Tom Watson deserves censure – indeed, expulsion – from the Labour Party for his role in accusing innocent members of anti-Semitism – but he doesn’t deserve it for correctly quoting scripture.
It seems that a professor of Jewish history, Geoffrey Alderman, has made an official complaint against Mr Watson about the Labour deputy leader’s Easter message:
In his Easter 2019 “message” to his followers, Mr Tom Watson MP referred to the arrest of Jesus of Nazareth. Specifically, he said that Jesus was arrested by “a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of a servant to the High Priest.”
The allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as the oldest antisemitic trope.
This is interesting, because scripture itself is very clear on the subject – that the Jewish priesthood of the day were expected to betray Jesus as it would fulfil prophecy, but they were not empowered to kill him.
All four Gospels state that Jesus was arrested by order of the Jewish priesthood of the day. Consider Matthew 26:47*:
“While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared; with him was a great crowd armed with swords and cudgels, sent by the chief priests and the elders of the nation.”
And at Matthew 26:51 we may read:
“At that moment one of those with Jesus reached for his sword and drew it, and he struck at the High Priest’s servant and cut off his ear.”
It goes on to say that Jesus was led off, under arrest, to the house of Caiaphas the High Priest, where the chief priests and the whole Council “tried to find some allegation against Jesus on which a death-sentence could be based; but they failed to find one, though many came forward with false evidence. Eventually they settled on blasphemy.
Mark tells the same story in chapter 14: 43-64.
It is in Luke, chapter 22: 47-53, 66-71.
And it is in John, chapter 18: 3-14, 19-24, 29-32.
Maybe this part of the Christian story has been used to raise anti-Jewish sentiment in the past. It is also possible that it was concocted when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, for political reasons.
But my experience is that any such animosity, if it did exist, has long since been dropped.
In any case, I would be very interested to see Professor Alderman’s evidence to show that the story didn’t happen as described in the Bible. What historical records can he produce?
I attended a church school – Anglican – and we were taught to respect people who belonged to other religions; not to attribute the sins of their fathers (for want of a better phrase) upon them; and also that “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword”.
My Religious Education class visited a synagogue (and a mosque, come to that) to learn about other beliefs. It was never suggested to us that this story was the “oldest antisemitic trope”. If it was, I would say it had been laid to rest.
So I find it extremely strange that Professor Alderman wants to resurrect it.
If anything, it seems that he is trying to create an anti-Christian spin on it.
I certainly hope that none of his fellows in the Jewish religion follow this bad example.
Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.
*All Biblical quotes are from my old copy of the New English Bible.
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