In a previous article, “Benzion Netanyahu: Jewish Activist and Intellectual Apologist,” I discussed the activities of New Christian intellectuals in 15th-century Spain in developing an interpretation of Christianity and Judaism in which Judaism was presented very positively:
These intellectuals presented Jews as a genetically separate religious group composed of morally superior individuals and distinguished by a superior genetic heritage. On this basis, the New Christians argued that they were therefore worthy of being the progenitors of Christ who was born a Jew. (This appeals to Christians who naturally want to believe that Jesus came from a superior genetic stock.) The basic strategy was to realize that Christianity could serve as a perfectly viable ideology in which Christian Jews could retain their ethnic solidarity, but with a Christian religious veneer.
What I didn’t point out was that some of the the main New Christian apologists, such as Alonso de Cartagena (whose writings are discussed in Chapter 7 of Separation and Its Discontents, p. 210ff), were not only converts from Judaism but also held high positions within the Catholic Church—obviously an ideal position from which alter Christian theology about Judaism. They were quite successful, at least temporarily:
As has undoubtedly often been the case in other eras (see, e.g., the discussion of the Dreyfus case in Chapter 6), the [New Christian] apologists were intellectually far more sophisticated than their opponents, and collectively they dominated the literature of the period. … Their arguments, while necessarily departing from orthodox Christian arguments in their defense of the Jews, are presented in a highly literate, scholarly style that undoubtedly commanded respect from an educated audience. They were highly skilled in developing the very intricate, tortured arguments necessary to overcome the existing anti-Jewish bias of Christian theology. The result of all this intellectual activity was a stunning, if temporary, victory over the Toledo rebels of 1449 … . The rebels were soon regarded by the public as moral, religious, and political renegades; they were excommunicated by the pope, and their leaders were imprisoned and executed. (p. 212) Read more