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The Myth of “An Eye for an Eye” 

In the April 3, 2002 edition of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Vittori Messori writes, “These Judean stones that have already seen the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ are now bloodstained by the fierce confrontation between two Semitic peoples, Jewish and Arab. They both rely on the concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which can seem effective in its brutal realism, but is instead terribly misleading. It was in this very place that the Teacher was born and was later sentenced to death, because, in a world devastated by hatred, He announced something scandalous: forgiveness, love for enemies, turning the other cheek, disarming the adversary by showing him affection instead of hostility.” 

This writer’s assertion is wrong in two ways. First of all, the phrase “an eye for an eye” has never been interpreted by teachers of the Jewish people in the way in which it is interpreted by Roman Catholics, who purposely construct their theory of the Jewish people as cruel and vindictive. In Jewish history, this phrase has never been applied as physical retaliation, but instead it inspired the principle of the proportionality of economic compensation of (real) caused damage (see Babylonian Talmud, in Baba Kamma, p.84a). It is unacceptable that after two thousand years of Roman Catholic “hoarding” of the Hebrew Scriptures (to use a term of the Catholic theologian Hans Kung), they ignore or pretend to ignore the Hebrew interpretation of key passages, and still use them today in an anti-Semitic way. It is even more morally contemptible to carry out the same act of projection upon a non-existent historical reality from a misinterpreted text. Never, in all of Jewish history, has the law of an “Eye for an Eye” been applied according to this Roman Catholic interpretation.  

Missori says, “The Gospel is a message that will not be received by either of the adversaries (the two Semitic peoples), but that could prove to be the decisive solution.” It leads one to wonder, rather, in which concrete historical moment the followers of the Roman Pope have embraced the “scandal of forgiveness”, love for enemies, or turning the other cheek. Was it perhaps during the Inquisition or during the Crusades when an entire Jewish community was massacred in Europe and in the Holy Land (see the massacre of Jerusalem of 1099) in order to vindicate the alleged crime of deicide? It was not until 1965 they sought to put an end to this longest vendetta of human history. 

Unfortunately, as Catholic theologian Hans Kung writes, “the church preached love and sewed the most lethal hatred possible; it proclaimed life and spread the bloodiest death possible,” (see The Church, H. Kung). Notwithstanding the recent attempts by the Roman Catholic Church to abandon its age-old history of anti-Semitism, the language used by eminent Catholic spokesmen to describe the Middle East situation testifies to the fact that the ancient Roman Catholic vision of the “wicked Jews” remains. For what reason do they speak of a tragic conflict that is of a predominantly political character in terms that closely follow the most traditional Roman Catholic prejudices against Jews? Lately people have been writing about “eye for an eye”, about “a vendetta” and of “extermination in the land of the Resurrection”. All of these concepts are inadequate to describe what is happening in the Middle East today.

The disheartening reality is that the Roman Catholic Church also maintains today the same approach that it has always had with regard to the return of the Jewish people to their land. At the dawn of Zionism, the magazine Civilta Cattolica was writing, “According to the sacred writings, the Jewish people must always exist dispersed and wandering among other peoples, so that not only with the deposit of the Scriptures, which they revere and preserve, but even more by its present condition it testifies of faith in Christ. How much more then that the reconstruction of Jerusalem as the center of a revived Israeli kingdom must be observed as something contrary to the prophecy of Christ Himself,” (May 1, 1897). This position reflects the theology of the Church fathers and the doctrine of Augustine of “a people who are witnesses and outcasts”. The Bishop of Hippo was already writing in the 4th century, “After the passion of Christ, (the Jews) were uprooted from their land since they did not want to recognize Christ as King; from that time on they never again had a permanent abode or political certainty,” (Expositions on the Psalms, 56:9, Augustine). 

I wonder how the Roman Catholic Church can claim to carry out a role of mediation in the Middle East conflict while its language manifests the permanence of the same ancient prejudices. 

Nota Bene: The Knesset proclaimed and accepted Jesus of Nazareth as one of the greatest prophets of the people of Israel. Unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church has not understood or accepted Jesus of Nazareth and will never be able to understand nor accept Him until they abandon Greco-Roman paganism and draw near with humility and desire to learn about Jesus and His people.

Per la Comunità Fede Viva  Don Franco