Author: Bradley J. Kramer
Title: Gathered in One — How the Book of Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament
Greg Kofford Books, 2019
Reviewed by Doug Gibson
Bradley J. Kramer, who has degrees from both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Brigham Young University, provides a provocative argument in a new book published by Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City. At least it’s a provocative argument to readers such as myself, with a more casual relationship to Gospel knowledge and analysis.
The theme is described in the title, “Gathered in One — How the Book of Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament.” The author does not consider the New Testament to be uninspired nor anything less than essential to those who adhere to or seek to learn more about Christianity. In fact, it’s mulled in the book that perhaps anti-Judaism is a better term than anti-Semitism.
With analysis augmented by references to religious scholars, Kramer argues that much of the New Testament, particularly in the Gospel of Matthew and John, can perpetuate a hostility and increasing prejudice against Jews. The aforementioned Gospels, including later parts of The New Testament, were written several decades after Christ was crucified. The Romans had utilized extreme force against the Jews, and this influenced sentiments within the still-young Christian faith.
An example of this cited in Matthew Chapter 27, is the Gospel author’s assertion that all Jews present urged a hesitant Pontius Pilate to kill Jesus. This includes the so-called blood curse, where the Jews are quoted as saying “his blood be on us, and on our children.”
As Kramer writes, “And now, before all its readers, the Gospel of Matthew passes judgment on the Jews … inviting its readers to scourge and mock and ultimately execute them, just as the ancient Jews allegedly did Jesus.”
Kramer’s book dismisses the Gospel interpretation of Pilate as urging leniency to Christ, arguing that the Roman official historically was known for brutal leadership and disrespect to the Jews, and was eventually recalled to Rome. Another provocative argument broached in the book is that the Pharisees were not the hyper-judgmental, hyper-letter-of-the-law hypocrites as they are described. Rather, the Sadducees, were the party of the elites. The Pharisees, the book adds, represented the middle- and lower-classes. The book notes that some scholars even believe Christ may have sympathized with the Pharisees, and — gulp — might even have been one.
Quoting Fisher, Kramer writes, “(Matthew’s Pharisees are) not the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, but those of Matthew’s own that the Gospel author is arguing against.” As mentioned, The Gospel of Matthew was written several decades after Christ’s earthly life.
The Gospel of John, it is argued in the book, can be perceived as being worse than Matthew’s Gospel, as it casts the Jews as “(abiding) in darkness,” “(wicked) masters of Israel,” and “blind to all things spiritual,” and more. As Kramer notes, the rhetoric makes it seem impossible that the Jews could remain God’s covenant people.
The Book of Mormon provides a distinct, more forgiving interpretation that avoids anti-Judaism, asserts Kramer, who is the author of “Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon.” As Kramer notes, 1st Nephi 14:14 assures that Jews will eventually be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” Other Book of Mormon scriptures promise that righteous people will look toward the Jews to receive correct teachings and counsel.
Kramer also writes that in the Book of Mormon, when the sins of wicked groups or individuals are revealed, the rhetoric by prophets condemning the sinful behavior “seems not so much to revel in their moral turpitude, as the Gospels appear to do with respect to the Pharisees, as it is to reveal the strength of God’s commitment to them.”
An example of this, Kramer adds, is Laman and Lemuel, never cast out or left behind by their father or brothers. And that offer of forgiveness and inclusiveness is extended to their descendants, no matter how opposed their theologies are.
Also, as Kramer writes, The Book of Mormon urges Christians to listen respectfully to Jews who disagree with the prophets, and to consider them as friends. Nephi maintained that the Jews had much to teach us. (The book includes this reference from 2nd Nephi 25:5 — “… I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.”
There’s much more to this fascinating read. It addresses a harsh truth, which is that anti-Semitism clings to Christianity. However, without tarnishing the spiritual gifts of the New Testament, this problem can be addressed. The Book of Mormon serves as a guide to resolving this uncomfortable issue.