request your characteristic dispassionate precision and objectivity. Both you and I are ultimately interested in facts, not in opinions or in distortion.

First, I think you will agree that there is a continuous necessity for atonement for sinful men. Leviticus is a plain testimony to this, 17.11. Even for the loosely observant Yom Kippur remains the most sacred day of the calender. However since AD 70, in accordance with Daniel's vision, nothing remains of the blood atonement, only repentance and confession, which do not suffice in the Law. This is an extremely serious state of affairs, it was Cain's rejected offering that was bloodless, not Abel's. It is the sad hallmark of hollow religion.

Second, David makes repeatedly clear the extreme evil of violating God's anointed. His own heart was pierced by remorse when his only offence was to take a slice of Saul's clothing, in the middle of his murderous pursuit of David. Twice he immediately executed those who claimed to have put to death God's anointed, even though on the first occasion it was falsely reported by the perpetrator and professedly performed at Saul's own request to escape humiliation. If Jesus was Messiah, the Divine Son of Psalm 2 and Prov 30, the Lord of David in Psalm 110, whoever put Him to death is chargeable with immense guilt. Rectifying a single injustice may require national pain and struggle. The rape and murder of an adulterous concubine, led to the death of 65,000 men, not counting many women and children, amounting to nearly a whole tribe, in the agonising pursuit of justice at God's direct command (Judg.19-21).

Third, and most critically, as Joseph said to his brethren, God is able even out of intense evil to bring glory and grace, 'You thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good'. Unlike the blood of Abel, which cried for justice, Jesus interceded for mercy even as His blood was sprinkled. He prayed even as He was being offered up, and by doing so atoned, like the two Kippur rams, one to death, the other to the abyss of forsakenness.

You repeatedly charge the Gospels with falsehood, fabrication and slander, in their account of the role of Jews in the slaying of Messiah – but where is the evidence? To claim that it must be so because of the intense evil of Christians is understandable, but unusually imprecise, like charging the Decalogue with polytheism because of Aaron’s evil (Exod 32.2), or Torah with sanctioning oath-breaking because of Saul’s unfaithfulness (2 Sam.21.1-2). If the matter is so plain why not cite yourself especially egregious examples?  Yet your repeated citations do not establish the falsehood of the claim, merely that it is made meticulously and repeatedly. I understand that references from the Babylonian Talmud indicate early deep anti-Christian sentiments (Sanhedrin 43a, the minim), Josephus certainly does (Antiquities, xx, ch.9, 1). Even Zechariah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah hundreds of years before foresaw the blessed days when the irrevocably chosen people will lament their tragic folly and find with sorrow and joyful contrition their only righteousness, peace in the One who has forever sealed the everlasting covenant with Abraham, the glory and the hope of Israel. (Zech 12.10-13.2, Ezek. 39.23-39, Isa 9.2-7, 42.1-8, Jer.31.31-40). The New Testament claims that this is the consummation of Divine purpose (Rom 11.28-36).

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

With friendly regard,