The Earliest Gospel by Frederick C. Grant
Frederick C. Grant was Edwin Robinson Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York, and President of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanstaon Ill. He was a member of the Revision Committee for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Published by Abingdon Press, New York and Nashville, 1943. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 10: Was Mark Anti-Semitic?
It is one of the strangest and also one of the most abhorrent and diabolical paradoxes of Western civilization that the people among whom Christianity arose, and to whose religion it owed the most historically, have been for nineteen centuries the object of undying animosity. Moreover, at no time during all the so-called Christian centuries has this hatred risen to such a height as at the present day in central, eastern, and southern Europe. That this is a Western trait -- that is, European and, alas, to some extent American -- is evident. In no other quarter of the globe is this hatred felt, save in parts of northern Africa, where it is a recently imported prejudice, and in Palestine, where modern Zionism has complicated the relations between Arabs and Jews. Across the remaining vast stretches of the other continents, the Jewish minorities live at peace with their neighbors and in mutual respect. There is at present no open antagonism toward Jews in Great Britain. Here in this country it has recently broken out in certain quarters, with a few ignorant and noisy advocates and an illiterate and credulous following; but, please God, we shall stifle the hateful monster before it grows to threatening proportions, to plague, destroy, or disgrace us.
One wonders how anti-Semitism ever got started. It certainly existed in the Greco-Roman world before the rise of Christianity. But Christianity as certainly added fuel to the fire, instead of putting it out. One wonders how this could ever come to pass; for, equally certainly, the gospel of Jesus, that is, the gospel which he taught, does not countenance hatred -- of his own or of any people. The New Testament also reflects, of course, a variety of views later than Jesus. And though Paul was willing to be anathema -- accursed by God -- for his brethren’s sake, (Rom. 9:3) there were other voices. Matthew interpolates into the passion narrative the tragic scene in which Pilate first endeavors to set Jesus free, then dramatically washes his hands of the whole affair, "and all the people . . . . said, His blood be on us, and on our children."(Matt. 27:25.)
This is of course a later touch, legendary and polemical, like the story of the sealed tomb.(Matt. 27:62-66; 28:11-15.) It reflects the growing antagonism between church and synagogue during the era that succeeded the Fall of Jerusalem in AD. 70 -- it may even be second-century in origin. In the Gospel of John this antagonism is still more bitter: Jesus is accused of being a Samaritan, and possessed by a devil, and in retort he calls the Jews "liars" (John 8:55) and "sons of the devil." (John 8:44.) All critics now recognize that this is not the historical Jesus speaking, but the dramatic figure whom John has set in his place -- the mysterious, half-mythical, half-Gnostic protagonist of light and truth who attacks the darkness of this world and dies at the hands of his own people, but in doing so "overcomes the world." The antagonism is not between Jesus and "the Jews," but between church and synagogue in the early second century; the Johannine controversies clearly reflect this later situation. That this critical, historical point of view has not yet penetrated certain areas where the Bible is still taken "just as it is" surely goes a long way to explain the renewed outbreaks against Judaism and the Jews in our time -- even in our own country.
