An eclectic approach to a Jewish worldview

October 13, 2021

The "Wandering Jew"

Sometimes, I mention to someone (usually in a Facebook thread) that the New Testament is fundamentally Anti-Semitic. This is almost always met (particularly from "messianics") with immediate and forceful pushback. Typically, I will read comments such as, "That's because you are reading it from a traditional Christian lens", or, "Jesus was Jewish and so were his disciples! How can what you say be true?" However, these types of responses always ignore the basic textual reality of the writings themselves. The New Testament is decidedly pro-Roman, and anti-Judaism. The reason my interlocutors fail to recognize this is usually because it's been a long time since they ever actually read the texts they are defending, but instead are reliant upon whatever "spin" they have adopted upon them, which has been provided by others who taught them a way of reading the texts that shields them from understanding this.

One of the theological positions held by the Church through the centuries throughout its long and sordid history has been the notion of the "wandering Jew". This is the idea that the Jews were cursed by God because they murdered Jesus, the son of God, causing them to lose not only their worship center, but their very nation, leaving them to "wander" from nation to nation, never again to find a peaceful or permanent home, like spiritual wraiths, living out a sort of half-life, until such time as the "scales are removed from their eyes" and they repent from their unbelief. Such a doctrinal bias has fueled hundreds of cruel and violent pograms, Martin Luther's publication of "The Jews and Their Lies" and, of course, the Holocaust. In the modern day, such hateful paradigms have recontextualized their arguments upon the State of Israel, through such initiatives as BDS. Which leads me to a subtle point easily missed.

Perhaps you've never heard of this before, and you might say, "C'mon, Dave, I've been a Christian all my life and I've never heard anyone teach this, or even say it." In fairness, you're probably right; you probably haven't, but this is only because you happen to live in a magical time in history when the unthinkable has happened; the re-establishment of a national Jewish State. In fact, it was precisely this event, in 1948, which caused mainstream theologians across the world to scramble for a new understanding of eschatological timelines. Were the Jews no longer "wandering"? Did this mean that the Messiah would soon come? Of course, neither the Jewish nor Christian messianic expectation was fulfilled at that time, so after 1948 the narrative changed from the "wandering Jew" to the "unsaved Jew", as it became an assumption within the evangelical world that the only thing holding Jesus back from crashing through the gates of eternity to claim his own was the unrepentant state of the Jews in the modern era, and particularly, within Israel itself.

The question on these Christians' minds was, "Does the reformation of Israel mean the Messiah is near?" But why was this their question? The answer is simple, and is based entirely upon the "wandering Jew" doctrine. For centuries, as mentioned above, the fact that the Jews had been stripped of their Temple and homeland was proof that they were under judgment for having rejected their King and Messiah. What could it mean, then, if the land had been restored to them? It is because of this presumptive doctrinal stance of the Church concerning the "wandering Jew" that the rebirth of Israel meant so much to non-Jewish evangelical Christians, and for no other reason. If you have ever supported charities that are dedicated to helping Jews in Israel, to spreading the gospel among them, or toward helping Holocaust victims in "Jesus's name", or even to have the impulse to take a tour of the Holy Land, you must understand that the underlying theological reason for your desire is the Church doctrine of the "wandering Jew". Aside from this eschatological presumption, you would have no viable reason for any of it, even if you've never heard about this doctrine before today.

The doctrine of the "wandering Jew" is based squarely on the notion that the Jews were guilty of "deicide", or the attempt to kill God, by virtue of killing Jesus. How is this the case? In the gospels, we read about how the Jewish leadership (the same Jewish leadership which would later be responsible for the creation of the "evil" Talmud and modern Rabbinic Judaism) concocted phony charges and a phony trial in order to bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate, who had the authority to execute him. In fact, the New Testament lets the brutal Roman State completely off the hook from carrying any responsibility for the crime, and places it squarely at the feet of, not just the Jewish leadership, but the Nation itself.

"What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?...What evil has he done?" ...They kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify him!" When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to that yourselves." And the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:22-25, NASB)

This passage...this dramatic theologically loaded scene in Matthew, is largely responsible for the traditional Church understanding of the Jews who reject Christ. They are cursed to "wander". The hope is that Jews will therefore "repent" of their "unbelief" and come to believe in Jesus.

I am often informed by messianic Christians that "Matthew is the most Jewish of the four gospels." In point of fact, however, a Jew of any time period is mortified to learn that the book of Matthew portrays the Jewish people and their leadership as accepting upon themselves the full blame (and its associated curse) for killing God's son.

There is perhaps no more Anti-Jewish passage in all of the New Testament, and it's found in what theologians through the centuries call the "most Jewish of the gospels".

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