Monday, April 03, 2006

Eternal Diaspora

James Carroll, putting perspective on the nouveau antisemitism, recounts Christian theology's refusal to see a permanent place of Jewish settlement.
Hostility to the very presence of Jews in the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean goes deep into the unconscious of Western civilization, and it is only recently that pins of that antagonism are being removed. One way to understand this is to review the history of a Christian theology that required the exile of Jews from the Holy Land precisely as a proof of religious claims. In his ''City of God," completed in about the year 427, St. Augustine argued that because Jews, as custodians of what Christians designated the ''Old Testament," are living witnesses to the ancient promises that are fulfilled in Jesus, they should be ''scattered" from what he called ''their own land," to give such witness throughout the Christian world. It seems no coincidence that in 429 the Roman emperor, a Christian, abolished the patriarchate of Israel, ending Jewish sovereignty in Palestine until 1948.

The Augustinian principle of witness-scattering evolved into an understanding of Jewish exile as a proper punishment for Jewish rejection of Christian claims. It was only when a Muslim army took control of Jerusalem in 638 that Jews were permitted to return to the city of their temple. When Crusaders made war against Islam, laying siege to Jerusalem in 1099, they attacked Jews and Muslims both. Jewish presence in the holy city was an affront. Meanwhile, ''wandering" Jews throughout the Diaspora constructed an imagined homeland, always looking toward ''next year in Jerusalem" and faithfully praying for rain in the Galilee, even if they lived in the Rhineland.


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