By Theodore Shoebat
A major Christian pastor who works as an advisor for president Trump declared that Judaism, pastor Robert Jefress, amongst other false religions, is satanic and leads people to hell. According to Haaretz, Jefress said:
“God sends good people to Hell. Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism–not only do they lead people away from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.”
Mitt Romney, a Mormon, attacked Jefress and described him as a “religious fanatic” and said that “Such a person should not lead the service at the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem”. Jefress also rightly called homosexuality “a perversion,” saying that sodomites partake in “the most detestable acts you can imagine.”
When Trump announced his intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Jeffress praised this and compared it to president Truman recognizing the state of Israel.
“Jerusalem has been the object of the affection of both Jews and Christians down through history and the touchstone of prophecy,” Jeffress said at the time, “but most importantly, God gave Jerusalem — and the rest of the Holy Land — to the Jewish people.”
Jefress has been getting a lot of negative attention from his past statements. I don’t understand why so many people are angered. Jefress is speaking from a Christian position, and what he is saying, in accordance to orthodox theology, is sound: Judaism rejects Christ as Messiah, and thus it is counter to correct Christian doctrine. Judaism condemns Christianity, and Jews have written against Christian theology. Yet the negative response to Jewish affirmations against Christianity is no where near as intense as when Christians present the position against Judaism that is in accordance to Christian teaching. Mel Gibson directed a film on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and it was pursuant to the narrative of the Gospel: that Jewish elites conspired to execute Jesus, and used the government of the Romans to carry out their sanguinary plan legally. This is what the Gospels recount, and yet people were enraged at the film for simply illustrating this.
So, I do not see what all the fuss is about.
Am I, as a Christian, suppose to be ashamed of what our own holy texts teach? Am I suppose to censure myself from simply referencing what the Gospel teaches: that Pontius Pilate himself did not want to execute Jesus, and that he told the Jews: “I find no fault in Him at all.” (John 18:38) Am I suppose to shut my mouth about the fact that it was the Jewish leadership that called for the death of Jesus, screaming: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (John 19:6)?
Am I to censure the reality, that Pilate found no fault in Christ, and that he told the Jews: “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him” (John 19:6)? Am I to shun the truth, that the Jews wanted Christ to be executed because they did not believe that He was the Son of God? Hence the Jews told Pilate: “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” (John 19:7) Judaism affirms that Christ is not the Son of God, and in this Judaism is against Christ, and therefore is antichrist. But am I to eschew this affirmation, even though St. John — a Jew himself — wrote: “He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22)? In this, Judaism stands for everything that Christianity is against, for it is antichrist.
This does not mean that I reject that God will redeem the Jews, since the Church follows Augustine in this regard, when he said:
But that those carnal Israelites who are now unwilling to believe in Christ shall afterward believe, that is, their children shall (for they themselves, of course, shall go to their own place by dying), this same prophet testifies, saying, ‘For the children of Israel abide many days without a king, without a prince, without a sacrifice, without an altar, without a priesthood, without manifestations.’ (Hosea 3:4)
For how can I believe that the Jews will be redeemed if I do not believe that Judaism is antichrist? For if Judaism was not antichrist, then I would never accept that God will redeem them, since they would never need to be redeemed if Judaism is not false. I accept that God will redeem the Jews, from the errors of atheism and Judaism. God Himself said that He would bring the Jews back to Israel unclean, and then sprinkle clean water to purify their hearts:
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” (Ezekiel 36:24-25)
Therefore, if I am to be condemned as an “antisemite” for saying that the Jews are in error, then those who throw accusations of antisemitism also condemn God for declaring that the Jews will return to Israel in filthy error. But even in acknowledging this reality, we do not shy away from constructive and balanced criticism of Judaism, or from pointing to evils done in Jewish history.
And dare I say, that we should not shy away from saying that Christianity is a faith embedded in the land of Israel? Jesus Christ was a native of Judea, His Church was formed first in Judea, all of His disciples were natives of Judea. Christianity is just as native to Israel as the Jews are. There is a beautifully rich history that Christianity holds in the land of Israel. As St. Sophronius wrote: “A divine longing for Holy Solyma [Hierosolyma, Jerusalem] presses on me fervently.” And this same holy man also wrote:
“Let me walk your pavements
And go inside the Anastasis
Where the King of all rose again
Trampling down the power of death
And as I venerate the worthy Tomb,
Surrounded by its conches
And columns surmounted by golden lilies,
I shall be overcome with joy.
Prostrate I will kiss the navel point of the earth, that divine Rock
In which was fixed the wood
Which undid the curse of the tree
How great your glory, noble Rock, in which was fixed
The Cross, the Redemption of mankind.”
