Pope Benedict, in a new book, has personally exonerated Jews of allegations they were responsible for Jesus Christ’s death, repudiating the concept of collective guilt that has haunted Christian-Jewish relations for centuries.
The pope makes his complex theological and biblical evaluation in a section of the second volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, which will be published next week. The Vatican released brief excerpts on Wednesday.
The Roman Catholic Church officially repudiated the idea of collective Jewish guilt for Christ’s death in a major document by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
It was believed to be the first time a pope had made such a detailed dissection and close comparison of various New Testament accounts of Jesus’ condemnation to death by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
“Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus’ accusers?” the pope asks, adding that the gospel of St John simply says it was “the Jews.”
“But John’s use of this expression does not in any way indicate —as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it ‘racist’ in character,” he writes.
“After all John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews,” he writes.
Benedict says the reference was to the “Temple aristocracy,” who wanted Jesus condemned to death because he had declared himself king of the Jews and had violated Jewish religious law.
He concludes that the “real group of accusers” were the Temple authorities and not all Jews of the time.
Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, welcomed the pope’s words.
“This is a major step forward. This is a personal repudiation of the theological underpinning of centuries of anti-Semitism,” he said. “This pope has categorically stated that the canard that Jews were Christ killers is a gross theological lie and this is most welcome in view of the setbacks that we have seen in the past few years.”
The question of Jewish responsibility for Christ’s death has haunted Christian-Jewish relations for nearly 2,000 years.
Benedict, elected in 2005, has had his share of problems in Christian-Jewish relations.
In 2009, he decided to advance wartime Pope Pius XII on the path towards sainthood by recognizing his “heroic virtues.”
Many Jews accuse Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.
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