Wednesday, November 30, 2011

John and Anti-Judaism 4

Reading through Terence Donaldson's Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament.  For previous summaries:

Matthew and Anti-Judaism
Luke-Acts and Anti-Judaism

Now chapter 4, John.  Of all the books of the New Testament, John is the one most open to charges of antisemitism and anti-Judaism.  "The Jews" in John are often synonymous with "the world" in John, which is diametrically opposed to God.  The term is used some 70 times in John.  They want to kill Jesus, and their father is the devil.  Clearly it was easy enough at least for later readers to see in these words a completely negative designation of Jews not only as a religion (anti-Judaism) but as a race (antisemitism).  As Gregory Baum once put it, "many generations of John's readers have perceived the Gospel as encouraging them to look with contempt on the Jewish people" (81).

There are some potentially mediating factors.  The word sometimes has a neutral sense (about a dozen times).  Sometimes the word means "Judean" rather than Jew.  In a number of the most pejorative instances, "the Jews" seem to be the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

The relationship to Gentiles is not straightforward.  The word Gentile never appears in John.  Almost all of those who follow Jesus in John are themselves Jews.  Still, John explains things that a Jew would know, implying that it is written so that Gentiles could read it.  The majority position on the "sheep not of this fold" verse is that it refers to Gentiles.

I posted yesterday matters relating to the possible history of John both as a document and as a community.  These sorts of issues potentially impact the way we understand John's use of language like "the Jews."  For example, if the scholarly consensus is correct, then John's community at some point was forced out of mainstream Jewish synagogues.  So Baum once argued that "the Gospel needs to be read as a response to a painful exclusion rather than as an attempt to force and hasten a separation" (84).

Donaldson concludes the chapter thinking about John rhetorically.  He believes that 20:31 most likely should be rendered, "these are written so that you might continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ" and thus that John addressed an internal community (contra Bauckham).  As such, we have an inner-Jewish debate rather than an externally driven anti-Judaism.

It would be fun to explore further, but this is where our discussion of Donaldson's chapter ends.


John C. Gardner said...

What caused the idea of intra Judaism divisions to switch to anti-Semitism over time? Was it ethnic differences(e.g. Roman church with apparent differences between Gentile and Jewish Christians) that emerged as Christianity became dominated by non-Jews?

Ken Schenck said...

I do personally suspect that it was the shift to a Gentile oriented Christianity. I wish I could say I had read the material on this from the second century on, but my hunch is that the already existent biases against Jews in the culture were magnified by Gentiles reading NT texts out of context.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Wasn't the second century when the Nicene creed was formulated? Jesus as God. wasn't this Constantine's making Christianity the State religion what made Judiasm, less important? But, what would that matter today, practically speaking in your opinion?

Ken Schenck said...

Constantine was the fourth century (300's). He didn't make Christianity the only religion. He only made it legal. He encouraged Christians to get their act together in terms of what they believed. I don't know if there was a Jewish element. But as early as AD110 and the mid-100's with Justin Martyr, we have comments that sound quite anti-Jewish.