Anti-Judaism and the Gospel of John

Miroslaw Stanislaw Wróbel:
Anti-Judaism and the Gospel of John. A New Look at the Fourth Gospel’s Relationship with Judaism
Lublin Theological Studies 7; Göttingen:Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2023.
Pp. 297. € 120.

Professor Miroslaw Wróbel has long been involved in research on Jewish topics which are inextricably linked with the beginnings of Christianity, including the stage of the formation of  New  Testament  books.  This  is  evidenced  by  his  numerous  publications  both  in  Polish  and English. A book entitled Anti-Judaism and the Gospel of John.A New Look at the Fourth Gospel’s  Relationship  with  Judaism  also  focuses  on  this  issue.  It  is  an  important  voice  in  the  discussion  on  the  “parting  of  the  ways”  of  the  Church  and  the  Synagogue,  which  has  been  going  on  for  several  decades  in  the  theological  academic  world.  Before  delving  into  Wróbel’s monograph, it is crucial to recognize the fact that the separation of the Church and the Synagogue (Christianity and Judaism) was not a one-time act, but a long-lasting, multilayered, and diversified process. Even if many scholars try to isolate that moment in time (pointing to ca. A.D. 90 and the environment of Jabne or the fall of the Bar Kochba uprising ), the rabbis’ decision to exclude Christians from the Synagogue or the decision of followers of Christ’s to break ties with the Synagogue evolved over the years.

Miroslaw  Wróbel’s  book  is  dedicated,  as  the  title  suggests,  to  the  anti-Judaism  of  the Fourth Gospel. The author’s very recognition of the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Judaism is crucial. This issue, although partly developed, especially in his articles, was examined by Wróbel differently and innovatively due to the methodolog y employed, and therefore, it deserves to be the subject of a monograph. The Gospel of John is considered by many scholars to be the most anti-Judaic piece of the New Testament. It contains a   reflection of Christian-Jewish relations from the period of their inception, even though the Gospel primarily describes the activities of Jesus ( John 1–12) leading up to his passion and death ( John 13–21).

Apart  from  the  table  of  contents,  the  list  of  abbreviations,  the  introduction,  the  con-clusion,  and  the  bibliography,  the  book  contains  six  chapters  titled  “Status  Quaestion-is,”  “An  Analysis  of  Terminolog y,”  “The  Ioudaioi  in  John’s  Gospel,”  “Anti-Judaic  texts  in  John”  (here,  the  term  “Texts”  should  be  capitalized),  “The  Specificity  of  Anti-Judaism in  the  Gospel  of  John,”  and  “Anti-Judaism  and  Johannine  Theology.”  In  the  first  chapter,  the  reader  learns  that  it  is  extremely  important  to  understand  the  term  Ioudaioi  to  properly  delineate  the  relationship  of  the  Gospel  of  John  to  Judaism  and  that  the  author  uses  synchronic  and  diachronic  methods  to  interpret  anti-Judaic  texts.  The  second  chapter  is  particularly noteworthy. In it, the author analyzes the nomenclature related to the chosen people  based  on  the  Old  Testament,  rabbinic  literature,  Qumran  writings,  the  works  of  Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, apocryphal writings, books of the New Testament, and even early Christian literature. The three words in question are “the Hebrews,” “the Israelites,” and “the Jews.” For Miroslaw Wróbel’s research, the third one proves to be the most relevant. He devotes the fourth chapter of the book to that very expression, quite reasonably limiting the scope of analysis to its Greek form.

