Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History

Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History

by Rodney Stark

Paperback(New Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, September 23


As we all know and as many of our well established textbooks have argued for decades, the Inquisition was one of the most frightening and bloody chapters in Western history, Pope Pius XII was anti-Semitic and rightfully called “Hitler’s Pope,” the Dark Ages were a stunting of the progress of knowledge to be redeemed only by the secular spirit of the Enlightenment, and the religious Crusades were an early example of the rapacious Western thirst for riches and power. But what if these long held beliefs were all wrong?
In this stunning, powerful, and ultimately persuasive book, Rodney Stark, one of the most highly regarded sociologists of religion and bestselling author of The Rise of Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco 1997) argues that some of our most firmly held ideas about history, ideas that paint the Catholic Church in the least positive light are, in fact, fiction. Why have we held these wrongheaded ideas so strongly and for so long? And if our beliefs are wrong, what, in fact, is the truth?
In each chapter, Stark takes on a well-established anti-Catholic myth, gives a fascinating history of how each myth became the conventional wisdom, and presents a startling picture of the real truth. For example,

  • Instead of the Spanish Inquisition being an anomaly of torture and murder of innocent people persecuted for “imaginary” crimes such as witchcraft and blasphemy, Stark argues that not only did the Spanish Inquisition spill very little blood, but it was a major force in support of moderation and justice.
  • Instead of Pope Pius XII being apathetic or even helpful to the Nazi movement, such as to merit the title, “Hitler’s Pope,” Stark shows that the campaign to link Pope Pius XII to Hitler was initiated by the Soviet Union, presumably in hopes of neutralizing the Vatican in post-World War II affairs. Pope Pius XII was widely praised for his vigorous and devoted efforts to saving Jewish lives during the war.
  • Instead of the Dark Ages being understood as a millennium of ignorance and backwardness inspired by the Catholic Church’s power, Stark argues that the whole notion of the “Dark Ages” was an act of pride perpetuated by anti-religious intellectuals who were determined to claim that theirs was the era of “Enlightenment.”
In the end, readers will not only have a more accurate history of the Catholic Church, they will come to understand why it became unfairly maligned for so long. Bearing False Witness is a compelling and sobering account of how egotism and ideology often work together to give us a false truth.    

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781599475363
Publisher: Templeton Press
Publication date: 10/09/2017
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 278,649
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Rodney Stark is the award-winning author of How the West Won, The Victory of Reason, The Rise of Christianity, God's Battalions, and many other books. He serves as Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, where he is codirector of the Institute for Studies of Religion.

Paul Boehmer is a seasoned actor who has appeared on Broadway, film, and television, including The Thomas Crown Affair and All My Children. Coinciding with another of his passions, sci-fi, Paul has been cast in various roles in many episodes of Star Trek.

Read an Excerpt

Bearing False Witness

Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History

By Rodney Stark

Templeton Press

Copyright © 2016 Rodney Stark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59947-499-1


Sins of Anti-Semitism

"For centuries, persecution of the Jews was justified in the name of God. The inspiration for the medieval ghettos and for the bloody pogroms of history was provided by the doctrine that the Jews had murdered Christ and thereby provoked God's eternal wrath and punishment."

That is the first paragraph of a book I published many years ago. It seems appropriate to begin this chapter by explaining how I came to write it.

During my first year of graduate school at Berkeley, I was recruited by the director of the Survey Research Center to work on a major research project devoted to studying anti-Semitism, funded by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. I was soon assigned to that portion of the research devoted to the effects of Christian teachings on negative beliefs and feelings about Jews. Although I had not yet even earned my master's degree, I soon took primary responsibility for designing and executing major public opinion surveys devoted to this topic, analyzing the results, and writing the book Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism.

Not surprisingly, the data showed that there was a significant link between belief and prejudice — those American Christians who blamed "the Jews" for the Crucifixion were also more likely to accept standard anti-Semitic stereotypes of the Jews as avaricious, cheap, clannish, unethical, and unpatriotic. Consequently, before I had completed a draft of the book, I was asked to prepare a brief summary of the findings to be distributed to the bishops attending Vatican II — the remarkable Ecumenical Council convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962. According to Cardinal Augustin Bea, as quoted in the New York Times, that summary of mine played a significant role in producing the council's statement on the Jews (Nostra Aetate), which read:

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

I was very pleased that the council had acted, and was proud to have played any part in bringing it about. However, at that time I was far too unsophisticated to appreciate the many subtleties in the council's text, and I lacked sufficient historical background to realize that there really wasn't anything new here — that the Church never had taught that the Jews were outside God's love. And it was many years before I became aware of the extent to which the Catholic Church has stood as a consistent barrier against anti-Semitic violence, albeit Christians who attacked the Jews often justified their actions on religious grounds. My awareness of these matters grew as I worked on different aspects of ancient and medieval history — in one instance writing a long analysis of all known outbursts of anti-Semitic violence in both Europe and Islam, spanning the period 500 through 1600. Eventually, this work forced me to reconsider the entire link between Christianity and anti-Semitism.

Keep in mind that through the many centuries there have been a huge number of Roman Catholic clergy — some of them saints, some of them opportunists, some of them devout, some of them corrupt, many of them ignorant, a few of them atheists, and even an occasional howling lunatic. Not surprisingly, some of these clergy did believe that God hated all the Jews, and even a few may have gotten involved in outbursts of anti-Semitic violence. But, as will be seen, such views and actions did not have official standing and did not reflect the normal behavior of Catholic clergy toward Jews. To the contrary, the clergy often defended local Jews from attacks, sometimes risking their own lives by doing so.

Inventing Anti-Semitism

Let's begin at the start: many contemporary scholars charge that the Church originated anti-Semitism. The celebrated feminist theologian Rosemary Ruether has even claimed that "the church must bear a substantial responsibility for a tragic history of the Jew in Christendom which was the foundation upon which political anti-Semitism and the Nazi use of it was erected." Jules Isaac struck the same chord: "without centuries of Christian catechism, propaganda, and vituperation, the Hilterian teachings, propaganda, and vituperation would not have been possible." And, according to Robert T. Osborn, "Christians have been anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic, apparently from the beginning."

These charges are based on passages in the New Testament that attack the Jews for rejecting Christ and for persecuting Christians, although all of the scholars who believe that the Christians invented anti-Semitism know that deep hostility toward Jews existed long before the birth of Jesus. Perhaps because of their antagonism toward the early Church, scholars dismissed what the ancients sometimes felt toward the Jews as merely "antipathy." It did not amount to anything lasting and basic, such as what might be called anti-Semitism, but was momentary, arising entirely from political conflicts such as the Maccabean Revolt. In fact, these negative feelings toward Jews were only "sporadic," mere "isolated pockets of distemper." In contrast, they claimed real anti-Semitism was deep and abiding, something entirely new introduced by Christianity and born of Christian arrogance and ambition. If this were so, then many leading Roman intellectuals must have been secret Christians!

It was the great Roman philosopher and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BCE–65 CE) who denounced Jews as an "accursed race" and condemned their influence. It was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE), regarded as the greatest Roman orator, who complained that Jewish rites and observances were "at variance with the glory of our empire, [and] the dignity of our name." It was the esteemed Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (56–117 CE) who railed against the Jews because they "despise the gods" and called their religious practices "sinister and revolting." Not only that, according to Tacitus, the Jews had "entrenched themselves by their very wickedness" and they sought "increasing wealth" through "their stubborn loyalty" to one another. He remarked: "But the rest of the world they confront with hatred reserved for enemies." I am unable to detect how Tacitus's complaints differ from standard modern anti-Semitism as it usually is defined and measured.