But anti-Semitism goes back of the later Gospels. There are traces of it even in Mark -- or at least so Mark may be understood. Professor H. A. L. Fisher has observed, in his brilliant new History of Europe, that although Christianity was originally Jewish, and hence the two sects were apt to be confused by the Romans, after Paul
Christian and Jew sprang apart. As time went on, the story of the Crucifixion, told with exquisite simplicity and pathos, and becoming widely known wherever Christians met together, deepened the gulf, and the crime of a handful of priests and elders in Jerusalem was visited by the Christian churches upon the whole Jewish race. It is thus that St. Mark, the earliest evangelist, appears to many Jews as being, although without malice, the first of the line of anti-Semitic authors.(Vol. I, p. 6)
How did this anti-Semitism arise? Was Mark the author of it, "although without malice"? Or did it characterize the tradition that Mark received? It is not found in Paul, as we have just noted. Certainly it is not found in the Q cycle, or in L, or even in what are probably the most basic, noneditorial parts of M. Luke has none of it, either in the Gospel or in Acts. Nor is it found in the Apocalypse, which even takes over and incorporates older Jewish material -- though "Sodom" and perhaps even "Babylon" are probably disguises for Jerusalem,(See Philip Carrington. The Meaning of the Revelation , pp. 247, 266, etc.) and the phrase "those who say they are Jews but are not" (Rev. 2:9) comes as a surprise to the readers -- as the fact probably came to the author. Nor is it found in the Epistle to Hebrews -- though that is scarcely the book’s original title, supposing it originally bore any title. Nor anywhere else in the New Testament -- nowhere do we find the bitter antagonism which is reflected in John,(See The Growth of the Gospels, p. 218) and to some extent in the late additional material in Matthew.
Now it must be recognized that the New Testament is a collection of Greek writings. As Professor Goodspeed has insisted, it is the literature of early Greek -- that is, Gentile -- Christianity.(Introduction to the New Testament, pp. xii-xiii.) What preceded it we do not know, and can reconstruct only by inference and hypothesis. That oral tradition was in circulation long before the Gospels were written is obvious, and it circulated in Greek before these Greek books were written. That it had circulated in Aramaic before being translated into Greek is most probable -- as we have seen, the evidence of the actual contents of the Gospels points strongly that way. It is held by some that there were Aramaic writings, probably Gospels ;(See chap. v above) but most of us doubt this, though admitting the Aramaic origin of many of the separate pericopes of oral tradition. From this general hypothesis, plus the fact that no other Gospels have survived -- if ever there were any others -- than those in Greek, it follows that the accounts of the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus are only those traditions that were preserved, in Greek, by the Greek, or Gentile, church, and for its own purposes. These purposes were not biographical, but served only the ends of edification, instruction, controversy, and worship. And it also follows that the influences or "tendencies" at work in the Gospels, and in their underlying Greek tradition, were possibly not the same as those which had operated upon the underlying Aramaic tradition before it was translated into Greek. This is the main point of tradition, or form, criticism -- the attempt to trace the history of the gospel tradition, and to recover its earliest form, that in which it circulated long before Gospels were written, if possible long before the tradition ever got translated and circulated in Greek.
In the case of Mark, it seems likely that the original tradition of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus was not anti-Semitic in coloring; if anything, it was, like the traditions in Acts 1-12, critical of the authorities in Jerusalem, the "rulers" -- including Roman as well as Jewish -- the "high priests and scribes and elders," but not of the Jewish people, and not of the Jewish authorities alone. How could it be otherwise ? -- those who handed on the tradition were themselves Jews. It has often been pointed out, for example by Wellhausen, that the account of the "trial" before the Sanhedrin is modeled upon that before Pilate;(See chap. viii above; also George A. Barton, "The Trial of Jesus Before the Sanhedrin," Journal of Biblical Literature, 41:205-11; A. T. Olmstead, Jesus in the Light of History (1942) that no disciples were present, and hence they could only infer what the proceedings had been; that the inference had to be based upon the charge which the Jewish leaders preferred against Jesus when he was arraigned before Pilate; that it assumes, wrongly, that the claim to Messiahship would be understood as equivalent to blasphemy, and that it had at the same time to be corrected and defined by the addition of the claim to be the "Son of Man," (Mark 14:62.) in order to give it meaning in the light of the Galilean tradition of Jesus’ ministry and also in that of current Christology; that the charge before Pilate is taken by Luke in an entirely different sense, probably upon the basis of other tradition, Jesus being charged with being an insurrectionist who interfered with the collection of tribute; (Luke 23:2) and that, finally, the account of the examination of Jesus by the high priest as given by John is far more probable: "The high priest therefore asked Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching" (John 18:19) -- there is not a word here about Messiahship or the advent in glory of the Son of Man. And it should be added that this criticism of the account of the trial before "the high priests, the elders, and the scribes" (Mark 14:53.) has nothing to do with the question of anti-Semitism, but arose upon purely historical grounds. The probability, as we have already noted, is that the earliest tradition of the passion narrative gave no details of this "trial," but that Mark -- or the Greek tradition prior to Mark -- has added it in order to fill out the story.
