The word 'anti-Semitism' is a misnomer.  The word is taken from the Greek words 'anti,' meaning 'against' and 'Semite,' meaning a descendant of Shem.  Since the Arab peoples are also Semitic people it is not the best expression.  Anti-Jewish and Jew-hatred, are more accurate descriptions.


It is more than just prejudice.  Holocaust scholar and City University of New York professor Helen Fein defines it as ‘a persisting latent structure of hostile beliefs towards Jews as a collective manifested in individuals as attitudes, and in culture as myth, ideology, folklore and imagery, and in actions – social or legal discrimination, political mobilisation against the Jews, and collective or state violence – which results in and/or is designed to distance, displace, or destroy Jews as Jews.’

The word ‘anti-Semitism’ was first used in 1879 but has come into general use in the past hundred years and encompasses all forms of hostility manifested toward Jews.  It can take many forms including social anti-Semitism, economic anti-Semitism, religious anti-Semitism and political anti-Semitism.


Hatred for the Jews is not a modern phenomena.  In the time of Esther, we read that Haman was enraged because Mordecai, a Jew, would not bow down to him or give him honour.  Haman’s response was to look for a way to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes (Esther 3:5,6).  When the plot was discovered and Mordecai exonerated, the Jews instigated the annual festival of Purim to celebrate their narrow escape from extermination.


Uprisings against the Jews continued, particularly in countries which were later part of the Roman Empire, but they didn't reach epidemic proportions until 175BC.  Contention arose because the Jewish people were committed to honouring their Jewish laws, and in doing so appeared to be defying Gentile governments.  Non-Jews jumped wrongly to the conclusion that Jews had no respect for them and the things they held in high regard.

In Greek Hellenistic culture, other nations generally recognised the gods of other nations and often equated them with their own gods.  Only the Jews refused to partake in sacrifices to other gods, or to put other gods on a par with their own.  They were the only ones adamantly against inter-marriage with Gentiles.  This brought about misunderstanding and hostility.

Antiochus ‘Epiphanes’ IV

The Seleucid ruler in 175BC, Antiochus ‘Ephiphanes’ IV, was a vicious enemy of the Jewish people.  He saw the unfriendliness of the Jews as an obstacle to the culture he was attempting to create.  By 167BC Antiochus had forbidden Jewish sacrifices by law, banned Sabbaths and all other Jewish feasts and festivals, and outlawed the practice of circumcision.  He set up altars to Greek gods and sacrificed animals prohibited to Jews on them.  A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and Jews were forbidden to possess a copy of their scriptures on pain of death. 

Then Antiochus further desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and contaminating the Holy Books containing the Talmud (Jewish laws he abhorred) with the remains of the sacrifice.  This event became known as the ‘Abomination of Desolation’ and sparked the Maccabean revolt.

1st century AD

Greek culture (Hellenism) pervaded the known world in the days of the Roman Empire.  Greek authors at the time, knowing that their pagan religions and practices were unacceptable to Jews, slandered the Jews by portraying them as descendants of lepers.

The Jews were unpopular because their dietary laws made social interaction with Gentiles impossible and they forbade intermarriage in any case.  In addition, the Jews would not tolerate Emperor worship, which was seen as an expression of disloyalty to the state.  A libel, known as the ‘Blood Libel’ spread saying that Jews sacrificed humans on their altars, in particular Christians or their own children, and used the blood for Passover rites.

Destruction of the Temple

When Roman Emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD, it was seen as a punishment and a sign of God’s hatred of the Jews.  Over a million Jews were killed at that time; those who survived scattered across the Empire.  Prominent writers such as Tacitus wrote against the Jews.  They fought back at times, until the last revolt in 136AD when 580,000 men were killed and 985 towns were destroyed.


Roman Emperor Constantine instigated Christendom as the official religion of the Empire in the 4th century AD.  He passed anti-Jewish laws, excluding Jews from every sphere of political influence and denying them civic rights.  He also changed the church calendar so that Easter no longer coincided with the Jewish Passover.  The belief took root that the Jews were collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and they were referred to as ‘Christ killers’, with terrible consequences. 

Some of the most vicious verbal attacks on Jews came from influential and well-respected church fathers.  St John Chrysostom and St Ambrose in Milan said:

The Jews are the most worthless of all men.  They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious.  They are perfidious murderers of Christ.  They worship the Devil.  Their religion is a sickness.  The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing God there is not expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon.  Christians may never cease vengeance, and the Jew must live in servitude forever.  God always hated the Jews.  It is essential that all Christians hate them.

Augustine, Jerome and many others shared similar sentiments.  A millennium later, Martin Luther expressed the same hatred for the Jews.


In the 7th century AD, Muslims attacked the Jews because they would not recognise Muhammad as a legitimate prophet and would not convert to Islam.  The Koran contains references to Jews which are derogatory and hostile.  It was within Islam that Jews were forced to wear yellow clothing to mark them out.


It would take up too much space to list the persecutions the Jews have suffered over the centuries.  Extreme instances include the pogroms which preceded the First Crusade in 1096, the expulsion of all the Jews from England in 1290, the massacres of Spanish Jews in 1391, the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492, the expulsion of all Jews from Portugal in 1497, various Russian pogroms, the Dreyfus Affair, Hitler’s Final Solution and official Soviet anti-Jewish policies.