Nor was it only a matter of words. The Jews were expelled from Rome in 139 BCE by an edict that charged them with attempting "to introduce their own rites" to the Romans and thereby "to infect Roman morals." Then, in 19 CE, Emperor Tiberius ordered the Jews in Rome to burn all their religious vestments and assigned all Jewish males of military age to serve in Sardinia to suppress brigandage, where, according to Tacitus, "if they succumbed to the pestilential climate, it was a cheap loss." In addition, all other Jews were banished not only from the city, but from Italy "on pain of slavery for life if they did not obey," as told by Paulinus Suetonius (c. 71–135 CE). In 70 CE, Emperor Vespasian imposed a special tax on all Jews in the empire, thereby impounding their contributions that had been made annually to the temple in Jerusalem. And in 95 CE, Emperor Domitian executed his cousin Flavius Clemens and "many others" for having "drifted into Jewish ways," as Cassius Dio (163–229 CE) put it.

Even so, the Romans did not invent anti-Semitism. There are several surviving versions of an account of an expulsion of lepers and undesirable foreigners from Egypt that parallel the Exodus. These accounts have been interpreted by some scholars as the first appearance of anti-Semitism. There also are quite hostile treatments of the Jews as godless misanthropes, written in the first century BCE by Greeks, including Didorus Siculus (c. 90 BCE–30 BCE), Strabo (c. 63 BCE–24 CE), and Apion (20 BCE–45 CE), who even accused the Jews of ritual cannibalism.

Clearly, then, anti-Semitism did not arise from the conflict between Christians and Jews as to the divinity of Jesus. Rather, it stemmed from the intense commitment that exclusive religions invariably generate among their adherents and the hostile responses this commitment provokes among outsiders. As the distinguished E. Mary Smallwood put it, Jewish "[e]xclusiveness bred unpopularity, which in turn bred anti-Semitism," just as Christian exclusiveness subsequently bred Roman antagonism toward them too. In fact, not only were Jews and Christians persecuted by Rome, but so were some exclusive pagan faiths, including congregations devoted to Isis and to Cybele (Magna Mater).

With the demise of these pagan faiths and the rise of Christianity, anti-Semitism was the only one of these ancient prejudices to survive. But unless one believes that the Church was the only channel of cultural transmission, there is no reason to suppose this legacy of pre-Christian anti-Semitism did not live on in Western Civilization — probably often linked to definitions of Jews as religious outsiders, but not dependent on that linkage. That is, antagonism toward Jews probably had a life of its own, rooted in classical times and sensitive to continuing Jewish exclusiveness. For example, the New Testament does not portray Jews as wealthy misers, but this image was as central to the medieval hatred of Jews as it was to Tacitus and his fellow Romans. In addition, of course, is the anti-Semitism inherent in the theological conflict between the two faiths.

Early Religious Conflict

There are a number of harsh, fearful, and hostile references to Jews scattered throughout the New Testament. One of the most incendiary and most frequently cited of these is the passage in Matthew 27:24–26: "So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.' Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be on us and on our children.' So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified."

Other examples include:

* Matthew 23:37: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it."

* John 5:16–18: "Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things [curing a sick man] on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, 'My father is still working, and I also am working.' For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father."

Understandably, passages such as these have caused many modern Christians a great deal of anguish as well as provoked bitterness among many Jews. Unfortunately, in condemning these and similar New Testament passages, Christian apologists and Jewish critics far too often interpret them out of context and in wholly noncomparative ways. As for context, these lines were written by men who still regarded themselves as Jews, albeit of a more enlightened kind, and were addressed to Jews who had failed, or who refused, to recognize "progress." Thus, harsh Christian critics, such as J. T. Sanders, should not focus entirely on the New Testament but also should compare its statements about the Jews with Old Testament polemics against other Jews who failed to meet a particular prophet's standards of proper faith. For example, Jeremiah (18:23) asked the Lord: "Do not forgive their iniquity, do not blot out their sin from your sight. Let them be tripped up before you: deal with them while you are angry." Then, warming to his theme, Jeremiah (19:7–9) quoted the Lord's response: "And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth. ... And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters."

Dozens of similar verses can be found in the Old Testament and provide a context within which the New Testament polemics can be seen as typical of "in-house prophetic criticism."

