April 2, 2004

Belief that Jews were Responsible for Christ’s Death Increases

Prevalent Among Young People, Minorities and 'Passion of Christ' Viewers

Summary of Findings

A growing minority of Americans believe that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death. Roughly a quarter of the public (26%) now expresses that view. This represents a modest but statistically significant increase in the number holding this opinion when compared with a 1997 survey by ABC News which found 19% feeling this way. But a solid majority of Americans both then and now (60%) continue to say that Jews were not responsible for the death of Christ.

Nonetheless, the shift in opinion among young people and African Americans over that period has been striking. Currently, 34% of those below age 30 and 42% of blacks say they feel Jews were responsible for Christ’s death, up substantially from 1997 (10% and 21%, respectively). By contrast, there has been far less movement among older Americans and among whites.

Despite the increasing belief among some groups that the Jews were responsible for Christ’s death, other surveys have shown that only a tiny minority believes that Jews today should bear responsibility for what happened to Christ 2000 years ago. An ABC News/PrimeTime poll, released Feb. 15, found that just 8% think that “all Jews today” bear responsibility for the death of Jesus, compared with 80% who reject that view.

The increasing sense among some groups that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death comes amid controversy over the Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ.” A relatively large proportion of people who have seen the movie (36%) feel Jews were responsible for Christ’s death. However, this is also the case among people who plan to see the movie (29%), suggesting people who are drawn to this movie may be predisposed to this opinion more than others. By comparison, just 17% of those who have no plans to see the movie believe that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death.

About one-in-five Americans (19%) say they have already seen “The Passion of the Christ,” while many more (49%) say they intend to see it; 30% say they do not plan to see the movie. There also has been considerable public attention to news coverage about the movie ­ 37% of Americans say they followed these reports very closely.

The Pew Research Center national survey of 1,703 Americans, conducted March 17-21, finds that, aside from attitudes regarding responsibility for Christ’s death, opinion on other issues relating to Jesus Christ and the Bible have remained largely stable since the late 1990s. About nine-in-ten Americans (92%) believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross, and 83% believe that Christ rose from the dead. Both measures are virtually unchanged from the 1997 ABC News survey (91% and 84%, respectively).

As in previous surveys, the public remains divided over whether the Bible is actually the word of God and should be taken literally. Currently, four-in-ten Americans express that opinion, while about as many (42%) say the Bible is the word of God, but that not everything in it should be taken literally. Just 13% think the Bible is a book written by men and is not the word of God.

A solid majority of white and black evangelical Protestants believe that the Bible is literally the world of God (70% and 71%, respectively). Only about a quarter of white non-evangelical Protestants (24%) and white Catholics (25%) share this belief.

Seeing the ‘Passion’

There are only modest age differences among those who have seen “The Passion of the Christ,” although fewer people age 65 and older (who typically attend movies at lower rates than younger people) report seeing the movie.

More African-Americans than whites report seeing the movie (30% of blacks vs. 18% of whites). Among whites, more than twice as many evangelical Protestants than non-evangelicals say they have seen “The Passion of the Christ” (25% vs. 11%). One-in-five white Catholics say they have seen the movie.

Young People and the ‘Passion’

Generally, there is a correlation between seeing the movie, and expressing an intention to see it, with holding the view that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death. This is especially the case among younger people. Of those age 18-34 who have seen the movie, 42% believe Jews were responsible for Christ’s death. Similarly, 36% of those age 35-59 who have seen “The Passion of the Christ” express that view. Still, majorities in both of these age groups ­ whether they have seen the movie or not ­ say they do not feel that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death.

Older Americans (those age 60 and older) who have seen the movie are no more likely than others in that age group to say the Jews were responsible for Christ’s death. Just 19% of those age 60 and older who have seen “The Passion of the Christ” say they feel that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death.

Cite this publication: “Belief that Jews were Responsible for Christ’s Death Increases.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (April 2, 2004) http://www.people-press.org/2004/04/02/belief-that-jews-were-responsible-for-christs-death-increases/, accessed on July 23, 2014.