Moses, Jesus, and Einstein and Those Who Hate Them

A Contextualizing and Summary of
Mordecai Would Not Bow Down: Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Christian Supersessionism

Timothy P. Jackson

Moses and Albert Einstein embodied a singular Judaic genius. Both men pointed out the intimate connection between realities typically considered separate if not adversarial, with Einstein doing for physics and cosmology what Moses did for ethics and religion. More specifically, Einstein’s general theory of relativity established that space and time are linked (a continuum) and that matter and energy are convertible (E = mc2). Belgian Catholic priest and Professor of Physics, Georges Lemaître, deduced from Einstein’s work (and the astronomical findings of Edwin Hubble) that the universe and space-time itself had a beginning: the Big Bang. Moses, for his part, highlighted the close connection between God and human beings (Gen. 1:27: creation “in the image of God”) and between self and others (Lev. 19:18: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”). The Mosaic account of creation in Genesis clearly resonates with the classical Big Bang theory in cosmology.1This fact was pointed out by Pope Pius XII, but Professor Lemaître reportedly advised him against drawing too direct a parallel between science and Holy Scripture. For an enlightening discussion of this matter, see “The Pius XII – Lemaître Affair (1951-1952) on Big Bang and Creation,” by Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, in Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science. Both Moses and Einstein related the visible to the invisible and sought to express their ideas in terms of laws or universal principles. They thereby unleashed immense power – in Adam and the atom, respectively.

Jesus of Nazareth elaborated and lived out the radical mandates of Torah piety, applying them as Messiah to individuals even as Moses applied them as Prophet to tribes. Christ’s extension of the divine covenant to Gentiles in no way invalidated the covenant with the Jews; Jesus was born a Jew, taught as a Jew, and died as a Jew, even as the Jews remain “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). All three Jewish revolutionaries – Moses, Jesus, and Einstein – lead human minds back to the divine mind. (Infinite segregated multiverses is a non-explanation.) No greater theoretical and practical challenge exists today than to demonstrate the twofold created unity of the physical and the spiritual, the large and the small, the strong and the weak, and to explain why we flee from it. The idea of “a Jewish physics and metaphysics” is controversial, and even Einstein denied some of the entailments of his own reflection, but the gifts of Judaism may yet enable us (with God’s grace) to integrate body and soul, gravity and grace.2Another Jew, Simone Weil, wrote eloquently of the relation between physical necessity and divine freedom; see her Gravity and Grace (London: Ark, 1987). I have tried in part to do so, with reference to moral theology, in my Mordecai Would Not Bow Down (Oxford University Press, 2021). There I associate anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Christian supersessionism with the anxious rejection of and/or envy toward Judaic moral monotheism.

Mordecai Would Not Bow Down by Timothy P. Jackson. (Oxford University Press 2021).

Paradoxically, no other subjects of modern inquiry are as likely to generate false consolation as the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Even as we acknowledge the enormity of these twin evils and resolve not to forget or repeat them, we deem them opaque or purely irrational phenomena, thereby minimizing them. We are tempted to relativize the effects of the Shoah and general hatred of the Jews by pointing to the emergence of the state of Israel on earth, or to the redemption of the elect in heaven, as compensation. More dangerously still, we blind ourselves to the objective causes of the pervasive malice by denying that there are objective causes. I argue, in contrast, that the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are largely due to the rejection of Judaic genius from Moses to Jesus to Einstein. Hitler and the Nazis hated the Jewish message of human solidarity and divine transcendence, hence every Jew interred in a Nazi death camp was a prisoner of conscience, even as every Jew murdered by the Nazis was a martyr. It was Jewish conscience and Jewish faith themselves that the Nazis loathed and wished to eliminate by degrading and finally destroying the Jewish people.

The pantheistic naturalism at the core of National Socialism – a.k.a. survival of the fittest – inevitably conflicted with Jewish moral monotheism. To this day, the erotic mind does not relish being dependent upon and decentered by God’s righteousness. If we insist the Holocaust was pure insanity without any objective basis, we fail to appreciate its radical evil. If we blind ourselves to how Christian supersessionism made the genocide possible (if not inevitable), we make the Shoah more likely to be repeated. This is not to blame the victims but to name the victimizers: our instinctually prideful selves.

