Many of today’s Jews are convinced that the horror of Hitler’s days was simply the culmination of centuries of Judenhass ("Jew Hate"). But is this what happened? Were the baptized Christians of Europe ripe for the pagan nationalism of Hitler, Rosenberg, Göring, Himmler, and the rest?
The Earliest Christians
The claim of Jesus’ followers that their Master was the sole authentic interpreter of Mosaic Law was not unusual. What set his followers apart was the claim that God had raised him up from the dead. Most Jews could hear this with amusement and, in the early days, without any violent reaction. As Pharisee-oriented Jews knew, the resurrection of the just would occur on the Last Day once it was heralded by Elijah’s return. There was no mention of the resurrection of one individual well before Elijah’s announcement. The Jesus Jews were convinced that their people’s scriptures had foretold it. Most Jews were not.
The sole written testimonies to the tensions over Jesus in various Jewish communities are the writings in Greek by ethnic Jews compiled around 135, later called the New Testament. They were written at a time when the language of the gentiles that had produced so much Jewish post-biblical writing was being disavowed by the newly authoritative Rabbis. The Christian writings were produced roughly between 50 and 125, and came to be called by what they were believed to have given witness to: namely, a "new" or, better, "renewed" covenant (in Latin, but a not quite accurate translation of B’rith: Novum Testamentum).
In two of his letters, Paul accuses his fellow Jews of substituting their own "justness," resulting from Mosaic observance, for the only true justness: the one that comes from faith in what God had done in Christ. By "faith" he means perfect trust in God as the One who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul in effect accuses of bad faith any Jews who have heard his message and not accepted it.
Similar and even harsher language is directed at "the Jews" in the Gospel according to John. This late first-century writing features bitter internal Jewish argumentation. Hard fighting and harsh words were no strangers to religious strife among post-70 Jews. There was about this exchange, however, one tragic detail. Within a century one of the two litigants ceased to be ethnically Jewish. That changed everything. The fact was that many Judean Jews knew little of Jesus; and most Jews in the diaspora never heard of the movement until more than one hundred years had passed. This did not keep the new, largely gentile proclaimers of the Gospel from assuming that they understood the Jewish lack of response as a failure to acknowledge what they should have known from their scriptures.