CHRISTIAN ANTISEMITISM [II]: The Gospel According To St John

By Shlomoh

I will now address the Gospel According to St. John because it has been used by Chirstian antisemites as a whip and because some have considered it the most antisemitic book of the NT. I will reserve judgment on that and let the "facts" speak for themselves:

The Gospels purport to be religiously historical documents. In effect, they are not. Although they contain some history as the deepest layers of their original sources, they are in reality religious treatises whose purpose is to prove the Christological side of Jesus. They do not describe the real Judea of 2000 years ago nor the real inhabitants as historically real people. There are no fully rounded historical events presented. They speak of people called "Jews". But these are not real people, only mechanical stick figures who fill the role of villains so that the "Christians" can be offset as heros.

The narratives in the gospel story all have a meaning beyond the events being described. These narratives carry special nuances which are meant to prove a negative point about the people among whom Jesus walked.

The theme of the Jews' blindness as presented by Paul is intensified in the gospels. There is no real comprehensive idea of what the real Jews of that day expected of a messiah. The authors wish to impress their readers that the Jews really expected a christological messiah (which is untrue) but REFUSED to recognize him when he came (although it is beyond me how a blind person can recognize anyone). The real Jewish People never expected such a person and the whole vocabulary of christology is so alien to Jews that they do not fully understand such Christian phrases as "born again", "being saved", "justified by works", etc. To Jews, these phrases are so much outsider jargon that they make no impression.

There is a controversy going on in the gospels, between Jews and Christians but only the Christian side is given any real fair hearing.

Anyone who is familiar with the New Testament knows that the three first gospels, called Synoptic, are set over against the fourth, John, in a number of ways. What is of primary importance to this discussion is that, while the opponents of the Jesus of the Synoptics are Pharisees, Sadducees, and Elders, in John's gospel they are "the Jews", as though the evangelist means all Jews everywhere and for all time.

In this gospel, the controversy between Jews and Christians (again, from the Christian viewpoint) is at its heaviest and nastiest. In the Synoptics, there is at least some sort of humanity to Jesus. There is an attempt to depict him as a real man who lived and interacted with other people on some sort of actual human level. In John, Jesus is barely human. He is treated as though he were already the ressurected Christ, already the Logos. The authors of the Synoptics are concerned with what Jesus said and did. John is very concerned with WHO HE IS. And since John stresses over and over again that he is the saving Christ, and because "the Jews" deny this over and over again, they are cast into a very bad light. They are, in fact, portrayed as lacking any religious insight whatsoever. Lack of religious sight or insight is an ever-recurring theme in John that he cannot impress on his readers enough.

John was written at the turn of the second Christian century. Where it was written and who wrote it are unknown except to say that the author was a gentile Christian with gnostic leanings. At the time John was committed to writing, there were no longer any Jews in the Christian Church. Those Jews who still believed Jesus to be the messiah had parted company with gentiles who believed him to be the Savior Christ. As people outside the Church, as potential rivals for pagan converts, John sees them as intransigent and dangerous opponents.

In the Synoptics, Jesus' enemies conspire against him because of the incident in the Temple. In John, it is because of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This rising of Lazarus is a prefiguration of Jesus' own ressurection, and his enemies vehemently deny that he was raised. The author states (3:1-15) that Christ must be crucified and anyone who believes in him will have eternal life but "he who does not believe is condemned already" (3;18), and G-d's wrath will rest upon those who do not obey Jesus (3:31-36).

Beginning with chapter 5, the over-riding theme is that "the Jews" sought to kill Jesus. This theme is then a constant throughout the rest of the book. Jesus states (6:64) that he knows who are not his, and they are the ones who will betray him. Jesus then left Judea and returned to Galilee. He would not go into Judea (Jewry) because "the Jews" there sought to kill him. The author of the gospel says that they wanted to kill him because he made himself the equal of G-d. This is laughable. Real Jews would not kill anyone who made that claim. Such a person would be treated the way anyone today treats a person who claims to be G-d; he would be considered crazy and not taken seriously.

It is in chapter 8 that we encounter Jesus' diatribe in which he calls "the Jews" the devil's children. Thus the evangelist has taken Jew hatred to a new level. Paul and the Synoptic evangelists "merely" declared Jews blind. John declares them diabolical. To be merely blind would let "the Jews" off the hook. They would not be guilty if they were merely blind. But being diabolical implies a willfullness in which one clearly sees the truth but still rejects it. Such a one is truly guilty (9:18-41).

