Friday, May 9, 2014

JOHN'S GOSPEL AND ANTI-SEMITISM

I was recently engaged in a discussion where someone voiced the opinion that John the Evangelist was anti-Semitic because he had some harsh words to say about "the Jews." I believe  that he was mistaken, and I think this mistaken reading of John's Gospel has wrought a lot of mischief down through the ages. I tried to show that John (nor any other Evangelist) was anti-Semitic in my book The Case Against Christ: A Critique of the Prosecutionof Jesus. 

Here's the Reader's Digest version of what I wrote in the book: Saying that John was anti-Semitic because he didn’t like “Jews” is like saying a Southerner is anti-American because he doesn’t like Yankees. The first century religious/ethnic group we think of as “Jews” called themselves Israelites. Non-Israelites called them all “Jews” just as non-Americans call all US citizens “Yankees.” Pilate called Jesus King of the Jews, but John called him King of Israel. (John 1:49; 12:13). There were Galilean Israelites, Idumean Israelites, Diaspora Israelites, and Judean Israelites, all of whom would be considered “Jews” by their gentile contemporaries, but among the Israelites only Judean Israelites would be considered “Jews.” The people John calls “Jews” were only the Judean Israelites. Indeed, “Judean” is a better translation of the Greek word than “Jew.” John’s Israelite/Jewish contemporaries would not have read him as anti-Semitic, but simply anti-Judean. After the passage of time and the forgetting of first century nuance in the labeling of “Jews” versus “Israelites,” John came to be mistakenly read as anti-Semitic. See, e.g. John H. Elliot, “Jesus the Israelite Was neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian’: On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Vol. 5.2 pp. 119-154.

I think it was Will Rogers who said we know a lot of stuff that just ain't so. As I tried to demonstrate in The Case Against Christ, our "knowledge" that John the Evangelist was anti-Semitic just ain't so.