REBLOG FROM DAILY MINYAN
New Testament author with Jewish blood on his hands
I have already written about the historic evidence that we have in our possession that the author of one of the New Testament’s most read and beloved books, the Gospel of John, was not a fan of the Jewish people. In fact, he had an extremely negative view of both Jews and their faith and pulled no punches in his literal demonization of them. (Contrast this with a belief of some today, invariably Christians with no direct experience of Judaism, that John’s is the “most Jewish of the gospels.”)
In his book, considered the most “spiritual” of the four gospels, John exalts Jesus to the near total identification with G-d. The author knows full well, however, that devout Jews found such a thing utterly blasphemous, idolatrous and contrary to everything that b0th the Torah and the prophets had taught. John builds upon their supposed reactions to Jesus’ outrageous claims in order to create an image of Jews as being demonically driven. Thus, the Jewish aversion to idolatry is transformed into the worst sin possible in John’s eyes – the rejection of G-d in the flesh. John goes on to construct confrontations Jesus supposedly had with his fellow Jew. These confrontations pivot on the premise that Jews rejected a man with a supposedly obvious divinity, and not merely someone who claimed messiahship, as the synoptic gospels try to convey. Jews should have known that Jesus was divine, a god among men, but they could not submit to him because of their hatred for Jesus and ultimately for Jesus’ Father.
For much of John’s gospel Jesus has his most vicious enemies always follow him around. Apparently, they have nothing better to do than to oppose everything he is, everything he says and everything he does. They are supernaturally driven in their opposition to him and his mission. The enemies of both G-d and Jesus, of course, are no other than “the Jews”. This identification of the enemies simply as “the Jews” is John’s favorite; in this regard his book has much in common with later conspiratorial antisemitic genre of literature that sought to paint Jews as the sources of all of world’s troubles. In fact, the author uses this term “the Jews” over seventy times throughout his gospel. Unlike the other three gospels, John does not care to distinguish between different movements within Judaism in existence at the time. He’s too far removed to bother with such details, not only in time and space from the events in Galilee and Judea, but also from both the faith of the Jews and from the Jewish people themselves.
In his effort to contrast Jesus with “the Jews”, John employs some of the most defamatory and antisemitic language found in the New Testament. Jews, even those who believed in him (John 8:31), are called by Jesus the “children of the devil”. They are out to do Satan’s bidding and they do it because it’s their nature. They always opposed G-d (a sentiment also echoed by both Stephen and Paul). His Jewish enemies “never knew the Father” and are not really Abraham’s descendants (John 8:39). Yes, John concedes and puts in the mouth of Jesus, “the salvation is from the Jews”, but Jews are not the people he himself identifies with. They are “them”. John’s gospel, arguably more than any other piece of literature, has contributed the most to the historic Christian (and post-Christian) vilification and dehumanization of the Jewish people. The book John authored helped bring about the persecution and murder first of thousands, and then, thousands of years later, of millions of Jews who had nothing to do with the events of the first century.
Prof. Pieter van der Horst, a New Testament scholar, in his attempt to answer the question whether the New Testament is antisemitic, zeroes in on the Gospel of John.
I would say yes [it is antisemitic], but again only in the chronologically latest documents. The clearest instance is that of the Gospel of John. There one sees that the split between Christians and Jews has occurred. It has happened recently and that is also why the language is so vehement. The anti-Jewish sentiment permeates the whole book, and it contains the most anti-Semitic verse in the New Testament.
The author has Jesus distance himself completely from the Jewish people. He lets him speak about the Jews, their laws and festivals, as if he himself is no longer one of them. Worst of all, in a dispute between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, John has him say: ‘You have the devil as your father.’ In later Christian literature, that expression is picked up. This fatal short remark has had lethal consequences over two millennia. It cost tens of thousands of Jewish lives in later history, especially in the Middle Ages. This verse was taken by Christian Jew-haters as a license to murder Jews. These murderers thought: ‘If Jesus says that Jews have the devil as their father, we should eradicate them as best as we can.’
All New Testament scholars agree that Jesus did not say what John puts into his mouth, but that it is the position of the Gospel’s author. When one religious group breaks away from its mother religion, it has to create its own new identity. The sociology of religion teaches us that, in its first phase, the new group always begins to attack the old religion as fiercely as it can and to demonize it. The most effective demonization is calling the Jews ‘children of the devil’ and having Jesus, the most important person in the new religion, say this himself.
I once argued before an audience of Christian ministers that if we were to confront John with the consequences of what he wrote, he would deeply apologize and say, ‘Please, delete it from my Gospel.’ Until the present day these words have their influence, because the average Bible reader cannot contextualize them in the first century when they were written. The Gospel of John unfortunately is also one of the most popular books in Christianity. (Source: Interview with Pieter van der Horst, found here.)