Who Killed Christ?
Peter Signorelli
May 2, 2001


Memo To: Gustav Niebuhr, NYT
From: Peter Signorelli
Re: "Who Killed Christ?"

Your “Week in Review” essay, "What's Taught and Learned About Who Killed Christ," makes no effort whatsoever to identify as irresponsible and unwarranted the hysterical charges of anti-Semitism recently leveled against conservative spokesman and activist Paul Weyrich. Your account leaves the impression that Paul Weyrich still is guilty of some form of anti-Semitism for having written in his Easter commentary that Jesus Christ was crucified by the Jews. The implication is further extended when you write that "The occasional eruption of statements blaming the Jews for Jesus's crucifixion may reflect some below-the-radar uneasiness as the idealized vision of a Christian nation bumps up against the reality of religious pluralism..." This is a bogus concern, for which no evidence exists and it is disgraceful that you would even raise such a consideration.

David Horowitz, publisher of FrontPageMagazine.com, is much closer to the truth when he exposes the attack in the American Spectator by Evan Gahr on Paul Weyrich as malicious slander and character assassination. Gahr calls Weyrich a "demented anti-Semite" because in the Easter message -- Indeed He Is Risen -- posted on his website at www.freecongress.org, Weyrich included the following:

....Christ was crucified by the Jews who had wanted a temporal ruler to rescue them from the oppressive Roman authorities. Instead God sent them a spiritual leader to rescue them from their sins and despite the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, performed incredible miracles, even raised people from the dead, He was not what the Jews had expected so they considered Him a threat. Thus he was put to death....

Curiously, while you quote many others on the issue, you do not include any response by Weyrich in defense of his Easter commentary. Gahr characterizes this excerpt from Weyrich's Good Friday posting as "some of the most viciously theologically based anti-Semitism in recent memory." Predictably, Gahr since has been joined by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee in attacks on Weyrich, characterizing his remarks as the historic libel and slander that "led to endless pogroms, crusades and inquisitions." The hysterical charges are ridiculous, but they are being disseminated widely in an attempt to destroy the character of a conservative leader and spokesman.

Support for Weyrich's remarks can be found throughout the New Testament, including even the quoted words of Jesus Christ Himself: "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the Scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified..." [Matthew 20, 18-19] Weyrich's remarks specifically address one of the great ironies of Christian history, that the Chosen People rejected the Messiah when He finally came into their presence. As one sees so many times over, even the apostles looked for the Kingdom of God as something akin to a temporal state. Even at the very Ascension of Christ into Heaven, his disciples still ask if finally now He will restore the Kingdom of Israel. The Gospels are full of patient explanations from Christ to them in which He points out they simply do not yet understand Him or his mission. Weyrich is in no way departing from Scripture in what he states. (By the way, Paul Weyrich is a deacon in the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, which is in union with the papacy and loyal to the teachings of the Magisterium.)

Christ frequently refers to His rejection by the Chosen People: A prophet is never honored in his own land, He reminds us at one point; He informs us at another that the very stone rejected by the builders indeed shall become the cornerstone itself. He expresses exasperation at how even pagan Tyre and Sidon are more receptive to His Word, than are His own people.

Gahr technically is correct that the Jewish authorities themselves did not crucify Jesus Christ (Give me the name of one Jew who drove the nails into Christ's hands, he speciously demands.) Yet the Gospels testify repeatedly that it was the Jewish authorities who demanded the death of Christ and His crucifixion by the Romans. For you to dismiss all of this with the assertion "most scholars do not take a literal reading of the verses as unvarnished history" is disingenuous, Mr. Niebuhr.

It was "the chief priests and the elders" of the Jews who sought Him out at the garden of Gethsemani [Mt 26:47]. He was taken to Caiphas the high priest; it was the Sanhedrin and chief priests who sought His death; the scribes and elders declared that "he is liable for death" [Mt 26:57-68]. Pontius Pilate could find no wrong-doing in Jesus, yet the crowd which had been assembled cried out the demand of the chief priests and elders: "Crucify him!" [Mt 27:23] The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all assemble that historical testimony. Is Mr. Gahr, and supporters, then insisting that no Christian can henceforth mention that record, lest he or she be guilty of promoting anti-Semitism? Should those passages then be excised from the New Testament to satisfy Gahr, et alia?

And when Pilate declared himself to be "innocent of the blood of this just man," the Jewish crowd cried out, "His blood be upon us and our children" [Mt 27:24-25]. This incident in particular was twisted by many in Christendom, and became a focus for hatred and violent acts against Jews throughout the ages. The Catholic Church has apologized for those sordid episodes in the Christian world's past, and in the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate (1965) noted that whereas "...the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ [John 16: 6], still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new People of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures."

Weyrich is not departing from Catholic teaching, which even in the cited encyclical acknowledges that it was the Jewish authorities who pressed for the death of Christ. At no time did Weyrich go on to suggest that because of the role of the Jewish authorities in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago, all Jews at the time and forever bear guilt for the crucifixion. Such a view is in fundamental opposition to the Christian faith, which teaches that Jesus died for all men, for all times, for all sins. Jew, Gentile, Muslim, pagan, Christian, animist, etc. -- all -- are children of the same God. All are redeemed by His sacrifice and saving grace.

It is not anti-Semitic, any more than it is anti-Muslim or anti-Buddhist or anti-Hindu, etc., to state that the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ remains central to human history, and that every Christian would affirm that there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. It was because of His sacrifice on the cross that the promise of eternal life is open to all humanity. Non-Christians are not excluded from that promise; His sacrifice was for all men, and His saving grace pours out to all men. Salvation remains a gift from God, but a gift available to all. Weyrich and any other Catholic would affirm that truth and teaching of the Church.

The persecution of the early disciples of the ascended Christ by Jewish authorities is recorded in Scripture. We read of efforts to do harm to St. Peter and others who preach in His name. An outstanding example is found in Acts 5:34-39, where the great Sanhedrin Pharisee and doctor of the Law (and teacher of St. Paul) advises the Jewish authorities against doing harm to Peter and other followers of Christ. If what they preach is merely the work of men, he advises, it will soon pass away. But if it comes from God, then nothing you do will prevail against it.

Jewish-Christian relations only can be hurt when the term "anti-Semite" becomes a mere epithet to be bandied about with such abandon in order to smear and tar anyone deemed insufficiently contrite by secularized Jews who are motivated by a political agenda. I would suggest to Paul Weyrich, therefore, that he follow the example of the Pontiff, John Paul II, when confronted with a similar dilemma. After his historic apology to our elder brothers -- the Jews -- the Pope still was attacked by those with a political agendas (the ADL, American Jewish Committee, etc.) for not apologizing enough, for not being sufficiently contrite, for not being sorry enough. ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman even went as far as to fault the Pope for not apologizing for "the greatest sin of this century tolerated by Christianity -- the Holocaust." {Many secularized Jews maintain that Christianity is intrinsically anti-Semitic, in which case the only apology that will ever satisfy them is for the Pope to repudiate Christianity itself.) To their clamors of "Not enough," Pope John Paul II calmly and sincerely replied, "I am sorry that I am not sorry enough." Similarly, Weyrich could state to Gahr, et al., that he regrets any discomfort or offense his remarks may have caused them. Although he is the one who is being slandered and vilified and attacked in the most vicious terms in this affair, Weyrich should extend to Gahr, et al., the most Christ-like of responses: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."