Why was it added in this particular form? Was Mark himself anti-Semitic, or anti-Jewish? Was the Roman community, which cherished the tradition, anti-Jewish? It may be so -- for it is clear that Mark had an inadequate knowledge of Judaism and equally of the Old Testament. It used to be supposed that the earliest Christian community in Rome was largely Jewish, but recent research finds the evidence pointing the other way.( See Hermann Vogelstein, Rome ("Jewish Community Series"; Philadelphia, 1940); E. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (4th ed., 1909), III, 57ff.; Jean Juster, Les Juits dans l’empire romain (1914), I, 180, esp. valuable for refs.; Hans Lietzmann, Geschichte der alten Kirche, I (1932), 109, etc.; also his Petrus und Paulus in Rom (1927); C. H. Dodd, The Epistle to the Romans, "Moffatt Commentary" (1932); George A. Barton, "The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans," Anglican Theological Review 21:81 ff.; R. M Hawkins, "Romans, a Reinterpretation," Journal of Biblical Literature, 60:129-40, esp. pp. 132-33; George La Piana, "Foreign Groups in Rome During the First Centuries of the Empire,’ in Harvard Theological Review, 20:4 (Oct., 1927), esp. chaps. vi, vii.) This we might have assumed from the conclusion of Acts: Paul meets with the Jewish elders, states his case, gets nowhere, and they go their separate ways. We might also have inferred this from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, addressed to the Christians in the capital some years before his arrival there. And we might have gathered it from the earliest names of Christian believers that have come down to us -- in Romans 16 (See Dodd’s new commentary.) and elsewhere. The Epistle to Hebrews may be a Roman book, as many hold; but it is not Jewish -- its Judaism is only that of the Septuagint, as read by Greek-speaking Christians. If, as seems likely, the early Christian church in Rome was a Gentile church, then we may surmise that some of those Christians brought their anti-Semitism with them when they entered it; there was plenty of such prejudice in the pagan world about them, not least in Rome itself, as the Latin authors of the Silver Age make clear. The vast, tragic pity of it all is that the gospel of Jesus did not at once neutralize this prejudice, on the part of Christians, and exorcise the demon which was destined to work such havoc throughout the Christian centuries to this day. But, it is all too clear, the earliest Gospel was more interested in the deeds of Jesus than in his teaching, and even represented his teaching as an esoteric mystery (Mark 4:11) which "those outside" were not even expected to understand -- were indeed prevented from understanding! This fatal defect in Mark’s representation of the tradition was corrected in a measure by the later Gospels of Luke and Matthew; but the harm had been done, and we Christians have not yet succeeded in undoing it. Such a book as the recent one by Professor Zeitlin, Who Crucified Jesus? ought never to have needed to be written, save as an interesting piece of historical research. Of course the Jews did not crucify Jesus -- that was no Jewish mode of capital punishment! Our Lord was crucified by a weak and vacillating Roman governor, alarmed over his threatened authority, cowed by a mob, egged on by a handful of Sadducean "quislings," as Zeitlin calls them, and no doubt concerned for his official record at Rome.
