Stories Have Consequences

Christ Killers
The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen
Jeremy Cohen
Oxford University Press, $29.95, 336 pp.

Has any relationship between world faiths been more fraught with ambivalence than that between Christians and Jews? Christian identity contains within it a unique challenge, in that it both rests on, and derives from, Jewish identity. As a result, Judaism simultaneously grounds and undermines Christian life, pushing Christianity toward two opposite claims: either to supersede Judaism, or to negate it. The first claim implies an appropriation of Jewish identity, the second a repudiation. The first involves Christians in the uncritical presumption of Judeo-Christianity-the idea that the distinction of Jewishness disappears in its foretelling of Christianity. The second involves Christians in a heresy as old as Marcion and as recent as Nazism, the tempting and toxic vision of Christianity as utterly Judenfrei.

With his new book, Christ Killers, Jeremy Cohen, professor of European Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, isolates a crucial piece of this self-divide within Christian identity-the story that all Jews crucified Christ-and traces its impact on the history of the church, the Jewish people, and Western culture generally. The book helps explain how Jewishness, so intrinsic to early Christian identity, later became so separate from it. Building on widely accepted biblical criticism, Cohen wisely brackets the question of who bears the brunt of historical (as opposed to theological) responsibility for the...

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About the Author

Ernest Rubinstein is the theology librarian at Drew University and the author of Religion and the Muse: The Vexed Relation between Religion and Western Literature (SUNY Press, 2007).