Thursday, March 16, 2006

So What Is Judaism Anyway (Again)

Over at Earliest Christian History, Dr J. Crossley has a very interesting post on "Christian Origins and the Law" (link). In the comments section, Dr. M. Bird makes the following statement: "Jesus opposed the halakhah of the Pharisees and not Torah per se, but sometimes text and interpretation were not always so nearly separated." It is the distinction Dr. Bird posits between "the halakhah of the Pharisees" and the "Torah" that I was pathetically trying to elicit in my previous post.

As I have read various works that attempt to address the issue of anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John, it seems to me MOST scholars who have addressed this issue fail to make this distinction. As Dr. West noted in the previous post, there were many varieties of "Judaism" in the ancient world. Those who attempt to define "Judaism" narrowly, in my view, miss the point of the FG. In many ways, I see the "Jews" in the FG as something of a collective representative character; a character that is intended to represent adherents of those religious groups (other than "Christianity") that derive their core beliefs from interpretations/supplementations of the Torah. In my view, the Evangelist lumps these diverse groups under the rubric of the noun "Jew" and attempts to portray a Jesus who is the fulfillment of their messianic hopes.

How does this approach to the noun "Jews" impact the question of anti-Judaism in the FG? At the very least, I think it allows for something of a more positive expression of the Evangelist's anti-Judaic stance. This reading of the FG allows for the development of a historical Jesus who does NOT proclaim the inherent inferiority of Judaism. Instead, Jesus becomes something of a reformer/prophet who calls adherents of Judaism to return to the roots of their religious heritage (much like the OT prophets) and recognize the realization of the promises in the Torah in him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

So What Is "Judaism" Anyway?

Dr. Michael Bird (link) recently posed a question on this blog regarding the Gospel of John and the "parting of the ways" (the break between Judaism and Christianity). Frankly, I am humbled by such questions because they always remind me of how little I know. I do have some OPINIONS about this issue and may even post on them. That said, I would like to gain a better sense of what those in the discipline of NT studies mean by the noun "Judaism."

So here are two (revised) related questions:
1)With regard to the sphere of Christian origins, how should the noun "Judaism" be used when referring to such groups as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Qumranites?
2)Should historical Jesus studies make a firmer distinction between the Hebrew Bible and Judaism (understood in a very broad sense) as religions that are derivative from and interpretations of the Hebrew Bible?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Anti-Judaism and the Gospel of John (again)

The following points summarize my (brief) research on the subject of anti-Judaism in the FG. I apologize in advance for the rather stale treatment of such an emotionally charged issue. I have simply tried to keep this as short as possible.

1) Despite the contention of some scholars, a distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism is helpful in understanding the message of the FG. The former may be defined as "the hatred and contempt for the Jewish people and their culture." The latter may be defined as "the prejudicial denial of the validity of the Jewish religion as a viable means of attaining genuine knowledge of God" (ie. eternal life).
2) Attempts to limit the referent of the noun Ioudaios ("Judeans," "Jewish authorities" etc.) fail to adequately interpret the FG. Furthermore, while there is a connection between the Evangelist's use of the nouns Ioudaios and kosmos, a purely symbolic meaning (Bultmann, Fortna) does not account for the fact that the Evangelist is referring to real personages. In sum, the noun Ioudaios has a number of referents (primarily religous leaders but also "crowds" of Jewish people) in the FG and describes historical individuals who interacted with Jesus. This reality unfortunately produces strong anti-Semitic potential.
3) The Evangelist's 'high Christology' presents serious problems for the continuing legitimacy of Judaism. While the noun "fulfillment" (versus "replacement") seems to best describe Jesus' relationship to Jewish religious institutions in the FG , its usage does not entirely free the FG from the charge of anti-Judaism. For example, to suggest that the FG portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of the temple (John 2:13-22) still requires one address the contuining role of the Jerusalem temple. In sum, one must ask, "If Jesus fulfills something, does he not (on a rather pragmatic level) also replace it?"
4) The historical situation that gave rise to the composition of the FG also has important bearing on this subject. Not only is the 'Johannine community hypothesis' historically problematic (see S. Motyer, R. Hakola), it leads to an unduly negative portrait of the relationship between the Evangelist's audience and the Jewish people. A better approach to the composition of the FG is to see it as a Christian response to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD (see S. Motyer, A. Kostenberger). This reading would (partly) see the FG as an evangelistic document (cf. 20:30-31) written to portray Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish messianic hopes.
5) In summary, if one distinguishes between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, there is little room to justify labeling the FG anti-Semitic. After all, this Gospel portays Jesus as a Jew (4:22) and was written to (partly) present the Jewish people with the hope of eternal life. That said, the Evangelist's 'high Christology' and related 'replacement theme' make it difficult to avoid the label 'anti-Judaic.' That said, those who consider the FG authoritative should carefully consider Motyer's suggestion that "[a]nti-Judaism is consistent with a wholehearted love both for Judaism and for Jews" ("Editorial: Is John's Gospel Anti-Semitic?," Themelios 23 (1998): 1).