Paradoxically, no other subjects of modern inquiry are as likely to generate false consolation as the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

A central and abiding motive for anti-Semitism, I maintain, is the same thing that moved Haman in the Book of Esther to plot the genocide of the Jews and that got Jesus crucified by the Romans: the embodiment of an uncompromising allegiance to a righteous Deity who creates, judges, and cares for all people. Mordecai’s refusing to bow down to Haman is just the flip side of Jesus’s going to the cross under Pontius Pilate. Whereas the Mosaic God of the Burning Bush warmed and enlightened without consuming, however, Adolf Hitler eventually sought to make a conflagration of anyone and anything who gestured away from Aryan blood and toward universal Deity, especially the Jews and their ideal of holiness. As believers in moral monotheism, the Jews were considered base and polluted, hence to be burned away with a stunningly rational efficiency. This Holocaust I attribute to a range of causes, but particularly to “original sin”: the tendency of anxious human beings to try to elevate themselves by denigrating others who differ from them or who challenge their erotic instincts. This includes all of us, of course; each has his or her inner anti-Semite who is offended by the Judaic call to unity and lawfulness before the Supernatural.

In Chapter 1 of Mordecai Would Not Bow Down – “Legitimating a Topic as Old as Esther” – I rebut three fundamental challenges to the idea that Jewish moral monotheism was a primary cause of German anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The first challenge is the claim that the National Socialist persecution of the Jews was based solely on race, and not on religion. The second challenge is the more sweeping claim that there was nothing objective about the Jews or Judaism – neither race nor religion – that motivated Nazi oppression and murder; these were simply irrational. The third challenge is what I call, echoing Hannah Arendt, “the banality of evil” claim. According to this perspective, most Nazis, including many who were very highly placed (e.g., Eichmann), were without evil intention/malice of forethought toward the Jews and were motivated primarily by mundane concerns, such as power or promotion or simple prudence. I take all three of these positions to underestimate human malice and, by implication, human (and divine) benevolence.

This Holocaust I attribute to a range of causes, but particularly to “original sin”: the tendency of anxious human beings to try to elevate themselves by denigrating others who differ from them or who challenge their erotic instincts.

In Chapter 2 – “The Perennial Either/Or” – I argue that the objective contrast between Judaism and Nazism is the perpetual choice between love and hate, humanity and inhumanity, a divergence that Hitler recognized in outline. The foremost natural law for Hitler was Darwinian survival of the fittest, but the basic divide between the Biblical God and Hitler’s pantheism resonates through five related pairs of axiological poles and is applicable to both men and women:

  1. A transcendent Creator who governs human life with love and justice vs. an immanent creator that governs human life with survival of the fittest and will to power.
  2. Human solidarity based on sharing the image of God vs. a master race destined to subordinate and/or eliminate inferiors.
  3. Universal moral norms binding on all human beings vs. elitist privileges applicable only to the dominant few.
  4. The relativizing of tribe and bodily instinct vs. the valorizing of tribe and bodily instinct the treasuring of life, especially for the weak and vulnerable vs. the celebration of death, especially for the weak and vulnerable.

In Chapter 3 – “Nazism and the Western Conscience” – I offer a scale of moral responsibility applicable to members the Nazi Reich during the Final Solution:

  1. Oblivious: totally unaware, simply out to lunch or mentally impaired concerning the Nazi attempted genocide of the Jews, invincibly ignorant and without bad faith.
  2. Bystanding: aware but mute and passive, perhaps in bad faith/denial, concerning the Nazi attempted genocide of the Jews.
  3. Complicit: aware and publicly and privately supportive of the Nazi attempted genocide of the Jews, but primarily verbally or symbolically.
  4. Aiding and abetting: aware and more than verbally supportive, actively assisting and participating in the Nazi attempted genocide of the Jews, but short of pulling the trigger or dropping the gas pellets or ordering the same.
  5. Directly murderous unto abomination: actually pulling the trigger or dropping the gas pellets or ordering the same, so as knowingly to aim at destroying the Jews as a race and Judaism as a moral and religious creed; in the extreme, also to aim at destroying one’s own conscience 

In The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom (RIP) writes that “strong poets make … [poetic] history by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative space for themselves.” In Chapter 4 of Mordecai – “The Evils of Superesessionism” – I apply Bloom’s literary theory, mutatis mutandis, to religious history and theology. Even the other monotheistic Abrahamic faiths – Christianity and Islam – resent their dependency on Hebrew scripture and tradition and aim to make room for themselves by misreading the Jews and Judaism. Christians would define themselves by writing a “New Testament” that supplants the “Old,” even as Muslims would produce a “Final Testament” that supersedes all previous. Bloom describes “six revisionary ratios” by which strong poets would distinguish themselves from their predecessors. My task is to adapt these conventions and to demonstrate that they have more than aesthetic/literary import. Christian and Islamic ethics and theology, and even Nazism as a pagan counter, can plausibly be seen to suffer from the anxiety of influence and to seek to liberate themselves from their Jewish paternity by literal and figurative patricide.