The term Ioudaioi appears seventy-two times in the Fourth Gospel and is by no means unambiguous. Sometimes it takes on a regional meaning with reference to Judea ( John 3:22; 4:3,  47,  54;  7:1,  3;  11:7–8,  54);  at  other  times  it  is  used  to  refer  to  its  inhabitants  ( John  10:19; 11:19, 31, 33, 36, 45; 12:9, 11; 19:20). Occasionally, it takes on a neutral meaning with reference to Jewish persons, festivals, and customs ( John  2:6, 13; 3:1, 25; 4:9, 22; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55; 18:20, 33, 35, 39; 19:3, 19, 21, 40, 42) while at other times it has a negative connotation ( John 1:19; 2:18, 20; 5:10, 15, 16, 18; 6:41, 52; 7:1, 11, 13, 15, 35; 8:22, 31, 48, 52, 57; 9:18, 22; 10:24, 31, 33; 11:8; 13:33; 18:12, 14, 31, 36, 38; 19:7, 12, 14, 31, 38; 20:19). The negative connotations of the term Ioudaioi are associated with the hostility of the  “Jews”  towards  Jesus  and  his  followers.  This  does  not,  of  course,  refer  to  all  Jews,  but  to a certain group whose animosity towards Jesus and his disciples is so intense that John repeatedly  speaks  of  “fear  of  the  Jews”  ( John  7:13;  19:38;  20:19).  The  so-called  “anti-Judaic”  texts  in  John’s  Gospel  are  usually  divided  into  three  groups.  The  first  one  includes  Jesus’  polemical  dialogues  with  the  Jews,  the  second  one  covers  the  hostility  and  strong  controversy between them while the third one comprises texts that speak of the role played by  the  Jews  in  the  account  of  Christ’s  passion.  The  fourth  chapter  of  Miroslaw  Wróbel’s  work is devoted to the exegesis of these three groups of pericopes, which can undoubtedly be considered essential in the conducted research. John reveals the murderous intentions of the Jews towards Jesus. There were various reasons why Jesus’ opponents intended to execute him: violating the Sabbath rest ( John 5:18; cf. 7:1), his accusations of their not keeping the  Law  ( John  7:19)  and  of  rejecting  his  teaching  ( John  8:37),  as  well  as  their  question-ing of his connection to Abraham ( John 8:40). These intentions turned into action: first into an attempt to stone Jesus ( John 8:59; 10:31; 11:8), and then his trial ( John 18–19). Those responsible for this state of affairs were, yet again, not all the Ioudaioi, but the leaders (Gr. archontes; John 7:25–26). John 8:44 is often regarded as the locus classicus of John’s anti-Judaism; Jesus accuses the Jews of being the children of the devil. Extensive study of this text and its closer and further context, however, indicates that Jesus directs this statement not  to  the  Jews  alone,  but  to  all  people  who  reject  his  teaching  and  oppose  his  messianic  message.

Another aspect of the anti-Judaism of John’s Gospel is the phenomenon of aposynagōgos, which indicates exclusion from the Synagogue ( John 9:22; 12:42; 16:4). The author has al-ready explored this theme in an earlier monograph entitled Synagoga a rodzacy sie Kosciól. Studium egzegetyczno-teologiczne Czwartej Ewangelii ( J 9,22; 12,42; 16,2) [Synagogue and Church. Exegetical and Theological Study of the Fourth Gospel ( John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2)] (Studia Biblica 3; Kielce: Instytut Teologii Biblijnej VERBUM 2002), and in this case, he largely cites the results of the analyses contained in it. Chapter five is dedicated to the exclusion of Christians from the Synagogue, as well as to the issue of the Samaritans. The last chapter is devoted to theological issues, among which the importance of Christological polemics related to the titles of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the Teacher comes to the fore. The attitude of the Ioudaioi towards Jesus found its continuation in their stance towards the emerging community of the Church.

Ultimately—from  the  “parting  of  the  ways”  perspective—it  must  be  concluded  that  John’s  Gospel  did  not  so  much  influence  the  schism  between  the  Church  and  the  Synagogue, or was one of the factors that contributed to this schism, but rather is a testimony to  it.  The  paths  of  the  two  religious  communities  in  the  region  inhabited  by  the  Johannine community were already running almost separately, yet the links between them were still  vivid  enough  that  the  Christian  polemic  with  Judaism  in  the  Fourth  Gospel  was  unusually fierce. The difficulty in properly assessing the mutual relations of the Church and the Synagogue in John results from such things as his use of the term Ioudaioi with various shades of meaning. Moreover, when carefully read, some fragments of the Gospel of John that had previously been considered anti-Judaic in character turn out to be references ex-pressing  intra-Church  criticism  directed  at  the  Jews  who  had  accepted  Jesus,  i.e.,  against  the Judeo-Christians.

From a formal point of view, the proposed structure of the work seems logical and does not raise any objections. The structure of the individual chapters is also very clear. The au-thor uses correct and rich vocabulary; the book’s language is academic and the conclusions are formulated in a comprehensible and competent manner while also being well-argued, justified  and  characterized  by  logical  argumentation.  They  follow  directly  from  the  conducted  research  and  are  not,  as  sometimes  happens,  too  far-reaching  or  not  rooted  in  the  source  research  data.  The  collected  literature  references  are  extensive  and  the  author  has consulted many books and articles that are difficult to access.

The  question  of  the  parting  of  the  ways  of  the  Church  and  the  Synagogue  calls  for  further  in-depth  study.  It  should  be  explored  from  the  perspective  of  both  Judaism  and  Christianity. The progress made in these studies in recent decades cannot be overestimated. It touches on the mutual relationships between the adherents of the two religions. There is  no  doubt  that  Miroslaw  Wróbel’s  monograph  can  make  a  significant  contribution  to  the development of mutual dialogue between the two religious communities.

Editorial remarks

Mariusz Rosik is a Polish Catholic priest, biblical scholar, professor of theological sciences, and lecturer at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Wrocław. Also he is scholarship holder at, among others, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem.

Source: The Biblical Annals, 14/2 (2024).