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Judeo-Christian tradition

Judeo-Christian tradition (also spelled Judaeo-Christian) refers to concepts and values held in common by Christianity and Judaism.

Christianity emerged from Judaism in the first century of the common era. Christians brought from Judaism its scriptures; fundamental doctrines such as monotheism; the belief in a mashiach (Hebrew for messiah); this term is more commonly known as Christ (christos in Greek) and means 'the anointed one'); form of worship, including a priesthood, concepts of sacred space and sacred time, the idea that worship here on Earth is patterned after worship in Heaven, and the use of the Psalms in community prayer.

Users of the term Judeo-Christian, pointing out that Christians and Jews have many sacred texts and ethical standards in common, also generally hold that Christians and Jews worship the same God.

The term was used in the United States of America in an attempt to create a non-denominational religious consensus or civil religion that by embracing Judaism avoids the appearance of anti-Semitism. The original uses of the term have faded and now usually refers to a general western religious background and the term is commonly used by historians and academics as a shorthand for the cultural foundation of western society.

For a systematic look at this subject see: Comparing and Contrasting Judaism and Christianity

Table of contents

Problems with the term

The phrase "Judeo-Christian" has been criticized for implying more commonality than actually exists. In The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Jewish theologian-novelist Arthur A. Cohen[?] questions the theological appropriateness of the term and suggests that it was essentially an invention of American politics. [1] (http://www.religion-online.org/cgi-bin/relsearchd.dll/showarticle?item_id=188)

Judaism and Christianity have many areas of agreement, as well as sharply defined ethical and religious systems that are in some areas opposites. Generally neither Jews nor Christians want to have their distinctive traits removed by an oversimplification. Opponents of this term claim that the concept collapses these important differences, and effects a modern appropriation of Jewish identity to Christian values. They point to the traditional Christian claim that Christianity is the logical progression of, and heir to, Biblical Judaism, as precedent.

The term "Judeo-Christian" is seen by some to imply a rejection of Islam, the third major monotheistic (Abrahamic) religion, though it is related to both. The term "Judeo-Christian values" is commonly used in the West, and many Muslim scholars view this term as emblematic of a disconnect between Western-culture Christianity and Islam. Attempts have been made to unite this split, followed closely by attempts to discredit them. The term "Judeo-Christian-Islamic" has been coined to describe the values shared by the common history of the three religions. This term has been used, for example, by Abrahamic faith gatherings held in various cities of the U.S., which are designed to promote mutual understanding, and have drawn the participation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This has been ridiculed by the American Family Association [2] (http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/5/afa/302003h.asp), an activist organization of the Christian right, as a movement promoted by "Muslim special-interest groups" to make "radical Islamist fundamentalism" appear mainstream and tolerant of Judaism and Christianity, and therefore the term appeals to people who see "all traditions as being equally valid".

Jewish-Christian dialogue

In many nations there has been a remarkable decline in anti-Semitism after the horrors of the Holocaust were made public to the larger world population. Anti-Semitism among Christians has not died out entirely, and anti-Semitic acts have been perpetrated by some Christian leaders. Nonetheless, the leaders of many Christian denominations have developed new positions towards the Jewish people over the last thirty years, and much progress in inter-faith relations has occurred. Many elements of the Jewish community have responded favorably.

Jews and the Modern Roman Catholic Church

In the United States, rabbis from the non-Orthodox movements of Judaism became involved in inter-faith theological dialogue with a number of Christian churches. In 1965 with the landmark document Vatican II, the Catholic Church repudiated and disavowed its previous teachings that all Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. In 1971 it established an International Liaison Committee for itself and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations.

Jews and Liberal Protestant Churches

In 1981 the Assembly of the Church of Scotland declared "its belief in the continuing place of God's people of Israel within the divine purpose."

In 1982 the Lutheran World Federation issued a consultation stating that "we Christians must purge ourselves of any hatred of the Jews and any sort of teaching of contempt for Judaism."

In 1993 (March 1) International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) published "Jews and Christians in Search of a Common Religious Basis for Contributing Towards a Better World." This document "contains both separate Jewish perspectives and Christian perspectives concerning mutual communication and cooperation as well as a joint view of a common religious basis for Jews and Christians to work together for a better world....These considerations are not 'the' official theological, philosophical nor ideological underpinnings of the ICCJ and its member organisations, but are an invitation to consider what our work is all about. They have no authority other than their intrinsic world..."

Jews and Christians in Search of a Common Religious Basis for Contributing Towards a Better World (http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/research/cjl/Documents/ICCJ_1993.htm)

The United Church of Canada issued a statement in May 1998 entitled "Bearing Faithful Witness: United Church-Jewish Relations Today." This position paper goes further than most other liberal Christians groups, and calls upon Christians to:

  • Stop trying to convert Jews to Christianity; Reject Biblical interpretations which negatively stereotype Jews, as this leads to anti-Semitism; Reject the idea that Christianity is superior to, or a replacement for, Judaism; recognize that anti-Semitism is an element of historic Christianity, but not an inherent part of it - therefore one can remove it from Christianity and still remain faithful to Christianity.

The Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, a group of 22 Christian scholars, theologians, historians and clergy from six Christian Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church, works to "develop more adequate Christian theologies of the churchís relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people." They issued a statement in September 2002, "A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People". This document states, in part "For most of the past two thousand years, Christians have erroneously portrayed Jews as unfaithful, holding them collectively responsible for the death of Jesus and therefore accursed by God. In agreement with many official Christian declarations, we reject this accusation as historically false and theologically invalid. It suggests that God can be unfaithful to the eternal covenant with the Jewish people. We acknowledge with shame the suffering this distorted portrayal has brought upon the Jewish people.... We believe that revising Christian teaching about Judaism and the Jewish people is a central and indispensable obligation of theology in our time." They then offer ten positions, with detailed explanations, "for the consideration of our fellow Christians. We urge all Christians to reflect on their faith in light of these statements." The ten positions, in brief, are:

  1. Godís covenant with the Jewish people endures forever.
  2. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a faithful Jew.
  3. Ancient rivalries must not define Christian-Jewish relations today.
  4. Judaism is a living faith, enriched by many centuries of development.
  5. The Bible both connects and separates Jews and Christians.
  6. Affirming Godís enduring covenant with the Jewish people has consequences for Christian understandings of salvation.
  7. Christians should not target Jews for conversion.
  8. Christian worship that teaches contempt for Judaism dishonors God.
  9. We affirm the importance of the land of Israel for the life of the Jewish people.
  10. Christians should work with Jews for the healing of the world.

Details may be found here: The Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations (http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/research/cjl/Christian_Scholars_Group/csg.htm) The statement may or may not reflect the views of the scholars' various denominations.

Many smaller Christian groups in the US and Canada have come into being over the last 40 years, such as "Christians for Israel". Their website says that they exist in order to "expand Christian-Jewish dialogue in the broadest sense in order to improve the relationship between Christians and Jews, but also between Church and Synagogue, emphasizing Christian repentance, the purging of anti-Jewish attitudes and the false 'Replacement' theology rampant throughout Christian teachings."

Christians for Israel (http://christianactionforisrael.org/index)

Jews and Evangelical / Fundamentalist Protestants

A large Protestant Christian group, the Alliance of Baptists, has broken with traditional Christian theology vis-a-vis the Jewish people. In March 1995 they issued "A Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian Relations". This document stated that the Holocaust could only have come about because of "centuries of Christian teaching and church-sanctioned action directed against the Jews simply because they were Jews. As Baptist Christians we are the inheritors of and, in our turn, have been the transmitters of a theology which lays the blame for the death of Jesus at the feet of the Jews...a theology which has valued conversion over dialogue, invective over understanding, and prejudice over knowledge...". They then confessed their sins of "of complicity...of silence...of indifference and inaction to the horrors of the Holocaust." Finally, they issues a series of reommended actions that they asked all Christians to join them in, namely:

  • "Affirming the teaching of the Christian Scriptures that God has not rejected the community of Israel, God's covenant people (Romans 11:1-2), since 'the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable' (Romans 11:29);

  • Renouncing interpretations of Scripture which foster religious stereotyping and prejudice against the Jewish people and their faith;

  • Seeking genuine dialogue with the broader Jewish community, a dialogue built on mutual respect and the integrity of each other's faith;

  • Lifting our voices quickly and boldly against all expressions of anti-Semitism;

  • Educating ourselves and others on the history of Jewish-Christian relations from the first century to the present, so as to understand our present by learning from our past."

Generally speaking, most Evangelical Protestant Christians still believe that Jews must ultimately accept that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and the incarnation of God, and that Jesus is the only correct way to have a relationship with God in order to reach heaven. They see Judaism as therefore incomplete.

Some hold that Jews need not renounce their Jewishness in order to become Christians. Most noteably, there is a large organization known as Jews for Jesus which sees itself as being simulataneously Jewish and Envangelical Christian. This group, and other Messianic organiztaions come under heavy fire from several sides - including all of the Jewish denominations, and several Christian groups.

Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism see messianic Jewish groups as hijacking and perverting Jewish symbols and rituals. Members and supporters of groups like Jews for Jesus hold that the authors of the New Testament were originally Jews, and therefore conversion to Christianity itself is not a rejection of Judaism. Jews, Catholic Chrisitians and some Protestant groups reject such claims as historical anachronims; despite the historical relationbship between Christianity and Judaism, today these are distinct religions with very different theologies.

Many Fudamentalist Christians embrace an eschatology in which large numbers of Jews will convert to Christianity as a prelude to the end of the world; in this view, those that do not convert to Christianity thus deny God, and are destroyed.


A number of large Christian groups, including the Catholic Church and several large Protestant churches, have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews. Evangelical and Fundamentalist groups, for the most part, continue to attempt to convert Jews to Christianity - often pointing out that failure to make this attempt would be a type of discrimination, since they are attempting to convert all of the other people groups of the world - but no longer espouse the anti-Semitism of their predecessors.

Recently, over 120 rabbis from all branches of Judaism signed a document called Dabru Emet ("Speak the Truth") that has since been used in Jewish education programs across the U.S. See the entry on this topic for more details.

The Judeo-Christian tradition, perhaps, consists of no more than what is found in the text of the Tanach (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), but, even so, this is a considerable portion of the cultural heritage of the western world. Christians and Jews relate to each other better today than they have in the past, but anti-Semitism among Christians - and a corresponding hatred by some Jews - has by no means disappeared completely. Jews and Christians have much in common, but there are also many differences. Some on both sides bristle at the idea that they worship the same God, and few members of either group have suggested that they actually follow the same religion. However, many Christians are anxious to point out that their religion ultimately sprang from Judaism, and some of these wish to reclaim their roots in the Biblical, pre-Christian practice of Judaism.


  • Cohen, Arthur A. The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Harper & Row, New York, 1970.
  • Hexter, J. H. The Judaeo-Christian Tradition (Second Edition). Yale University Press, 1995.
  • Neusner, Jacob. Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition. Trinity Press International, Philadelphia, l99l.

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