What Went Wrong?  (1)

A few weeks ago, there was a question in the comments: “How would you describe, ‘what went wrong’ between Jews and Christians? There were many historical events, but what do you see as the most fundamental ‘flaw’ that resulted in such separation between the two?” Probably, everyone would agree that this is a very serious and very complicated question, and in the past, I spent years trying to answer it! When I started to think about my response here, I realized that even in its shortest version, it would still be a very long answer. Therefore, I have decided to publish my answer in this post (there will be two posts, actually). We will pause our Acts series for a couple of weeks in order to discuss this painful and very emotional topic.

So, what exactly went wrong? Why did everything turn out in such a way that His people became hated, despised and persecuted by Christians? One would expect those who love Jesus, to also love everything connected with His earthly life – first and foremost His people, the ones among whom He lived and whom He loved – so why didn’t that happen? What is the reason for this seemingly inexplicable hatred of those who later became the followers of Jesus, towards those to whom He initially revealed Himself?

I will have to use some Hebrew for my response. You remember the story of Noah and his sons found at the end of Genesis chapter nine:

… he planted a vineyard. 21 Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.[1]

When he awoke, Noah pronounced the curse and the blessings on his sons. The blessing for Japheth sounds like this: “may God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem”[2]

It is a very important verse because in a sense it became a ”theological” basis for the replacement theology of the Church – the teaching that the Christian Church replaced national Israel regarding the plans, purpose, and promises of God. Already in the 2nd century CE, the apologist and theologian Justin Martyr, in his treatise “Dialogue with Trypho,” sees the “biblical” foundation for such a doctrine in this verse. Commenting on this story of Noah and his sons, he points out this verse as a prophetic word about how, in the future, the Gentile nations —Japheth,  according to his understanding—that received Christianity, would seize the tents of Shem, i.e. Israel.

Let us ponder this verse together. I will need some Hebrew here. Don’t worry, for those who are not familiar with Hebrew at all, I will explain in details what we see here. This is the original of this verse:

יַ֤פְתְּ אֱלֹהִים֙ לְיֶ֔פֶת וְיִשְׁכֹּ֖ן בְּאָֽהֳלֵי־שֵׁ֑ם וִיהִ֥י כְנַ֖עַן עֶ֥בֶד לָֽמוֹ׃

The verb יַפְתְּ “in the beginning,” which sounds and is spelled exactly like the name of Japheth, means “spread,” “enlarge”. The crucial question, in my humble opinion, is this: what do you think God meant here, that Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem together with Shem – or instead of Shem? I am convinced that this verse in no way assumed a banishment of Shem. However, by the time Justin Martyr arrived on the scene, the Greek and Roman Christians had already accused the Jewish people of the killing of God, and Christians had already started to believe that they had taken the place of Israel! In Justin Martyr’s treatise, we find the “biblical proof” of this belief. The conclusion of a conversation between Justin and Trypho, a Jew, can be briefly summarized in the following manner: Christians now take the place of Israel, the Church is the embodiment of the true people of God, the “new Israel,” while the Jewish people are to be looked upon as an apostate nation, stripped of their election and punished for the sin of not accepting the Messiah! God has rejected Israel as “Christ-killers,” and from now on, their place is to be occupied by the Christians!  Japheth will dwell in the tents of Shem – instead of Shem!   

This calls to mind the children’s fable about a fox and a hare: the fox had a hut made from ice, and the hare had a little straw house.  Spring comes, the fox’s ice hut melts and the hare takes him in, only to find that the fox kicks him out and takes his home. This is more or less what happened with Israel and Christianity,  and as we’ve just seen, as rapidly as the second century, at that.  However, this is not the end of the story and the end of my response. There is something else I want to show you.

At some point, I decided to check the verb יַפְתְּ  in the dictionary. And, as happens so often with Hebrew, I was absolutely overwhelmed with what I found:

יַפְתְּ    1.       to be spacious, be open, be wide

  1. (Qal) to be spacious or open or wide
  2. (Hiphil) to make spacious, make open
  3. to be simple, entice, deceive, persuade
  4. (Qal)
  5. to be open-minded, be simple, be naive
  6. to be enticed, be deceived
  7. (Niphal) to be deceived, be gullible
  8. (Piel)
  9. to persuade, seduce
  10. to deceive
  11. (Pual)
  12. to be persuaded


I would like to explain why I was so excited. As some of you probably know, Biblical Hebrew is primarily a verbal language, and the verbs are derived from the roots. Roots are three-consonant groups that comprise the “essence” of a word’s meaning. Most of the verbs in Hebrew are formed from this three-consonant root by changing vowels and adding different prefixes and suffixes, thus forming different stems. Depending on their stem (binyan), verbs from the same root can have very different meanings. Nevertheless, being derived from the very same root, they all have something in common, they all relate to the very same “essence”. Therefore, all of a sudden, I realized that through the very same verses that were used by the Church “to justify” the exclusion of Israel, God is speaking about the danger of being “deceived”,seduced”. Japheth – millions of Christians throughout history, who sincerely believed that they were to live in the tents of Shem, instead of Shem – were deceived, persuaded, and seduced to believe so, and the Lord knew that from the very beginning. The original meaning of this verse did not assume an eviction of Shem from his tents, any more than the hare would assume that in letting in the homeless fox, he would soon find himself out on the street. The interpretation of Justin Martyr, however, only served to legitimize the process of Israel’s exclusion from the plan and blessings of God, which at that time was already moving ahead at full speed.

