Exegeting the Jews: The reception of the Johannine Ioudaioi in early Christianity

Michael G Azar, Fordham University


In attempting to understand the origins and sources of the antisemitism that had so recently enveloped Europe, many scholars after World War II, and particularly after the 1960s, discovered a likely culprit within the Fourth Gospel, chiefly on account of its totalizing and unsympathetic portrayal of "the Jews." Realizing more and more that the Fourth Gospel had in fact been looked to for inspiration in antisemitic projects, scholars came to assume that the Wirkungsgeschichte of the Fourth Gospel, from the second century forward, offered little beyond a simply and uniformly hostile anti-Jewish reading (whatever the Evangelist's own complicity).^ Through an examination of the most extensive and earliest surviving readings of the Johannine "Jews" from Greek-speaking Christians, this dissertation considers whether one aspect of that Wirkungsgeschichte has been appreciated accurately. A close analysis of the rhetorical function of the Johannine "Jews" in Origen's Commentary on John, John Chrysostom's Homilies on John, and Cyril of Alexandria's Commentary on John suggests that, despite their having harbored sentiments against their Jewish contemporaries, these fathers' uses of the Johannine "Jews" were far more complex than recent literature has allowed.^ The apparent hostility of the Fourth Gospel toward "the Jews" did not function for these fathers simply as grounds for anti-Judaic sentiment, but rather as a scriptural resource for the spiritual formation of their Christian communities. Rather than appropriate the gospel's portrayal simply against actual Jews, they primarily employed the gospel narrative typologically in the service of their theological and pastoral concerns, shaping the situation in the Fourth Gospel into a type of their own ecclesial struggles and those "Jews" who resist Jesus into a type of their opponents. Every aspect of the Fourth Gospel's story served the paraenetic ends of the exegetes, whether those were the overcoming of literalist opposition (as for Origen), the reformation of the congregation's moral deficiencies (as for Chrysostom), or the establishment of theological orthodoxy (as for Cyril). To assume that the tension between Jesus and "the Jews" was received and interpreted, without variation, in an anti-Judaic manner by the patristic writers applies later medieval situations and sensibilities anachronistically and underestimates the multivalent nature and goals of patristic exegesis.^

Subject Area

Religion, Biblical Studies|Theology

Recommended Citation

Azar, Michael G, "Exegeting the Jews: The reception of the Johannine Ioudaioi in early Christianity" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3588328.