When Christianity Began
Jude Wanniski
April 1, 1999


Memo To: My Muslim and Jewish Brethren
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: When Judaism Became Christianity

Benjamin Disraeli, the British Jew who became one of the most illustrious of Victorian prime ministers in the 19th century, once made the comment that "Christianity is Judaism for the masses." I never would have known what exactly he meant had not I stumbled upon a passage from Matthew in the Good Book. In Chapter 15, Jesus excoriates the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy when they come from Jerusalem to complain that his disciples don't wash their hands before they eat, breaking tradition. Jesus then says their hands may not be clean, but their hearts are pure: "Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile." Then comes the turning point for this Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth:

Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did him homage, saying "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed from that hour.

In that moment, the Good Shepherd of the Israelites became the Good Shepherd to the world. In the Judaic tradition, the holy men to this day minister only to their own, eschewing evangelism, wary even of intermarriage between Jew and non-Jew. Christianity, by contrast, has become the most evangelical of the three dominant monotheistic faiths. Islam, founded by the Prophet Muhammad seven centuries later, is a direct offshoot of Judaism and Christianity. The Islamic Holy Book, the Qu'ran, which was revealed by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad, a man who could neither read nor write, consists of material found both in Jewish and Christian biblical scripture. At his Savior's Day sermon in Chicago on February 28, Minister Louis Farrakhan pointed out that the name "Moses" appears more often in the Qu'ran than does the name of the Prophet Muhammad. In the trinity of faiths, if Judaism is the father of all faiths and Christianity the mother of all faiths, Islam is the offspring of the two.

If Judaism is the most culturally self-contained and Christianity the most evangelical, Islam is certainly the most ecumenical. In two thousand years, the relatively small number of Jews have easily made the greatest contributions to global living standards, through innovations in science and finance. They have suffered continuously, though, as a result of their self-induced cultural insularity that protected them from assimilation. They became the easy scapegoat during times of great economic distress. The Muslim world, which now equals Christianity in its global numbers, with each of more than one billion souls, continues to be the fastest growing by virtue of an ecumenical nature.

The political intersections of the three faiths can be traced to the very first Easter, which came as a result of the crucifixion of Jesus. As long as Jesus limited himself to his spiritual ministry, the Jewish political leaders let him be. But on the Passover celebration preceding that first Easter, Jesus became angered at the defilement of the Temple by fellow Jews who were transacting business and changing money there. He and his disciples chased them away, and this now became a matter for the Sanhedrin, the Jewish elite of Jerusalem, who were permitted political autonomy by Rome as long as they kept the peace. In this case, they decided that Jesus was a political liability, who might cause Rome to intervene if the commercial class pressed its case against his insistence on keeping the Sabbath. In withdrawing their support from Jesus, they assured his conviction and the mob was led along to vote for his crucifixion.

Three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the first Christian Emperor took it upon himself to evangelize, by force if necessary. As Constantine the Great proclaimed: "I shall advance till He, the invisible God who marches before me, thinks proper to stop." With this energy, the eastern political notion of a wedding of temporal and spiritual power intruded on the west, giving a peculiar bent to Christianity for the next millennium.

Muhammad lived from 570 to 632, inspiring the simplest, least mystical and least ritualistic of the great monotheistic creeds. By opening itself to Christians and Jews alike, it swept across the Mediterranean states with advanced ideas of public finance that made heavily-taxed Christians in many cases welcome their advance. When Jews became the object of Christian persecution in the early years of the second millennium, they could find safe harbor in the Islamic world. Prior to the 20th century there are very few instances of Muslim persecution of Jews, usually limited to specific local rulers in isolated cases. The contentiousness between Muslim and Jew is a late 20th century phenomenon. It may not seem like it now, but this divergence should end rather soon, I think, with the establishment of a Palestinian state and a flowering of the Middle East economies.

The central idea of all three faiths, which all flow from the father of all patriarchs Abraham, is that there is but one true God who made us all, whether He is called God, or Allah (the Arabic word for God), or the Hebrew Y*h*w*h. The most distinctive secular idea to which each creed aspires is the concept of the Good Shepherd, the ruler or guide who will leave the ninety nine to restore the one. It was on that fateful day that Jesus left the ninety nine to tend to the Canaanite woman, and in so doing made of Christianity the Judaism for the masses.

How then is it today that on the eve of the millennium we still find the children of Abraham -- Jew, Christian, Muslim -- in bloody conflict with one another? To change this, rather than dissolve into a common soup of good feelings, each simply must build upon the strengths of their faiths, always cognizant of what unites us -- the fatherhood of God. The world sorely needs more Good Shepherds. Pope John Paul's initiatives for repentance and reconciliation among the children of God -- a universally held but unrealized aspiration -- is the task for the new millennium. The monothestic faiths are designed to elevate that responsibility as so much more unites us than divides us.