America Faces the Specter of Religious Apartheid

Religious Apartheid. A policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of religion.

We have seen this before: In Iraq, which we pretended to liberate from Saddam Hussein, who excluded all Muslims who disagreed with his form of Islam from power; In theocratic Iran; and in our close ally, Saudi Arabia; and in Syria, where a minority comprising less than one-quarter of the population controls the government. And we are seeing its beginnings in the United States, where if you are not the right sort of Christian, you are less, and treated like less.  Quite openly fundamentalist Christians have declared the United States government their proper domain and their intention to exclude all others from it, whatever the Constitution says and guarantees.

If the term theocracy means nothing to you, how about the term religious apartheid instead? It can hardly sound less appealing, mostly because it would be difficult to get less appealing. There is no essential difference between one type of apartheid and another, whether based on race (Nazi Germany/South Africa/America) or religion (the examples given above). The Constitution says we all have equal rights, that religion can’t be a factor. Fundamentalist Christians say just the opposite. And they have been putting theory into practice since 1964.

Religious apartheid, though a part of Western life from the Theodosian Code until the European Enlightenment, has ancient antecedents. When you believe your god said “I am the only one” that there will be problems for everybody who doesn’t agree. It’s even worse when you believe he said to worship nobody but him. Pluralism gets thrown under the ox-cart, as they say.  We are seeing plenty of evidence for that today.

You might say we expect too much of monotheism. We should hardly expect to be treated like fellow citizens when we are barely seen as fellow humans. Israel was born of genocide after all – the utter destruction and mass murder of all those Canaanites who refused to bow to YHWH, and monotheism was born of the utter rejection of the other, a rejection embraced and carried on by orthodox Christianity to this day.  It is because of these early attitudes that President George H.W. Bush could say in 1987 that “I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” This is how the students at Liberty University can express shock that someone they’ve been taught is not Christian – Mormon Mitt Romney – can be invited to speak at their school. This is how Newt Gingrich could say just the other day that gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t be equal to straight couples. This is why Tennessee and Missouri are intent on legislating the word “gay” right out of existence.

It is best to be clear on why all this is so. Look what the God of Abrahamic monotheism demands in the Scriptures all fundamentalists hold to be the literal word of God. It is not just external enemies who must be destroyed, but even Jewish cities, if they went against this new idea of God:

Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods.  In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully.  If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock.  Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it.  Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God.  That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt.  Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction.  Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you.  He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors.  “The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him.”  (Deuteronomy 13:13-19)

And Israel’s rulers obeyed. It is the Assyrians who get the bad rap in history but the Jews did the exact same thing, if only on a smaller scale. And then, after centuries of dominance by foreign powers, once the reactionary Hasmonean dynasty got into a position of power about a century-and-a-half before the birth of Jesus, things got ugly for Gentiles again.

The Rule of the Maccabees/Hasmoneans (165-63BCE)was not exactly a return to the fabled Golden Age of Solomon and David but it marked a resurgence of sorts in the fortunes of Israel. The reigns of John Hyrcanus (reigned 134-104) and his son Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai), who reigned 103-76BCE, was a period of expansion for the Maccabean kingdom and it was in this period that both Galilee and Idumea (ancient Edom) were added to Judaea.

Their conquests, noted by Strabo (Geography 16.2.37), are seen as glorious from the Jewish perspective, but resulted in great hardship for the non-Jewish populations of these areas and many cities were abandoned or destroyed, their Pagan populations fleeing, and many others were conquered. Hyrcanus forced the Gentile populations to convert to Judaism, and claims made by some that this represents the “only forcible mass conversion in the history of Judaism” [1]  ignores the forced conversions of polytheistic Jews and Gentiles by Hezekiah and Josiah and down through the post-exilic period.

In both the second and first centuries BCEthe Hasmonean rulers “forcibly circumcised Gentile peoples after subduing them in battle.”[2] The joy of the cities of the Decapolis at their liberation by Pompey speaks volumes.

