Offensive references to Jews deleted in new Bible

NEW YORK — Jews haven't been treated very well in the Christian Bible — until now.

The elimination of traditional New Testament language castigating Jews for the suffering of Jesus in an edition just published by the Oxford University Press is being well-received by most Jewish experts on Jewish-Christian relations — but not all.

Jesus lived and died as a Jew.

But his followers who authored the books read as the Gospels wrote them as they were making the final break from the Jewish people. They were eager to distance themselves from the people who they believed were responsible for the death of the man they viewed as God incarnate.

The Christian Bible condemnation of the Jews has been used by everyone from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler and countless lesser despots through the centuries to justify tyranny against Jews.

Now the editors of "The New Testament and Psalms: A New Inclusive Translation" have changed that language in order to portray the story of Jesus' life and death in a way that is not offensive to Jews.

They also altered the God-language to make it gender inclusive, so that instead of "Father," the metaphor used for God is "Father-Mother." These and other changes in the new Bible reflect a heightened sensitivity during the past 10 to 20 years over the way language is used, according to the editors.

In the texts of Matthew, John, Acts, Corinthians and the other chapters of the Christian Bible, negative references to Jews are deleted.

Where it said "the Jewish leaders," the newly released Bible says "the leaders," or where it said "Jews," it now says "men," for example.

In the new version's introduction, the editors write: "When `the Jews' is used to refer to the ethnic people, it remains unchanged.

"When it is used to refer to unbelieving people, it is rendered `the religious authorities' or simply `the leaders' or `authorities' to minimize what could be perceived as a warrant for anti-Jewish bias."

The language changes were welcomed by several Jewish experts on Christian-Jewish relations, though not all agreed that the new edition will be useful.

"I commend them for [taking out] the anti-Jewish stuff, which was originally mistranslated," said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

The Gospel of "John has been used to beat up on Jews for 2,000 years and this is a step forward," he said.

Irvin Borowsky, who is chairman of the American Interfaith Institute, worked for a year with the Oxford University Press editors to eradicate the language hostile to Jews. All "murder and abuse of Jews leads back to the inaccurate references in the New Testament," he said.

"We are very happy as Jews that they are aware of the need to modify the references to Jews made by other Jews in the first century.

"We are enormously encouraged," Borowsky added. "These changes are the very first in 1,800 years."

The American Interfaith Institute is a Philadelphia-based organization working to remove anti-Judaism from Christian liturgy.

Not everyone was as pleased, however.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, and a prolific author, said the new translation is "thoroughly dishonest."

"I don't blame them for being embarrassed" by what it says about Jews, "but you don't get to rewrite history or the Bible," he said. "They have an enormous burden and this effort at evasion of a very ugly truth I don't think will make a whole lot of difference to anyone."

Neusner also charged that the eradication of broad anti-Jewish statements from the Christian Bible is, in fact, a negation of Judaism itself.

"They're erasing from history the fact that the Jewish people en masse did not accept Jesus' claim — not then and not ever. By removing the Jews from the status of his enemies they also remove from the Jews the status of having their own religion.

"We're not benign toward them nor they toward us. We deal with conflicting truths and to pretend that they're not conflicting doesn't remove the conflict," said Neusner. "Those who want to draw murderous conclusions [from the Christian Bible] will not be fooled because the entire story is one that sets Jesus against the Jewish people."