Updated: Feb 1
There are many claims that the Jewish apostle, John, was actually an antisemite by the time he wrote his gospel. This week, we will cover the first 3 proofs I think show that John was NOT antisemitic...to the contrary, he longed for his people to know the Messiah of Israel, his Rabbi, and his friend, Yeshua.
1. Judean vs. Galilean
The land of Israel was separated into three regions: Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. Yeshua and His disciples were Galilean, not Judean. The Samaritan woman refers to Jesus as a Jew—the same word for Judaean. Possibly, because she did not realize he was Galilean. Keep in mind he spent some years in Bethlehem before moving to Nazareth after coming out of Egypt. It's possible he had a Judean accent.
While technically, both the Judeans and the Galileans were Jews, there was tension between the two groups. Galilean Jews were more passionate about the land of Israel; hence there was a high number of Zealots in the region. The Pharisees were more concerned with the legal aspects of the Torah, both written and oral. The latter, who were regular critics of Yeshua, were mostly Judean.
The word for Judean and Jew is the same: Yehudi.
Ironically, it's not dissimilar from the tension between modern Orthodox sects and Messianic Jews. Messianic Jews tend to be much more passionate about the land of Israel, while most Orthodox Jewish movements resisted Zionism and the re-formation of the nation of Israel. Judaism, the religion, was enough.
When Mark records: "The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders," he probably means Judeans. It means Judeans as opposed to Jews; it would include Yeshua and his disciples—which in context, it didn't. However, Dr. David Stern's Complete Jewish Bible translates this: "For the Pharisees and indeed all the Judeans..." Both the Dictionary of Biblical Languages (DBL) and Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG), highly respected biblical Greek dictionaries, confirm that Ioudaios can mean either Jew or Judean, obviously depending on context.
Given the fact that the Galileans were not as obsessed with the ritual or liturgical aspects of Judaism, this makes sense. And we can see why John may have used this term when he was in Jerusalem, as he is a Galilean.
Stern translates Ioudaios 55 times 1 in John as Judean(s), not Jew(s). For instance, in John 1:19, was it the Jews from Jerusalem who sent Levites and priests to check out Yeshua, or was it the Judeans? Judeans make much more sense, as they were sending them from Judea to the Galilee.
2. Don't be so Negative
Not all references to the Jews are negative in John: · "Salvation is from the Jews" (4:22). · "Many people (all Jews) believed in Yeshua" (2:23). · "Many Jews believed Yeshua was a prophet or even the Messiah" (7:40-41). · "And in that place, many (Jews) believed in Jesus, after the Hannukah confrontation (10:42). · John reports that after Yeshua raised Lazarus from the dead, "many of the Jews … believed in him" (11:45). · "…a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was [in Bethany] and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead" (12:9-11). The chief priests (not all Israel) "made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him, many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him." Without understanding the nuance, it could appear that the Jews wanted to kill Lazarus because the Jews were following Jesus. But of course, that is not what it says. · The Pharisees lament, "Look how the whole world has gone after him!" (12:19). Clearly, the whole world is hyperbole, referring to Judeans in Jerusalem at the time—a very large number of the Jews loved Jesus!
John's Jesus is clearly Jewish: John's Gospel portrays the Jewish Jesus, who travels to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals, blesses the bread (in a Jewish way) before sharing with others, and in other ways leads a recognizably Jewish way of life.2 I think there's no arguing that in the beginning, both Jesus and his followers, and this extended on into the [newMessianic community] as it was developing after Jesus's death, were Jewish, and they functioned within a Jewish framework.3
Giving more credence to the idea that John associated Ioudaios with Judea as a region is his use of Israel. John's referral to all the people as Israel could be the way that we use the phrase Jewish people today:
[John's] occasional use of "Israel" and "Israelite" always indicates a favorable bias. The words appear a total of five times: Twice, incipient believers hail Jesus as "King of Israel" (1:49; 12:13), and John the Baptist declares that his mission is for Jesus to be "revealed to Israel" (1:31).
Also, Jesus declares that Nathanael is "truly an Israelite in whom is no guile" (1:47) and refers to Nicodemus as "the teacher of Israel" (3:10).4
How could one who is antisemitic have such a favorable view of Israel or the Israelites? And keep in mind that the usage in John of Israelite would not be the same as Israeli today, a citizen of the state of Israel. At the time, the Romans controlled the region. In context, Israelite clearly refers to someone serving the God of Israel. This further strengthens the hypothesis that when John speaks negatively of the Jews, he was referring exclusively to the group of Judean Jewish leaders aggressively opposing Jesus.
Remember, it was this small group of leaders who brought Jesus to Pilate and demanded he be crucified. So yes, the animosity between them was very real. But you must see John as appealing to the am Ha'aretz (the people of the Land), whom we will see below, loved Yeshua, to not follow in the hypocrisy of this small group, the Pharisees, roughly 6,000 5 out of more than one 1,000,000 Jews in all of Israel, but to follow the true JewishMessiah. It should be noted that just in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, the number of Messianic Jews numbered in the tens of thousands (Acts 21:20), far outnumbering the powerful Pharisees.
Next week…Part 3: Your father is…the devil?! And other things John records in his gospel…
2 Adele Reinhartz, lectures on "Jesus: Bad Jew or Good Jew?" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ehwMlHsuuc
3 Adele Reinhartz, The Gospel of John and the "Parting of the Ways," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-PLMQlnFRgs
5 “Josephus (37 – c. 100 CE), believed by many historians to be a Pharisee, estimated the total Pharisee population before the fall of the Second Temple to be around 6,000.”Wikipedia, with citation, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.42