Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1324, (15 - 21 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The Judeo-Christian tradition myth

In the second in a series of articles, Wagih Makky examines the myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many centuries before Jesus appeared in the land of Palestine, the Roman Republic and then Empire dominated vast tracts of the ancient world, including the East with its kaleidoscopic faiths.  Expediency mandated that it tolerate the religions and belief systems of the large number of nations under its hegemony as long as these peoples paid tribute to Rome and its masters.  

Being vehemently monotheistic, the Jews gradually became at odds with the overwhelming power of the polytheistic Roman Empire. When they refused to submit to the concept of the presumed divinity of the emperor in their prayers like everyone else, it was inevitable that Rome would persecute them.

Biblical scholars universally ascertain that the Jews at the time of Jesus were expecting the “Messiah” as a descendent of David and in his tradition as a powerful king to rid them of the oppression of the Romans. That is fundamentally why they rejected Jesus and denigrated his lineage. This belief lingered in Jewish lore over the centuries to surface again late in the 20th century when the bloodthirsty Ariel Sharon was called “King of Israel,” just short of the Jewish Messiah whom the Jews are still waiting for.

It is also agreed among biblical scholars that Jesus’s disciples were all committed Jews, forming with their followers the Christian Jewish community known historically as the “Church of Jerusalem”. The conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus introduced a fundamental game-changer by including Greek-speaking non-Jews into the presumed exclusively Jewish mission of Jesus Christ against the unrelenting opposition of Jesus’s disciples.  

Jewish revolts during the late first and the early second centuries CE resulted in a total break between the Aramaic-speaking Jews, including the Christian component and the non-Jewish Greek-speaking Christians. The latter sought safety by disavowing the Jews and Judaism to avoid the wrath of the Romans. That ensured the vanishing of the “Church of Jerusalem” from history. It was then just a matter of time before the Christians were assimilated into the Empire and participated in the persecution of the Jews. The ultimate humiliation of Judaism came in the expropriation of the Jewish sacred writings, designating them as the “Old Testament” prefiguring the coming of Jesus and complimenting the “New Testament” of the upstart Christian religion.  

It is important to notice that when Christianity appeared it took place in the East, with all of its great personalities emanating from the East as well. It is also well-established that Christian doctrine was not formulated by Jesus himself. It took the thinkers of the East to carry out that task along the lines of Paul’s conviction of the divinity of Jesus Christ. It was thus inevitable that differences of opinion would ultimately appear because all had evolved from indigenous eastern ideas, either Jewish or Hellenistic, at major centres located in the East.  

Canonical and heretical doctrines were all born in the East during the first few centuries in places like Alexandria, Antioch and to a far lesser degree, Constantinople, the “Rome of the East”. Rome itself contributed nothing to this intellectual undertaking, but derived its status solely from being the imperial capital. It is remarkable that all original Christian doctrinal writings currently in existence are in Greek, the later Latin ones being mere derivatives. The West during that era was on the receiving end of religion and culture from the East. Thus, Christianity appeared, was formulated canonically and heretically, wrote down its gospels and other major works and firmly took root in the East before it moved to the West.

The Roman Empire eventually converted to Christianity, albeit failing to stem the tide of religious strife among its Christian citizens. Irreconcilable doctrinal feuds based on the nature of Jesus Christ split Christianity into distinct Eastern and Western Christianities.  Eastern intellectual ferment resulted in chaos within the Empire, especially after Christianity was adopted as the official imperial religion. While Eastern Christians dissociated themselves from the Jews, who insisted on their exclusivity, it was the Western Christians that actually instituted the persecution of the Jews as part of the Christian doctrine.  

COMING OF ISLAM: When Islam dominated the East, thanks to its inherent tolerance, Eastern Christianity took a short time to reconcile itself to and peacefully co-exist with it.

With the triumph of Islam in the seventh century CE and in a stunningly short period of time, the great centres of Christian thought of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch became centres of Islamic thought. The pool of Christian scholars dried up and became instead a thriving Islamic one. The West abruptly and forever lost its formative sources of culture and scholarship because of Islam. With Islam’s central belief in the freedom of religion, the Eastern Churches saw no crucial conflict with Islam while they stood at odds with Western Christianity.

It is interesting to notice that the Eastern Churches, particularly the Church of Alexandria, settled their doctrinal arguments and established their Christian creeds long before the Western Church did, and imperial politics injected itself into the process. This was the fundamental reason for the irreversible rupture between the Western Church and Egyptian and Greek Orthodoxy in the fifth century CE following the Council of Chalcedon.

