Review of Tilman Tarach, Teuflische Allmacht. Über die verleugneten christlichen Wurzeln des modernen Antisemitismus und Antizionismus

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 29, Number 1/2 (Summer 2023)

Review of Tilman Tarach, Teuflische Allmacht. Über die verleugneten christlichen Wurzeln des modernen Antisemitismus und Antizionismus (Freiburg–Berlin: Edition Telok 2022). 224 pages. ISBN 9783981348644.

By Dirk Schuster, University for Continuing Education Krems / University of Vienna

Christian anti-Judaism – a term that still causes extreme controversy today. To put it simply, this is intended to draw a distinction from modern racial anti-Semitism and reduce Christian anti-Semitism to theological arguments alone. The reviewer has had problems with such a distinction from the very beginning, since it suggests that there is a good (Christian) and a bad (racial) hatred of Jews. Tilman Tarach uses this topic and presents a book that convincingly explains that such a distinction is no more than a relief strategy for a Christian socialized society (134). The central thesis is that the most important arguments of modern antisemitism are based on Christian antisemitism (10).

First, Tarach uses National Socialist propaganda for his analysis and demonstrates that many Nazi stereotypes came directly from the Christian context: the Jews as children of the devil, the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, etc. In the middle of the twentieth century, those images were well known by Christian people. The murder of Jesus of Nazareth remains the central element of Christian anti-Semitism up to modern anti-Semitism and forms the background of all persecutions of the Jews. Even today, in parts of Eastern Europe, the Jew is symbolically burned at Easter because he murdered Christ. We fully agree with the author’s statement that the New Testament already spread the first anti-Semitic conspiracy theory: the Jew as murderer of God (48). The desire for the annihilation of all Jews, which was already virulent before National Socialism, is based precisely on this motive: a danger emanates from the Jews. That is why the extermination of the Jews is also seen as self-defense. At this point, the author could, or even should, have referred to the minutes of the Wannsee Conference to support his arguments. In it, the motivation for the extermination of the Jews in Europe by the National Socialists as an act of self-defense is particularly clearly expressed.

The additional references, such as in Chapter 8, are particularly interesting. Tarach compares the classic anti-Semitic accusation of poisoning by the Jews, such as poisoning of wells, etc., with the arguments of modern vaccine refusers and conspiracy theorists, who argue using those same anti-Semitic narratives.

The main part of the book is made up of the sections from Chapter 9 onwards. Here Tarach clearly and comprehensibly points out, partly with recourse to existing research literature, that so-called racial anti-Semitism was invented by the churches. As early as the sixteenth century, the Jesuit order had introduced a kind of “Aryan proof” that was even stricter in its interpretation than the Nuremberg racial laws of the National Socialists. It was not until 1946 that the Jesuit order removed this section from its constitution. The same can be found in Spain since the fifteenth century. Here, like in modern anti-Semitism, blood was of crucial importance: This means that converts and their descendants were still regarded as “Jewish” since those persons would carry Jewish blood. In some Spanish areas, converts still had to wear the so-called Jew’s hat because of their “Jewish blood”. As the author rightly points out, this alone shows that a distinction between Christian anti-Judaism and modern racial anti-Semitism is untenable, because the reference to biological characteristics has long been part of Christian anti-Semitism. Conversely, it should be noted that so-called modern racial anti-Semitism is based solely on the religion factor. The Nuremberg Race Laws defined Jews and “half-Jews” solely based on a person’s religious background or the religion of his ancestors. And the anti-Semitic laws from Spain in the early modern period, introduced by the church, served as a model for the law in the Third Reich.

In chapter 12, Tarach describes very impressively how the nature of Christian anti-Semitism developed and how those narratives are still present today: The Jew rejects Christ, which is why he becomes a threat to Christian identity. The refusal of Jews to convert to Christianity has thus increased hatred of Jews over the centuries. Jews are thus understood as bearers of individuality because they do not want to belong to the Christian community, which automatically makes them a danger of wanting to destroy the Christian community and identity. The image of the destruction of German identity by the Jews can be found again in the nineteenth century in the völkisch movement. The argument remained the same and was adapted to the realities of modernity. In addition, deeply rooted stereotypes that people have been presented by the church for centuries could be served.

The last chapters go into specialized topics such as Israel and Islamic anti-Semitism. Here too the author explains that the arguments behind the various stereotypes always come from the Christian context.

The overall verdict on Tarach’s book can only be: Anyone who deals with the subject of anti-Semitism or church history should read this book.