In Chapter 5 – “Jesus and the Jews: Two Suffering Servants Incarnate” – I explore two specific “parallel paradoxes” between Jesus and the Jews:

  • Though Jesus was sinless, Imperial Rome was right, by its own lights, to execute him for sedition: his message did relativize the Emperor and the Empire.
  • Though the Jews were sinless, Nazi Germany was right, by its own lights, to seek to annihilate them for sedition: their message did relativize der Führer and the volkish nation.
  • Though Jesus was beloved of God and a vehicle of God’s salvation of the world, he experienced the trial of seeming to be forsaken by the Father (and the disciples) on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)
  • Though the Jews were chosen by God and a vehicle of God’s salvation of the world, they experienced the trial of seeming to be forsaken by the Father (and the world) in the Nazi death camps.

Both pseudo-science and pseudo-ethics appear to embrace legitimate means and ends, while actually subverting them. Analogously, Nazism did not simply deny or contradict Judaism, it borrowed from and twisted it to its own purposes. In Chapter 6 – “Naming Good and Evil: Hitler’s Insidious Genius” – I analyze eight interwoven dynamics of Hitlerite deceit:

  1. The appeal to Schadenfreude rather than to a sense of justice
  2. The masking of Schadenfreude itself as a sense of justice
  3. The appeal to “Nature” rather than to God
  4. The masking of “Nature” itself as God
  5. The rejection of many Jewish and Christian teachings as anti-Aryan
  6. The masking of Jesus himself as an anti-Semitic Aryan
  7. The rejection of Jewish “legalism” as decadent and racially motivated
  8. The masking of Nazi racism and genocide as itself legal

So many leaps of illogic are involved that some commentators doubt that the Nazi leadership believed what they were saying, but I do not underestimate the aptitude for self-deception at every level of the Third Reich.

In Chapter 7 – “A Closer Look at Schadenfreude and the Prophetic” – I contend that Schadenfreude, taking joy over the misfortune of others, can be seen as an offshoot of the formal Nazi project of Kraft durch Freude, finding strength through joy. Schadenfreude generated collective pleasure at the expense of the humanity of the Jews, while Kraft durch Freude produced collective pleasure at the expense of one’s own humanity. In the latter case, individual conscience was bought off with “bread and circuses.” In all cases, the overriding value was power and self-distraction rather than traditional virtue. I am not claiming that moral joys are identical to or utterly indistinguishable from immoral ones, since the two kinds can be evaluated by their fruits as well as by their durability, but I would contend that evil can occasion profoundly pleasant and animating affections, at least for a time, as in the Third Reich. See the smiling faces of German soldiers lynching communists and Jews.

I contend that Schadenfreude, taking joy over the misfortune of others, can be seen as an offshoot of the formal Nazi project of Kraft durch Freude, finding strength through joy. 

Perhaps the most famous and controversial witness from a victim of the Holocaust is Anne Frank’s: “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Bruno Bettelheim pounced on this remark as a tragic blindness to and acquiescence in evil: “Anne Frank died because her parents could not get themselves to believe in Auschwitz. And her story found wide acclaim because for us too, it denies implicitly that Auschwitz ever existed. If all men are good, there was never an Auschwitz.” In my Conclusion – “Guilt, Innocence, and Anne Frank” – I examine Frank’s case and, contra Bettelheim, praise it as emblematic of Judaism generally. Anne was not naïve or in denial about Nazi wickedness; she was, rather, a Suffering Servant, a modern Mordecai. She did not bow down to temporal authority, but she refused to hate even when faced with despair and death. In personifying steadfast love for the world (’hesed), she was a light to the nations, carrying on in her way the brilliance of Moses, Jesus, and Einstein. ♦

Timothy P. Jackson is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, a senior fellow at the Center for Ethics, and teaches in the Graduate Division of Religion. Jackson joined the Candler faculty in 1995, and previously held teaching posts at Rhodes College, Yale University, Stanford University and the University of Notre Dame. He was a visiting fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry, the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton and the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard.

Recommended Citation

Jackson, Timothy P. “Moses, Jesus, and Einstein and Those Who Hate Them: A Contextualizing and Summary of Mordecai Would Not Bow Down: Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Christian Supersessionism.” Canopy Forum, July 23, 2021.