As far as the later history is concerned, the relations between Jews and Christians in the East remained friendly for at least five centuries -- probably down to the Mohammedan conquest. The breach between church and synagogue was effected in the West, in the area of Gentile Christianity and, I cannot but agree with R. T. Herford, chiefly as the result of the complete disregard of the Pharisaic Halakak by Paul and others. Of course the separation was inevitable -- but it need not have been so violent, nor have brought such tragic consequences m its train. Jewish persecution of Christians may have had something to do with it, or Jewish ostracism,("But see Ernest C. Colwell, "Popular Reactions Against Christianity in the Roman Empire," Environmental Factors in Christian History. ed. J. T. McNeill, M. Spinka, H. R. Willoughby (1939). pp. 53-71.) with the result that Christians could no longer find shelter under the general toleration which, since the days of Herod and his munificent benefactions outside Palestine and his services to the early empire, had been enjoyed by Jews generally. Christians were forced into the open, where they now faced the mob with its clubs and the praetor with his sword. That is about the situation at the time Luke-Acts was written, and it gives the point to its apologetic argument: Christians are not Jews, but neither are they revolutionists; in fact, they are truer Jews, religiously, than those who claim to be Jews by race.
The separation was inevitable -- like the growth of the acorn into an oak that sunders the rock -- and it was eventually in some ways a blessing, no doubt. But it brought a curse as well as a blessing, not only for Judaism but for Christianity. If only the Jews had accepted Jesus! -- not as Messiah, which many present-day scholars think he never claimed to be; not as the Son of Man destined to come on the clouds, for that also may be a "claim" made on his behalf by his followers, who identified him with the one described in the visions of Daniel and Enoch; but as "the teacher of the way of God in truth," the revealer of God, the Redeemer and Savior of his people, the one chosen by God to be the divine agent in the full realization of the Kingdom of God upon earth! That is where the heart of Christianity has always beat soundest, not in the realm of apocalyptic eschatology or messianism; and that is where the mission of Jesus to Israel should have found its richest fulfillment.
And if only Christians had always been able to see their Lord through Jewish eyes -- the tender, affectionate, proud eyes of his own people! If they could only have realized that his gospel was "glad tidings for the poor, not a "mystery" like those of the pagan cults, to be kept safely out of reach of the uninitiate; that his mission was first to Israel and then through Israel to all mankind; that his gospel meant a new way of life for men to live, not a set of ideas to be accepted or rejected; that his scriptures were more than a series of obscure prefigurings of events in his own life, that in fact they set forth the basic ethics which he reiterated, renewed, and completed; that his way of life was utterly and forever incompatible with imperialism, exploitation, the exclusive and corrupting pursuit of wealth and power, racial antagonism and prejudice, and all the mass of trickery and lies that lead to aggression and conquest, and shackle the human race in the bonds of death. Instead, men in the West forgot that Jesus was a Jewish teacher, and they made him out to be a medieval baron, a prince, a magnate, a warrior, an emperor, a pope. We too thought we had accepted him on our own terms -- but he escaped us. For all the while he insisted upon a revelation which we ignored, but which was the foundation of his ethics as it was of those of Pharisaic Judaism: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and soul, . . . . and thy neighbor as thyself." We forgot the Old Testament, or misinterpreted it, substituting an elaborate typology for its plain meaning and its searching ethical requirements.
How much the gospel has suffered by being severed from the Old Testament and from Judaism, both of which it presupposes, is clear from the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount during the past forty years.("Two of the most important recent books on the Sermon on the Mount are by Hans Windisch, Der Sinn der Bergpredigt (2nd ed., 1937), a magnificent book that ought also to be in English, and Martin Dibelius, The Sermon on the Mount (1940). On the latter, I may refer to my article, Anglican Theological Review, 25:131-44.) It has been understood to teach an "interim ethic" -- the foolish theory would have been condemned at once if men had noticed the similar teachings in the old Jewish literature, which certainly taught no interim ethic! Or it has been thought purposely to present a demand which was impossible, in order, forsooth, to declare the divine judgment upon human failings, and proclaim the need for divine grace -- rather than for human effort. This even more perverse theory could not be maintained for a moment if its authors either knew familiarly or took seriously the ancient Jewish religious teaching. It is as gross a caricature in the case of the Sermon on the Mount as it would be in that of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs or of Second Enoch. And without the Old Testament the ethics of the New are only a fragment.(On the presupposition by the New Testament of the Old Testament ethics, see "The Church’s Present Task," Religion in Life, 8:339 ff., esp. pp. 346-49.)
