Religion itself can become idolatry. When loyalty to a creed or church or rite takes the place of fidelity to God who demands loving kindness and righteous action, the religion is made into an object of worship that must be defended against criticism, even justifiable criticism based on verifiable facts. Those outside are mistrusted or hated by religious idolaters simply because they are not part of the community. Nothing is considered acceptable unless it fits within the bounds of the creed. People are not viewed in terms of their essential humanity. From there it is a tiny step to believing that it is right to murder them or be indifferent about their fate. We are seeing this today in the spread of terrorism around the globe. Religious idolatry is the worst enemy of spirituality. It ought to be obvious that if religion is to be shielded from its own tendency towards idolatry, it must be receptive to criticism and judged by its fruits as revealed in history. The king and the priest are not above the law in the Good Book; the greatest figures in the Judeo-Christian tradition, like Abraham, Moses and David, are presented with their flaws. Criticism of religion on theological, philosophical and historical grounds must thus be considered essential in opposing idolatry. The followers of a religion that resists criticism are in danger of becoming idolaters and ultimately fanatics.
This is one of the most intellectually honest books I have ever read. I realize that it will shock Christians as it triggered a profound spiritual exhaustion in me. But denial is not an option. Part One: Before The Myth, raises the questions if Jesus the Jew was the founder of Christianity, whether he was rejected by his people and the concept of the crucified Messiah. The first section deals with myth and history, biblical criticism, Jesus and His own people, the Synoptic problem, oral tradition, Albert Schweitzer's challenge, redaction criticism, checks on authenticity and the diversity of early Christianity. The second explores Judaism in the first century, Roman rule, the mission and message of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, Pharisees, opponents of Jesus, various parables, and Jesus and the Torah. The final section considers Jewish messianic expectations, language and society, the development of early ideas about Christ, what Jesus himself said about his mission, the Son of Man, the entry into Jerusalem, the trial of Jesus plus falsifications in the Gospels and what motivated them.
Part Two: The Growth of the Myth, consists of: Paul and the Beginning of Christianity, The True Israel: Battle for the Bible, Jews in a Christian World, Popular Paranoia and the Inquisition & Reformation. In the first section, Nicholls explores the early days of Christianity, resurrection visions, sectarian theology, the crucial break, mythmaking, the traditional interpretation, Paul's intentions, the question of a double covenant, James, Peter and different views in the early church. The Battle for the Bible deals with the break between Judaism and Christianity, editorial bias in the Gospels, different versions of the trial, John's Anti-Judaism, Anti-Judaism in the New Testament, the theology of supercessionism (replacement theology), 2nd century writers, Marcion and Tertullian.
The section titled Jews in a Christian World chronicles the ever increasing laws against the Jews, the codes of Theodosius and Justinian, fall of the Western Roman Empire, Bishop Ambrose, the canon law of the church, theological Anti-Judaism in the Church Fathers, the Christological interpretation of the New Testament, and Gregory the Great and the Jews. The next, Popular Paranoia, deals with Abelarde, the crusades, blood libel, charges of desecration of the host, the Fourth Lateran Council, the Black Death, the origins of the calumnies, pressures on the Christian Psyche, subconscious rage and rebellion, paranoid projection and the transmission of paranoid systems. This is of prime importance for gaining a psychological understanding. The section on the Inquisition & Reformation considers the fate of Spanish Jewry in the 15th century, the Council of Trent, the Reformation and the humanists.
Part Three: The Myth Secularized, is divided into The Napoleonic Bargain, Secular Antisemitism, the Churches in the 20th century, Old and New Antisemitism, and the possibility of ending Antisemitism. In the first, Nicholls analyses the new societies of modernity, liberal Anti-Judaism, the Enlightenment and its views on religion, Anti-Judaism of the philosophers, the French revolution, Congress of Vienna and progress towards emancipation. In the section on secular antisemitism, he looks at the leftwing Hegelians, Karl Marx, the new racial doctrines, the Dreyfuss affair, Russian antisemitism, antisemitic parties of Austria and Germany, and the matrix of Nazism. The role of the churches in the 20th century is considered with reference to the Holocaust and after, Pius XII, the rescuers, the response of the Catholic Church and the relation between it and the Jews in the 1990s, the World Council of Churches and the new theologies.
In the chapter Antisemitisms Old & New, the author comments on the survival of the traditional form, the leftwing variety, mutations, Holocaust denial, Anti-Zionism which he claims is the typical current mutation, media reporting on the Middle East conflict, Liberal antisemitism, that amongst the Black community in the USA, and the influence of Christian Liberalism on Jewish intellectuals. In the final chapter, he explores the possibilities of ending this ancient hatred. He considers Christian history, theology and its effects, removing Anti-Judaic accretions in the church, returning the Bible to the Jewish people, rethinking Christological interpretation of the Old Testament, earliest Christianity, theology and history, the alternatives for Christians and the looming choice between Jesus or Christianity.
There is an appendix of the three accounts of Peter's acclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, 37 pages of Notes arranged by chapter, a vast bibliography and a thorough index. Nowadays the main influences on the western public mind are secular "salvationist" ideologies that sprung from Christianity. Unfortunately they contain the virus without the antibodies provided by the Old Testament in traditional Christianity. And the collapse of political Marxism has only increased its potency as opiate of the intellectuals in various mutant forms. The message of this book is frightening; I encourage all people of good will to read it and act upon its recommendations. Other informative books on this subject are Our Hands are Stained with Blood by Michael L Brown, The Crucifixion of the Jews by Franklin H Littell and The Anguish of the Jews by Edward H Flannery.