Towards the end of the 19th century, anti-Semitic political parties were formed in Germany, France and Austria.  Publications such as ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ fuelled fraudulent theories of an international Jewish conspiracy.  Nationalists also encouraged political anti-Semitism by falsely denouncing Jews as disloyal citizens.  By the time Hitler founded the Nazi party in 1919 there was already a movement of German philosophers, scholars and artists who considered the Jewish spirit to be ‘non-German’.  Hitler’s best-seller, ‘Mein Kampf’ called for the removal of Jews from Germany.

The Holocaust

From 1933 onwards, when the Nazis rose to power, the party ordered anti-Jewish economic boycotts and passed anti-Jewish legislation.  In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws racially defined Jews by ‘blood’ and ordered a total separation of ‘Aryans’ from ‘non-Aryans’.  Three years later the Nazis destroyed synagogues and shop windows of Jewish-owned stores throughout Germany and Austria (Night of Broken Glass, or Crystal Night).  This event marked a distinct change to the era of the Holocaust, when genocide was the focus of anti-Semitism.  Over the next decade more than 6 million Jews were exterminated in the death camps.

One third of the world’s Jews were murdered in Hitler’s ungodly German conspiracy against them.  However, it’s important to note that two thirds of the world’s Jews survived.  As in times past, God protected them from complete extermination, as he promised (Esther, and Jeremiah 31:35-37).

New anti-Semitism

Some scholars have advanced the concept of New anti-Semitism, beginning in the 1990s, coming simultaneously from the left, the right and radical Islam, which tends to focus on opposition to the State of Israel.  The language of anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are used to attack the Jews more broadly.  In this view, the proponents of the new concept believe that criticisms of Israel and Zionism are often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind and attribute this to anti-Semitism.

Increasing problem

Anti-Semitism has increased significantly in Europe since 2000, with significant increases in verbal attacks against Jews and vandalism such as graffiti, fire bombings of Jewish schools, desecration of synagogues and cemeteries.  This is seen as a spill over from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Parliamentary inquiry

In 2005, a group of MP's set up an inquiry into anti-Semitism, which published its findings in 2006.  Its report stated that 'until recently, the prevailing opinion both within the Jewish community and beyond (had been) that anti-Semitism had receded to the point that it existed only on the margins of society.'  It found a reversal of this progress since 2000.

Lord Jonathan Sacks

In 2006, Britain's former chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks warned that what he called a 'tsunami of anti-Semitism' was spreading globally.  He said:

A number of my rabbinical colleagues throughout Europe have been assaulted and attacked on the streets.  We've had synagogues desecrated.  We've had Jewish schools burnt to the ground – not here but in France.  People are attempting to silence and even ban Jewish societies on campuses on the grounds that Jews must support the state of Israel, therefore they should be banned, which is quite extraordinary because ... British Jews see themselves as British citizens.

Affects us all

According to the US Department of State anti-Semitism ultimately affects us all:

History has shown that wherever anti-Semitism has gone unchecked, the persecution of others has been present or not far behind. Defeating anti-Semitism must be a cause of great importance not only for Jews, but for all people who value humanity and justice (US Department of State, 2008).

We have been warned!


The Return of Christian Anti-Semitism

Back in the 1500’s, Martin Luther, the highly-revered theologian who made a stand for justification by grace alone in Roman Catholic Germany, said this about the Jews:

. . . set fire to their synagogues or schools and bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.  This is to be done in honour of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians . . .

This was only a small part of the hatred and spleen he vented against the Jews.  It was endorsed by many other so-called ‘great’ Christian men, and reflected the anti-Semitic attitude toward the Jews which prevailed within the Church almost from the its birth.

Those days are well and truly gone.  Or have they?  Whilst Jews have been persecuted throughout their history, in the 'tolerant' 21st century, they must surely be enjoying a better deal.  No!  Anti-Semitism has simply reinvented itself.  It is just as vile, just as poisonous, and very firmly rooted not only in the Islamic nations, but within the Church too.

The most incisive article we’ve read explaining the situation today has been penned by Jewish journalist, Melanie Phillips, who sees the situation with stark clarity.  It’s a long article, but we thoroughly recommend it as well worth a read.  It’s a sober reflection on the state of the institutional Church, and implicit within it is the challenge for the true Church to stand up in support of Israel and to defend her from her enemies on every side. 

The mounting hatred must surely be a sign of the end of the age, when the nations join forces against Israel.  The prophetic scriptures tell us that when all is but lost, Jesus will return and will be welcomed by the Jews, who will recognise him as their Messiah.  They will invite him to be their King and set up his Kingdom centred in Jerusalem, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (see Zechariah 14:1-9). 

Follow the link to read Melanie’s article: (Jesus was a Palestinian: the return of Christian Anti-Semitism published on 2 June 2014).  We also recommend her book, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ for a critique of many issues we face here in the UK today.

Some scholars have advanced the concept of New anti-Semitism, beginning in the 1990s, coming simultaneously from the left, the right and radical Islam, which tends to focus on opposition to the State of Israel. The language of anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are used to attack the Jews more broadly

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