No doubt well aware of the above appeal (and the divine mandate at Deut 7.1-6), Mattathias, leader of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, is said to have gone “around destroying the illicit altars and forcibly circumcising all the uncircumcised babies they found within the boundaries of Israel” (1 Macc 2.46). The Hasmonean rulers followed this injunction in their conquests, practicing forcible conversion in both Galilee (Ant. 13.318) and Idumea (Ant. 13.257-258) as Josephus tells us and burning cities, for example Pella (Ant. 13.397) that refused to convert, and there is no reason to suppose that if the rebels of 66 would have gotten the upper hand against the Romans that they would not have done likewise, as their record and their rhetoric indicates. Our literary sources bear this out: 1 Maccabees is implacably hostile to Gentiles, putting them on a par with the ancient Canaanites. 2 Maccabees amends this view to one which, to paraphrase General Sherman, would amount to “The only good Gentiles I’ve seen are converted.”

This was all part of a process that has been called by one scholar, “Judaization,”[3] and by another “internal colonization”[4] which are both happy terms for what was, in essence, a holy war, or to use a modern term, ethnic cleansing, as the capture of Akra by Simon in 141 BCE demonstrates. The account of the city’s capture in 1 Maccabees 14:49-52, and that of Gezer (14:43-48) leaves us in no doubt as to the motivation of the Hasmonean Reconquista.[5] The religious purity demanded by God requires not just rejection but ejection.

That this was not a happy situation for Pagans living either within Israel’s borders or in neighboring areas scarce needs be said.  The best the Pagan population could hope for was expulsion (such as at Acre, Gezer, Joppa, and other cities whose entire Pagan populations were expelled); at the worst, death or forced conversion.[6] Indeed, the Greek version of Esther 8.17 in the Septuagint admits that “many of the pagans were circumcised and became Jews out of fear of the Jews.” 1 Macc 13.47 celebrates an event in which Simon (d. 135) expelled the inhabitants of Gezer and repopulated it with “men who observed the Law.” This was apparently part of Simon’s general policy of removing idolaters from Israel (1 Macc 14.36) and archaeology seems to confirm it.[7]

Those who were not expelled sometimes fled: Tel Anafa, some 10-12 km north of Lake Huleh, was abandoned by 75 BCE“perhaps due to the flight of its pagan population after the incorporation of the area into the Hasmonean kingdom.”[8] Richard Horsley makes much of the Roman destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE and the fate of Corinth in the same year, as actions that “bore ominously on the fate of other peoples that they were to conquer in the future”[9] but takes no notice of Hasmonean Jewish imperialism and what can only be called ethnic cleansing of Pagan population centers.

French scholar Maurice Sartre suggests that the abandonment of “Gezer, Bethzur, Shechem, Bethshan, Lachish, possibly Bethel, Dothan, Shiloh, Tell Zakariyeh, and less important sites…not to mention cities whose destruction is well known, such as Samaria, Marisa, Adora, and Beersheba” was due to “imperialist Hasmonaean policy.”[10] The campaigns of Antiochus VII Sidetes in the 130s, culminating in a negotiated settlement in 132 BCE, temporarily put an end to Hasmonean ethnic cleansing (Ant. 13:245-248), but the death of the Seleucid king in 129 while on campaign against the Parthians saw its resumption under John Hyrcanus.

The beacon of a Greater Israel ever beckoned, and with it, the conversion of the “Nations” – the Pagan world.[11] It is the United States now, in the eyes of Christian fundamentalist, who are the Greater Israel.

