Christianity: a History

Last night (7pm, 11th Jan 2009), I sat down to watch TV and was surprised (not having looked at the programme guide) to find a new series just beginning entitled: Christianity: a History. The programme was presented by Howard Jacobson who is Jewish, and this first programme in the series was to be his take on the Christian faith.

This was a disturbing programme for several reasons, but there were two things which made it especially so. Firstly, and most obviously, were the facts being presented; the stories of some of the horrors which the Jewish people have suffered throughout history. There’s no doubt that much of this has been as a result of misunderstandings and misinterpretation of the Christian faith and the programme showed many examples of this; enough to bring tears to the eyes of all Christians who truly bear the name.

For example, towards the end of the programme, we were shown examples of English anti-Semitism in both York and Lincoln. We were told horrific tales of how Jews were thought to be non-human and portrayed with horns or distorted faces, and who abused and then drank the blood of human babies. We were shown the Jewish ghetto of Rome, an area set aside for Jews to separate them from Christians. No intermarriage was allowed. Their only way out was conversion to Christianity. And the horrors were interspersed throughout the documentary, with – almost as the programme closed – the inevitable pictures of concentrations camps in Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

But there was another disturbing aspect to this programme; and this is that in many places, it seemed to go far beyond its attempt to analyse the Christian faith through Jewish eyes and became itself a vehicle for anti-religious propaganda, this time against Christians. No Christian commentator with a contrary view to the anti-Christian stance of the programme was included, large amounts of the interpretation of scripture being left to the presenter. As a result, various texts of scripture were brought together, all from a side which reflected negatively on the Christian faith, and all kinds of assertions were made about Christians attempting to cover up (or failing to understand) the Jewish roots of our faith. Consider one or two introductory quotes from the programme:

‘How could Jesus be the Messiah if he fulfilled none of the prophecies? Jesus was meant to be a king…. he was anything but. He didn’t fulfil the Messianic prophecy’ (of Micah). ‘How do Christians get round this … the second coming; then the job’ll be done.’ ‘Jesus did not bring about God’s kingdom here on earth. Later Christians turned his material failure into spiritual success. Salvation, they said, would happen in another world.’ ‘How does it harm a Christian’s faith to restore Jesus to the real Jewish world in which he lived; to hear again in fear and trembling the words he spoke, free from the distortions of a later self justifying and Jew falsifying Christianity?’

Paul James D. Tabor (author of The Jesus Dynasty) had this to say: ‘It was Paul who changed Jesus the Jew into Jesus the Christ. Not any human being, but the son of God.’ Paul said: “if they don’t accept this thing that I’m now teaching about Jesus, then you should consider them enemies.” Now this is scary…… As time went on, he (Paul) got more and more radical about this. ….things that are done in the church are Paul more than Jesus, and I think the original Jewish teachings of Jesus have been largely muted. Things that are done in the church… when youre standing doing (sic) the creeds or eating the bread and taking wine or baptising, … the – quantissential (sic) Christian things.. – that’s only in Paul and so his triumph is complete.’ As the programme drew to its close the (shocking) assertion was made that ‘John in his gospel talks about the Jews as ‘devils’, the children of Satan.’ No attempt was made to set this (or any other text) into context, or to make any distinction between what Jesus was referring to as simply ‘sinful men’ and Jewish people per se.

The presenter, Jacobson, beginning his concluding remarks said: ‘Despite the thaw in relations between the two religions, unredeemed Jews still trouble Christianity’ (Cue deep choral music in minor key and pictures of the aforementioned Nazi concentration camp). The sudden implication shocked me to the core. Surely, I thought, not all Christians are to be blamed for the Holocaust? But Jacobson continued; ‘The Holocaust cannot be called a Christian crime; Christians connived in it, but Christians suffered in it too. The Holocaust was a crime against all humanity. But centuries of Christian vilification of Jews enabled it, clearing a path for irrational loathing in the hearts of men…. make no mistake, for some Christians, the Holocaust was payback time.’ The doleful music continued beneath the words.

The overall effect of the programme was to leave the general viewer with the impression that the blame for the treatment of the Jewish people over the past 2000 years should be laid squarely on the shoulders of Christians. No distinction was made between people who are ‘Christian’ in name only as opposed to true believers who follow the Prince of Peace. No mention was made of the hatred and animosity of other religions towards Jewish people. And most important of all, as with all such programmes, there was a failure to recognise that the problems faced by humanity are to do with the sinfulness of human beings, not simply this or that religion or ideology.

In short, this was par for the course for Channel 4. It was a biased documentary. Of course, it is right and proper that we be reminded of the sufferings of the Jewish people throughout the centuries and try to change attitudes and correct past wrongs wherever we can. It is right that we recognise those parts of the history of the Christian Church which have only brought shame upone the name of Christ. But to try to do these things by adding to the (already) anti-Christian feeling which is already quite evident in this land is certainly not helpful.

  1. So typical of channel 4.
    They are too cowardly to engage in any kind of reasonable debate on equal terms. Rather than that they make completely false and unfounded claims, and distort the facts.
    There is no such thing as journalistic objectivity with them.

  2. There was a theme running through the programme which hasn’t been commented on so far. Let me explain…

    Howard Jacobson does not have a Christian worldview and so was able to ask the six-million dollar question – did Jesus come to start a new religion called Christianity – but could also answer it with a resounding “no”.

    By doing so, he showed more insight and understanding than virtually every Christian I’ve ever met.

    I agree with him on this point, and it may surprise you to discover that I’m a follower of Jesus!

    I differ from Jacobson in that I believe Jesus to be the mashiach or Jewish messiah.

    (For completeness I should add that I don’t agree with the various things presented in the programme that could be called liberal theology).

    Jesus (we should really use his Hebrew name Yeshua) came to fulfill, not abolish Torah (the law), and to extend the people of God to include Gentiles as well as Jews. I don’t believe he came to found Christianity.

    The development of Christianity apart from Judaism is not what God intended, in my opinion. It came about in the post-biblical period for reasons that were anti-semitic and political.

    Sadly, for most people, this whole subject is an entrenched axiom that cannot be challenged. So having lit the blue touch-paper, I’d better stand well back!!!

  3. Sidefall
    Thanks so much for your comment. I’m with you. I don’t believe that Jesus came to ‘start a new religion’ but to fulfil Torah. Unlike the Christians you’ve met, I don’t find your views surprising or controversial. And I must say that most (true) Christians I’ve met would concur with everything you say. I hate anything to do with antisemitism, as should all Christians.

    Unfortunately, especially in the West, much the history of the past 2000 years has been dominated by this huge, monolithic ‘religion’ which has at times ‘controlled’ ordinary people and/or frightened them into some kind of nominal Christian belief, often getting these same people to go out in Christ’as name and slaughter enemies of the Church. Not only Jewish people have suffered at the worst excesses of this, but lots of true Christians and people of other faiths too. On the other hand, the Christian Church has done wonderful things, building schools, hospitals etc, and inspiring some of the greatest art the world will ever know.

    Ultimately, I think that in all the horrors and excesses of our Christian history, we should blame blame the sinfulness of human beings and never the religious ideas themselves, whether from Judaism or the teaching of Christ.

    God bless and thanks again for the post.


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