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The Unfortunate Persecution of Jews through the Blood Libel


Throughout history, the Jewish people have been the unfortunate subject of some rather malevolent accusations. But the most graphic and slanderous of these charges seem to center around the issue of blood. It is a chronicle of remarkable persistency, tragic ignorance, and outright evil.

In the year 1144, a child was found murdered in Norwich, England. A rumor began circulating that a group of Jews had kidnapped the Christian child, tortured and killed him, and then drank his blood. The Church authorities believed this claim and actually declared the child a saint. In the centuries that followed, this "blood libel" legend became repeated and embellished whenever a child was found dead in Europe. It was believed that Jews were murdering Christian children in order to obtain blood for Passover and other ritual uses. It was said that they mixed the blood with dough when making matzah (unleavened bread).

Down through the years, countless Jews in many countries were put to death because of this charge. The most enduring of these incidents took place in Trent, Italy in 1475. The Jewish community of that city was exterminated and the infant, named Simon, was beatified. A virtual cult evolved around Simon, whose body was preserved and brought out for public viewing during commemorations year after year for nearly five centuries. Though officially suspended by papal order in 1965, the veneration of Simon and the vilification of Jews is still the popular belief of this region even until today. The blood libel became a powerful rallying point in Nazi Germany. For example, Der Sturmer, the blatant anti-Semitic newspaper, published this so-called factual article:

The numerous confessions made by Jews show that to the devout Jew the carrying out of ritual murders is an ordinance. The former Chief Rabbi Teofti declares that the ritual murders take place especially on the Jewish Purim (in memory of the Persian murders) and Passover (in memory of the murder of Christ). The instructions are as follows: The blood of the victims is to be forcibly tapped. On Passover, it is to be used in wine and matzos; thus a small part of the blood is to be poured into the dough of the matzos and into the wine. The mixing is done by the Jewish head of the family. The procedure is as follows: The head of the family empties a few drops of the fresh and powdered blood into the glass, wets the fingers of the left hand, then says: "Thus we ask God to send the ten plagues to all enemies of the Jewish faith." Then they eat and at the end the head of the family cries: "May all Gentiles perish, as the child whose blood is contained in the bread and the wine!" The fresh (or dried and powdered) blood of the slaughtered child is further used by young married Jewish couples, by pregnant Jewesses, for circumcision and so forth. Ritual murder is recognized by all devout Jews. The Jew believes that he thereby absolves himself of his sins.

Similar to the blood libel is another accusation that was common in the Middle Ages known as the "desecration of the host." It has its roots in the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation in which the wafer used during Mass is believed to miraculously transform into the actual body of Yeshua. As a result, some Christians thought that since Jews desire to continually torture and crucify Yeshua, they would naturally want to defile the consecrated bread of the Church. It was claimed that Jews pierced the wafers with knives and the real blood of Yeshua would flow out of them. Once again, countless Jews in many countries gave their lives because of this charge.

What makes these accusations so outrageous is the fact that the use of blood is one of the greatest taboos in Jewish culture. To connect religiously observant Jews to rituals involving blood demonstrates an irresponsible measure of ignorance. On the other hand, it does reflect the affinity for superstition and myth that was especially prevalent during the Middle Ages. The Church failed miserably in dealing with such matters and, to a large extent, actually promoted them. Jews were seen as demonic, undeserving of grace, and unfit for the kingdom of God.

Ironically the only acknowledged shedding of blood during those Dark Ages was committed by so-called Christians. While the accusations against Jews remained unsubstantiated, persons who claimed to be Christians admittedly persecuted and killed their "guilty" Jewish neighbors. It is a legacy that tragically carries over to our modern era. Our Jewish friends know this history well, and it has an understandable impact on their receptivity toward our testimony. And it should be further noted that those who seek to revile the Jewish people know that blood libels are still an effective tool of persuasion. It seems that Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was correct when he said that if a lie was repeated often enough and long enough, it would come to be perceived as the truth. But let it be said that not everyone is inclined to be swayed by lies. For genuine believers—those who have been redeemed through faith in Yeshua the Messiah—there are three fundamental truths that govern our view of the world:

  • We are all sinners—"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
  • We all need to be forgiven—"In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22).
  • We all need to believe in Yeshua—"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

The key to understanding the historical relationship between Christians and Jews is the recognition of the presence or absence of the basic biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Salvation means that we are no longer under the condemnation that comes with sin—we are promised life everlasting. By grace means that we do not merit our salvation—it is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8,9) that leads us to repentance. Through faith means that God gives us the ability to believe in Yeshua even if we have not seen Him with our own eyes.