The Jewish historian Josephus alludes to the forced circumcision of Gentiles during the Jewish revolt of 66 while he was in charge of Galilee’s defenses (Life, 113) and it is possible that Bar Kokhba in the revolt of 132 may also have practiced forced circumcision.[12] The Jews of theSecondTemple period were quite capable then of following the injunctions of these various biblical texts, which John J. Collins characterizes as “programmatic ideological statements”:

We can no longer accept them as simply presenting what happened. Whether we see these texts as reflecting expansionistic policies of King Josiah or as mere fantasies of powerless Judeans after the exile, they project a model of the ways in which Israelshould relate to its neighbors. In this perspective, ownership of the landof Israelis conferred by divine grant, not by ancestral occupancy or by negotiation, and violence against rival claimants of that land is not only legitimate but mandatory, especially if these people worship gods other than YHWH, the God of Israel.[13]

This was also the Israel that the Fourth Philosophy and the Essenes hearkened back to, an Israel ruled by God and unpolluted by Gentiles (Pagans), back to the days of the Maccabees and beyond, just as the Maccabees had hearkened back to the zeal of Phinehas (Num 25.10-15): Mattathias “burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri, the son of Salu” (1 Macc 1.26). Horsley can argue that all the violence and all the terror was done by the Romans to the Jews, but as John J. Collins and others have shown, these biblical texts have served to “legitimize violent action.” It was also ancient texts which legitimized the expulsion of Gentiles from Judeaand their forced circumcision.[14] As Oliver Wendel Holmes observed of his experiences in the Civil War, “certitude leads to violence.”[15]

Bede’s use of “daemonicis cultibus” (demonic cult) to refer to Heathens as being “outside a Christian state” and “condemnable” is evidence that this old Jewish attitude never died, and was merely translated into the new religion for the new “chosen people.” We are still hearing about demons, about the demonic presence of a Pagan landscape in America, the wholesale rejection of the constructed other.

So this is the situation faced by Americans today who are not among the “chosen” – Americans who are seeing by fundamentalist Christians as polluting the new Israel – you cannot negotiate with those whom God has dismissed and violence is not only legitimate but mandatory. This attitude has a history extending back to the origins of Abrahamic monotheism, antecedents as old as the religion itself and it should come as no surprise that reactionary Christian fundamentalism has raised this old theocratic specter for a new generation of Canaanites. If we do indeed live in the “end times” they are the end times of religious liberty.

[1] For example, in Stephen M. Wylen, The Jews in the Time of Jesus (NY: Paulist Press, 1996), 64.

[2] Steven Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision and the Shifting Role of Gentiles in Hasmonean Ideology,” HTR 92 (1999), 37.

[3] A. Kasher, Jews and Hellenistic Cities in Eretz-Israel. Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 21. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 105.

[4] Shimon Applebaum,  Judaea in Hellenistic and Roman Times: Historical and Archaeological Essays (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 44.

[5] We are informed by 1 Maccabees that Simon “cleansed the houses in which idols were” and “cast out of it all uncleanness” before settling it with those who observed the Law.

[6] While ethnic cleansing may at times constitute genocide, it can also be distinct from genocide. The United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as activities designed to render an area “ethnically homogeneous”. It cannot be denied that this was the intent of the Hasmonean policies in question. See Final report of the United Nations Commission of Experts established pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992), Annex IV The policy of ethnic cleansing.28 December 1994.

[7] Steven Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision and the Shifting Role of Gentiles in Hasmonean Ideology,” HTR 92 (1999), 43.

[8] Mark Alan Chancey; Adam Lowry Porter, “The Archaeology of Roman Palestine,” Near Eastern Archaeology 64 (2001), 82. See also Andrea M. Berlin, “Archaeological Sources for the History of Palestine: Between Large Forces:Palestine in the Hellenistic Period,” The Biblical Archaeologist 60 (1997), 2-51.

[9] Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire, 17-18.

[10] Maurice Sartre, The Middle East Under Rome, 16.

[11] But the victories of these Jewish kings did not restore the glory of David and Solomon, immersed as they were in Hellenistic culture and what emerged was itself a Hellenistic state in the mold of those that had come before. Ironically then, the Hasmonean revolution, as Elias Bickerman observed, “eradicated one kind of Hellenism only to facilitate the growth of another kind.” See Elias Bickerman, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees. Foundations of Post-Biblical Judaism (New York: Schocken Books, 1962), 178.

