Lenny Bruce often confronted the deicide or “Christ-killer” allegation in his bold pre-Vatican II act. The comedian would relate how a beleaguered Jew put a note in his cellar, where it could easily be found, to absolve all other Jews. It said: "I did it. Morty." For weeks, the American media has been inundated with apoplectic diatribes surrounding the unproven, (soon to be disproven?) potential impact of Mel Gibson’s recently released, “The Passion of The Christ” on reviving this now heretical allegation, forty years after Vatican II. Curiously ignored in this overheated discussion is the openly professed, orthodox theological view of Islam and Muslims that the Jews themselves (ala Morty?), claimed to have killed Christ.
Specifically, Quran 4:157-158 iterates,
“That they [i.e., the Jews] said in boast, "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not…Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise...
Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), a pre-eminent Muslim historian, theologian, and Qur’anic commentator, provides this elaboration of Qur’an 4:157-158, which emphasizes the Jews overall perfidy, especially their gloating (but unknowingly “false”) claim to have killed Jesus:
“When Allah sent Isa (Jesus) with proofs and guidance, the Jews -- may Allah’s curses, anger, torment, and punishment be upon them -- envied him because of his prophethood and obvious miracles…the Jews defied him…and tried their best to harm him. Allah’s Prophet Isa (Jesus) could not live in any one city for long and he had to travel often with his mother…Even so, the Jews were not satisfied, and they went to the King of Damascus at that time a Greek polytheist who worshipped stars. They told him there was a man…misguiding and dividing the people in Jerusalem and stirring unrest among the king’s subjects. The king became angry and wrote to his deputy in Jerusalem to arrest the rebel leader, stop him from causing unrest, crucify him and make him wear a crown of thorns. When the king’s deputy in Jersusalem received these orders, he went with some Jews to the house that Isa (Jesus) was residing in, and he was with twelve, thirteen, or seventeen of his companions. That day was a Friday, in the evening. They surrounded Isa (Jesus) in the house, and when he felt that they would soon enter the house or that he would sooner or later have to leave it, he said to his companions, ‘Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise?’A young man volunteered, but Isa (Jesus) thought that he was too young. He asked the question a second time and third time, each time the young man volunteering, prompting Isa (Jesus) to say, ‘Well, then you will be that man.’ Allah made the young man look exactly like Isa (Jesus), while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and Isa (Jesus) was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep…When Isa (Jesus) ascended, those who were in the house came out. When those surrounding the house saw the man who looked like Isa (Jesus), they thought that he was Isa (Jesus). So they took him at night, crucified him and placed a crown of thorns on his head. The Jews boasted that they killed Isa (Jesus) and some Christians accepted their false claim due to their ignorance and lack of reason.
In his commentary on the related Qur’anic verse 4:159,
“And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them.”
Ibn Kathir elucidates the Islamic version of the “Resurrection” from the hadith (oral tradition recording Muhammad’s words and actions) in which Isa (Jesus), who is merely a Muslim prophet preaching Islam, returns to “break the cross, kill the pig, and banish the jizyah [Qur’anic poll-tax signifying a non-Muslims subjugation under Islamic rule] and call all the people to Islam.”
It is critically important to understand that all the essential themes of Ibn Kathir’s narrative regarding the Crucifixion are reiterated in the authoritative contemporary (February 1991 English edition) manual of Islamic Law (‘Umdat al-salik wa’uddat al-nasik), “The Reliance of the Traveller,” which is certified by Cairo’s distinguished Al-Azhar University. In addition, “Reliance of the Traveller” reaffirms the accepted interpretation of Isa’s (Jesus’) return as described in the Qur’an and hadith:
“(T)he time and place for [the poll tax] is before the final descent of Jesus…After his final coming, nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent…
The modern pronouncements and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church stand in stark relief. For example, Professor Phillip Cunningham (in, “Education for Shalom: Religion Textbooks and the Enhancement of the Catholic-Jewish Relationship,” 1995, p. 39) summarized the principal features of the Second Vatican Council's “Declaration of the Relationship of The Church to Non-Christian Religions” (Nostre Aetate), issued in 1965, as follows:
“Nostre Aetate rejected key elements of the ancient anti-Jewish tradition. ‘The Jews’ were not guilty of the crucifixion, had not been renounced by God, were not under a wandering curse, and their covenantal bond with God endured.”
Furthermore, despite the fact that Islam categorically rejects the Gospels’ account of the Crucifixion, large segments of the Muslim intelligentsia were infuriated by the Nostre Aetate declaration rejecting the charge of deicide against the Jewish people. According to prominent dhimmi cleric advocates of the Islamic viewpoint, such as Youakim Moubarac (in, L’Islam et le Dialogue Islamo-Chretien, Pentalogie Islamo-Chretienne, 1972-1973.), Muslim protestations “against the disculpation of the Jewish people” were lodged in “a perfectly authentic pursuit” of the Qur’an “ for the honor of God and the Virgin.” Moubarac added that Jews were “the principal agent of an entire sinful mankind [and] …blame cannot be placed on this mankind for a deed for which its prime author is absolved.” The historian Bat Ye’or has noted bluntly that the sentiments expressed by Moubarac and his ilk reflect an “Islamic and Christian anti-Judaism [which] mutually strengthened each other in order to torpedo Judeo-Christian rapprochement.” As a Jew, even an admittedly very secular one, it has been quite reassuring to see the preponderance of devout American Christians fully prepared and willing to mollify any potentially anti-Semitic (especially deicidal) motifs in “The Passion of The Christ,” due in no small part to The Church's sincere modern teachings. There is no remotely comparable progressive strain evident in the Islamic world. Muslim clerics and regimes, especially in the Near East, vehemently opposed, and continue to oppose, the Vatican II/ Nostre Aetate renunciation of the deicide allegation against Jews. Moreover, basic Islamic theology regarding the deicide allegation, and its ugly related politics, are barely known in the West, due to a combination of profound ignorance, and deliberate, cynical obfuscation. The chasm between modern Muslim and Christian teachings with regard to the "deicide/Christ-killer" allegation against the Jews, as well as the overall conception of Jesus, couldn't be wider. Religious leaders, as well as elites in government policy, academia, and the media must begin to discuss this asymmetry candidly, as well as its implications for serious, meaningful interfaith "dialogue" between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.