We Jews have a Day of Atonement for our own sins. Some of us may require from a week to a month annually to start the succeeding fiscal, or moral, year right with our fellow-men and with ourselves, but even on one day a year a fellow can do a tremendous amount of atoning, if he works hard at it and doesn’t spoil the effect by overeating afterwards.
The book of the week is a book of atonement. But a curious book of atonement. It is a book in which a Christian theologian makes an honorable attempt to make atonement and amends for Christian error and injustice to the Jews, from the deliberate misinterpretation of Pilate’s role in the crucifixion to the present time. It is a book of scholarship impregnated by the fire of a just and ardent spirit.
The book is “The Christian Jewish Tragedy” and the author is Conrad. Henry Moehlman, doctor of philosophy and doctor of divinity and James B. Colgate, Professor of the History of Christianity in the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School. He subtitles his book “A Study in Religious Prejudice.”
The theological point stressed by Dr. Moehlman is that Pilate is the villain of Passion Week and that even he is exempt from blame since the role of every performer of Passion Weekâ€”according to Christian dogmaâ€”was foreordained by the mission of Christ, to suffer and die for the vicarious atonement of the sins of the human race. As a matter of fact, it has been a favorite indoor sport of theologians to read into the Old Testament previsionings of the events in the New, to an extent so fantastic that Dr. Moehl-mann can write:
“By resorting to the allegorical method of interpreting the Bible, rain can be transformed into T.N.T. and birds into heretics, Sarah into wisdom and the Jordan into base, the river Gihon into recognition of woman’s rights and Adam into a dam.”
Among the curious items in this book is this: that for many years, at least a lifetime, Christianity was a creed within Judaism; the Romans, at least, could not tell the two apart until after the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. The first converts appeared to have been obtained from the synagogues, and had not the turn of events sent apostles to win converts from among non-Jews, Christianity might have been a creed within Judaism instead of a separate one, and it was not until a sharp division began to be created that the legend-makers started to work on the rehabilitation of Pilate and even, as in Ethiopia, on the job of turning him into a saint.
Today, writes Dr. Moehlman, “the real issue in the Western world is not whether Catholicism, Protestantism or Judaism will survive but whether religion will prosper,” and to the previous indictments which professing Christians have charged against Christianity, such as “failure in mission, departure from the ideals of its founder, loss in appeal and attractiveness, adherence to an antiquated and complicated theology,” Dr. Moehlman adds this: “its failure adequately to confess its sins with reference to Israel.”
It is appropriate at this time to repeat the adjuration to the Vienna anti-Semites which one Rosegger published in 1889 when these hotheads were asking him to take the lead in a war against the Jews:
“You say, Jews are not Christians! Well, are you? Are you loving and humble? You say, Jews are not Germans! Are you? Are you genuine, honest, industrious, just and thrifty?” (Nazi papers please copy.)