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Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of Luke

In my previous post I argued that in the narrative of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has to die for a rather specific reason.  In Luke, more than in his predecessor Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a great prophet (like Samuel, like Elijah, etc.), and in Luke’s understanding, that is why Jesus had to die.  The Jewish people, in his view, always reject their own prophets sent from God.  Jesus was the last of the great prophets.  He too had to be rejected and killed at the hands of the Jewish people.

Some scholars have argued that because of this denigration of the Jewish people for always rejecting the prophets and Jesus, Luke is probably to be seen as an “anti-Jewish” Gospel.  In my judgment there is a lot to be said for this view.  The only Jews that the Gospel appears to approve of are the ones who recognize Jesus as a great prophet and son of God (his mother, Symeon and Anna, John the Baptist, his own disciples, etc.).  The other Jewss seemed to be lumped together as those who reject God’s messengers.  It is true that Luke is not as forthright in his rejection of “the Jews” as Matthew is (who has “the entire crowd” of Jews at Jesus’ trial cry out responsibility for his death:  “His blood be upon us and our children” Matt. 27:25) or as John, who, most remarkably of all, claims that the Jews are not the children of God but the children of the devil (John 8).  But still, the anti-Jewish element is strong in Luke, both in his Gospel and the book of Acts.

All of these New Testament authors are living in a time when the followers of Jesus were in serious conflict with Jews who did not accept Jesus as the messiah.   And this context of tension and strife, in which the authors of the Gospels were living, seriously affected how they portrayed their stories of Jesus.

This has been one of the most significant findings of…

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Luke’s Understanding of Jesus’ Death
Jesus’ Death as a Prophet in Luke

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  1. Avatar
    shakespeare66  October 8, 2015

    I guess we sometimes forget that some Jews were expecting a messiah, but the version of the Messiah they get does not fit any description they had in mind. It appears Luke and Paul took him to be just that, the messiah, but not the version they expected?

  2. Avatar
    dhinton  October 8, 2015

    So, perhaps around the time of Luke, the idea was to persuade people that Jesus was the Son of God. That didn’t convince a lot of of Jews, so around the time of John, the idea was that Jesus was God himself with these radical, grandiose visions of the afterlife (different from Sheol). Does this sound right? In order for this to make sense, I’d expect more mentions of the afterlife in John than the previous Gospels. Is that true? Sorry for the wordy comment, btw.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2015

      I’d say that’s roughly right. And yes, eternal life is a much bigger deal in John than the other Gospels.

  3. Avatar
    michael_kelemen  October 9, 2015

    Which prophets was Luke thinking of when he believed that they were all killed by their fellow Jews? You mention Samuel. He seems to have had a lot of power. Jonah was thrown overboard but with good reason. Elijah and Jeremiah had some problems but with bad kings.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2015

      Great question! We don’t know of many! (Jeremiah is the closest perhaps?)

      • Robert
        Robert  October 9, 2015

        Paul in 1st Thessalonians (2,15) also seems to know of a similar tradition, perhaps one underlying a putative Jewish original version of the later *Lives of the Prophets*, which recounts the martyrdom of not just Isaiah, but also Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos, and Zechariah. Isaiah was killed by Manasseh, the successor of Hezekiah upon the throne of Judah. Ezekiel was killed by the leader of the Israelite exiles, whom Ezekiel rebuked for idolatry. Micah was killed by King Jehoram, who worshiped Baal. Amos was killed by the priest of Bethel. Zechariah was killed by Joash, king of Judah, beside the altar. We only know this work in much later versions so I don’t think we can take any of these specifics as part of any putative Jewish original or earlier tradition. But there was some type of tradition about this as seen in Paul and Q, both earlier than Luke.

  4. Robert
    Robert  October 9, 2015

    Is Luke really so anti-Jewish? He uses the term ‘ioudaios’ very infrequently (7,3 23,37.38.51), without a negative connotation, and likely primarily as a geographical descriptor (cf his frequent use of Judea 1,5.39.65 2,4 3,1 4,44 5,17 6,17 7,17 21,21 23,5.51). The Judean authorities in Jerusalem were seen negatively, to be sure, but this is not the same thing as anti-Judaism in the modern sense. The Jewish prophets were frequently critical of the king or religious authority figures, but that is not anti-Judaism.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2015

      Sounds like you’ve done your homework! You know it’s a much debated issue! But cf. the speeches in Acts, especially the “ignorance motif.”