Christ was born, executed, buried, and was resurrected in the land of Israel. Thus, Christianity is embedded in the land of Israel. To quote a very liberal scholar on religion, Jonathan Z. Smith:
“In order for land to be my land,” he writes, “one must live together with it. It is… living in relationship with [one’s] land that transforms uninhabited wasteland into homeland, that transforms the land into the land of Israel. It is that one has cultivated the land, died on the land, that one’s ancestors are buried in the land, that rituals have been performed in the land, that one’s deity has been encountered there in the land, that renders the land as a homeland, a land for man, a holy land. It is briefly, history, that makes land mine. …[It] is the shared history of generations that converts the land into the land of the Fathers.”
Many use the term “holy land” when referring to Israel, but the reality is that Israel — filled with sodomites and other evils — is unholy right now. Hence why God declares: “I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone to all people: all that shall lift it up shall be rent and torn, and all the kingdoms of the earth shall be gathered together against her.” (Zechariah 12:3) So what is the big issue of lifting up and raising up Jerusalem, be it by Jew, Muslim or Christian? These who lift it up, will be cut asunder. How could it be holy if St. John calls Jerusalem: “Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord also was crucified” (Revelations 11:8)?
Christianity began in Judea, and the land of Israel is drenched with the blood of the saints. There are many eras of persecution for Christians in Judea. Let us just look at one: that done by the Sassanid Persians. When the Persians invaded Jerusalem they slaughtered tens of thousands of Christians. From the year 614 AD there is an ancient book entitled, Expungnatio Hierosolymae, written by one Thomas, in which the writer records how many Christians were slaughtered by the Persians, and makes the effort to find out and document where they were buried. At the monastery of St. George, Thomas found seven martyrs; in one government building he found 28; in a number of cisterns he found 275 martyrs; before the gate of Holy Zion he found 2,250 corpses of martyrs; he found 290 corpses at the altar of the New Church; in the church of St. Sophia, Thomas found 369 martyrs; he found 212 in the monastery of Holy Anastasis; in the marketplace he found 38; at the gate of Probatike there were 1,207 martyrs buried; on the steps of the Anastasis there were 83 Christians buried, and in front of Golgotha, there were 80 martyrs. Thomas’ investigation led him to record that there were 65,555 Christians slaughtered in the Persians conquest of Jerusalem. (1)
The land of Israel is cultivated by the blood of martyrs, and not only this, but by the blood of that most holy rabbi, Who declared to the Jews: “I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) But how many today point to the fact that the Jews aided the Persians in their invasion of Jerusalem, and took part in the extermination of the Christian population there?
In the late sixth century, the Sassanian emperor, Chosroe II, asked the Roman Emperor Maurice to assist him in his squashing of some rebels who were revolting against his reign. As a show of favor towards the Romans’ help, Chosroe relinquished his claim over Armenia (where anti-Christian persecution by the Persians was immense), which was a source for much of the tensions between the Romans and the Persians. However, after a few years, the Emperor Maurice was murdered and a man named Phocas took his place. During this state of political instability, Chosroe capitalized on this moment of weakness and invaded eastern Anatolia, supposedly in the name of avenging Maurice’s murder. The Romans were too weak to stop the warpath of the Persians.
The Jews, observing what was happening, were in glee to see the political weakness of the Romans, and decided to side with who they perceived as the winning side: the Persians. When the Emperor Maurice was murdered, it is said that the Jews in Sycmania in Palestine (which lies in the vicinity of Haifa), rejoiced over the bloodshed because they saw it as a sign of the “decline of Roman power.” Some Jews even saw the rise of the Persians over the Romans as a presaging sign for the coming of the messiah. One Jew in Tiberias announced that the coming of the messiah was nigh: “In eight years the anointed one, the king of Israel, the Christ, will come … and he will raise up the nation of the Jews.” (2)
Heraclius, in the year 610, took control of the Roman empire and became emperor, and made the greatest effort to defeat the Persians. Before Heraclius could reinvigorate the Roman military, the Sassanids began to make their advance towards Syria, Palestine and Egypt. In the year 613, the major general of Chosroe, Shahrbaraz, led the Iranian warpath and invaded Damascus, and from there kept marching right towards Jerusalem. As the Sassanids marched through the cities of Palestine, the Jews revered and adulated the Persians as saviors against the Christians. The Jews at the time believed in a prophecy from the Talmud that said: “Rome is destined to fall before Persia.”