It is also remarkable that while the doctrines of Western Christianity have been under continuous revision, begetting new denominations even up to the present time, the Eastern Orthodox Church experienced doctrinal stability immediately after coming into contact with Islam. When Eastern Christians felt uncomfortable with the Orthodox doctrine, they did not revise it to form another sect but rather converted to Islam. Thus, paradoxically in this way the supremacy of the Eastern Orthodox Church over its followers was never seriously challenged.  One can clearly see that Islam in a subtle and roundabout way contributed to the remarkable stability of Eastern Christianity.

While the West retained its imported Christian religion, it was incapable of formulating its own Christian faith and contributed little to what it received from the East. The West could only translate the Eastern Greek originals into Latin with historically detrimental confusion leading to religious wars and intra-communal strife. Western culture stagnated at that time for over a thousand years until the Age of Enlightenment. The West’s only real intellectual contribution started taking shape at that very late time using its strong Western Christian foundations but completely disconnected from any appreciation of what Eastern Christianity had developed out of Islam and its religious tolerance.

With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Western Church became the only organised institution towering over and in total control of the daily lives of Western people. This phenomenon ushered in the “Dark Ages” in Europe. Jews were the ultimate victims of the total dominance of the Western Church, as they were stigmatised as the “killers of the Lord” in stark contrast to their future status within the world of Islam, especially in Spain.  Eventually the persecution of the Jews was institutionalised by Church Fathers such as Saints Augustine, Jerome and Aquinas, and even Martin Luther and the leaders of the Reformation.  

Jews living within the realm of Islam produced great scholars such as Musa Ibn Maimoun (Maimonides) and contributed much to their societies as citizens. They were usually subjected to the same social circumstances of prosperity or decline as their fellow Muslims and Christians. However, the lot of Jews living under the tutelage of Western Christianity was sombrely different. The infamous Crusades started by massacring them wherever they could be found for no particular reason other than that they were Jews. They suffered the horrors of the Inquisition, especially the Spanish sort after the fall of the last vestiges of Islam in Spain.  

No country or society in the West is excluded from the systematic persecution of the Jews. One of the most egregious affronts is known as the “blood libel” which took place in 1144 in England.  Jews were expelled from Vienna and Linz in 1421, from Cologne in 1424, Augsburg in 1439, Bavaria in 1442 (and again in 1450) and from the crown cities of Moravia in 1454. They were thrown out of Perugia in 1485, Vicenza in 1486, Parma in 1488, Milan and Lucca in 1489 and from Florence and all of Tuscany in 1494.

They were expelled from both Cracow and Lithuania in 1495. Expulsions took place many times in the succeeding centuries until the Second World War.

After the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 they were not allowed back until the Puritans under Cromwell defeated the royalists and executed the king in 1649 and then revisited the issue. Modern British historians take pride in the fact that no laws have been found that banned the Jews from residing in England, as if reality does not count. Although Jews within the universal community of Islam were never persecuted for simply being Jews, these same historians berate the Muslim communities when Jews, among all other Muslim and non-Muslim poor, suffer at times of decline. On the other hand, they brag about the fact that after the restoration of the monarchy in England, the Jews were only discriminated against in the same way as Catholics and other non-conformists and non-Anglicans were discriminated against.  

LATER HISTORY: Assimilating the Jews in the 19th century created social problems in every corner of the West. The backlash that the “Jewish problem” engendered and the deteriorating conditions of the Russian-East European Jews eventually created the circumstances that helped establish Zionism.  

For the Jews, equal rights in enlightenment Europe were only a veneer and the shattering of the façade was triggered by the incident known as the Dreyfus Affair in France.  Dreyfus, the first Jewish officer to serve in the French general staff, was falsely accused of treason as a cover up for the actual treason of a high-ranking French officer. He was convicted and sent to the hellish Devil’s Island prison camp. Because of the furore the Affair created, he was brought back from Devil’s Island, retried, convicted again and offered a free pardon which he accepted under pressure from his family and the Jewish establishment. The affair polarised French society and generated powerful anti-Jewish sentiment.

The West then strived to find a solution to its “Jewish problem” by ridding itself of the Jews altogether by whatever means, including extermination. Although Jews always identified their prosperity with Islamic tolerance and their persecuted members in the West spoke of their Spanish “Golden Age”, solving the “Jewish problem” became paramount in their thinking. The unholy collaboration between the persecutor and the persecuted resulted in the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The same period witnessed the decline in the fortunes of Muslims everywhere.

