Was John Anti-Semitic?


Glenn,

First I'd like to point out that the following viewpoints are not MINE. I simply thought that Wittgensteinians might want to discuss it.

Although I've heard many glowing statements about this Book from Episcopaleans to Fundamentalist, I've also heard of some rather disturbing ideas concerning the Gospel of John. In particular, I've heard a theory that conjectures John was written by the more Gnostic wing of Christianity. [Writers Note: The issue of the alleged dependence of the NT on Gnosticism often comes up in popular circles, but is growing less credible in scholarly circles, as the dating for the NT gets earlier and as dating for gnosticism grows increasingly later. But more on this later...]
Also, this theory maintains that John, being written after the Fall of Jerusalem and, therefore, after widespread racism in the Roman Empire against Jews, reflects an Anti-Semitic tone common throughout the Roman world after the uprisings in the late 60's of the first century (continuing after the 2nd rebellion under Hadrian). The emphasis of "Jews" as the killers of Christ, as opposed to the corrupted Temple hierarchy, is the issue here, I believe.

The merits of claims against John are only of academic interest, since it's a part of the Bible and no scholar is likely to be able to pull it out. I thought you and/or your readers might have some additional information on the John business that might be enlightening. Again, I want to point out that the viewpoints I wrote of in the last paragraph are not MINE -- I've only heard about them.

Thanks, and God bless Wittgenstein.


Thanks for the question...

I have seen this slur against John once or twice before, and had not taken it very seriously until you raised the question. So, I decided to study it carefully and see to what extent it might be true, and if not, where the mistake was in the accusation.

So...here is what my study came up with...

Let's look at the data...

  1. Who killed Jesus?...and Who said it...
  2. The term "Jews" can refer to either the leadership (strictly) OR to the people (more generally)
    1. The data indicates that 'Jews' referred to something broader than the simple 'corrupt temple hierarchy':
    2. Many of the "Jews" became believers--Jn 11:45 and 12.11
    3. There are numerous passages that indicate that the "Jews" were DISTINCT FROM the common people (many of whom accepted Christ as their messiah):
    4. The data is VERY strong that when the term "Jews" is used of the PEOPLE, it is a good (or at least, neutral) term--indicating that it is not a 'racial/ethnic' slur, but a term used for specific identification (in context) of that ruling community that violently rejected their King.
  3. So, how did the term 'JEWS' get expanded from solely a reference to the people (a la Ezra, Neh) to pick up a SECOND meaning of 'hostile leadership'?
  4. It is worth noting that John's gospel is deliberately evangelistic, and the general trend of scholarship today is to view his intended audience as not just Jews, but SPECIFICALLY the Jews of the Diaspora--the ones Paul used the terms "JEWS" on so strongly!

  5.  

     

    As Carson notes in his Intro to the New Testament, p 171.:

    The constant allusions to the Old Testament show that John's intended readership is biblically literate; his translation of Semitic expressions (e.g., 1:38, 42; 4:25; 19:13, 17) shows he is writing to those whose linguistic competence is in Greek. His strong denunciation of the "the Jews" cannot be taken as a mark against this thesis: John may well have an interest in driving a wedge between ordinary Jews and (at least) some of their leaders. The fourth gospel is not as anti-Jewish as some people think anyway: salvation is still said to be "from the Jews" (4.22), and often the referent of "the Jews" is "the Jews in Judea" or "the Jewish leaders" or the like. "Anti-Semitic" is simply the wrong category to apply to the fourth gospel: whatever hostilities are present turn on theological issues related to the acceptance or rejection of revelation, not on race. How could it be otherwise, when all of the first Christians were Jews and when, on this reading, both the fourth evangelist and his primary readers were Jews and Jewish proselytes?
  6. Conclusions:
    1. When "Jews" is used of the hostile aristocratic leadership, it is appropriate and truthful to ascribe the primary responsibility (see John 19:11 for the relative roles of Pilate and the High Priest - "Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.") for His execution to them.
    2. When "Jews" is used of the general populace, it is used in a VERY POSITIVE sense (and in some passages, in a neutral sense), but is NEVER used in an 'anti-Semitic' slur.
    3. THEREFORE--to assert that John (and the wider Christian community) attributed the death of Jesus to the GENERAL POPULACE known as "Jews" is FUNDAMENTALLY MISTAKEN; and that to accuse certain first-century Jews of being 'anti-Semitic' because of some general Roman cultural trend is entirely without foundation.

    4.  
[And, btw, the New Testament is REPLETE with anti-Gentile statements--especially moral slurs (if you thought the Gospel of John verses were such!):
 


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