by: Wes Howard-Brook on July 1st, 2014 | 5 Comments »
We all read texts, ancient and contemporary, from where we stand. I’ve been reading the Gospel of John for the past quarter century as someone raised Jewish who loves Jesus and his Way of peace. When I first encountered the Gospel’s apparent hostility to “the Jews,” I was shaken. As someone born within a decade of the Holocaust, I am and have always been deeply aware of how Christian hostility to “the Jews” has been exclusionary and murderous. I was taught by my mother from as long as I can remember to be proud of my Jewish heritage and not to betray it by “selling out” or trying “to pass” as my father did, changing the family name from “Horowitz” to “Howard” and having a nose job (as was the fashion at the time) to “look less Jewish.” I believe that my four decades following Jesus have made me more, not less, grateful for my heritage and the gifts of the Jews to the world.
So, this encounter with “the Jews” in John’s gospel has always been at the heart of my work, as a New Testament scholar and disciple. In my 1994 book, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship (Orbis), I argued that the Greek Ioudaioi in John’s gospel referred not to “Jews” but to “Judeans.” This usage reflects first geography (“Judeans” are people from “Judea,” just as “Galileans” are people from “Galilee”), but more importantly, ideology. Throughout John’s gospel, the Judeans are those, both among the elite and the ordinary people, who defended Jerusalem’s relationship with the Roman Empire, including the temple and its authority. The Johannine Jesus, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel before him, condemns not his kindred in general, but those who betray Abraham, Moses and the prophets by, in the words of the Gospel’s chief priests, proclaiming “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19.15). Jesus, in the prophetic tradition that persists to this day, sharply critiques his own people for collaborating with the oppressor.