An example of the importance of the Old Testament for a proper understanding of the New may be seen in Matthew 5:48: "Be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." For many generations, indeed for centuries, this verse has been, for theological exegetes, the scene of violent contention. On the one side were those who held that it involved the duty either of self-perfection or of such a complete response to divine grace that the result was a perfected, finished Christian personality. For the ascetics, this meant a realization of the goal of personal holiness, the full manifestation of the divine likeness in man, who is made in God’s image -- the Fall, as the Schoolmen held, had obliterated the "likeness," not the image.(See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., I, qu. 93, esp. art. 9; also F. J. Hall, Creation and Man (1912), p. 189.) For others it meant the attainment of an ideal of Christlikeness, namely the state of being like Christ, who is like God and is God. Christ is the pattern man, the Perfect Man, and we are to grow in his likeness, as Paul said, "unto the perfect man." (Col. 1:28; cf. Eph. 4:13.) On the opposite side were those who held that all this ethical and devotional idealism -- "perfectionism," as they labeled it -- runs counter to the facts of human nature and history, and that we cannot, in simple truth, know anything about such a goal. "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me," as the psalmist admitted. The whole idea or ideal of a perfect human being is non-biblical, and smacks of pagan ethics, with its ideal of the wise man or sage or philosopher. Hence the command must signify only a flashing glimpse of "the heroic for earth too hard," designed to convince our impotent human nature of its inability ever to achieve such an end, and also to force upon us the acknowledgment that we are saved either by the eternal election of God, whose inscrutable will controls his whole creation, or by the sheer work of grace -- in either case by no merit or effort of ours. It is unnecessary to enter into the details of this long debate, which began before Augustine and has continued to the present day. Kierkegaard’s proposal may be noted, however; he proposed to translate the verb as a future indicative, not an imperative: "So you will be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." I shall come back to this translation in a moment; it has much to be said for it.
Now if we ignore, for the time being, all the later theological interpretation of this saying, and set it against its true and only proper background of Judaism and the Old Testament, it will appear at once that the words are an echo of Deuteronomy 18:13,25("The new edition of Huck’s Synopsis prints it as such, with the Greek words for "Ye shall be perfect" in italic type.) This sends us back to the passage in the "Book of the Law" (sepher ha torah) which, presumably, was found in the temple in 622 BC.; but it sends us first to the Septuagint, the Bible of the early church: . Surely the Matthean verse echoes that, with its ! The difference is chiefly that "ye" is plural, while the Old Testament command is addressed, in the singular, to the individual Israelite. Now the word ("perfect") in the Septuagint looks in the direction of the philosophical ideal of the "perfect" man ;(As in Wisd. 9:6; Sirach 44:17) this was perfectly natural -- Greek words bore Greek connotations, and in this case a set of implied ideas which may or may not have been present in the Hebrew original. But let us turn to the Hebrew: "Thou shalt be perfect (tamim) with the Lord thy God." ( Incidentally the Septuagint may reflect at this point a different reading from the present massoretic Hebrew -- possibly lip’nei, "before," "in the presence of," rather than the simple ‘im, "with." Codex A does read !) But the verse in Deuteronomy must be read in its context, 18:9-14. It is a simple, direct, summary command to have nothing to do with divination, necromancy, sorcery -- all the superstitious voodoo of the heathen who lived in Canaan before the Israelites moved in. Not that anyone would abandon the worship of Yahweh for such black arts; but men always like to play safe, and superstitious men -- as we learn from Isaiah -- would readily add to their main religious worship the practices which the passage condemns. (I know a woman who invariably consults a physician when she is ill, but also, for good measure, telephones the neighboring Christian Science practitioner; of late she has even added a third consultant, a popular "numerologist." Her "psychology" is no doubt the same as that of people in eighth or seventh century Israel!) Now after denouncing such practices, the Deuteronomists added, "You must be tamim with Yahweh your God"; and that means, surely, you must be honest with him, upright and sincere, having wholeness and integrity, not double-dealing, not trusting him to his face and then, behind his back, resorting to "the wizards that chirp and that mutter"; for Yahweh is a jealous God, and will not overlook such perfidy -- he knows all about it, and will not tolerate it.
