Pope insists Gospels are not antisemitic

Ecumenical move: Benedict

Ecumenical move: Benedict

A new book by Pope Benedict XVI will make clear that the Gospels cannot be used to justify antisemitism or the Jews blamed collectively for the death of Jesus.

According to the Catholic Truth Society, which publishes Jesus of Nazareth- Holy Week next week, it will also explain why Catholics should not attempt the conversion of Jews.

It says in a statement: "Down the centuries, there have been those who have sought to justify hatred of the Jews by blaming them for the death of Jesus.

"But here we have the Pope rejecting any scriptural basis for antisemitism and denying any person who purports to be a Catholic of the opportunity to use the Bible to try to justify a position that is antisemitic."

The book makes clear, they state, his view "that the Jewish people are not in any way inherently and collectively responsible".

The Pope's analysis of the Gospels builds on the ground-breaking declaration of the Second Vatican Council of 1965, which absolved the Jews of deicide, removing one of the major sources of Christian antisemitism.

The book also appeals for both Jews and Christians to understand each other's religious beliefs and scriptures after "centuries of antagonism".

Commenting on John's description of the accusers of Jesus as "the Jews", the Pope writes that "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".

Jesus and his followers, and the early Christianity community, were ethnically Jewish, he writes. "In John's Gospel, this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning; he is referring to the Temple aristocracy. So the circle of accusers who instigate Jesus' death is precisely indicated, and clearly limited."

He also uses theological argument to defuse the anti-Jewish potential of another passage, when in the Gospel of Matthew, the "whole people" say after the condemnation of Jesus, "his blood be on us and on our children".

This should not be read as a pretext for vengeance but understood in the light of Christian faith, the Pope argues, that sees Jesus's blood as an expiation for the sins of all humanity.

"Read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love, which is his blood," he writes. "These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation."

David Gifford, chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews, said: "Over the past few years Pope Benedict has seized many opportunities to visit synagogues and engage with leaders of Jewish communities and theologians. Perhaps this has pointed to a new sensitivity in matters of Jewish understanding of Christian Scripture and in Christian interpretation of the Gospels."

Last updated: 9:49am, September 16 2011