Magazine article The Christian Century

Handel Scandal

Magazine article The Christian Century

Handel Scandal

Article excerpt

I HAVE NEVER given much thought to Titus, Roman destroyer of Jerusalem in the year 70, or seen reason to rejoice in the destruction of the Second Temple and the defeat of Israel. Yet once or twice a year I'm celebrating that destruction and what it did to Jews when I sing in sing-along Messiahs, sometimes standing next to Jews who love the music of Handel. We think of them as good neighbors who generously stand up with their Christian and "other" friends during the "Hallelujah Chorus."

Now I find that I've been ignorant: Handel's Messiah is full of unnecessarily anti-Judaic themes. Since the Advent cycle is a half year away, we can take up the subject with some dispassion.

I am not a Handel expert, and the Messiah is not at the top of the list in my Christian hit parade. I have to depend on Michael Marissen of Swarthmore, who says that Handel's friend Charles Jennens, who did the libretto, picked biblical texts that he thought would help fight off deists. Bizarrely, he viewed deists as plotting with Jews to attack Christ's deity. Evidently he depended on a tome by Richard Kidder, A Demonstration of the Messias, In which the Truth of the Christian Religion is Proved, Against All the Enemies Thereof; but Especially Against the Jews. Jennens also drew upon Henry Hammond, who translated Psalm 2 not with the King James folk as "Why do the heathen rage," but as "Why do the nations rage?" Jews were not heathen to Hammond or Kidder or Jennens or Handel: they were a nation. Marissen shows how Handel's music has that nation raging.

Kidder's tome made clear that "either we or the Jews must be in a state of damnation." Guess who was? And in this context the "Hallelujah Chorus" made the point. I tried to think of a number of responses to this revelation.

First, "Say it isn't so!" Sorry. Marissen is a fair-minded analyst. I like to turn to him for reliable and dispassionate guidance through Bach's Passions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.