Yale Study Shows Some Protestant Textbooks Distort Views on Jews

A seven-year self-study of Protestant teaching materials–the first scientific analysis of its Kind–has been completed at Yale Divinity School to determine the possible existence of negative and biased references to other religious and ethnic groups.

The Yale study found that some Protestant denominations present positive portrayals of other religions, but that a number of Protestant church school textbooks contained negative and distorted references to other faiths. The Yale study, considered the most thorough survey of its kind ever undertaken, covered more than 120,000 lessons in Protestant religious school texts.

Self-studies of Catholic and Jewish texts, similar to those made by Yale, are currently in progress at St. Louis University, Southern Methodist University and Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning. Major findings of the Yale study recently, were announced here this weekend by the American Jewish Committee which has been a cooperative participant with the institutions of higher learning in developing the religious text studies.

The Yale study was conducted by the Rev. Dr, Bernhard E. Olson whose research was supervised by a faculty committee headed by Dr. Paul Vieth, Horace Bushnell Professor of Christian Nurture. Dr. Olson found a high degree of preoccupation with Judaism in Protestant materials. References to Jews or Judaism ranged from 44 percent of the lessons of one denomination to 66 percent of lessons in another.

Some church texts, the study revealed, refer to Jews and Judaism without distinguishing between Biblical times and the present day. Thus, statements made about some Jews in the first century tend to be carried into the present and applied to all Jews.

The Yale study showed that Protestant materials display a wide range of treatment of those subjects which are most telling in their effect on Jews. In relating the crucifixion, for example, one denomination studied cautioned its students: “Feelings of hate and acts of violence (against the Jew) have a long history. Their roots are deep and widespread.”

The text added: “There is one branch among these roots which it is especially important for Christians to discover; and strange as it seems, this branch grew from the Old Story of Salvation. In that great story the Jewish people were accused of having killed the Son of God. Such an accusing attitude toward the Jewish people is surely not a fitting part of the Christian gospel.” Nevertheless, 43 percent of the lessons of one denomination and 36 percent of the lessons of another contain variations of the generalization that the Jews crucified Jesus, At the same time, refutation of the charge is also found in all the curricula but one The contrasting orientation to Jews and Judaism in the four groups studied show that discussions of the crucifixion are not necessarily derogatory of Jews but can be and are positive.

These contrasting treatments were revealed by the Yale study. One lesson directs: “In treating the trial before the governor, present Pilate as an irresolute Judge who let himself be led by a bloody mob to condemn the innocent. The Jews’ sin was the greater.” But the lesson of another denomination cautions the teacher to instruct students “that Pilate was generally a cruel and contemptuous procurator, and one who did not abide by the Roman policy of ruling subject people with some fairness and consideration.”

This manual warns; “Help the class to see the turning point–when Pilate’s own position was threatened. Be sure it is understood that Pilate had to be persuaded to condemn Jesus, But do not be dogmatic about the reasons for this. For our Gospels do not make it clear exactly why he was reluctant. Doubtless it was in part because of the impact Jesus made upon him. But remember that Pilate was very contemptuous of the Jews, and he may also have held back because he wanted to enjoy his feeling and power over them.”

Two interpretations of the same passage in Christian scripture illustrate the radically different treatment accorded by two different denominations. To one group, the cross is a particular Judgment upon Israel, and the Jews are labeled “obstinate and faithless” in the lesson comment. However, another denomination interprets the same passage as a revelation of God’s grace and judgment upon all mankind, firmly rejecting a narrow, anti-Jewish interpretation.

Even though editors and writers may entertain Christian moral Judgments against anti-Semitism, Dr. Olson found, these judgments are not always concretely spelled out, and so lose their effectiveness. Moreover, the texts sometimes discern a “relationship” between the Jews’ rejection of Christ and their sufferings. “This may encourage the reader to attempt to justify disabilities visited upon Jews,” Dr. Olson stressed.

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