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Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel.

Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel, edited by Reimund Bieringer, Didier Pollefeyt, and Frederique Vandecasteele-Vanneuville. Lousiville: Westminster John Knox, 2001. 322 pp. $34.95.

This complex and radical treatment contributes signally to understanding the problem of Christian antisemitism as occasioned by the Church's Scriptures. John's Gospel is a suitable point of departure, in view of its many references to "the Jews," ranging from the laconic statement that "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22) to the accusation that they are "from the father--the devil" (John 8:44). Between these two statements there is an asymmetry of meaning that the similarity of their grammar and their common attribution to Jesus serve to underscore.

To the complexity of John this volume adds the complexity of Johannine scholarship, which here yields a variety of analyses. James D. G. Dunn sees the Gospel as an intra-Judaic text, expressing "post-70 concerns among Jews regarding revelation" (p. 49), while R. Alan Culpepper describes "tragic conflict between the Johannine believers and the Jewish synagogue" (p. 62). In two contrasting essays, Stephen Motyer proposes that the Gospel was designed "to attract Jews to faith in Christ" (p. 93), while Judith M. Lieu describes the Gospel as "vilifying 'the Jews'" to such an extent that "this 'excess' demands a response to the nature of and to the theological and hermeneutical problems of the dualism characteristic of this Gospel" (p. 115).

The argument that the polemics of John are somehow in-house is neatly extended by Henk Jan de Jonge in Part Two, with his argument that the target group consisted of "Christians who refused to accept the particular christological understanding of the Johannine group" (p. 121). In the midst of this fresh reading (inspired by the work of B. W. J. de Ruyter) de Jonge also observes what is often overlooked: that "the author considered it to be an historical fact that Jesus lived among the Jews" (p. 122). Reverting to the more usual understanding of the target group as unbelievers, Martinus C. de Boer parses John 8:44 to mean that "'the Jews' with whom Jesus is here in conversation are not diabolical; rather, their murderous behavior is diabolical" (p. 147). Taking up a more discursive approach than the other scholars represented here, Raymond F. Collins argues that the Gospel deliberately prepares the reader "for the attribution of Jewishness to Jesus by non-Jews and for the rejection of Jesus the Jew by the chief priests of his people" (p. 175). Peter J. Tomson discusses the usage of the Palestinian Talmud in making his case that, although the Gospel "preserved some remnants of the prior inner-Jewish tradition ... in effect, its extant text is predominantly anti-Jewish" (p. 212). Adele Reinhartz endorses such a reading, and insists that the Gospel "sees the historical community of Jewish nonbelievers as children of the devil and sinners destined for death," and that the corollary of such anti-Judaism is antisemitism (pp. 225-226).

C. Kingsley Barrett opens Part Three with an Augustinian reading of the Gospel, in which Israel is treated as a duality "where judgment and love both come to their sharpest focus" (p. 246), while James H. Charlesworth wishes to relegate John 14:6b with other "invectives" heaped by one Jewish community upon another to the status of "a relic of the past" (p. 276). Jan Lambrecht closes the volume with a consideration of Revelation 2:9; 3:9, where he believes the reference to "the synagogue of Satan" implies that "all the non-Christian Jews are not true Jews" (p. 292).

Each of these views is current in the field, although none can fully explain the diversity of usage in the Gospel. Indeed, I am surprised that the myth of a single author is accepted by most of the contributors to this volume, when they trace the sort of variegation that points towards a richer history of composition. But that matter is as nothing when compared to the hermeneutical hurdle that the editors try to clear: they attempt to make sense of John, of their contributors' divergent points of view, and of Scriptures that are prone to an antisemitic prejudice they deplore. That they do so in an introduction that also lays the groundwork for reading the volume is a significant achievement.

They see reflected in the Gospel a "Christian-Jewish conflict" that had "reached a point of no return"; indeed, it is John's "legitimation of this process" that raises the most troublesome ethical questions in their minds (p. 25). In response they call for nothing less than a replacement of Johannine "supersessionism" (p. 28). In this replacement, they eschew both removing authority from later, redactional layers of a text, and relying on the use of one Scripture to "deconstruct" another (pp. 29-30). Instead, they call for a fresh theology of revelation in which, "[w]hen faith confesses the scriptures to be inspired, this confession does not imply that the scriptures are free from error but rather that God can write straight on crooked lines" (p. 34).

Most Christians have no problem with such a perspective where the Hebrew Bible is concerned. But the Jews of John are not like the Amalekites, Canaanites, and Philistines of the Christian Old Testament, because those groups are neither identified with people we live with now nor characterized as the devil's children by Jesus. When that identification and that characterization are at issue, the ethical challenge is obvious.

The solution, however, is anything but obvious. Should Christian pastors change, retranslate, or truncate the text of John? Or should they avoid certain parts of it unless they can explain what is going on properly? Such solutions--all of which pastors have deployed--are discussed from time to time in this volume, and scholarly alternatives such as footnoting passages rather than altering them are preferred. But Professor Charlesworth reminds us that the very people who are inclined to antisemitism are also impatient with scholarship (p. 276). So now what?

This project--hosted at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and supported the by Fund for Scientific Research, Flanders--challenges Christians to make their relationship to Judaism and to Jews into the pivot for understanding revelation. The editors' success in doing so with carries it a further challenge--to develop this theological program in pastoral dimensions. Until that advance has been made, for all the value of this and similar investigations, the New Testament's anti-Judaism might be blunted, but not overcome. The radical finding that this entire idiom is a crooked line that impedes revelation needs translating into common practice, and the editors are in an excellent position to take up that task.

Bruce Chilton

Institute of Advanced Theology Bard College
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Title Annotation:Book Reviews
Author:Chilton, Bruce
Publication:Shofar
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:1101
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