Jewish national pride escalated to an insatiable bloodlust, and Jews began to slaughter Christians. “When the Persians approached Palestine,” wrote an Armenian Christian historian, “the remnant of the Hebrew people rose up against the Christians. They committed great crimes out of national zeal and did many wrongs to the Christian community.” (3)
Notice the words that the historian uses to describe the hysteria of the Jews: “national zeal”. This is the same insidious spirit that possessed King Saul when he broke the covenant that Joshua had made with the Canaanite Gibeonites and began to slaughter this people. As the Scripture says: “Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; the children of Israel had sworn protection to them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 21:2) National pride that pursues cruelty is abominable, and it was this same evil rage that filled the Jews when they began to slaughter the Christians upon the Persians entering Judea. This national zeal of the Jewish race is one the main things that separate Christianity from Judaism, and truly it was a source of contention between the Jewish establishment and the Jews who accepted Christ as the Messiah. This ideological conflict is reflected in the words of St. John the Baptist when he cried out against the Pharisees and Sadducees:
“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:7-9)
The Jewish elites were teaching salvation by race, but Christ taught salvation by grace. National zeal does not lead to salvation, but rather cruelty. National zeal is not something that only the Jews fall for; it is something that we can all fall pray to. The nationalist Christians who commit the error of making their faith as something innate with their race go down the same road of national zeal that the Jews did, and the denouement of such a path is a bloodbath. This is seen in the history that we are here inquiring into.
In the year 611, the Jews — knowing of the division between Chalcedonian Christians (those who believed that Christ has two natures, human and divine) and non-Chalcedonian Christians — rioted in Antioch and murdered the Chalcedonian patriarch of the city, Anastasius II. The Jews exploited the divisions between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian, bringing further instability in the Roman empire, and thus making it easier for the Persians to invade. Even the Jews aknowledge this history. “It is not surprising,” writes Zvi Baras, “that the Jews in Eretz Israel did not hesitate to seize the singular opportunity which had been created to take part in what was happening and to join openly with the Persians and to free themselves from the Byzantine yoke.”
The Sassanids made their way through Israel, conquering cities and towns. When they reached Caesarea, the city surrendered without a struggle. After taking Caesarea, the Persians turned around and headed to Jerusalem. When the armies of the Sassanids arrived at Jerusalem, the patriarch of the city, Zacharias, hoping to preserve the lives of the Christians and to protect the holy places, and urged the populace to agree to a peace with the Persians. But the leadership of Jerusalem, alongside numerous citizens, tenaciously wanted to fight for the holy city on a hill. They sent a monk named Modestus to ask for military aid from the Byzantine troops stationed in Jericho, but when these soldiers saw the imposing strength of the Persians, they fled, leaving Jerusalem without defense.
In the year 614, the Persian general Shahrbaraz began the invasion of Jerusalem. The Sassanids dug trenches underneath the city’s walls, and build wood scaffolding to support the walls. When the wood was set on fire, the walls came crashing down. The Persians stormed the city and unleashed an “unbounded fury.” Without any mercy, they butchered men, women and children; they murdered priests, monks and nuns, profaned holy places and killed elderly people. The Jews, watching in glee, could not help but to take part in the slaughter. As the monk Strategos, who lived in a monastery in the Judean desert, recounted:
“Thereupon the vile Jews, enemies of the truth and haters of Christ, when they perceived that the Christians were given over into the hands of the enemy, rejoiced exceedingly, because they detested the Christians ; and they conceived an evil plan in keeping with their vileness about the people. For in the eyes of the Persians their importance was great, because they were the betrayers of the Christians. And in this season then the Jews approached the edge of the reservoir and called out to the children of God, while they were shut up therein, and said to them: ‘If ye would escape from death, become Jews and deny Christ; and then ye shall step up from your place and join us. We will ransom you with our money, and ye shall be benefited by us.’ But their plot and desire were not fulfilled, their labours proved to be in vain ; because the children of Holy Church chose death for Christ’s sake rather than to live in godless-ness : and they reckoned it better for their flesh to be punished, rather than their souls ruined, so that their portion were not with the Jews.
And when the unclean Jews saw the steadfast uprightness of the Christians and their immovable faith, then they were agitated with lively ire, like evil beasts, and thereupon imagined another plot. As of old they bought the Lord from the Jews with silver, so they purchased Christians out of the reservoir ; for they gave the Persians silver, and they bought a Christian and slew him like a sheep.The Christians however rejoiced because they were being slain for Christ’s sake and shed their blood for His blood, and took on themselves death in return for His death. . .”
From the perspective of the Jews, the Christians were unclean and were polluting the land of Israel. As one targum on the Song of Songs reads: “The elders of Israel say, ‘Flee my beloved, Lord of the universe, from this polluted land, and let your presence dwell in the high heavens.’” These words were written in Palestine in the Byzantine period. Thus those who were ‘polluting’ the land were the Roman Christians. The Sassanids reigned over Jerusalem for a decade and a half until Heraclius took Jerusalem in 628. But by then, Roman rule over the city was greatly numbered; for by 634 the armies of Islam were nearing the conquest of the city (which they eventually took in 637). The Jews saw the Roman empire as the fourth beast foretold by the prophet Daniel, just as many evangelicals do. A Hebrew poem, written several hundred years after the Romans retook Jerusalem, praises the Persian conquest of Jerusalem: “I rejoiced because the reign of the four beasts had ended.”
