Jesus versus 'The Jews'?

In John's Gospel, does the hostility between Jesus and 'the Jews' reflect an impassable divide--or just a family quarrel?

The late Raymond E. Brown, a Catholic priest, is considered one of America's premier biblical scholars. After his death in 1998, Francis J. Maloney edited Brown's nearly-completed "Introduction to the Gospel of John," from which this excerpt is drawn.

Although they recognize hostility between [the Gospel of John's] Jesus and "the Jews," some scholars question whether one may appropriately call this "anti-Jewish." They contend that we are hearing a dispute between one group of Jews and another, and therefore "anti-Jewish" is no more appropriate here than it would be if applied to hostility between the Qumran Essenes and the Jerusalem high-priestly family.

I agree that in its beginnings the hostility between Johannine Christians and Jews who did not believe in Jesus may have been comparable to to other inter-Jewish hostilities. Yet the situation changed. I know of no evidence that in their various intramural hostilities the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Sadducees ever said to the other, "You are no longer Jews" or spoke of their enemies as "the Jews." In its later stage, the Johannine community seems to have regarded expulsion from the synagogue as meaning that they no longer could look on themselves as Jews. Thus John can be be described as anti-Jewish in a qualified sense when through Jesus' words it attacks those whom it calls "the Jews," from whom the (Johannine) disciples of Jesus differ religiously, if not necessarily ethnically or geographically. And even the religious difference is narrowly restricted: The Johannine Christians and "the Jews" do not differ in venerating the Scriptures and the Jewish religious heritage but in their estimation of Jesus. (50)

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I have contended that a good part of the relations between Jesus and “the Jews” described in the Gospel (although related to conflicts that did arise between Jesus and Pharisees and Temple authorities in the late 20s) goes beyond what actually happened during Jesus’ lifetime. Rather, to a considerable degree the description reflects what happened to the Johannine Christians in their interactions with synagogue authorities. For example, they faced charges that they were making Jesus equal to God and thus were introducing another God alongside the God of Israel (see 5:16–18); they were put on trial before the authorities and other opponents in the synagogue; they marshaled arguments from the Scriptures and the Jesus tradition to answer the authorities; they were expelled from synagogues and reacted in alienated hostility toward their former coreligionists (ch. 9).

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