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Jacob Neusner

The Cross and the Holocaust

In his first-class popular history, Dan Cohn-Sherbok "sets out to illustrate that for twenty centuries Christian anti-Semitism has generated hostility toward the Jewish faith and the people of Israel." The work proceeds through these chapters: the Greco-Roman world, anti-Judaism in the New Testament, the church fathers and Jewish hatred, medieval persecutions, ritual murder, and the Talmud, the demonic image of the Jew, postmedieval anti-Semitism in France, England, and Germany, Spanish persecution and the Inquisition, the dispersion of the Marranos, anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, Western Jewry in the early modern period, the Enlightenment in England, France, and Germany, the emancipation of the Jews, Judeophobia in the early nineteenth century, modern images of the Jew in Germany, France, and Russia, prelude to the Holocaust, the death camps, anti-Semitism in a post-Holocaust world, and finally, toward reconciliation.

The story is told simply and accessibly. Cohn-Sherbok acknowledges his debt to classic works, especially Leon Poliakov's History of Anti-Semitism (1974) and Rosemary Radford Reuther's Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (1974), as well as a number of topical monographs. But for the many readers who are not going to open the academic histories and monographs, Cohn-Sherbok has performed a great service. Here is the whole ghastly, dreary story. The gist is this:

For twenty centuries . . . Christian anti-Semitism has served either directly or indirectly as a fundamental cause of Judaeophobia. In the ancient, medieval, and early modern period, hostility toward the Jews was explicitly Christian in origin. In modern times this legacy of Christian anti-Semitism provided the background and language of Jew-hatred.

Two points, one minor, the other not, should register. First, some attention to the situation of Jews in Islam (Muslims occur only in the discussion of "Black Muslims") for comparison and contrast would have made this judgment ...

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