Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “For almost 2,000 years in Western civilization, four words legitimized, rationalized, and fueled anti-Semitism: ‘The Jews killed Christ.’ ”
My first introduction to Jesus was as a 7-year-old boy. I was walking to Hebrew school in my neighborhood and had to pass the part of the street that was mostly Gentile. It had snowed and the non- Jewish children had built a snow fort. As I walked past, they began to throw snowballs at me—some with rocks in the center! As I was pelted with snowballs, these kids yelled, “Christ killer! You dirty Jew!” I went home and asked my mom, “Who is it that we killed? And why do they think I killed him?”
Decades later, those memories were very real to me as I considered the controversy surrounding the Mel Gibson film The Passion Of The Christ. As a Jewish follower of Jesus, it seemed clear to me that the disputes about the film demonstrated a great deal of misunderstanding on both sides of the debate.
Some in the Jewish community, fearing yet another wave of anti- Semitism, have spoken not only against the film but against the New Testament, which Gibson said was his primary source. They suggested not only that the film repeats the anti-Semitic Christ-killer charge, but that the Gospels themselves make this accusation. Therefore, they have argued that the Gospel records, by allegedly blaming the Jewish people for killing Jesus, are not trustworthy as historical records.
For example, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, director of the L’Chaim Society and host of a syndicated radio show, has called these Gospel records “cheap forgeries, contradicted by all serious history of the time.” He maintains that there was a “deliberate effort on the part of New Testament editors to slander the Jews.”
But it is not only Jewish people who demonstrate a lack of understanding. Christians have also reacted to the alarm sounded by the Jewish community with incomprehension and even resentment. For the most part, Christians cannot understand why their Jewish friends are so upset. While rightly affirming that the Gospels are not anti-Semitic, many followers of Christ have remained only casually touched by the life experience and fears that run so deep in many Jewish hearts.
The Passion Of The Christ, while breaking records at the box office, stirred up old misunderstandings between the Jewish and the Christian communities. While it awed Christians and deepened their affections for the One they believe died for them, many remained unconcerned for Jewish neighbors who saw it as a dangerous threat founded on inaccurate history. Too many Christians didn’t understand what was causing Jewish people to be fearful, and most Jewish people really don’t understand what the Gospels actually teach.
Both communities need more understanding. Jewish people need to understand that the Christ-killer accusation is not rooted in Scripture. Christians need to understand the sensitivity and fear that Jewish people have about the film (and the broader issue of the crucifixion of Christ), and why those fears need to be a concern to them as well.
This booklet is an attempt to bring that understanding to both groups. To do so, we will take a deeper look at who is responsible for the death of Jesus. We will view this issue from four perspectives—historical, biblical, theological, and practical.