Abraham's Knife: The Mythology of the Deicide in Antisemitism

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Vienna, City of My Nightmares: The Introduction to Abraham's Knife

This book began in Vienna, although I didnít know it at the time. In the summer of 1966 my husband rescued me from the incessant demands of a house, a toddler and a new baby to take me along to a biophysics congress in Vienna. While he talked science with his colleagues I was free to roam about Viennaís streets, sit in cafes and explore museums. The museums of Vienna were numerous and fascinating and I rated them in excellence on a level with the opera, the coffee and the pastries.

Nevertheless, despite these amenities, and the sudden, blessed freedom from diapers and crying babies, I was not at ease in Vienna. I was fairly ignorant but not ignorant enough to enjoy my bliss. I knew Vienna had once had a large Jewish population which had been not only large, but also extraordinarily creative, productive and important in the economic and cultural life of the city. I saw no signs of sorrow or regret over the almost total disappearance of this population. I use the word disappearance purposively because as far as the Viennese were concerned, the Jews seemed to have vanished from the life of their city abruptly and somewhat magically, as at the wave of a conjurerís wand or in the shifting of the scenery, between one act and another of a theatrical drama. It seemed rude and inappropriate to suggest that some very energetic human intervention had been needed to arrive at Viennaís practically Judenrein condition.

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The Mythologizing of Jesus: From the Lecture Series by Judith Civan

Not long ago there was a great furor over Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. Reports of the movie by those who had seen it revealed an interesting split in opinion: generally speaking, Christians saw a spiritually uplifting film concerned with love and salvation while Jews saw a bloody, violent depiction of suffering and malevolence with themselves cast as the villains. Jews objected that the movie did not conform to current historical opinion about the facts of Jesus's life and death while Christians for the most part (there were a few scholarly dissenters) were content with the verdict suposedly rendered by the Pope, "It is as it was," or as some of them explained, "It's the Gospels, that's how it was." But, Jews complain, that is not how it was. We have conflicting historical evidence about many details of the story, the Gospels are not historically accurate and they do not even agree with one another about exactly what happened. Christians tend to shrug their shoulders and reply, the story is true and it's not antisemitic- Jesus himself was a Jew.

Let me say that I saw the movie, that it was horribly bloody and cruel and that it did lay most of the responsibility for Jesus's suffering on the Jews, despite the fact that Roman soldiers carried out the abuse. Nevertheless, I do not think it is an adequate explanation of Christian attitudes to say that these Christians are antisemitic and just don't want to admit it. I think many Christians did not see the antisemitism in the movie because they were focussed on something else, something more important to them, the establishment of salvation for their souls, and because they look at this movie and the Gospels themselves with criteria different from those which the Jews use.

For Jews Jesus is a historical figure but for Christians he is primarily a mythological one. That is not to say that Christians realize their Jesus, or as they call him, Christ, is a mythical figure, or that they do not claim historical status for him. Jesus is historical, Christ is mythical, and the Jesus Christ of Christianity is a mixture of history and mythology. And this is the nub of the problem. When Jews raise historical objections, Christians discount these objections because the Gospels are true, "It's the Gospel truth," and this is what matters to them. What we have to realize is that Gospel truth is spiritual and religious truth, not factual, historical truth, and if the two are in conflict, believers will choose the spiritual truth as the more important. What is more important- whether you end up in heaven or hell, or whether you get a few details right about the events of 2,000 years ago?

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© Copyright Judith Civan 2005

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