SA Weekend in Minneapolis with the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 16 May 2007 0 Comments
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Given that the authors of the gospels were Jewish, why were the Jews instead of the Romans vilified and held

responsible for the death of Jesus? Making Jews responsible for Jesus" death justified incredible violence against the



Yours is a frequent question that arises out of the misreading of the gospels as history. They are rather

interpretive works of art. The first Christians were Jews. The story of Jesus was remembered and retold in the synagogues.

The division in the synagogue was between the Orthodox (strict constructionists) Party and the revisionist Jews (many of

whom became Christian). The primary hostility in the gospels toward the Jews comes out of the Fourth Gospel (John) that was

written shortly after his revisionist Jews had been excommunicated from the synagogue by the Orthodox party. When that

gospel refers to the Jews, it was referring not to Jews in general but to the Orthodox Party. Later people, uninformed

about the history of this period, would read that as hostility between Christians and Jews. In reality these Christians

were also Jews and the battle was between the Orthodox Party of the Jews and the Revisionist Party of the Jews. By about

125 C.E., however, there were few Jews left in the Christian Church. They had been assimilated or intermarried and so

Christians forgot their roots and began to turn their Christian vitriol against all Jews. Christianity has been the primary

source of anti-Semitism and the price that Jews have paid for that prejudice in both life and property cannot be


Christians also paid a price for their anti-Semitism but it did not cost them life and property as it did the

Jews. It came rather in the form of being unable to read properly or to understand their own gospels, which were

essentially Jewish works of art. They rather read these gospels as literal narratives and in the process distorted the

gospels and Christianity badly. In the last few decades of the 20th century, Christianity finally began to turn toward its

own origins and that is when we begin once more to see how deeply Jewish the gospels are. Many people were part of this

movement, but in my opinion the greatest names were Michael Donald Goulder of the University of Birmingham in the U.K.,

Krister Stendahl of Harvard and later a Lutheran bishop in Sweden, and Samuel Sandmel, a Jewish New Testament scholar who

taught at the University of Chicago. At least these were the men who opened my eyes to a whole new way of reading the New

Testament. I am much in their debt. Finally the anti-Semitism of the Christian Church is beginning to recede. The way you

posed your question reveals a rising consciousness.

I hope this helps. We still have much work to do to repair the damage of the centuries.

John Shelby Spong




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