The pope
The popeIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book published Wednesday, reaffirms the established doctrine of the Catholic Church, which holds that blood-guilt for Jesus' death cannot be laid at the collective feet of the Jewish people. The book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week - From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, is a sequel to his previous book on Jesus' life. The Pope describes the book as a biography of "the final week of Jesus' earthly life."

In the book, Benedict says John's accusation, in which the Gospel writer slams the Jewish People and blames them for Jesus' death, could not be aimed at the entire nation because John, like most Christians of the time, was a Jew himself. Instead, Benedict takes aim at the "Temple Aristocracy," who, the Pope says, ran the Temple and ruled the Jewish people in the latter days of the Second Temple era.

In the Christian Bible's account of Jesus' trial, this 'Temple Aristocracy' is described as being "the chief priests and Sanhedrin." The Temple and Sanhedrin were dominated by the Sadducees, led by the high priest Caiaphas, in the Gospel accounts. Despite this, Christians have long blamed the Jewish people - then popularly led by the Pharisees who fathered Rabbinic Judaism - for Jesus' death. 

Benedict's silence on the Holocaust, support for certain Traditionalist Catholic positions regarding Vatican II, and the tacit backing of bishops who have made anti-Semitic statements has led many to speculate that Benedict would roll back the clock on interfaith relations, especially as they pertain to Israel and the Jewish people. But, while Benedict's book has created a stir in the Christian world, especially among Protestants and Traditionalist Catholics, the Pope's position is neither novel nor unique.

In 1965, following the Second Vatican Council, the Vatican published the Nostre Aetete, a magisterial document defining the Church's relations with other faiths, including the Jews.  It took the same position: "...Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion... the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture."

Further, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church [597], promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1997, reads: "The historical complexity of Jesus' trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants... is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole..." 

In response to Benedict's new book, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a letter to the Pope on Thursday praising him for "rejecting false claims that have formed the basis of hatred against Jews for years."