John the Anti-Semite?
For years, I refused to read any of John’s writings. I thought the Gospel of John was a bunch of mumbo jumbo and the Book of Revelation was full of craziness. Thanks to the Reverend Ken Wyant’s Bible study at Irvine United Congregational Church, I changed my opinion about the Gospel of John—but I still want to ban Revelation.
One of the reasons John’s Gospel annoyed me was that some verses can be read as anti-Semitic. For example, in John 8:44, Jesus says to a group of Jews, “You are from your father the devil.” That’s harsh! White supremacists love to use this verse to justify condemning all Jews as Jesus killers, even though nothing in the New Testament comes close to suggesting that position.
The only people in the Gospels who were eager to get rid of Jesus were a few Jewish leaders who didn’t like Jesus because he condemned them and said, “Woe to you. . . . For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). That’s harsh!
Jesus directed these remarks to only a few Jewish leaders, never to all Jews. Lest we forget, Jesus lived and died a Jew, as did his disciples and Paul. The early church was primarily Jewish and stayed that way until sometime in the late first century CE, when Jesus’s followers separated from Judaism—for good reason: They believed Jesus was the Messiah. Mainline Jews didn’t. The solution was simple: split!
Here’s a question: Could a Jew be anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. That would be an oxymoron. John was frustrated that the Jewish leadership wouldn’t accept that Jesus as the Messiah, so he lashed out at them in his Gospel with name calling.
The Gospel account of the Jews’ role in Jesus’s execution is suspect for several reasons. History tells us that the Romans did not have public trials, especially for those claiming to be a king. Traitors to the Empire didn’t get a trial—they received an immediate crucifixion.
I doubt that the story of Pilate offering to release either Jesus or a prisoner named Barabbas to the Jews ever happened because no one can verify the “custom” of releasing one prisoner at Passover, let alone exchanging him for another. Jesus likely never faced trial. The exchanges between Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish leaders are fictional because no one was there taking notes about who said what to whom. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s trial are folklore designed to let the Romans off the hook for murdering Jesus and place the blame on the Jews who rejected the Followers of the Way.
I don’t deny for a second that Jesus deliberately irritated the Jewish hierarchy and that they wanted him out of the way, but a more plausible scenario is that the Jewish high priests went to Pilate before Passover and suggested that if he got rid of that pesky Jesus, they would guarantee the Jews would give the Romans no trouble during the Passover celebration. Pilate liked that idea because his future hinged on keeping the Jews in the Jerusalem area quiet.
The claim that all the Jews killed Jesus is fallacious. The bottom line is that the Romans were entirely responsible for Jesus’s execution, and the Gospel of John is exonerated from the accusation of anti-Semitism.
What think ye?