[12] Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision,” 43 and n 25. Weitzman suggests the possibility that Roman laws against circumcision might be a sequela of forced circumcisions by Bar Kochba.

[13] John J. Collins, “The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence,” JBL 122 (2003), 11.

[14] Steven Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision,” 43-44 and n 24. Both Genesis 34 and 2 Sam 18.25-7 are examples of anti-Gentile violence the Maccabees, and later, the Hasmoneans, may have hearkened back to, and 2 Bar 66.5 celebrates Josiah as a king who “left no one uncircumcised.”

[15] Collins, “The Zeal of Phinehas,” 12. As Collins demonstrates, it affected the Puritans in New England and it still has an effect today. See Moshe Greenburg, “On the Political Use of the Bible in Modern Israel: An Engaged Critique,” in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom (ed. David P. Wright, David Noel Freedman, and Avi Hurvitz (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 461-471. In this country, such language inspires right wing Christian “reconstructionists” who look forward to a day when all are converted (forcibly) to their brand of Christianity or are dead.

21 Replies to “America Faces the Specter of Religious Apartheid”

  1. things have never been really good for people who live underneath the boots of the Israelis throughout history. They have proven to be everything that they’ve cried out against. and there is little doubt that we were not supposed to be part of that religion.

    the GOP and the religious nut cases must think that the only way to beat Islam is to be like them. It doesn’t work that way

    Incidentally And off-topic Hraf I would again mention that you should get the biblical archaeology review magazine. In the copy I got yesterday was a very interesting article about the virgin birth prophecy. Christians got the virgin birth thing from Isaiah but only because of translation. There was nothing about a virgin in Isaiah nor was it a prophecy of becoming Messiah. But today Christianity preaches the virgin birth that never occurred

  2. Thanks, Shiva. Will see if I can round up a copy. I have read BAR sporadically over the years, less often since Borders closed and out here, the nearest B&N is halfway to Annapolis. It’s one of those magazines I’ve thought of getting a subscription to and probably should.

    Christians misinterpreted most of the Jewish prophecies to represent Jesus in some way – and then blamed the Jews for “not getting it”. The insanity continues.

  3. It’s $12 a year. I didn’t think I could go wrong. And that is exactly what the article I mentioned was about, what Christians and Jews do not know or understand about the scriptures. Included is the fact that two of the Gospels, I think Matthew and Mark were not even titled originally. They were titled by translators with no indication that they were written by a disciple. They’re not even sure(Jews) if some of the Scriptures were written by Jews

    In any case it’s pretty cheap to get and well worth it because the information on it is based on fact dug out of the ground

  4. Yes, Shiva, as a Christan myself I must say that your observation on the virgin birth is accurate and widely shared by Christians with the exception of fundamentalists in the US and elsehwere with ties to the US. It’s a matter of translation, which as it happens with any translation is an interpretation. You make a good point because it shows how misguided the whole orthodoxy has been by placing its emphasis there where is not needed. The results? Well… this excelent article is a case in point.

  5. …”So this is the situation faced by Americans today who are not among the “chosen”…you cannot negotiate with those whom God has dismissed and violence is not only legitimate but mandatory…”

    We’re so screwed…I mean, how are you/we going to unwind the clock, re-educated the 300 million or so “citizens” within a modern democracy that they are caught up, looking down the barrel of “The Big Lie”, that no one in a position of leadership can willingly “detach” for the sake of peace and humanity?

    When will this monstrous myth be destroyed and by whom? Scholars with facts and authority? HA!

    No, of course not; the bible is mandatory. Why listen to the facts/history when you have a charismatic who can hear “voices”, who tells “good christian” types to commit unspeakable atrocities upon “the other” for the sake of keeping a myth alive? Look at how a large part of this “democracy” believes that the sky-god “punishes” the nation(s) via floods, earth quakes, tornadoes, even droughts in Texas as a “test” of faith upon it’s Governor, whom the sky-god also told to run for President…

    And, it’s not just American non-believers; look at what has been going on in Africa in the name of the evangelical tribe (mostly by Americans) for the last 100-150 years, let alone 300-500 years prior (slavery started by the Dutch Calvinist)…

    All one can say in is “Oye, we are so screwed”.