It is understandable that in the framework of this doctrine, the sufferings of Israel came in very handy. I can’t finish my response without saying a few words about the attitude of Christians to the suffering of Israel. Next time, we are going to talk about this “additional proof of Israel’s rejection and downfall” that for centuries had been seen as an especially weighty argument in favor of the just rights of Christianity to take her place.

[1] Gen. 9:20-23

[2] Gen. 9:27


I would like to remind you, dear friendsthat we offer wonderful courses and invite you to study together the Hebrew Scriptures or the  Jewish Background of the New Testament.  As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information.  Also, excerpts from my book “If You be Son of God…”  are included in this article, so if you like the article, you might enjoy also the book, you can get it here.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (19 comments)

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  1. Gladys Fox

    Thank you Dear Julia,
    After reading the comments written by your readers there isn’t much more I can say except that I know that the true Bride of Christ is the people of Israel . People that love Jesus and the Jewish people and care for them will also be with the Bride of Christ when He enters His Kingdom .
    Many times in the. Tanakh God warns the people not to marry strangers ,but to marry among their own people . This was to keep their religious beliefs pure and not contaminated with false gods and pagan ideas . So I have to ask myself would an all knowing, all seeing God turn right around and give a Roman Bride to His Beloved Son who lived His life as a Jewish person . I really don’t think so .
    I want to thank all your readers for their meaningful responses . I learn from them as well .
    May God Bless you all . Julia, you are a super teacher . Thanks much.


    Cara Julia, sou cristão e hipotese alguma creio que os cristãos tenham substitído os israelitas em primeiro lugar tudo aconteceu por e através do povo de israel, as ecrituras e o conhecimento a respeito DELA. Se algum privilégio tenho em conhecer as escrituras isto devo ao povo israelita mas, há muitas coisas que não entendo a respeito equando recebo de vós algum post relacionado as Sagrdas escrituras etendo a vossa explicação a respeito, me sinto feliz e gratificado aDEUS atrvés de vós que em poucas e simples palavras, me esclarecem muitas dúvidas e me trazem ao conhecimento real das Sagradas Escrituras .
    Um Fraternal abraço daquele que ama e admira o povo judeu.
    Att: Josué da Silva Rosa.

  3. joe

    I respect Israel people. I would like to.
    In Exodus, God referred them as his first son.
    God has made history with Israel people and it was hard and long. He found, raised, trained, suffered with great souls from Israel people. His affection to the Israel people must be strong and exceptional.

    God, himself had made the rules for Israel people. I know that after Jesus Christ the rules became perfect and never be same again. But the time and the example Israel people carried with the heavy and hard rules are invaluable. They have paid enormous price.

    Jesus said that even stone can be descendants of Abraham. But that doesn’t mean descendants of Abraham means nothing.

    Israel people are first son of God. This will stand forever. And God will never forget this.

    When King David was anointed he was chased and threatened by Saul. But he was afraid to kill Saul because Saul was anointed by God. And he honored Saul as King.

    We Christians must learn the way David respected Saul.

  4. Schalk Van Sandt

    Could it have something to do with the blessing of Isaac bestowed on Esau (Gen 27:30) – was dominion not his at the time of our Lord’s first coming?

  5. Luis Anderson

    Thank you for your post, Ms. Julia. I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple weeks. It’s true, as you said previously, that there is no short answer to the question. One can spend an inordinate amount of time on this question and still not get to the bottom of it.
    There are the theological reasons the scholars and theologians come up with, and often these reasons are accepted by many; but for the simple minded like me there is a simpler reason for the animosity that has existed between Christians and Jews. It boils down to what the masses are taught by those who are in authority. In antiquity, only a few people could read and write and even less had access to the written scriptures. The people were taught by word of mouth, and what they were taught was what the teacher knew, which may or may not have been accurate. One might say the people were indoctrinated. Today we have an abundance of books and almost everyone knows how to read; however, even though the Bible is the number one best selling book in history, it is not necessarily the one most read. I find among Christians and Jews I know that for the most part they are ignorant of the Scriptures. Most people delegate to their spiritual leader, if they even have one, the responsibility to inform them about what the scriptures. This I believe is the main reason why there has been this antagonism between Christians and Jews. Those in authority on both sides expect us to share their views. They tell us what we should think and not knowing any better we go along. This is true of most human beings. I was nine years of age in Mexico City the first time I heard the word Judio (Jew). It was my uncle who spoke it. I knew it referred to people. I also understood from the context of the conversation that Judios were not good for Mexico, but I had no idea who they were. Luckily, I turned out to be one of those who would rather find out from the horse’s mouth than rely on hearsay.
    Those of us who accept responsibility for knowing the Scriptures and do our best to incorporate them in our lives, often find ourselves at odds over what those in authority demand of us. What is so difficult to understand about love your neighbor as you love yourself? If you claim to be a Christian, then this is central to your belief. Everyone is your neighbor, so why then would you think less of your Jewish neighbor? Yet, many fall victim to what’s popular. I think that what is said in the secular world also contributes to this problem. For many decades, the U.S. government has been supporting of Jews and Israel, although most recently the anti-Jew voices are becoming more audible.
    There is much more to this question, but this is enough for me. I like to keep things simple.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Luis! You are right, it does boil down to the opinions, teachings, and attitudes of those who are in authority – and many of those who were in authority in the Church, almost from the very beginning of Christianity, have been lured into thinking that they had to take the place of Israel. My article shows that it all was a great deception.

