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June 10, 2008

James Carroll Overstates the Case

James M. Caroll's Constantine's Sword is a detailed and compelling study of Christian anti-Semitism and its impact on the both Jews and Christians. Carroll details in page after painful page how Christian anti-Judaism -- hostility toward Judaism as a religion -- mutated into hostility toward the Jews as a people, with lethal consequences. Carroll, who addresses the problem in the context of the Roman Catholic Church (his own faith community), makes it perfectly clear that all Christians have an obligation to look at their own scriptures in the light of history, which includes centuries of theologically and scripturally inspired hate toward Jews.

Sadly, James M. Caroll has a tougher time dealing with the enmity expressed toward Jews in the Koran. During a recent appearence on Here and Now, on WBUR in Boston, Carroll stated suggested the hostility toward Jews in the Middle East is entirely imported from the Christian church.

The Christian tradition of anti-Semitism has spread like a virus and it has been picked up—caught by segments of Arab, Islamic culture but one of the things to be quite aware of is that there is nothing endemic to the religion of Islam or to certainly the text of the Koran that leads to anti-Semitism.

This provoked a detailed response from Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism (Prometheus, 2008) who writes:

Indeed the Koran’s overall discussion of the Jews is marked by a litany of their sins and punishments, as if part of a divine indictment, conviction, and punishment process.

Bostom then provides numerous citations to buttress his thesis that indeed hostility toward Jews is present in the Koran.

While Christians are right to be concerned about the presence of anti-Jewish polemic in their own churches, they cannot ignore the issue of theologically and scripturally based contempt for Jews in Islam.

While Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of Faith and Fratricide does not go into great detail about Muslim teachings regarding Jews, she does address the issue in the Wrath of Jonah (which she co-wrote with her husband Herman).

On page 29, the Ruethers report:

From the time of Muhammed ... Islam was confronted with the religions by those religions it claimed to compete [Judaism and Christianity]. ... [C]onflicts with the Jews are the source of negative statements against them in the Qur'an. Borrowing anti-Judaic themse from Christianity, the Qur'an depicts the Jews as having received the covenant from God but as having lost it through their many backslidings. Their Scriptures are corrupted and do not represent the original revelations of Moses and the prophets, which have been restored by Muhammed.

On the following page, the Ruethers write that Muslims had "a detached contempt" toward Jews, as opposed to the paranoia and hostility exhibited by Christians. "To the Muslims, the Jews were one people of the Book among others; their status was paralleled by that of Christians and other religious minorities. In Christendom, however, Jews were the only non-Christian group allowed to exist at all. Islam lacked the same intense focuse on the Jews as a 'problem.'"

To be sure, Benard Lewis, in Semites and Anti-Semites does argue that the virulent anti-Semitism that has become increasingly prevalent in the Middle East was a consequence of Christian, or European attitudes toward Jews.

European anti-Semitism, in both its theological and racist versions, was essentially alien to Islamic traditions, culture and modes of thought. But to an astonishing degree the ideas, the literature, even the crudest inventions of the Nazis and their predecessors have, so to speak, been internalized and Islamized. The major themes--the Protocols, the invented Talmud quotations, ritual murder, the hatred of mankind, the masonic and the rest of the conspiracy theories, poisoning the wells and taking over the world--remain; but they are given an Islamic, even a Qur'anic twist. Thus, the classical Islamic accusation, that the Old and New Testaments are superseded because the Jews and Christians had falsifield the revelations which had been vouchsafed to them, is given a new slant--that the Bible in its extant form is not authentic but is a version distorted and corrupted by the Jews in order to show that they are God's chosen people and that Palestine belongs to them.

While Lewis argues the pre-existing contempt for Jews in the Middle East was given a new virulence by Christian teachings, Carroll suggests that it was entirely an import from the Church. Bostom's research shows however, that the Koran, like the New Testament, exhibits an anti-Judaic strain all its own. Whatever differences there are between them, Islam and Christianity both share a sad legacy of contempt for Jews and that this contempt is rooted in part in scripture and teachings of both religions.

On one hand, Christian reluctance to address the issue of Muslim hostility toward the Jewish people and their homeland (a reluctance which is clearly evident in mainline commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict) can be explained by a desire to keep remove the mote from one's own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else's. On the other hand, this silence does not promote the cause of peace.

Posted by dvz at June 10, 2008 02:41 PM


Arab hostility and aggression against Jews go back to the Roman Empire and indeed much earlier, since the tribe of Amalek was an Arab tribe [according to the 19th British Arabist, Richard Burton]. In the Roman period, Arab auxiliary troops joined the Roman forces besieging Jerusalem in the year 70 CE [Tacitus, The Histories, book 5:1]. See link:

Posted by: Eliyahu [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 11, 2008 05:29 PM

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