Anti-Semitism has been an unfortunate component of Christianity that is rooted in the gospels. To understand the negative attitude toward Judaism that shows up in the Christian gospels, a reader of the Bible must recognize that the Hebrew yehudim and the Greek ioudaioi can carry different meanings.
The Hebrew word originally appeared in reference to the tribe descended from the patriarch yehudah, or Judah. The tribe of Judah was briefly united with ten other Hebrew-speaking tribes under David and Solomon. After the death of Solomon in 926 BCE, Judah became a separate kingdom with its political capital and cult center in Jerusalem. Anyone who lived within the realm was known as a Judean. The other tribes, to the north of Judah, formed a kingdom that was the first of the two to be conquered by foreign invaders. Judah held out until 587, when Jerusalem was invaded and the temple destroyed. The Judeans rebuilt their temple in 520.
Soon after the Maccabean revolt in 165 BCE, the designation yehudim or ioudaioi acquired an additional meaning that was neither territorial nor tribal. People whose worship life centered in the Jerusalem temple also became known as Judeans, even if their ancestors belonged to one of the other tribes. The Romans destroyed the temple in 70 CE, and by the end of the first century, a religion centered on the synagogues and the teachings of the rabbis had evolved from the practice of the Pharisees. Any adherent of this religion was known as a Judean.
Another use of the word further complicates an appropriate understanding of Judean. During the first century people in the southern part of Herod’s realm were called Judeans while people in the north were Samaritans or Galileans. Apparently the division was as important for them as the division between the northern and southern parts of Ireland are today. In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt says that living in Limerick he was always suspect because his father, although a Catholic, was from the north. His own grandmother accused him of having "Presbyterian hair". According to John’s gospel, the Judeans challenged Jesus with a similar kind of guilt by geographical association:
The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon"? [John 8:48]
According to the gospels, most of Jesus’s early followers were Galileans so to outsiders, Greeks and Romans, the later followers of Jesus – even the Gentiles – were called Galileans to differentiate them from the Jews. When these second and third generation Christians wrote their Jesus stories, they naturally identified themselves with the Galileans, in their minds the good people, while they pictured the Judeans as the bad people. This tendency to show Judeans in the worst possible light is especially noticeable in the Gospel according to John. When a story is set in or around Jerusalem, John consistently identifies the local people who resist the teachings of Jesus as Judeans, in English "Jews".
The Christian gospels’ negative attitude toward Judeans, however, was certainly based on something more than regional prejudice. The hostility arose in regard to the use of the term Judean meaning an adherent to a participant in a particular religion. At the same time that rabbinic Judaism was taking form, the followers of Jesus under the leadership of Paul began welcoming Gentiles into their communities without insisting that they conform their diet and dress to rabbinic rules. Neither did they require Gentile men to be circumcised. The leaders of the synagogues, however, were not willing to make such concessions for their Gentile converts. In order to preserve their spiritual identity, the rabbis came to the conclusion that they could no longer tolerate the confusion caused by the Jesus followers in their midst. Even the Christians who were born Judeans and followed the rules were no longer accepted. Their rejection from the synagogues left many followers of Jesus feeling hurt and angry, but there was another reason for the hostility that developed between the two groups, Jews and Christians, that emerged from the Pharisee tradition. They found themselves in fierce competition for converts among the Gentiles. The depth of the animosity on the Christian side is reflected in a curse Matthew attributes to Jesus. In The Five Gospels the curse reads:
"You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters! Damn you! You scour land and sea to make one convert, and when you do, you make that person more a child of Hell than you are." [Matthew 23:15]
Although much of the teaching attributed to Jesus closely parallels what the Pharisees taught, the Christian writers often use the Pharisees as surrogates for Judeans in general when they want to cast aspersions on their competitors. Because of the animosity of the Jesus followers toward the Pharisees and rabbinic Judaism, and because of their ingrained antagonism toward the people of Judah, the early Christian writings have a polemical tone that continues to feed Christian hostility toward the Jews.