Jews, Judaism, and the Gospel of John

April 13 2018

Having written two scholarly works about the New Testament’s fourth Gospel, and with a third book forthcoming, Adele Reinharz looks back on her career-long interest in this biblical book and explains how her ideas have shifted, particularly in reference to John’s attitude toward the Jews:

I am now convinced that John’s well-documented anti-Judaism is not peripheral but central to the Gospel’s theology and rhetorical program. While I do not for a moment believe that John’s author (or authors) would have foreseen or applauded the history of Christian anti-Judaism, there is no doubt that he intended to foster suspicion of, distancing from, and even hatred of the [people he refers to as] ioudaioi. To be sure, John’s ioudaioi are not an ethnic or religious category but a rhetorical one. Jesus and the first disciples were ethnically ioudaioi, but not theologically so—this label is never used [in John] for the disciples and only once for Jesus (John 4:9). Yet the fact that there existed, and continued to exist, real people who fit that label—whether we call them Jews or Judeans or some other name—and who, by and large, did not go along with the Gospel’s views about God, Jesus, and humankind, means that John’s Gospel could be, and was, used to build a wall between Christ-confessors and ioudaioi that had real consequences for real Jews. . . .

Furthermore, I had to let go of the idea that the [fourth Gospel’s] primary intended audience was Jewish; it now seemed to me just as likely that the audience was Gentile. Finally, whereas I had agreed with the majority of scholars that the Gospel was both profoundly Jewish and at the same time included many anti-Jewish statements, I now believed that even the Jewish elements of the Gospel are mobilized rhetorically for anti-Jewish purposes.

In effect, the Gospel constructs a rhetorical “parting of the ways” between Christ-confessors and the ioudaioi—Jews who, in John’s view, should have believed [in Jesus’ message] but did not. The relationship between this rhetorical “parting” and the historical processes by which Christ-confessors became “Christians” who saw themselves as separate from and opposed to Jews remains murky. But it strikes me as significant that a late-1st-century Gospel already promoted the view that Christ-confessors and ioudaioi were mutually exclusive categories.

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More about: ancient Judaism, Anti-Semitism, Christianity, Gospels, History & Ideas, Jewish-Christian relations

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times