A proof of this willfull acknowledgment that Jesus is who he claims to be is inserted into the mouth of the High Priest; "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people" (18:14) as though the High Priest himself were delivering the great Christian message! Another proof is the verse which informs the reader that even though many of the "chief rulers" really believed in him, they would not confess their belief openly because they were afraid of being kicked out of the synagogue (12:42,43).

So the evangelist has shown that "the Jews" are diabolical because they have seen what he has done and still refuse to believe! Then the evangelist ups the ante. "The Jews" show by their refusal to accept Jesus that they hate G-d, and even though this hatred of G-d is fore-ordained in "THEIR" law (15:25, Jesus has stopped being Jewish! "Their" is cleverly used by the evangelist to show complete opposition of sides. The Jews are nevertheless still guilty. Apparently the evangelist was more concerned to prove the point that Jews are wrong so that Christians can be right than he was concerned about presenting coherent logical religious issues.

Having implanted the idea in his readers' minds that "the Jews" wanted Jesus dead by making it a constant theme throughout his book, John at last procedes to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of "the Jews".

Jesus is arrested and handed over to Pilate who then is ready to hand him over to "the Jews" for judgment. However the Jews protest that they are not able to execute anyone legally (18:31), not because the Law forbids it but because Roman law forbids it. This clearly is designed to show that Jesus has already been prejudged by them. They would give him a fair trial and hang him in the morning. But since they cannot do this, the next best thing is to instigate Pilate to have him killed. Pilate is presented as a saint who hasn't the foggiest notion of what is going on in the very province which Rome entrusted him to govern! He has to ask Jesus why he is so odious to "the Jews". Jesus' answer is simple. He and the Jews come from different kingdoms, and he is to be delivered to them because he wanted to be their king but they will not have him.

Chapter 18 <br> 35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? THINE OWN NATION and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? <font color="#ff0000"> <br> 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to THE JEWS.</font>

Interesting for those who say that Jesus was not Jewish, Pilate, who lived at the same time, says he was (thine own nation).

From here the story procedes to show how "the Jews killed Christ" and put themsleves completely beyond the pale, not as in Matthew where the people call for his blood to be on their heads, and then the Romans take him and kill him, but here John presents the reader with sufficient confusion as to who actually took him and killed him, making it seem that "the Jews" were responsible. John presents a passion drama which crescendos in a scene in which "the Jews" become the arch-villains of Christian history.

CHAPTER 19  <br>
4 Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.

John exonerates Pilate and the rest of the Roman occupiers.

6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.   <br> 7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.

"The Jews" want to kill him and John makes the military governor of Judea to be little more than a milktoast completely at the mercy of the population that he is entrusted with governing so that he tells "the Jews" to do the killing AFTER THEY HAVE ALREADY POINTED OUT TO HIM THAT IT IS ILLEGAL FOR THEM TO KILL ANYONE. But John does not worry about faulty logic disturbing his narrative.

11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.  <br> 12 And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.

Jesus again exonerates Pilate (and by extention, Rome) by making him powerless and "the Jews" all-powerfull, thereby making their sin all the greater. Poor helpless Pilate wants to do the right thing and let Jesus go but "the Jews" threaten to accuse him of disloyalty to the Emperor if he doesn't do their bidding.

15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.  <br> 16 Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.

"The Jews" show their ingratitude. G-d has sent them a king whom they reject in favor of Caesar.

Pilate delivers Jesus to "them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away". Who is "they"? John makes it sound like "the Jews" lead him away and do the crucifying in spite of the fact that they themselves claim to be legally unable to do so. They have threatened Pilate with telling Caesar about his breaking Roman law by acknowleging Jesus as a king - but Pilate does not invoke that same Roman law against them when they lead Jesus away to kill him. The story would be comical were in not so tragic!

John has used his gospel to express his extreme bitterness against Jews who should have been the ones most willing to accept Jesus and who ignored him. Worse than that. He is so very frustrated that there were Jews who once followed him and then rejected him.

John has forgotten, or conveniently ignored, Paul's assertion that blindness has come upon the Jews so that the gentiles might be gathered in. John asserts the opposite. They are not blind. They are willfull and diabolic in their sightedness!

Paul, who himself suffered at Jewish hands, does not impute Jesus' death to Jews but to "principalities" - demons of the celestial air (the verse in 2 Thess has been shown to be inauthentic by NT scholars). John comes to controvert him. His Gospel is a monument to Christian antisemitism unparalleled in the entire rest of the NT. It is used as a basis for every Passion Play that has ever been presented to young minds for the molding of "Christian" ideas. Its pages have been inspirational in causing the shedding of innocent blood down through the ages.

Return To The Passion Essays Index

Return To The Essay Index

Return To The Literary Index

Return To The Site Index Page

Email Shlomoh