  6. James King

    The evil one began attacking God and His people in their relationships with Eve. When Yeshua came in fulfillment of scripture for our atonement and to establish a spiritual kingdom (as of Pentecost 10 days after His ascension, the evil one continued the struggle in relationship between the Jewish religious leaders who brought about the fulfillment and God’s people, both Jew and gentile. As of Constantine’s forced divorce between gentile Christians and the synagogue and persecution of the Jews the corruption of government related Christianity killed millions of Christians and Jews who practiced their beliefs based on the scriptures. This isn’t as much about Christian vs. Jew as it is spiritual warfare against God’s people because the evil one wants to win and division through lies is a his primary method. He wants to destroy all of us and will continue to foster division because truth will continue to grow as our relationship does.

    1. Julia Blum

      I totally agree, James, it’s all a spiritual war, first of all. One of Satan’s great desires – and great achievements – from the very beginning of Christianity has been to plant in the minds of Christians this concept that they had to take Israel’s place. The deception is his weapon – and he was very successful in that!

  7. Al

    Interesting question that I have wondered about also. I am no expert but my thoughts were a little more basic. All through the Bible in both the Tanak and the B’rit Hadashah there are warnings not to add to nor take away from GOD’s words. And yet when the whole ” Oral Law and traditions ” came into being that is exactly what the Rabbis did , they added and added and kept on adding. When Yeshua’s time came he rebuked them many times for these very transgressions , in the 1st century those added ” Fences ” around the misvot’s were few compared to today. Also on the Christian side the late 1st century and from then on as Goyim / Gentiles came to dominate the assemblies , more and more pagan Greek culture influences took over and they added to an took away from YHWH’s words , changed Shabbat , brought in Easter , the worship of Miryam / Mary etc etc and went full into replacement theology so that by the time of the Council of Nicea the influence of anti Semitism was rampant…. So both Rabbinical Judaism and the Church strayed far away from the teachings of the Messiah thus leaving a small remnant of Kodeshim to carry on the faith throughout the centuries.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Al, I agree – we can really say that “both Rabbinical Judaism and the Church strayed far away from” the Scriptures. However, historically it was the Church that almost always has had power, not Judaism, and so the errors and deception of Christianity have been mostly felt by the Jews, not the other way around.

      1. Al

        Julia , yes indeed as the gentile world was so much larger than the Yehudim the power was without question there, and the crimes that the church committed broke so many of GODs right rulings . It is a scar that continues to this day that never should have happened.

  8. Michele Thompson

    Thank you Julia for sharing the verb detain from the Hebrew – so insightful! As a gentile believer God has revealed to me from this verse that Gentiles benefit from the faith born in the Hebrew Scriptures, demonstrating His call on Israel, which has never been forsaken by God. This also reminds me of Boaz admonition to Ruth in chapter 2:8 “ So Boaz said to Ruth, my daughter, listen to me, Don’t go and glean in another field, and don’t go away from here”. There is likely also some additional revelation here from the original language. God bless you!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much for your insightful comment, Michele! You are right, there are a lot of messages in Hebrew which are completely lost in translation. This is one of the missions of this blog: to uncover, unlock these messages, to make them clear even to those readers who are not familiar with Hebrew at all!

  9. Nick

    Thanks Julia! Very, very, interesting! Looking forward to more of your perspective-thanks for sharing this.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank YOU Nick! it was your question that started this whole train of thought!

  10. Luciano Vieira de Gois

    Faz quase 2 anos que conheci e agora acompanho o judaísmo nazareno e messiânico; louvo ao Senhor por isso. Através dos estudos e ministrações entendi as atrocidades que fizeram contra o povo de Israel, inclusive aos judeus seguidores de Cristo durante os primeiros séculos da nossa era. Hoje entendo muito mais a razão dessa bagunça, desculpa a sinceridade, que existe no meio cristão-evangélico. Essa bagunça me refiro aos ensinos teológicos, quantidades de igrejas diferentes e outras coisas mais. Os cristãos pecaram gravemente desde o início ao rejeitarem a Israel e considerando que eles é que compreendiam os caminhos do Senhor; que vergonha para os ‘pais da igreja’. Aí quando surge Constantino, pronto, a coisa só piorou! Nos voltemos à verdadeira fé em Cristo, nos voltemos a verdadeira fé no Deus de Israel. Aleluia!