Put simply, the Judeo-Manichean narrative is that Jews have always been blameless victims and their opponents and critics always wrong and wicked. In my experience, Christians are actually more hysterically committed to the narrative than Jews, not because (as Kristor claimed a while back) Jews are particularly prone to self-criticism, but because Christian partisanship on their behalf is so over-the-top it would be hard for anyone to match it.
It’s impossible to overstate how simplistic the narrative is. In my infamous now-deleted Orthosphere post, I tried to exaggerate the narrative to highlight its internal tensions and implausibilities. I got a hundred comments telling me how wicked it is to doubt the narrative but I don’t recall one telling me that I had oversimplified it. Here was the core part:
If there’s one thing that every school child in America knows, it’s that the Jews are absolutely beyond reproach, that no other people has ever had a legitimate grievance against them…We see it in history books where, and I have seen and heard of this being explicitly done, it is laid down as an a priori axiom that hostility to Jews is always entirely a result of social pathology in the Gentile population and is never even partially a result of Jewish provocation…
Let’s take a closer look at the liberal claim. It has two pieces. First, Jews are the perpetual innocent victims. This is pretty remarkable, isn’t it? Why would everybody decide to team up on this one small group that, we are assured, has never done anything to cause anyone annoyance? For a long time, the Leftist line has been that antisemitism is a Christian pathology…but the longstanding presence of antisemitism among Muslims (now impossible to avoid noticing), pagans (see, e.g. Rodney Stark’s book Discovering God), and secular nationalists makes [this] less plausible.
Then there’s the other half of the story. The Jews are not entirely passive after all. They are courageous enemies of injustice and champions of the oppressed. Wherever they go (especially, wherever in Christendom they go), they are a moral beacon to their hosts, pointing out to the Gentile population the wickedness of their inherited ways. For some reason, the host populations seldom show the expected gratitude for this service. Because we’re evil, no doubt. The Jews, I’ve read many times, have this special passion for social justice. This is first because of their own history of victimization, which leads them to always take the side of the Other, i.e. the enemies of whoever their lucky hosts happen to be. More fundamentally, it is a spiritual inheritance from their prophets–the only part of their tradition the non-Orthodox haven’t discarded–who taught the Jews that they are to be a “light to the nations” by attacking other peoples’ putative injustices.
Remember, my fellow writers at the Orthosphere found this sort of talk reprehensible, so there’s no point getting angry at them. You should be angry at me, because you, dear reader, believe the narrative. After all, you would never agree with a statement like “Sometimes people have had good reasons to be angry at the Jews”, would you? (I’ll bet only my Jewish readers would think this a statement worthy of consideration.) I admit to being needlessly sarcastic, but the Christian sense of total moral inferiority vis-a-vis the Jews really does need to be overcome.
Now, Christians and other Gentiles have a strong motive to doubt the narrative, because accepting it means that our ancestors are not only morally inferior to the Jews’ ancestors, but that they were pretty much evil. A motive is not a reason, but I confess to having it. I resent the humiliation imposed on my ancestors, my religion, and my civilization. This gives me a bias that I must try to correct for when evaluating historical claims.
In fact, there are good a priori reasons to find the narrative implausible, that is, reasons that don’t require any particular historical knowledge.
- Life is never really black and white like that. It’s just not the way the world works. Without a lifetime of conditioning, this would be obvious to you. Here’s proof. Go to a political map of the world, and pick a country you know absolutely nothing about. I’ve just done it. My country is Chad. I know nothing about this country except that it’s in the middle of Africa. Now suppose I read a claim that throughout three millennia of history, the people of Chad have always been blameless victims, always hated, never for any reason, and always a moral beacon to their neighbors. I know nothing about Chad, so I’ve got no specific reason to doubt this story, but I know enough about human nature that my BS meter is lit up to full. Hearing something like that would make me wonder if the people of Chad are in control of the media or something.
- The two pieces of the narrative contradict each other. If Jews really have been aggressive social justice warriors, then those of us who don’t think our historical societies were evil have valid reasons to be wary of them. Really, the only way to square the narrative with itself is to accept all Jewish accusations against us as true–that our sexual mores are oppressive, that our own ethnocentrism is “racist”, etc. Alternatively, one can chuck the second part of the narrative, that Jews are social justice warriors, but that makes the next problem much more acute.
- A key claim of the narrative is that anti-semitism is both ubiquitous and without cause. Rather, the purported causes (e.g. sexual frustration, authoritarian personalities) usually have no connection to the object, and yet the same object is always targeted. This mismatch between cause and effect indicates a seriously incomplete theory. Actually, I have run across a couple of socially acceptable theories about why Gentiles resent Jews in particular: 1) we’re jealous because they’re so wonderful; 2) we resent their moral universalism because we like killing and oppressing outsiders. If you find these explanations plausible, try running them through the “suppose this were said about a people I’ve never heard of” test above.
What are the alternatives to the narrative?
- Blame is spread out between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and pagans. Perhaps it’s 98% gentiles’ fault, but 2% Jews’ fault. For example, maybe they do some genuinely obnoxious things, but we seriously and unjustly overreact.
- Maybe Jews and Gentiles get into arguments because we have incompatible interests, and it’s not really anybody’s fault. Maybe we compete over resources and status (the MacDonald thesis), or maybe we have irreconcilable differences about whether Europe should have remained officially Christian (my own thesis).
- Perhaps it is not true that Jews and Gentiles, and in particular Jews and Christians, have always been at loggerheads. My own reading of medieval Christianity is that while the Christians didn’t like Jews very much, their attention was usually focused elsewhere. Perhaps the history we’ve been given is unrepresentative.
Of course, only anti-semitic nuts entertain ideas like these.