  6. Great article!

    America is already well on the road to 3d world status.

    We’ll end up like the Europe of the Dark Ages, a cultural backwater, with other cultures (Asia, South Pacific, India and the secular oriented Mid East) dominating global affairs.

    The notion of ‘end times’ is the fantasy of those who fear death and those too stupid to have read history. A year or two of the Black Death or in Somalia would give them an appreciation for the delights and comfort of modern life.

  7. This history of the strong tendency of almost all religions to persecute non-believers is precisely WHY our Founding Fathers sought to limit religious influence upon the separate Secular Government by preventing ANY religious establishment from gaining control of the Government.

  8. The title of this article is very misleading. There’s very little in it about how America is turning into a religious apartheid country and a whole lot about Jewish history.

    Jews in America don’t commit wholesale violence or force their beliefs on fellow citizens. Christians attempting to follow the old laws aren’t committing physical violence, but they are worming their way into state and federal governance. Their aim is to change the laws to reflect their twisted interpretation of the bible. The article needed to focus on that. We don’t need a history lesson–we need practical solutions to stop the religious right.

  9. I’m so glad I live in California where the number one religion is Rastafarianism, man!

    We are very devout because we get high on God every single day!

    All are welcome. To join us, you just need a Medical Marijuana Card.

  10. as someone of the circumcised people, does this mean that i will have to have my foreskin re-attached? my moyle will be very upset…

    actually, as someone who lives in the socialist capitol of the usa, i go on location to the deep south, the embedded xtian doctrine and dogma, permeate everything down there. hell, at in and out burger here in LA,[which are the best ever] under their soda cups are bible verses…. jesus loved burgers.

  11. I submit, there is but one true faith: The Church of the Flying Pink Unicorn. (Bless her holy hooves.) She brought her sacred message to mankind, and we ignore it at our peril. “Never butt heads with a unicorn.” Amen.

  12. Great article, but I want to correct one thing, it was General Sheridan, not General Sherman that said the infamous “only good Indian is a dead Indian”. Sherman probably felt the same way, but the other guy put it to print.

    It’s not that I personally hate everyone who doesn’t look, think and act like me….
    It’s just that GOD does!

  14. I completey agree. Fundamentalist deny history as well as science because it does not support their mind set. Since they have been led to believe that all who do not share their views are damned, it is nearly impossible to change their minds. They have no intention of allowing the “damned” to drag them into those literal fires of damnation.

  15. Exactly why we need to teach the true history of this country and the world. How will our young people learn the truth if we stop teaching them and let the fundamentalist write the books. There is something very frightening afoot in this country. Those who yell the loudest about an intrusive government are stealthily tightening the noose around us and around our children, while they keep us distracted.

  16. True Christianity as spoken by Jesus says that God loves everyone, so much that he sent Jesus to die, so that they may eternally live. Jesus never taught to kill the non-believer.

    The New Testament actually teaches quite the opposite. In fact it teaches to share the faith, and if the person doesn’t want to hear it then walk the other way.

    It also teaches that we, Christians, battle against spiritual wicked beings (demons) not humans. Jesus never advocated subjugation, expulsion or death to those who do not believe. Twisted so-called followers of Jesus did that.

    Jesus taught that each person is loved by God and that all have the choice to accept or reject God through Jesus, and that no follower of Jesus should ever hurt non-believers, but just the opposite, Jesus taught his followers to Love the non-believer.

  17. Arab apartheid / Muslim apartheid are the largest ‘apartheid systems’, that exist today.

    Virtually all non-Arabs and/or non-Muslims are second class citizens. Among minorities that feel the wrath of the bigoted Arab-Muslim world are:

    * Berbers (native N. Africans, before Arab invasion: Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco).

    * Copts (indigenous Egyptians suffer from both: Arab racism and Islamic bigotry).

