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

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy