Why, in the New Testament, are the persecutors of Christ and his followers referred to as “the Jews?” Almost all of the participants were Jews. This always jars me and is the cause of much anti-Semiticsm. It does seem to suggest the author(s) were protecting the Romans, as modern defenders of Jews claim.
Probably not protecting them so much as differentiating I would think. Maybe also to differentiate from the Gentiles, Samaritans, etc.
if somebody complains that The Americans are in Afghanistan, and this is wrong, do you take it to mean they are accusing you personally of conducting the war there?
If somebody complains that Americans are rude when the travel abroad, do you take that to mean each and every American, including you, behave this way?
I think of it as Christ came first to the Jewish people. He was desparately trying to save them. He loved them so much. This is the story of our creator coming to lead his chosen people to their salvation.
Are you thinking primarily of the Gospel of John? There is good reason for his use of “the Jews”, if you consider what happened when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, BEFORE he wrote his Gospel.
Before Jerusalem was destroyed, The Way was considered just another Jewish sect, and was tolerated by the Romans (members of The Way were not required to consider Caesar a “god” and sacrifice to him). Jews (in general) blamed people of The Way (at least particularly) for the destruction of Jerusalem, and began to denounce members of The Way to Rome…as a “new” faith. This started Roman persecution of The Way, with many apostates and martyrs. Yeah, John was a bit upset.
I’m not sure and it’s obviously not exactly the same situation, but my understanding, or my guess anyway is that this usage of “the Jews” is somewhat like when people talk about “the Church” meaning jurisdictional leaders of the Church. We are all, of course, members of the Church, but sometimes the name of the group as a whole is given to the leaders of that group. If someone says “the Catholic Church” did this or that, what they often mean is the bishops or specifically the Vatican, not all the members of the Catholic Church.
Ah, Ioudaioi. While this word is often translated in our Bibles as “Jews”, a more proper translation of it in my opinion is “Judaeans” (‘Jew’ itself is just an abbreviation of this word).
In the 1st century, the word Ioudaioi did not have the same connotations we associate with the word ‘Jews’. While there are times when the word is used to refer to the Jewish people in general, there are also instances where this is used to refer to a specific group.
In the Gospel of John, for example - which has the most numerous instances of the word within the New Testament and which is I believe the Gospel you’re referring to - the word does not always have the same meaning. For example, in one place (7:1-18), it can refer to ‘Judaeans’ (i.e. people who are from the Roman region of Iudaea, as opposed to, say, the Galilee or Samaria), or a group hailing from it, as Jesus remained in Galilee because of the Ioudaioi in Judaea. In another place (9:22), it means a subgroup of Judaism, specifically the synagogue leadership (or a faction within it). In yet another, Ioudaioi is used for good friends of Mary and Martha who came at the death of Lazarus and who eventually become believers (11:31, 33, 45) - here we can see that the term is not totally used in a negative manner. In some instances Ioudaioi is used alternatively with the Temple priesthood and the Pharisees, indicating an identification between the word and these leaders or the specific groups they are affiliated with (the Sadducean and Pharisaic parties, for example).
Thus, the meaning of Ioudaioi within the Fourth Gospel is not uniform. It is not an inclusive term as “Jews” is in our common usage: while at times it can have a general, ethnic meaning, many usages of the word in the New Testament and especially in John seem to have a more restricted reference: to people or groups/faction who live, come from, or are based within Iudaea Province, some of whom (but not all) are antagonistic to Jesus and the movement He started.
With this in mind - that John’s usage of hoi Ioudaioi is not uniform and seems to shift from one meaning to another depending on the context - taking hoi Ioudaioi “the Judaeans” at face value is a reading prone to error. This is also partly why I think that some attempts at softening the text (such as by rendering hoi Ioudaioi as ‘the Jewish authorities’ or whatnot) may not always work.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
- Acts 9:1-2
I might say that the term ‘the Vatican’ is itself a misnomer, despite popular usage. The more accurate term is ‘the Holy See’. The Vatican Hill and the See of Rome were in existence since ancient times, but the Vatican City State (which is not the same entity as the Holy See; heck, they even have distinct passports!) only came into being under the Lateran Treaty in 1929. The Treaty spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870) that had previously encompassed much of central Italy.
In line with Aelreds post, I was taught whenever we see “The Jews” we can replace that with “the Scribes and Pharisees”.
I appreciate your precision of language, but when someone says “the Vatican” they generally mean the Holy See. Just like when someone says “Washington” did this or that they generally mean the federal government of the United States, or when someone outside New York’s capital region talks about “Albany,” they generally mean New York’s state government. Colloquial usage is never going to be 100% logical, so it is important to understand how language is actually used and interpret people’s statements accordingly. This instance of John’s use of “the Jews” is an example of that.
Patrick et al:
Thanks for the interesting discussion. Patrick, in regard to your explanation, you’re using metonymy. That’s about as good as can be expected. Still, it’s puzzling to say the least that the author didn’t differentiate more. Thanks again.
What follows is just my modernist, perhaps unelightened take on this question:
I don’t know if the NT uses irony very much, but if I were to read such and such in the gospels or acts about their persecuting Jesus, I would think it was irony – to see that the chosen people had rejected the true messiah.
They had become too politicized for their own good, for that preoccupation to blind them to the scriptures.
I think the Christian scriptures are pretty clear on this point. The Jews are poisonous snakes, the spawn of the Devil, thieves and robbers who kill and destroy. If this were not true why would it appear in the scriptures?
Not exactly a totally correct approach, as I’ve pointed out.
While there are some places in John in which “the Judaeans” may mean members of the Pharisaic party, there are also instances where it means a different group. Take for example the Passion accounts. It is “the Judaeans” who speak with Pilate; in one instance “the chief priests and the officers” are explicitly named (19:6). Despite popular misconception, identifying the chief priests with the Pharisees and their scribes is something not supported by either history or the Bible itself.
The whole point of the Christian scriptures mixing up the Sadducees ( that group of Jews that were in tight with the Romans, held the High Priesthood and were sticklers to the letter of the text without any interpretation) with the Pharisees (Rabbinical Judaism) in the negative scriptual references to “the Jews”, was that by the time the Christian scriptures were being written the Sadducees had disappeared. Replacing the word “Jew” for “Pharisee” is similar to replacing the word “Catholic” for “Christian”.
:(It’s wrong to make such a “chip on the shoulder” interpretation.
Jesus wept for Jerusalem and Israel many times. Also, Jesus, His disciples who wrote the Gospels and Paul were all Jews. Jesus’s mission was only for His people the Jews up until his death. Although Jesus spoke of opening the Kingdom of God to gentiles the, mission to the gentiles began after his death.
Well here’s how these passages were interpreted by people whom presumably, unlike myself, knew it is “wrong to make such a “chip on the shoulder” interpretation”.
If you call it a brothel, a den of vice, the devil’s refuge, Satan’s fortress, a place to deprave the soul, an abyss of every conceivable disaster or whatever you will, you are saying less than it deserves." - St. Jerome on the synagogue
“Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people… We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews…our worship follows a …more convenient course… we desire, dearest brethren to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews… How, then, could we follow these Jews, who are almost certainly blinded.” - Council of Nicea
“The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jew can never understand the Scriptures and forever will bear the guilt for the death of Jesus.” - St. Augustine
“Let no one in the priestly order nor and layman eat the unleavened bread of the Jews, nor have any familiar intercourse with them, nor summon them in illness, nor receive medicine from them, nor bathe with them; but if anyone shall take in hand to do so, if he is a cleric, let him be deposed, but if a layman, let him be cut off.” -Canon II of the Quinisext Council
"The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ . . .The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing God there is no expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christian may never cease vengeance, and the Jews must live in servitude forever. God always hated the Jews. It is incumbent upon all Christians to hate the Jews. – St. John Chrysotom
“The Jews’ guilt of the crucifixion of Jesus consigned them to perpetual servitude, and like Cain, they are to be wanderers and fugitives . . . the Jews will not dare to raise their necks, bowed under the yoke of perpetual slavery, against the reverence of the Christian faith.” - Pope Innocent III
“Know Christians that next to the devil thou hast no enemy more cruel, more venomous and violent than a true Jew.” - Martin Luther
From “Jews and Judaism” Original Catholic Encyclopedia
"The obligation of wearing a distinguishing badge was of course obnoxious to the Jews. At the same time, Church authorities deemed its injunction necessary to prevent effectively moral offenses between Jews and Christian women. The decrees forbidding the Jews from appearing in public at Easter-tide may be justified on the ground that some of them mocked at the Christian processions at that time; those against baptized Jews retaining distinctly Jewish customs find their ready explanation in the necessity for the Church to maintain the purity of the Faith in its members, while those forbidding the Jews from molesting converts to Christianity are no less naturally explained by the desire of doing away with a manifest obstacle to future conversions.
It was for the laudable reason of protecting social morality and securing the maintenance of the Christian Faith, that canonical decrees were framed and repeatedly enforced against free and constant intercourse between Christians and Jews, against, for instance, bathing, living, etc., with Jews. To some extent, likewise, these were the reasons for the institution of the Ghetto or confinement of the Jews to a special quarter, for the prohibition of the Jews from exercising medicine, or other professions. The inhibition of intermarriage between Jews and Christians, which is yet in vigor, is clearly justified by reason of the obvious danger for the faith of the Christian party and for the spiritual welfare of the children born of such alliances. With regard to the special legislation against printing, circulating, etc., the Talmud, there was the particular grievance that the Talmud contained at the time scurrilous attacks upon Jesus and the Christians (cf. Pick, “The Personality of Jesus in the Talmud” in the “Monist”, January, 1910), and the permanent reason that “that extraordinary compilation, with much that is grave and noble, contains also so many puerilities, immoral precepts, and anti-social maxims, that Christian courts may well have deemed it right to resort to stringent measures to prevent Christians from being seduced into adhesion to a system so preposterous” (Catholic Dictionary, 484).
History proves indeed that church authorities exercised at times considerable pressure upon the Jews to promote their conversion;"