Antisemitism: A History

First Century through Eleventh Century: Rome and the Rise of Christianity

Early Christianity remained largely a localized Middle Eastern religion as Christians were concerned about their own survival. The Roman Empire viewed Christians with suspicion for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods and instead worshipping a long dead Jewish criminal. Both Christians and Jews faced persecution within the Roman Empire. Roman Emperor Constantine (a.k.a. Constantine the Great) changed the perception of Christianity and the course of human history in approximately 312 C.E. when he converted to Christianity. And as the emperor does, so do his subjects. Though Constantine’s conversion did not signal an immediate shift in the perception of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Christianity eventually spread throughout the empire as a result. Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe, “Christianity and the Roman Empire,” BBC, February 17, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/christianityromanempire_article_01.shtml.

The basis for Christian-Jewish relations up to and including Vatican II can be traced back to Augustine of Hippo (a.k.a. Saint Augustine), considered one of Christianity’s most influential thinkers, whose life spanned the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth. David Van Biema, “Was Saint Augustine Good for the Jews?,” Time, December 7, 2008, http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1864878,00.html. Augustine wrote in his treatise The City of God that God had condemned the Jews to wander the earth as a punishment, like the biblical Cain. The Church accepted this interpretation, which became the basis for Christian-Jewish relations for hundreds of years. Judah M. Rosenthal, “The Talmud on Trial: The Disputation at Paris in the Year 1240,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 47, no. 1 (1956): 58-76. However, Augustine’s views of the Jews evolved as he grew older. In the fifth century, Augustine declared that the Jews provided living proof of Jesus and the New Testament through their centuries of devotion to the Old Testament. David B. Green, “This Day in Jewish History 1242: France Burns All Known Copies of the Talmud,” Haaretz (Tel Aviv), June 17, 2013, https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-1242-all-talmuds-in-paris-are-burned-1.5281064.

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The media and commentators have noted an increasing number of antisemitic attacks and the emergence of what many are calling the new antisemitism.

Read about Antisemitism in the 21st Century

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Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

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