Unfortunately, this doctrine was widely suppressed during the Middle Ages. Without this doctrinal cornerstone, the Church was highly susceptible to the traditions of men. It spawned generations of people who thought of themselves as Christians but, in reality, very few of them were likely part of the kingdom of God. And, without the regeneration of their souls and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to guide them, the "Christians" of that era acted in the flesh— they were vindictive, hateful and murderous.

Unlike those who see the world in a dimmer light, true believers cannot help but have compassion for their Jewish neighbors. They, recognize that the sins of Jewish people are no different from Gentiles; we are all equally guilty. And there is forgiveness for our Jewish neighbors, and salvation is at hand for them as well. Some simple guidelines will assist us in our testimony:

Use Scripture correctly

Virtually every act of persecution of the Jewish people has been rationalized by finding justification in the Bible. A classic example is the age-old charge of deicide against Jews. Proponents of this accusation point to Matthew 27:25 where the crowd gathered around Yeshua cried out while He stood before Pilate, "Let his blood be on us and on our children" (Mat. 27:25). As early as Tertullian in the Second Century, Church leaders have interpreted this verse as a self-condemnation of the entire Jewish people in every generation. This conclusion is extremely volatile. Their thinking on this matter can be summed up in this way: "people who admit being guilty of the death of Christ are surely deserving of punishment." From this starting point, beating up Jewish school children to the taunts of "Christ killers!" is only a step away from the genocide of the Holocaust.

The problem is that the underlying conclusion is faulty. Matthew never refers to Yeshua' taunters as being representative of the entire nation of Israel. It was a local mob under the instigation of a portion of the Jewish leadership. And even if those individuals who made this cry truly sought to place responsibility for the death of Yeshua on their own descendants, they simply did not have the authority to do so. As the Word of God reminds us, "The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son" (Ezek. 18:20).

Much more could be said on this topic, but suffice it to say, the Bible does not teach that the actions of this crowd brought special condemnation on the entire Jewish people in every generation. The more general charge of "Christ killers" is equally without foundation. Thus, there is no justification for persecution within the Scriptures. The only remaining source is the wickedness of the heart of man.

Beware of blaming others

Whenever you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you." There is much truth to this adage. Do you ever wonder why people frequently blame others for the wrongs they do? To a great extent, blaming someone else is a way of avoiding guilt for your own mistakes. Blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Christ is rooted in this defense mechanism. Inwardly, we may recognize that we fall short of God's standards, but if there is a scapegoat available, we personally don't feel so responsible for His death.

Scripture is unequivocal in stating that the whole world shares equally in the death of Messiah. As Peter and John declared, Romans, Gentiles and the people of Israel all had a role in Messiah's death on the cross (Acts 4:27). But there is an even deeper point, and to miss it is to miss the grand message of the Bible—His death is a blessing to you and to me. It was ordained of God (Acts 3:18) and no human being could take His life (John 10:18). He willingly gave up His life so that we can live eternally. That, my friends, is not worthy of our blame. Instead, it should lead us to personal remorse and humility, yet rejoicing for what He has done!

Be a witness, not a prosecutor nor a judge

God has given us a clear mandate. We are to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). The word for witness used in this instruction was martur, from which we derive the English word martyr. Originally, a witness was a person who gave his or her life in defense of a cause or for stating the truth. Over time, the price paid by the witness was greatly reduced to the point of merely presenting one's testimony. But in Yeshua's day, both usages of the word were options. Indeed, not only did the hearers of those words in Acts 1 bear witness in testimony about the Good News, eventually most of them gave their lives as martyrs.

The point is that we all are called to proclaim the good news of salvation with our whole hearts, whatever the price may be for ourselves. But we are not called to prosecute nor judge the people that God brings across our path. That is His domain. But all too often we set out to heap condemnation on others, especially those who are close to us, in the course of our ministry. We all would do well to share God's truth in love, to make sure our actions are consistent with our words, and then to simply trust God for the results. That is the key to reaching out to Jewish people. And it is true for everyone else as well.

As we look back upon the way that Christians have historically treated Jews, it is abundantly clear that the Church has acted poorly as a witness. We have seen how lies infiltrated the thoughts of people who claimed to be followers of Yeshua. And we have seen how these lies led to the shedding of the blood of Jewish men and women.

But, in the grace of God, we live in a new day when God's principles are being valued once again. May we all live in such a way that God's truths will be known in every nation, including our Jewish neighbors. And may the greatest of these truths direct our decisions and our actions—that Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, willingly gave His life as an atonement for our sins and provided life everlasting to all who will believe in Him.


Dr. Galen Peterson
© 2007 American Remnant Missio