There were Jews who were very upset about the fact that Christians were reading the Torah, because they believed that the books of Moses were for the Jews an inheritance. Rabbi Yohanan said: “A gentile who studies the Law deserves death, for it is written, ‘Moses commanded us a law for an inheritance.’” To this Yohanan added, “[The Law] is an inheritance for us, not for them”. In the Byzantine period, in a debate between a Christian and a Jew, the Jew asks: “Why do you take what is ours and make it your own?”
As the Islamic armies were gathering to invade Judea, it is said, a number of Jews sent an embassy to the Byzantine emperor with these words:
“God has given this land as inheritance to our father Abraham and to his posterity after him; we are the children of Abraham; you have held our country long enough; give it up peacefully, and we will not invade your territory; otherwise we will retake with interest what you have taken.” (4)
Joseph wore a tunic of many colors (Genesis 37:3), and his brothers threw him into a pit; and Christ outstretched His arms for the many colors of humanity, and the Jewish elites were enraged at this, saying amongst themselves: “Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:20)
When discussing Jews in the Byzantine empire, there is a lot of talk about a supposed dark age for the Jewish people. But there is much evidence that signifies quite a rich Jewish culture in the Byzantine empire. As the Jewish archeologist Lee Levine writes:
“Heretofore it has been commonly assumed that the late Roman-Byzantine period witnessed a steady decline of Jewish life and the recession into a kind of Dark Age which was to last for centuries. Large-scale emigration, loss of political status, lapse of key communal institutions, economic hardships and religious discrimination bordering at times on persecution, were assumed to have had their cumulative effect, leaving the Jewish community in an impoverished state. This perception has been challenged on a number of fronts. The Cairo Geniza has revealed a series of literary works dating from this period, indicating the existence of a creative cultural life among Jews. This impression is the result of the now-accepted dating to late antiquity of a series of liturgical, apocalyptic, halakhic, and mystical works, previously thought to be medieval in origin. To these examples can now be added the ever increasing number of Byzantine synagogues being found throughout Israel. Moreover, other synagogues, products of a somewhat earlier age, continued to undergo extensive renovations, and were in use down to the Arab conquest of Palestine and beyond.” (5)
In the area of Giscala, there was a synagogue from the era of the Roman-Jewish war, and there have been many Roman coins, dated from the early fourth century, discovered in this site. According to archeologists who excavated the site, the history of the principle synagogue at Gush Halay can be described as such:
“250 CE — Constructed
306 — Damaged by earthquake
306 — Repaired
362 — Again damaged by earthquake
362 — Repaired
447 — Damaged by third earthquake
447 — Repaired
551 — Damaged by massive earthquake and site taken over by squatters.” (6)
There are numerous other examples. There was the synagogue in Nabratein, which was constructed in the second century AD, and which was rebuilt at the end of the third century, and then underwent a third phase of building in the early fourth century. The synagogue continued to flourish in the sixth century, and on the lintel of the edifice was written: “Four hundred and ninety-four years after the destruction [of the Temple], the house was built during the office of Hanina son of Lezer and Luliana son of Yudan.” The synagogue would continue to be used for another 150 years. (7)
So how could such synagogues thrive if the Byzantine empire was so “antisemitic” as it is so commonly accused of being? And the question that so few ask is: How could Christianity be antisemitic if the entire faith revolves around the worship of a Semitic rabbi? How could Christianity be antisemitic if the rabbi Who the faith proclaims to be the messiah has gotten more gentiles to read the Torah than any other rabbi in history?
The Jews have a right to the land, but they have no right to do evil.
(1) See Robert L. Wilken, The Land Called Holy, epilogue, p. 248
(2) Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati 4.1 (ed. Bonwetsch, 63, II. 17-18; ed. Grebault, 51) and 5.6 (Bonwetsch, 77, II.8-9, Grebaut, 76, in Robert L. Wilken, The Land Called Holy, ch. 10, p. 203
(3) F. Maler, Historie d’Heraclius par l’eveque Sebeos (Paris: 1904), 68. In Wilken, A Land Called Holy, ch. 10, p. 204
(4) See Wilken, A Land Called Holy, ch. 10, pp. 214-215
(5) See Wilken, The Land Called Holy, ch. 10, p.. 195
(6) See Wilken, A Land Called Holy, ch. 10, pp. 195-196
(7) See Wilken, A Land Called Holy, ch. 10, p. 96