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The Gospel of John has the dubious distinction of being both the most popular Gospel (widely considered the most “spiritual” of the canonical Gospels) and the most anti-Jewish. The term the “Jews” (Ἰουδαῖος – pronounced Ioudaios) in the Book of John functions as a hostile collective stereotype and is identified with “evil” and the “devil.”12 Like the Synoptics, the fourth Gospel also completely exonerates the Romans for the crucifixion of Jesus while holding the Jews entirely accountable for his execution.13 In a conversation between Jesus and Pilate, Jesus goes out of his way to comfort the Roman procurator of Judea assuring him that he has no power of his own, and therefore,

“the one who delivered me to you [the Jews] bear the greatest iniquity.”

(John 19:11)

In fact, nowhere in the New Testament are the Romans ever condemned for the crucifixion of Jesus. This cannot be said about the Jews. For example, in the Book of Acts, the Jews alone are excoriated and vilified for crucifying Jesus. Notice how the Roman culpability is never mentioned anywhere in this odious text:

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

(Acts 2:36)

It is not difficult to understand why Pontius Pilate is venerated as a saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. According to Eastern Orthodox traditions, Pilate committed suicide out of remorse for having sentenced Jesus to death.14

In contrast to the gracious, benign caricature of Pontius Pilate conveyed in the Gospels, according to noted historians, including Philo and Josephus, the Roman Governor was renowned for “his violence, thefts, assaults, abusive behavior, endless executions, and savage ferocity”15 and as a “cruel despot who executed troublemakers without a trial and ordered his soldiers to randomly attack, beat, and kill scores of Jews.”16 Not surprisingly, this record of Pilate’s brutality is mentioned nowhere in the New Testament. A cruel tyrant such as Pilate would not have hesitated to execute any leader whose followers posed a potential threat to Roman rule. The notion that the Jews would or could demand of Pilate to crucify Jesus is preposterous.

If you stop and think about it, Christendom’s indictment against the Jews for crucifying Jesus is ludicrous. On the one hand, the New Testament insists that it was the most wonderful thing for mankind to have an atonement through Jesus’ death. On the other hand, the Jews are vilified by the same New Testament for killing him. If you take New Testament theology to its full logical conclusion, the Jews should have been praised in the New Testament for making this atonement possible, not condemned. Does all this make any sense?

With regard to your request for advice on how to answer the Christian who accuses the Jews of killing Jesus, remember that you are dealing with someone who is operating out of a venomous hate for the Chosen People, the nation Who God regards the “apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). He is probably not interested in understanding why his charges are preposterous. Instead, remind him that his Bible says that the Almighty will bless those who bless Israel, and curse those curse Israel (Genesis 12:3). In short, Jew-hatred is a sin that damns the soul.

Bear in mind that although, as a result of this despicable charge of deicide, countless Christians have committed unspeakable atrocities against the Jewish people, many decent Christians condemn it. The reason for their condemnation, however, is often varied. There is no doubt that many Christians denounce anti-Semitism because of their genuine affection for the Jewish people. Unfortunately, many Christians who loudly declare their love for the Jewish people and condemn this charge of deicide have an ulterior motive: They do not want to be perceived by their potential Jewish converts to Christianity as being anti-Semitic or associated with Christendom and its long, dark history of hate.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Tovia Singer

  1. Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002, p. 612 (second stichos of Lord, I Have Cried at Vespers on Holy Friday)  
  2. Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002, p. 589 (third stichos of the Beatitudes at Matins on Holy Friday)  
  3. Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002, p. 586 (thirteenth antiphon at Matins on Holy Friday). The phrase “plotted in vain” is drawn from Psalm 2:1. 
  4. “Thou, the Christ Forever One,” words by William Bright, from Supplemental Hymns to Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1889)  
  5. Matthew 27:22-25 
  6. Mark 15:8-15 
  7. Matthew 27:13-25 
  8. Luke 23:8 
  9. Luke 23:3-23 
  10. John 18:38 
  11. John 19:11 
  12. John 8:44 
  13. John 19:11 
  14. “Pontius Pilate.” Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  15. Philo, On The Embassy of Gauis. Book XXXVIII 299-305. 
  16. Josephus, Jewish War 2.9.2-4