H. J. de Jonge’s “‘The Jews’ in the Gospel of John” has a few issues that need to be dealt with.
At the risk of going ad hominem, I must berate de Jonge’s style, especially in the opening paragraphs. I’m not sure if he needed to reach some kind of minimum length requirement, but the style of the opening section (prior to the examination of each chapter) is torturous. It is repetitive and juvenile sounding.
These paragraphs were tough to swallow, and, admittedly, left a bad taste in my mouth that may have affected how I felt about the rest of the article.
It’s always good to think about the assumptions (and categories) within which an author is working. de Jonge makes some assumptions that are worth noting:
- The author is writing to and (therefore) for an immediate audience without too much regard for historicity.
- This author did not dialogue with actual Jews (a troubling assumption).
- The author’s immediate concerns are theological and christological.
- de Jonge, I think, assumes that he needs to defend the Gospel of John from charges of anti-Semitism (in reality, “anti-Semitism,” is a 19th century invention—why should we defend John for something that really hadn’t been invented yet?)
de Jonge infers from various evidence that John had no contact/dialogue with Jews. I find this conclusion troubling. One of his major pieces of evidence is the author’s treatment of “the Jews” as a homogenized group during the trial before Pilate. Surely, according to de Jonge, this group was more diverse than the author let’s on.
Let’s think this through. What if George W. Bush were brought before the Democratic National Convention. For sure, there would be democrats in the crowd who despise him. Additionally, there would be democrats who tolerate him. There will even be a few democrats who believe in him. Yet, the generally feeling of the assembly will be one of contempt. When writing about this event, I think any one of us would be inclined to use “the democrats” to generalize the crowd. Would we be guilty of over-generalization? Perhaps. (Incidentally, the above analogy works with John Kerry in front of the Republican National Convention—I’m not trying to get political here).
So, it’s not at all surprising that John talks about “the Jews” at the trial as a homogenized group.
de Jonge’s other evidence is more convincing. Since he believes that John is projecting his own opponents (Christians with a lower Christology) on to the Jews, de Jonge is able to show that “the Jews” have at least some level of acceptance of Jesus. Rather than dispute his works, “the Jews” are mainly concerned with whether or not he is equal to God. This is actually pretty convincing. Though, I think that historical Jews chatting with Jesus probably would have found his claiming to be God more blasphemous than his performance of miracles on the Sabbath.
I do appreciate de Jonge’s care in presenting his case chapter-by-chapter in a succinct, concise manner. I do wish his introduction hadn’t sullied his otherwise readable style.
What do y’all think?