    * Kurds (Examples include: [Saddam’s] Iraq and Syria.

    * Blacks, in Arab lands or in Arab ruled Africa like the genocide in the Sudan and slavery in both Sudan and in Mauritania.

    * Asians, particularly in the Gulf Arab states. [Sex slaves or “plain” slaves).

    * Maronites-Christians [Native Lebanese] suffer from both Arab ethnic racism and religious bigotry, like the massacres in the 1970s by local Muslims and by Palestinian/Syrian forces.

    * Assyrians, are/have been persecuted both racially and religiously. Still very much marginalized in Iraq, for example.

    * Iran is not an Arab country but racism is huge against Kurds, Jews, Turkmens, etc. So is anti-non-Muslim bigotry against Christians, Bahai, Zoroastrians and other in the Islamic republic.

    * Turkey is also a Muslim non-Arab country and Kurds, Greeks, Armenians and other ethnicities have been through much suffering, genocide. Still there’s great wide racism against non-Turkish ethnic groups including racism against Alevis and against Kurds. Turkey’s policy in Cyprus has also been recognized as a real Apartheid by many. All non-Muslims are automatically branded as “foreigners” at the “moderate” Islamic supremacy of Turkey.

    * Chinese, Indians, Christians and other non-Malay, in Malaysia; Chinese, Christians in Indonesia, have long been subject to persecution, race-riots, discrimination, racism and bloodshed.

    * Non-Muslims or the ‘wrong kind of Muslims,’ in Pakistan; Iraq; Afghanistan, are oppressed and targeted in deadly attacks.

    * All non-Msulims in ‘Islamic Apartheid state’ of S. Arabia.

    * Asians [slaves!] in the Gulf Arab states.

    * Bedoons in Kuwait.

    * Al-Akhdam in Yemen.

    * Gypsies in Jordan.

    Islamic-Arab “Palestine” apartheid:

    * Ahmadiyya Muslims are harshly persecuted in (Pakistan and in) the “Palestinian” Apartheid authority and/or by Hamas.

    * Descendants of slaves of the Bedouins are still stigmatized by racist “Palestinians”.

    * Christians are discriminated, persecuted against [especially since Y. Arafat’s Islamization of Bethlehem], by Palestine authority and Hamas regime.

    From anti-Jewish Apartheid:

    – The Arab racist apartheid against the Jews attempted genocide ever since the 1920s, (Like Mufti of “Palestine” at his incited massacres, and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who called simply ‘to kill Jews’).
    – Chased out a Million Jews in the late 1940.
    – Has boycotted and demonized [every logical defensive action is branded “racist”] the Jewish democratic-free-equal-to-all state only because it’s the “other”. It is neither Muslim nor purely Arab.
    – The Arab racist world continues to play with Arab-Palestinians (grandchildren of Arab immigrants) like ping-pong against Israel.



    As if we don’t know the ‘Arab oil lobby’s power’ over the UN and other major international organizations and some African officials to go along with the Arab propaganda.

    Despite some non-Arabs who jump on this wagon out of: ignorance, of confusion complex, or of sheer bigotry, never forget, that this entire “apartheid, racism” label was invented by Arab racists ganging up in the UN since 1975.

    Even promoter of the apartheid-slur [which was actually invented in 1961 by A. Shukairy, who was the henchman and spokesman for the infamous Mufti al-Husseini the Mufti, notorious for being A. Hitler’s ally and adviser on exterminating the Jews. Shukairy also called to throw the Jews into the sea] J. Carter admitted on CNN: “I recognize that Israel is a wonderful democracy with freedom of speech and equality of treatment under the law between Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis.”

    Incidentally, the lying Pallywood machine also created a fake “memorandum” claiming that N. Mandela ever uttered this crappy analogy.

    Last but not least:

    Isn’t it true that the anti-Jewish “apartheid” slur campaign is: 1) to demonize Jews and 2) to hide the real apartheid practiced by the Arab-Islamic world?

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