How the Specter of an Ancient Heresy Has Shaped Christian Attitudes toward Jews

Feb. 15 2019

When Marcion of Sinope (85-160 CE) argued that the Christian Bible should include his own modified version of the New Testament but nothing of the Old, and, furthermore, that the God of the Hebrew Bible was not the God worshipped by Christianity’s founders, he was excommunicated by the early church. Yet, argues Brad East, his ideas have continually resurfaced in Christian thought, especially among those who embrace an extreme version of supersessionism—the idea that God has rejected the Jews as his chosen people, and replaced them entirely with the Christian church:

Marcion [has given] his name to that most reliable of Gentile sins: distaste for the ways and works of the God of the Jews—a distaste more of the gut than of the mind, a reflexive revulsion that invariably encompasses both the God of the Jews and the people whose God He is. . . . In its rejection of Marcionism, the church staked a claim to this principle: the only God with whom it would have to do was the Jewish God. . . . But the church’s consistency in maintaining this principle was uneven at best. The specter of Marcion continued to haunt Europe. . . . .

Protestants and Catholics have tended to harbor different kinds of antagonism toward Jews. Protestantism thrives on its own supersessionist narrative, according to which the faithful reformers of the 16th century are analogous to the apostles in the first, overcoming the legalistic conventions and authoritarianism embodied, respectively, in the Roman papacy and the Jewish Pharisees. In this narrative, Catholics are neo-Judaizers; stiff-necked Israelites are proto-Catholics. . . .

Over the years, Protestantism’s leading lights increasingly defined Christianity against the Jews. . . . What [Enlightenment-influenced Protestant thinkers like] Kant and his heirs wanted, ultimately, was God without the Jews. They wanted a God unbound to one people among all others. A God who had not picked Abraham out of the crowd and promised divine presence and blessing to his lineage for all time. A universal God, a God of all lands and not the land, a God revealed in all traditions and not just this one. A God revealed in humans, yes, but not incarnate in this one alone, the Galilean [Jesus]. . . .

[By contrast], while Catholicism may lack the revolutionary-supersessionist gene of Protestantism, its deepest historical challenge to the Jews is political. Usury laws entrapped Jewish merchants in a vicious Catch-22; havens of refuge become ostracizing ghettoes. . . . Marcionism [remains] a demon that has yet to be exorcised. Indeed, rising levels of anti-Semitism in the West suggest a tragically short historical memory.

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More about: Christianity, Immanuel Kant, Jewish-Christian relations, Particularism, Religion & Holidays, Supersessionism

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey