A short response assignment for English 211, Major British Authors: Medieval to Neoclassical, a sophomore British literature survey course taught by Rita Jones-Hyde, written on 5 September 2006 at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Christian Anti-Semitism in Margery Kempe's
"Vision of the Passion"
by Matt Wallace
In Book 1.79 of The Book of Margery Kempe, "Margery's Vision of the Passion Sequence" (395-7), Kempe relates a vision of the betrayal of Christ which is in keeping with the traditional medieval passion plays with which she surely must have been familiar. The vision begins with Jesus first comforting his mother, and then Margery. He has accepted His fate and expects them to do the same. In a counterpoint to this Christly display of compassion, the vision abruptly degenerates into an anti-Semitic indictment of the Jews for their role in the death of Jesus.
True to the passion play tradition, the role of the Jews in the sequence of events leading to the Crucifixion is described in the most graphic terms. Judas performs the kiss of betrayal, and the Jews accompanying him "laid hands upon Him full violently" (397). The Jews beat, spit upon, and taunt Jesus while "our Lady and she her unworthy handmaiden for the time wept and sighed full sore for the Jews fared so foully and venomously with their blissful Lord" (397). Adding to the humiliation of Jesus, the Jews strip and bind Him "and beat Him on His fair white body" (397).
The only purpose for such imagery is to foment hatred for the Jews, both past and present. Judas is shown to be in league with the hateful Jews though, as the recently published Gnostic Gospel of Judas suggests, he was the most faithful of the Disciples who sacrificed himself to implement God's plan. Likewise, the Jews who arrested and abused Jesus were doing likewise by mortifying weak flesh in preparation for the release of unconquerable Spirit.
This traditional Christian anti-Semitism is both perverse and heretical. The death of Jesus the Man is necessary for the Resurrection of Christ the Redeemer; without this process, Christianity is rendered meaningless. The role of Judas, the Jews, and the Romans as well, is all part of the Divine plan for the redemption of mankind from Original Sin. Any demeaning of the vital roles performed by any of the players in the Passion of the Christ is blasphemy.
(Note: Page numbers refer to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th Edition unless otherwise indicated.)