Because of the expropriation of the Jewish sacred writings to form the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, latter-day westerners assumed, against all historical evidence and logic, that there is a common tradition linking Judaism and Christianity. All great personalities in the Jewish tradition became great personalities prefiguring the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Therefore, Western political discourse has introduced a torrent of mostly meaningless expressions during the past two centuries, especially after the Second World War. One of the most injudicious of these is the existence of a common “Judeo-Christian” culture which describes the core values of Western civilisation. It may be understandable that guilt-ridden Western Christianity would subscribe to such fiction to justify its millennial persecution of Judaism and the Jews; however, it is inconceivable that modern-day supposedly sane Jews have found it acceptable to utter such nonsense since the rise of the Zionist Movement.  

It is the fanatical evangelical fundamentalist part of Western Christianity that is responsible for coining that expression. Its reason is to force the hand of God and bring about the second coming of Christ by returning Jews to the Holy Land where they will finally accept Jesus Christ as their “Messiah” or be exterminated. This is obviously a dim-witted premise for any sane Jew to advocate, but some do as a cynical and perverted way to extort some support for the benefit of the State of Israel.

With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Christianity faced a formidable theological dilemma. It could not possibly accept Mohamed as the messenger of God after God Himself (or His son) had already walked the earth in a final act of salvation for humanity. While Eastern Christianity rejected the message of Islam, it opted very early on for peaceful coexistence as well as actual and fruitful cultural cooperation with it. However, Western Christianity (and its renegade illegitimate child atheism) designated Islam as the eternal enemy.  

The fictional “Judeo-Christian” tradition invented by the West became a useful tool to deploy in the fight against Islam, with currently the State of Israel serving as a willing minor partner to achieve that purpose. Almost all Jews are well aware of this immoral alliance, but only a few sagacious Jewish thinkers speak forcefully against it from time to time, exposing themselves to unwarranted personal attacks by the servants of Western imperialism old and new.

The identification of prominent Jews with the illusion of this common tradition is truly unfortunate as they go down the slippery road of verbally disparaging Islam in tandem with the West, prompting fanatics to respond in kind but with physical violence.

While the struggle against Israel as an occupying and alien force has been confined to the disputed land of Palestine ever since the creation of the State of Israel, innocent Jewish targets worldwide are becoming collateral victims in the tit-for-tat Western attacks on Islam, as is repeatedly seen, especially in France.

Jesus Christ and all the revered personalities of the Bible are all integrated into Islam.  That gives Muslims every right to discuss them as their own, which they recurrently do in great exaltation. Additionally, Muslims subscribe to the universally accepted thesis that Paul is the person who formulated what has been practised as the religion of Christianity, and as such they hold him squarely responsible, in their opinion, for any corruption that befell it.  Therefore, he is not part of the Islamic tradition. However, there is absolutely no literature by any Muslim at any time anywhere denigrating or speaking ill of him in keeping with the Islamic principle of the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

On the other hand, it is obvious that none of the revered personalities of Islam, especially its Prophet Mohamed, has anything to do with Jewish or Christian tradition. It should logically follow that apart from strictly respectful academic research, these Islamic symbols ought not to be discussed by Westerners. Why, then, are they continuously and deliberately subjected to degrading insults by Westerners invoking the so called “Judeo-Christian” principle of freedom of speech?  

One recent example was the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris in 2015 in which Jewish bystanders were trampled during the mêlée. While murdering the French journalists of Charlie Hebdo is reprehensible by any standards, these cartoonists deliberately and maliciously went out of their way to grotesquely denigrate beliefs held dear and sacred by others just for the fun of it. Their acts were committed premeditatedly in the racist and bigoted belief that Muslims can be pushed around, habitually abused with impunity, and should be treated as sub-humans. Such an assumption was obviously idiotic.

It is, therefore, stupid and simplistic to wonder or get angry about the vehement outrage felt by Muslims and the ensuing backlash. The so called “Judeo-Christian” West is better off understanding that Islam will be defended against any perceived attack no matter what, and if not by qualified scholars, then by the fanatical rabble. Violence will be answered by violence in due course, and everyone suffers.

The writer is an international consultant and former member of the US Transportation Security Administration. This article is adapted from his book Islam and the West – Why Do They Hate Us So Much?

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