Jewish deicide

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Jewish deicide is a belief that places the responsibility for the death of Jesus on the Jewish people as a whole. This deicide accusation is expressed in the ethnoreligious slur "Christ-killer." As a part of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI issued a declaration which repudiated the belief in the collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Responsibility of Jewish authorities[edit]

According to Jeremy Cohen, "[e]ven before the Gospels appeared, the apostle Paul (or, more probably, one of his disciples) portrayed the Jews as Christ's killers ... But though the New Testament clearly looks to the Jews as responsible for the death of Jesus, Paul and the evangelists did not yet condemn all Jews, by the very fact of their Jewishness, as murderers of the son of God and his messiah. That condemnation, however, was soon to come."[1]

The accuracy of the Gospel accounts' portrayal of Jewish complicity in Jesus' death is debated. According to the New Testament accounts, the Jewish authorities in Roman Judea charged Jesus with blasphemy and sought his execution (see Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus), but lacked the authority to have Jesus put to death (John 18:31), so they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of the province, who consented to Jesus' execution (John 19:16). However, some Jewish authorities were responsible for the stoning of Saint Stephen in Acts 7:54 and of James the Just in Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1 without the consent of the governor. As the Jesus Seminar's Scholars Version translation notes for John 18:31: "it's illegal for us: The accuracy of this claim is doubtful."

Pilate's portrayal in the Gospel accounts as a reluctant accomplice to Jesus' death is also questioned. It is suggested that a Roman Governor such as Pilate would have no problem in executing any leader whose followers posed a potential threat to Roman rule. It has also been suggested that the Gospel accounts may have downplayed the role of the Romans in Jesus' death during a time when Christianity was struggling to gain acceptance in the then pagan or polytheist Roman world.[2]

Deicide charge against Jews in general[edit]

Justification of prejudice against Jews for the death of Jesus has been attributed to Matthew 27:24-25, "When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man’s blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!' "

An early documented accusation that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus came in a homily in 167 AD attributed to Melito of Sardis entitled Peri Pascha. This text blames the Jews for allowing King Herod and Caiaphas to execute Jesus, despite their calling as God's people (i.e., both were Jewish). It says "you did not know, O Israel, that this one was the firstborn of God." The author does not attribute particular blame to Pontius Pilate, but only mentions that Pilate washed his hands of guilt.[3] At a time when Christians were widely persecuted, Melito's speech is believed to have been an appeal, not to punish Jews, but for Rome to spare Christians. [4]

The sermon itself is written in Greek, and as such does not use the Latin word for deicide, deicidas. According to a Latin dictionary, the Latin word deicidas was used by the fourth century, by Peter Chrysologus in his sermon number 172,[5] where he wrote Iudaeos … fecit esse deicidas, i.e., "Jews… committed deicide".[6]

In Liturgy[edit]

Eastern Christianity[edit]

The Holy Friday liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholics uses the expression "impious and transgressing people",[7] but the strongest expressions are in the Holy Thursday liturgy, which includes the same chant, after the eleventh Gospel reading, but also speaks of "the murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews",[8] and, referring to "the assembly of the Jews", prays: "But give them, Lord, their reward, because they devised vain things against Thee."[9]

Western Christianity[edit]

A liturgy with a similar pattern, historically using the term "perfidious Jews," can be found in the Improperia of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Anglican Church, the first Anglican Book of Common Prayer did not contain this formula, but has emerged in later versions, for example, the 1989 Anglican Prayer Book of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, as the The Solemn Adoration of Christ Crucified or The Reproaches.[10] Although not part of Christian dogma, many Christians, including members of the clergy, preached that the Jewish people were collectively guilty for Jesus's death.[11]


As a part of Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI issued the declaration Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time"), which in part repudiated the traditional belief in the collective Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion.[11] Nostra Aetate stated that, even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus' death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty.

On November 16, 1998, Church Council of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a resolution prepared by its Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations urging any Lutheran church presenting a Passion play to adhere to their Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations, stating that "the New Testament … must not be used as justification for hostility towards present-day Jews," and that "blame for the death of Jesus should not be attributed to Judaism or the Jewish people."[12][13]

In his 2011 book, Pope Benedict XVI repudiates blaming the Jewish people, and also questions the historicity of the passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew which has the crowd saying, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children".[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jeremy Cohen (2007): Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen. Oxford University Press. p.55 ISBN 0-19-517841-6
  2. ^ Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 5. (1992) pg. 399-400. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
  3. ^ On the passover pp. 57, 82, 92, 93 from Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary
  4. ^ R.M. Grant "Five Apologists and Marcus Aurelius" Vigiliae Christianae 42 (1988): 1-17
  5. ^ Charleton Lewis and Charles Short, Latin Dictionary Latin Dictionary
  6. ^ Cermons of Peter Chrysologus, vol. 6, p. 116, "Sermo CLXXII", at Google Books
  7. ^ 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)
  8. ^ 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)
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ An Anglican Prayer Book (1989) Church of the Province of Southern Africa
  11. ^ a b Nostra Aetate: a milestone - Pier Francesco Fumagalli
  12. ^ Evangelical Lutheran Church in America "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" November 16, 1998
  13. ^ World Council of Churches "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" in Current Dialogue, Issue 33 July, 1999
  14. ^ Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI (2011). Jesus of Nazareth. Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  15. ^ "Pope Benedict XVI Points Fingers on Who Killed Jesus". 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-18.