Tamim, that is the grand Old Testament word that lies behind our text. It was the word that described Job’s fidelity and virtue -- there was a man "perfect and upright (tam w ‘yashar) before the Lord." That was the virtue the psalmists praised over and again, a virtue in man, and an attribute of God himself -- that is, of God as revealed in his ways, his works, his law.
It seems clear, then, that four stages of biblical interpretation or reinterpretation -- "progressive interpretation," as Professor Bewer calls it(See his article with this title, Anglican Theological Review, 24:89-100.) -- led up to our text: first, (1) the old Hebrew admonition to be "honest" and "upright," as a member of the sacred covenant, in all one’s dealings with Yahweh, who is himself "faithful" (Deut. 7:9.) to all who put their trust in him: then, (2) the Greek rendering of the idea, reflecting both the deepened meaning tamim had come to have for pious Jews in the third century -- see their Psalter! -- and also (3) the wealth of association the Greek word had come to have for religious minds, Jewish and other, in the Greek-speaking world outside Palestine; finally, (4) the use made of the text by our Lord, and recorded in the sublime passage of the Sermon on the Mount. Hence one need hardly turn to the philosophers to inquire the meaning -- it is plain on the face of it. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. . . . . Then you will be like God" -- or, "So you must be like God." The choice between Kierkegaard’s rendering and the usual imperative is probably to be settled in favor of the latter -- see the parallel in Luke: "Be merciful" -- though the whole premise and presupposition of that imperative is the assurance that in so doing you will be like God, your heavenly Father.
If only we take the Old Testament background in earnest, we shall get rid of all the later philosophical notions that have been read into the crystal-clear saying of Jesus, for example the notion that as God is "perfect" in his order, so man must be "perfect" in his; or even that man’s perfection must somehow equal the perfection of God, and realize its final end as God realizes his final end! Such Aristotelian, Stoic, or Scholastic ideas have simply no relevance whatsoever in this connection. Neither the Old Testament, nor first century Judaism -- except for Philo and a few other Phil-Hellenes -- nor Jesus himself, nor the early Christians who handed down the gospel tradition -- least of all those responsible for M -- had the slightest contact with the philosophical ethics of the contemporary Greek schools. I am afraid that I must cast my vote, likewise, to reject Professor Torrey’s conjecture that the word here was the Aramaic g’mar, which he translates, "Be all-including (in your good will)." The clue which the Old Testament allusion has given us fits the context in the Sermon on the Mount far too perfectly, is much too natural, and would too readily be understood by those whose chief if not sole literature was the Old Testament, for us to abandon it for Dr. Torrey’s brilliant suggestion. It is to be noted that he does not carry over the idea into Matthew 19:21, where he retains the traditional rendering, "If you will be perfect."
Now this is only one illustration among many that might be selected. The whole of the teaching of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, and likewise that of Paul and of the rest of the New Testament, presupposes a background of intense, informed, earnest, and consecrated Judaism. If the serious New Testament student is to avoid pitfalls in exegesis, he must have the Septuagint constantly at his side or, better, in his memory -- it was the Bible of the early church, of Greek-speaking Gentile Christianity. And the Septuagint he must check constantly with the Hebrew, not only for its translation, whether free or literal, of the original, and for variations from the current text of both the Greek and the Hebrew Old Testament, but also, and above all, for the light it sheds upon the gospel tradition; for the Hebrew Old Testament, whether with or without the oral Aramaic Targum, was the Bible of Jesus and of his earliest followers. It is not enough to use even the best of modern versions; they are important -- but the cross-shadings, allusions, the echoes and innuendoes of the original can simply never be reproduced in any other language. And, I would add, the serious New Testament student must steep his mind in Judaism, especially of the period from the Maccabees, or better from Ezra, to the end of the Tannaite age, say to the end of the second century of our era. By "Judaism" I mean what the late Professor G. F. Moore called "normative Judaism,"("See his Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era . . . . the Age of the Tannaim (3 vols.; 1927-30); also his earlier articles, "The Rise of Normative Judaism," Harvard Theological Review, 17:307-73; 18:1-38.) the religion of the Torah and the Psalter, of the Liturgy and the early Midrash, of the Oral Tradition and of the great homiletical, exegetical, and ethical tradition of the ancient synagogue. It is not enough to know simply the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Some of these works do cast a flood of light upon the actual religious life and thought of ancient Judaism, for example Tobit and Judith -- especially chapter 8 of Judith, one of the noblest utterances of Jewish religion the world has ever heard. "Popular" novels like these found people where they lived, and expressed the common religious thought and aspiration of their times; but they are not the whole of ancient Judaism, by a long way. As for the apocalypses, they were self-confessedly the literature of esoteric groups; and, though valuable once the student knows enough about Judaism as a whole to evaluate them properly -- especially the noble ethical doctrine some of them contain -- still they are not to be taken as representative of the central convictions of Judaism generally. For first-century Judaism, far from being a religion moribund or bankrupt, was the purest religion the world had ever known; and Christianity, which built upon its foundation, would have been impossible without it. Its rich and wholesome piety penetrated every nook and corner of the Jew’s daily life; from his cradle to his grave it shielded and supported him, his inspiration in youth, his strength in maturity, his comfort in old age.
Now I do not mean that all of Judaism, in the first century or at any time, has risen to its highest possible level. What religion ever rises to its full height, as seen in the lives and in the thought of all its followers? But I am sure that, taken at their best, Judaism and Christianity are not two religions but one. And if it be argued that this is to ignore the doctrine of the Incarnation, which is central for Christian dogma, I would reply that the essential element in this doctrine might also have been accepted long ago -- not in its Greek formulation, but in one more natural to Semitic thought -- by Christian Jews had it not become the watchword of partisans and persecutors. At the same time, let us add, the doctrine of the Incarnation might have been stated in terms less rigid, less mechanical, less materialistic if it had retained closer contact with history and revelation, both of which were the heritage of Judaism. Tell me not of the Tome of Leo! The true approach to the doctrine of the Incarnation is in the old tradition: "The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent!"; "If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then is the Kingdom of God come upon you"; "The Lord hath anointed me to preach . . . . to the poor"; "Many will come from the east and the west and sit down . . . . in the Kingdom of Heaven"; "Think not that I came to destroy the Law and the prophets: I come not to destroy, but to fulfill"; "I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel"; "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? . . . Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother."
