“Judeo-Christian”?

I'm exploring the term "Judeo-Christian."  Any suggested reading for background and history of this term?

In recent years I have found this term to be problematic.  What exactly is "Judeo-Christian?"  Who uses the term?  What does use of this term mean in the American context for a diverse nation based on laws and freedoms, not ethnic/religious identity?

A few times on this blog I have wondered if use of this term wasn't a form of religious arrogance on the part of Christians:

Do Jews ever speak of "Judeo-Christian" values?  I've only ever hear Christians (conservative Christians, at that) use this term, and I wonder if it represents an attempt by majority Christians to claim a broader mandate for their narrow social agenda.  By using the term "Judeo-Christian" conservative Christians imply that their social agenda is in keeping with the Jewish people today and with the Jewish tradition spanning several thousand years.  This seems terribly arrogant, if not worse.

– quoted from the bottom of this post about an effort by conservative Christians to elect "godly Christians" to office, envisioning "an American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority"

For example: it is usually Christians, speaking of a "Judeo-Christian" heritage, who argue for placing the Ten Commandments in public parks or in courthouses.  Rarely have I heard Jews make such arguments.  If it is largely Christians who use the term "Judeo-Christian," does the term truly speak to things shared between Jews and Christians?  And worse, if this term is overwhelmingly used by Christians and not Jews, is its use in any way antisemitic?  Insensitive or arrogant, at least …

From what I can tell this term surfaced a few times in the early 20th century, but didn't become somewhat common until the 1940s, and has been used extensively by Christian conservatives since their political rise starting in the late 1970s.  For one Jewish perspective on this term (and a little bit of history, too), read this: Regarding the Term "Judeo-Christian"

And just on Wednesday I heard another concern about the term "Judeo-Christian" – that within the Abrahamic faiths the term places Judaism and Christianity together in a union, over and against Islam.  From a discussion about Barack Obama's visit to Cairo on public radio:

I find it very disturbing when I hear people, especially in the West – I also hear this in the Arab and Muslim world, but more often in the West – [when] I hear people talking of the "Judeo-Christian heritage."  Look, the Jews lived in Islam and have contributed to Islamic civilization for centuries! And then you get people talking about "the Judeo-Christian," as if, you know, the Jews and the Christians have always been a separate civilization and culture, separate from the civilization and culture of Muslims.

I think that one of the interesting things that could come out of the visit of Barack Obama to the Middle East is perhaps to trigger a debate among Muslims and among Christians and Jews in the West as to what role the Jews have played in Muslim culture and civilization, as opposed to just talking about Muslims over the last several decades being anti-Jewish.

Look, the West does not have to give Muslims lessons about being anti-Jewish.  Muslims didn't have the Holocaust, Muslims didn't have the pogroms that we saw in Europe in the 18th and 19th century.  The anti-Jewish attitude that we have seen, and it does exist, and the anti-Jewish propoganda does exist in the Muslim world, is in large part related to what Obama is now trying to have people debate, a solution to the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict.

– Abderrahim Foukara, Washington burea chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, on The Diane Rhem Show, Wednesday, June 3 – "President Obama in Cairo"

I don't deny that some things are shared between Christians and Jews, and that there may be an appropriate, narrow usage for the term "Judeo-Christian."  However, I find its wide application to things political, cultural, historical, and moral – interestingly enough, I rarely find the term used by theologians – to be problematic for Jewish-Christian relations and, indeed, for the ways we understand the relationship between the Abrahamic religions and their cultures.

Any thoughts?

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
This entry was posted in Faith & the Church, Politics, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Judeo-Christian”?

  1. liz says:

    Interesting read. For what it’s worth, my boss, who is Jewish, often speaks of Judeo-Christian values (he has a little speech he gives to clients who tell us their horrible soon-to-be-ex-spouses won’t ever change, about how we believe, in accordance with the Judeo-Christian ethic, that redemption is possible). In fairness, he is a pretty unique person and the only non-Christian I’ve heard use the term.

  2. Sam says:

    Judeo! Juda-a-a-eo!
    Daylight come and me wan’ go home
    Sorry, couldn’t resist.
    Here’s a place to start, about 74 years prior to the one mentioned in the article.
    http://tinyurl.com/oxncyw

  3. Sam, the source you cite sort of demonstrates my point … your source is The London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, a group that would not surprise me in claiming things “Judeo” for their “Christian” efforts … just sayin’. But thanks for the earlier dating!

  4. Laura Toepfer says:

    I was thinking about this a while ago when the National Day of Prayer website had a hyperlink on the phrase “Judeo-Christian” and a very particular (and to me squirmy) definition: “We routinely use it with reference to that standard of morality and family values which is common to both the Old and New Testaments, and which has over the centuries formed the foundation for ethics and culture in Western society.” I blogged about it here: http://teabagsinfusion.blogspot.com/2009/05/on-judeo-christian-tradition.html (and quote you within it, actually!)
    Laura

  5. PS says:

    I’ll be looking forward to more comments on this. I do wonder how anyone can claim that the OT and NT can have some kind of standard for marriage….seems like they were all over the map in comparison to what is claimed, now days, to be “Biblical marriage.”

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