In similar fashion, much anguish about anti-Jewish statements in the New Testament arises because they are anachronistically taken to be the statements of a nasty and abusive Christian majority. No account is taken of the fact that when these passages were written, Christians were a tiny, persecuted minority, not only amid the huge Greco-Roman empire, but vis-à-vis the large populations of Jews, including those in Palestine and those making up the many substantial diasporan communities of Jews scattered in the various larger Greco-Roman cities. For it was within these Jewish communities that the early Christians concentrated their efforts to convert. As late as the year 100 CE, by which time the Gospels already were in circulation, there probably were slightly fewer than 8,000 Christians on earth, and even a century later, there still were only about 200,000 Christians. In contrast, there were about 7 million Jews — only a million of them in Palestine. In early days, it was not the Romans, but the surrounding Jewish populations who were the most serious source of danger to Christians.

The evidence of Jewish persecution of Christians is scattered and obviously very incomplete, but there are compelling reasons to believe that persecution was common and that it continued for several centuries. For one thing, Christianity was an intolerable abomination in the eyes of observant Jews. Unlike pagans whose sins could be dismissed as those of ignorant outsiders, Christian disregard of the Law was a lapse by those, many of whom had been raised as Jews, who claimed to be the rightful heirs to the entire Jewish tradition. Worse yet, the Christians were asserting an outrageous heresy, not only by claiming that Jesus was the promised messiah, but by proclaiming him the Son of God, they seemed to dispense with monotheism. In the eyes of religious Jews, these were terrible offenses that required violent responses.

As for evidence of actual Jewish attempts to punish these crimes, we do know that in Acts 22:4–5 Paul confessed that prior to his conversion in about the year 35 CE, he delivered Christians to the "high priest and council of elders" for punishment, and Acts reports several instances during which "apostles" were flogged. The deacon Stephen was stoned to death by order of the Sanhedrin in about the year 37 CE. Then, after Paul had shifted his mission efforts to the West, he received a number of beatings and an unsuccessful stoning by local Jewish leaders in various cities. Next, according to the great Jewish historian Josephus (37–101 CE), and confirmed by Christian historian Eusebius (263–339 CE), James, the brother of Jesus and head of the church, was publicly mocked and executed by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem in 61 or 62 CE. The Jewish threat was real.

Consequently, a number of scholars have pointed out that the anti-Jewish passages found in the New Testament should be interpreted as only one side of a very angry religious conflict. But what has been missing is firm evidence of the other side, of contemptuous anti-Christian expressions in Jewish sources, such as the Talmud, the collection of writings by learned rabbis that began in the first century. Some viciously anti-Christian passages alleged to come from the Talmud were published by a Spanish Dominican friar in the thirteenth century (said to have been leaked to him by Jewish converts to Christianity) and were later quoted by Martin Luther. A similar two-volume work was published in Germany in 1700. Both publications attracted attention from anti-Semites who cited them in angry pamphlets, but their authenticity was disavowed by both Jews and Christians — complaints by the Jewish community in Frankfurt caused the German volumes to be confiscated by the government. Thus, it has long been the general scholarly belief that there were no authentic references to Jesus in the Talmud, and that aside from several isolated incidents, there was no significant Jewish persecution of Christians. Hence, James Everett Seaver confidently reported that Jewish hatred of the early Christians "has no existence in historical fact."


Excerpted from Bearing False Witness by Rodney Stark. Copyright © 2016 Rodney Stark. Excerpted by permission of Templeton Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Confronting Distinguished Bigots 1

1 Sins of Anti-Semitism 9

2 The Suppressed Gospels 37

3 Persecuting the Tolerant Pagans 53

4 Imposing the Dark Ages 73

5 Crusading for Land, Loot, and Converts 93

6 Monsters of the Inquisition 117

7 Scientific Heresies 135

8 Blessed Be Slavery 169

9 Holy Authoritarianism 187

10 Protestant Modernity 209

Postscript 231

Notes 233

Bibliography and Recommended Reading 241

Illustration Credits 255

Index 257

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews