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How Fake News Launched the Persecution of Jews for Two Thousand Years

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The Holocaust did not begin with Hitler and Nazi Germany. It can be traced to the beginnings of Christianity, with the fake news reported in the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament. The "news" claimed that the Jewish people condemned Jesus for blasphemy, implying that he had defected from Judaism and started a new religion. This theme was later promoted to authenticate that the new religion, Christianity, was separate and distinct from Judaism.

To support this claim Jews had to be considered the villains in the death of Jesus. So according to the Gospel of Matthew (27:24), the good guy Romans didn't order Jesus' death. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, protests: "I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your responsibility [meaning the Jews]!" Unfortunately, at that time in history, there were no reliable news sources to challenge these assertions. The fake news, that Jesus opposed Judaism and preached a new religion, was so powerful that it persists today.

In interviews with Christians and Jews, I heard the popular belief that Jesus was a Christian. Yes, he was born Jewish, they acknowledged, but he soon became a Christian. Cinema and other media have picked up this theme.

In one of the early blockbuster bible films, Salome (1953), featuring superstar Rita Hayworth, the Jewish and Roman authorities repeatedly refer to the dangerous nuisances, John the Baptist and Jesus, who are "preaching a new faith." It's remarkable that although the story of Salome, John the Baptist, and Jesus is all about Jews and Judaism, the word "Jew" is never mentioned. The film assumes that the "new religion"--Christianity--had taken root, even though it didn't yet exist.

Despite the events in Salome predating Christianity a recent reader comment about the film on a blog says it all about the power of fake news: "I love Christian films." This is no surprise since the Sony Classic Movie site's synopsis of the film states, "Horrified, she [Salome] renounces her mother Herodias and also becomes a Christian convert [to the nonexisting religion]." Like a fake news tweet that is retweeted and goes viral, the same conclusion is reported in Wikipedia

In another instance, Bill O'Reilly, author of the 2013 bestseller Killing Jesus, ridiculed my view backed by noted biblical scholars and insisted that Jesus launched Christianity.

Yet the fake news that Jesus rejected Judaism and was responsible for starting a new religion contradicts a broad consensus established by modern biblical scholars with access to more reliable information. They confirm that Jesus lived and died a dedicated practicing Jew, and did not start or even propose a new religion. Jesus's argument was with the Jewish leadership, whom he criticized for ignoring the spiritual core of Judaism. Supporting this conclusion is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's groundbreaking book, Kosher Jesus, which shows that virtually all of Jesus' teachings are derived from the Torah. Add to that the comment of Episcopal Priest Bruce Chilton in his book Rabbi Jesus, "everything Jesus did was as a Jew, for Jews, and about Jews."

Why did the Gospel writers promulgate this fake news when all of the details of Jesus life reported in the Gospels, from his birth to his death, are steeped in Judaism?

Although the early converts to Christianity were Jews, by the time the Gospels were written forty to sixty-five years after the crucifixion converts were increasingly, and eventually predominantly, Roman pagans. For the Romanized church, there was no currency in blaming Pontius Pilate and the Romans for the suffering and death of Jesus. But there was lots of recruiting value in villainizing the Jews. Accusing Jews collectively for the crucifixion also served the difficult challenge of establishing Christianity as separate from Judaism.

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Bernard Starr, PhD, is a psychologist, journalist, and professor emeritus at CUNY, Brooklyn College. He has been writing about climate change since 2008 with an emphasis on supporting and empowering science in the battle to halt the warming of (more...)

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