Anti-Semitic attitudes and policies have been a sad part of Christendom since the Roman church superseded the Roman Empire. Who can forget The Merchant of Venice? Or The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion? (That last will bear mention later.) Or the negligent policies of the former Allied Powers of the First World War, that led to the ugliest part of the Second? But anti-Semitic policy did not start with Christendom. It did not even start with the Roman Empire. Instead, ancient Jewish chroniclers documented episodes of anti-Semitic policy during the Persian Empire.
Modern anti-Semitic broadsides
Anti-Semitic policy usually follows anti-Semitic attitudes, and broadsides. We see such broadsides today. For example, a blog calling itself Charleston Voice complains of “U.S. Congressmen under control of AIPAC.” (That stands for “American Israel Political Action Committee.”) The most infamous broadside in recent Western history was perhaps Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. But before him, the Russian secret police under Czar Alexander III wrote a screed that Hitler read and cited. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion read like the minutes of a secret meeting of Jewish elders. The agenda of that alleged meeting: how to take over and control the world. (See this page for a wealth of links to various commentaries.) Remarkably, the fall of the old Soviet Union produced one relevant healthy result: a court in Russia actually ruled the Protocols a forgery. Tellingly, the Bolsheviks, after they executed Alexander’s son Nicholas II, never repudiated the Protocols. The Bolsheviks, and their successors the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, would leave that to a post-Communist court.
Nor did anti-Semitic attitudes start with Alexander III. Anti-Semitic feeling was “in the air” throughout the Western world. William Shakespeare wrote the prize example in popular culture: his comedy The Merchant of Venice. Martin Luther was more serious: he openly blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus Christ. (In so doing, he forgot that Jesus Himself said, “No one takes my life; I lay it down.”) Even James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, succumbed to an anti-Semitic mind-set. He ended his Annals of the World by describing the Jewish Wars of A.D. 70-73. “This was the end of Jewish affairs,” he wrote.
But what put anti-Semitic feeling into the air? For that we must turn to the Bible.
Ancient anti-Semitic conspiracies
Ezra wrote a book of the Bible in his own name and wrote the Chronicles of the Kingdom of Judah. Beginning with what became the fourth chapter of his book, Ezra documented the first anti-Semitic conspiracy involving a foreign superpower.
King Cyrus (the Great) conquered the Babylonian Empire from the last descendant of Nebuchadnezzar II. Like Sennacherib and Esarhaddon of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar carried conquered people into exile, away from their land. What happened to the Ten Tribes of Israel after Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashur-bani-pal, no one yet knows. But members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin had a happier ending. These people, first to carry the name “Jews” (Hebrew Yehudim, plural of Yehud a Judah-ite), still had a leadership network available when Cyrus and Cyaxeres (“Darius the Mede”) conquered Babylonia. (See Daniel chapter 5.)
Cyrus had a new idea. He would let subject peoples repopulate their old lands. The members of the Ten Tribes were long gone, but the Jews had leaders to whom they looked up: Joshua, then High Priest, and Zerubbabel, head of the Royal House of David. These men took command and led the Jews back to Judah and Jerusalem.
But Esarhaddon of Assyria did not leave the territory of Samaria (“Kingdom of Israel”) almost vacant, as Nebuchadnezzar did. Instead he transplanted subject peoples from other Assyrian provinces into Samaria. When lions started to prey upon them, they asked for a priest to educate them in the ways of God. Esarhaddon found some Levites to do this. But the Samaritans chose to blend worship of God with the worship of their own gods.
Bear this in mind when you consider what these Samaritans did when the Jews came back, per Cyrus’ instruction. They offered, or pretended to offer, to help rebuild the city and Temple of Jerusalem. Any such help would likely come with compromise of the ancient faith that was all that kept the Jews going.
“Nothing doing,” Zerubbabel said in effect. “We have nothing in common with you. We will rebuild our own city and Temple, thank you very much.”
From that day forward the Samaritans hatched the first-ever anti-Semitic conspiracy.
They intimidated the Jews from their building. They bribed government functionaries, so they would hold up building permits and other bureaucratic procedures. (If that sounds familiar, it should. Lois Lerner did the same to Tea Party groups as head of Exempt Organizations for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. But no one has yet shown she needed any bribe.)
And the local garrison commander and the provincial secretary wrote a screed to King Artaxerxes on all their behalf. This screed reads remarkably like The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, Mein Kampf, the broadside at Charleston Voice, and any other anti-Semitic broadside anyone can cite. It combines a grain of truth with a baleful prophecy that also is a travesty of logic.
To King Artaxerxes.
[From]: Your servants, the men in the region beyond the River [Euphrates].
Now let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations.
Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings.
Now because we [h]are in the service of the palace, and it is not fitting for us to see the king’s dishonor, therefore we have sent and informed the king, so that a search may be made in the record books of your fathers. And you will discover in the record books and learn that that city is a rebellious city and damaging to kings and provinces, and that they have incited revolt within it in past days; therefore that city was laid waste. We inform the king that if that city is rebuilt and the walls finished, as a result you will have no possession in the province beyond the River.
The best lies have a grain of truth. Yes, Nebuchadnezzar II smashed the city flat after the sons of King Josiah repeatedly rebelled against his authority. But this letter also said in effect, “You let them rebuild this city, and you will lose everything you have south and west of the Euphrates.” Did that follow logically? Of course not. Furthermore: did those writing the letter really have the back of King Artaxerxes? They said literally they “ate the salt of the palace.” Salt in those days was like gold. Greeks would later say a good slave was “worth his salt.” Today a wealthy person or company pays a salary (literally: salt!) to a high-ranking employee. So “to eat someone’s salt” means to draw a salary, or something like it, from that person, company – or palace. So these were a military commander and a secretary, each one drawing a palace salary. Anyone can draw a salary. Not everyone who does, shows absolute loyalty to the one paying that salary.
Sadly, Artaxerxes did not investigate the authors. He took their blandishments at face value, found exactly what the authors knew he’d find in the archives, and stopped the work. It would not start again until a future king, Darius I, would take the throne in Susa, capital of Persia.
No Christian should support anti-Semitic acts
Why not? Because everything those bribe-taking functionaries wrote to King Artaxerxes about the Jews, the enemies of Christendom say about Christians today. First they seek to water down the Christian faith. And when that fails, they write to government officials with all sorts of baleful prophecies. “They will slow down the progress of science!” “We will see a return of Torquemada’s Inquisition!” “They are getting ready to burn ‘witches’ at the stake!” On and on and on, enough to make you vomit.
Or sometimes they elect as President one who pretends to be a Christian. And he begins by saying things like, “Let’s be reasonable! You want to punish a young woman with a baby?” And when the Christians have none of such talk, he engineers taxpayer funding of abortion. And that is only the beginning.
Do not, therefore, think anti-Semitic policies stop with the Jews. They don’t. That is why Christians should have no more truck with anti-Semitic policies at the United Nations than Jews should have with anti-Christian policies at the Department of Justice or the Internal Revenue Service.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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