As most of us who’ve visited Israel know, it’s almost impossible to build anywhere in that ancient land without uncovering some significant archeological find. And it turns out that Israel isn’t alone in this respect. European soil is also filled with ancient artifacts. Thus it was no great surprise when construction workers preparing the ground for the Chapelfield Shopping Center in England discovered seventeen bodies at the bottom of a medieval well.
Scientists have studied these bones using a combination of DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies. Last week, they announced that these seventeen bodies had most likely been Jews who were murdered by their Christian neighbors in the twelfth or thirteenth century. Eleven of the seventeen skeletons were those of children. Five of the skeletons belonged to a single Jewish family. The bones showed no signs of disease. But the fractured skulls of those at the bottom showed that the victims had been thrown down the well head first.
Norwich had been the home of a thriving Jewish community since 1135, and many Jews had lived near the well site. But Norwich bears the blemish of being the site of the first recorded blood libel against Jews – the accusation that Jews engage in the ritual murder of Christian children. William of Norwich was an apprentice tanner who frequently entered Jewish homes for his work. When he was found dead in 1144, the community accused the Jews of crucifying him. As this and similar libels spread, they eventually motivated the massacre of Jews in Norwich, York and London. In 1290, King Edward expelled all Jews from England.
Such a find should come as no surprise. Most of us know that the history of Jews in Europe was punctuated by persecution, forced conversion, torture and death. Yet such a stark reminder of this vicious past in our present day still has the power to shock. It’s as if some of the dark hate that motivated these murders was bottled up with the bodies and is just now being released into the air. It sends a chill up our spines as it passes by.
And indeed, the hate that killed these Jews still rides the winds of Europe. Many Europeans still spread dangerous lies about Jews. There can be no denying that there exists today in England and across much of Europe an opposition to Israel that surpasses any rational criticism of an imperfect nation state. What reason cannot explain, human emotion – hate – most certainly can.
The haters no longer accuse Jews of killing Christian children for their blood. Instead they accuse Jews of killing Muslim children for their land.
If these old Jewish bones could speak, they would no doubt echo the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we are cut off!” Yet we can take comfort in knowing in fact what these Jews had to take as an article of faith. Their dark fate is being reversed in our day. Ezekiel’s prophecy is being fulfilled. The Jews have been brought up out of the vast grave of Europe and other lands of persecution and have returned home to Israel.
In fact, the miracles of our day go beyond the rebirth of Israel and the end of exile. They extend to the very relations between Christians and Jews that sparked the Norwich tragedy and thousands like it. The miracle is that this history of Christian hate and persecution is being reversed before our very eyes. And Christians United for Israel and the millions of Christians who are speaking out for Israel in her time of crisis are the pioneers of this long-awaited reconciliation.
Where in the past there was only hate, today there is also love. While at one time there was only silence, today there is loud support. Israel’s founders helped end the Jews’ physical separation from their land. We are helping to end their emotional separation from their Christian brothers in faith. We cannot change the past. But together, we can combat the libels and hate that still chase the Jews in our day. This is our precious opportunity. And this is our sacred obligation.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel and author of a new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity. You can follow David on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.