Of course not all Jews were able to receive the message or to accept the Messenger. There was in truth "a hardening in part that had happened unto Israel.(Rom.11:25) Mark shares that view; it is the explanation of the "rejection" of Jesus by his own people, at least in Jerusalem, and he seems to wonder if the disciples themselves were not afflicted with it. It was a ready-enough explanation, in those days. Josephus advances a similar view, in accounting for the blindness of both leaders and people as they plunged into war with Rome.(War 5. 8. 2; 6. 5. 3; etc.)But if we consider the possibilities latent in Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel, as John Hutton has done in his book, The Proposal of Jesus (1921), it will be evident that the sanest and safest way out of the impasse in which Judaism found itself in the first century would have been to accept the way of Jesus, renounce Zealotism and the appeal to arms, abandon the dream of world empire and even that of political independence, and become simply a religion, a church, instead of endeavoring to become a free, autonomous political state. Political freedom was out of the question anyway; the nation -- as Josephus repeatedly insists -- could never hope to contend successfully with Rome.(Especially in the great speech which he places on the lips of King Agrippa in War 2. 14. 4 -- 16. 4=§§345-401. And Jesus foresaw all this with prophetic clarity of vision, and proclaimed it as vigorously and vividly as did the ancient seers who announced the impending fall of Jerusalem -- "Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the hill of Zion as a plowed field" But unlike them, his message did not center in a future restoration of the old conditions -- after some period, long or short, say "seventy years." Instead, he viewed the catastrophe as final: after the divine judgment the New Age would dawn, and "many will come from the east and the west and sit down . . . . in the Kingdom of God." But there was still time. It was no fixed, inevitable fate that hung over the nation. God’s decree was conditional, and the nation’s doom might be averted by repentance: "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (See Luke 13:1-5.) This too is a fundamental Jewish doctrine -- which even Josephus reflects, for all his wavering loyalty: "For there stands about us that fortune which, by its very nature, is mutable." ( War 4. 1. 6. The words are attributed to Vespasian, but the idea obviously has Josephus’ approval.) If the nation will repent and return to the Lord, there is the promise of salvation, even now, at this late hour; but if they will not repent, then the Judgment will overtake them -- though a remnant, the true Israel, will survive.
Though this element in the common prophetic faith is not stressed in the gospel tradition, it is clearly taken for granted in Jesus’ teaching, and it is also a presupposition of the earliest Christian preaching. It suggests the answer to the question, What would have happened if the whole Jewish people had accepted Jesus and his message? For one thing, he would not have died on a cross at Jerusalem; and his doctrine of the Kingdom of God would no doubt have been embodied in a group, a church, of which he would have continued as the visible head; and Judaism would have been transformed and exalted into the most spiritual religion the world has ever seen, more Jewish, in the true sense, than the Judaism that survived, more consonant with the purest religion of the Old Testament Law, Prophets, and Wisdom; and the Jewish nation would have escaped the horrors of the two catastrophes in AD. 70 and 135, with their age-long entail of suffering and exile to this day. This is "the history that might have been"; and we can add to it the advantages Christianity would have enjoyed had the chosen people of God’s earlier revelation responded and maintained the leadership which was rightfully theirs -- a far purer form of Christianity would have resulted than the synthesis with a superficially converted paganism that grew up in the West during the Dark Ages.
Of course this is not to exonerate those who first introduced the virus of anti-Semitism into the thought of Christians in the West -- among the very first, alas, being those who handed down the Marcan tradition, perhaps in Rome itself. There is much more to what we call "the Jewish problem" than merely anti-Semitism. But if only we could get rid of the latter, the former might be nearer a solution; the remaining problems, such as the clannishness of the Jews, their resistance to absorption, their segregation, their preference for urban life and their detachment from the soil, their tendency to crowd into three or four professions, such as medicine, law, music, and finance -- all these problems are conditioned and immensely aggravated by anti-Semitism. And it is surely time that we Christians recognize frankly that our own scriptures have been affected by this malicious spirit; that although there are books in the New Testament from which it is absent, there are also one or two -- chiefly the Gospel of John -- in which it is present in an extreme and aggravated form; that the controlling, dominant spirit of the gospel itself, that is, the teaching of Jesus, has been disregarded and misrepresented in such writings; and that we must no longer let it be assumed that the spirit of Christ is compatible with religious persecution, theological prejudice, or racial hatred. If we yield to these, there is no hope of universal peace, nor is there any hope of the triumph of the spirit of Christ over the diabolical evils in our world. We may exonerate Mark -- clearly he wrote "without malice"; but we cannot exonerate ourselves if we share in perpetuating the misrepresentations and prejudices upon which this hideous monster of anti-Semitism continues to thrive.