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Anti-Semitism: if Shakespeare can be censored, what about the Gospels?

27 March 2015


From the Revd Paul A. Newman

Sir, - Thank you for a timely contribution by Jane Clements about liturgy and anti-Semitism (Comment, 27 February).

It coincided with a reported statement by Mark Rylance that, when artistic director at the Globe Theatre, he cut parts of Shakespeare's plays because they are "anti-Semitic". He explained that, if a character says it, it doesn't mean that the author meant it; "but that since the Holocaust . . . such statements have a lot more resonance . . . than they did at the time."

While for instance, the Gospel According to John reaches the zenith of sublimity in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, who can doubt that, historically, Christianity's "accidental shadow" was simultaneously enshrined in what became, in Phyliss Trible's memorable phrase, "texts of terror" to European Jewry.

The consequence of repeated hearings of texts in Matthew (e.g. 27.25) and John (21.9), and the archetypal demonising of Judas Iscariot seeded a popular anti-Judaic consciousness, and infused a latent, even "respectable", anti-Judaism into the Christian bloodstream.

The historical and contem- porary geo-political consequences in the Middle East, in the necessity of the State of Israel, appear irredeemable, even with a fair and honest reckoning in our generation. It prompts the question as to how the implications of a Mark Rylance sensitivity might inform our approach to continued liturgical and homiletic use of such sacred texts.

5, Cranworth House
Winchester SO22 6EJ


From the Revd Andrew Pearson

Sir, - I can speak only for myself, but to answer Dr Jane Clements's musing in her thought-provoking article, it had never occurred to me to understand the words "scorned by the ones he came to save" in the hymn "In Christ alone" as referring to anybody other than representatives of the entire human race.

Apart from general context, to understand them as referring only to Jews would suggest that Jesus did not come to save Gentiles. I very much agree with Dr Clements's plea to reject unthinking acceptance of anti-Semitic content in our liturgy, preaching, and hymnology. Perhaps her concern over these words illustrates above all the need for the most sensitive antennae on the part of writers.

Owl House, Shophouse Lane
Albury, Guildford
Surrey GU5 9ET

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