      • Robert
        Robert  October 9, 2015

        Acts is a more interesting area for discussion since it presents a biased account of the evolution of the ‘Christian’ sect in conflict with the authorities and meeting resistance in synagogues abroad. Yet even to the end, Paul the Jewish Pharisee is still portrayed as making converts in the synagogues and during his house arrest in Rome and several of his coworkers are described as ‘Jews’ without any negative connotation. Certainly the seeds are being planted for Christianity’s eventual crimes against Jews, but I still don’t think the author of Luke/Acts was anti-Jewish in any modern sense of the term. He does need to account for the opposition of the Judean authorities to Jesus and his disciples and the lack of greater success by Paul among the Jews abroad, but that is not (even/primarily/merely) animosity toward Jews, ie, those who do not accept Paul’s message, it is perhaps especially justification for the turn to the Gentiles, which the author sees as part of the ultimate Jewish mission during the current fulfillment of the time of the Gentiles, as foreseen by Jesus (Lk 21,24).

  5. Avatar
    James  October 9, 2015

    I’d argue that the major issue with Luke’s being less anti-Jewish than the other Synoptics that he knew (at least most of) the same material and redacted some of it out and repurposed other bits of it in a way that mutes the anti-Judaism.

    Indeed, the Baur portait you give of the Jews being portrayed as hard-hearted by Luke runs contrary to Luke’s redaction of Mark 3.5 – he leaves out the very phrase “with anger, grieved at the hardness of their hearts” there! Continuing through the Triple Tradition, at the very next verse in Mark and Matthew, the Pharisees (and Herodians) already began to plot to destroy Jesus, but in Luke they are only filled with folly and discuss what they might do about him. The whole traditions of the elders and leaven of the Pharisees sections fall within the Great Omission. Luke’s version of the divorce tradition is one verse long, excising Jesus’ claim of hard-heartedness against the Pharisees (and by implication anyone who follows the Law of Moses). The whole section of the trial before the Sanhedrin in Mark 14.55-61 and parallel where the Jewish leaders seek testimony against Jesus but only get lies is not in Luke. The whole presence of the Jewish people to clamour to release Barabbas rests on a textual variant at Luke 23.13 (in Tischendorf and von Soden; only in Merk of the hand editions). In Mark 15.29 and parallel, passers-by blaspheme Jesus on the cross; Luke instead has the people stand by watching, with only the rulers mocking Jesus.

    Moving on to the Double Tradition, the Woes against the Pharisees and Lawyers are repurposed to a domestic context in Luke and refocussed on knowledge, forming part of a narrative arc on repentance and forgiveness that stretches from 11.29 to 12.12. And the Lament against Jerusalem, by being moved earlier in Luke, now carries a preterist understanding to “blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord”.

    I appreciate I’ve been very long-winded in this comment, so I will restrict myself to one example from Luke’s special material: the result of the healing of the woman bent double in Luke 13.10ff and the ensuing Sabbath controversy is that Jesus wins the argument and the whole crowd in the synagogue rejoices.

    Luke doesn’t seem much to like leaders, Jewish or otherwise, but his criticism of them is on ethical grounds, and his Jesus wants them to repent. Luke’s portrayal of the Jewish people seems to me to be strangely positive, and the default position of anti-Judaism only seems to be gained by reading the other Gospels and Acts – and it is fascinating that Acts has a completely different view of the Jews; one of history’s most epic changes of mind if the authorial claim at Acts 1.1 is true – into Luke or by scribes making changes to the text (I really hope someone’s writing that PhD thesis on anti-Jewish variants; it would be so worthwhile).

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2015

      I’d say he’s less anti-Jewish than Matthew. My only comment on your (impressive) remarks is that it’s not really possible to know how he has “changed” the double tradition, since Matthew may have been the one who changed it.

  6. Avatar
    godspell  October 9, 2015

    That is not a hard lesson to draw from the Old Testament as a whole–obviously the Jews are the Chosen People in those texts, but because they were written from the standpoint of exceptionally religious Jews, writing from a very specific political and devotional POV, they are often written as polemics against the Jews who are not seen to be properly faithful, who do not respect the prophets, who are insufficiently monotheistic, who are too concerned with earthly matters. At times, the whole story seems to be that God raises them up, promises they have this glorious destiny, then slaps them down when they fail to measure up. It seems like very bad parenting, one has to say.

    That isn’t all there is in the Old Testament–there’s a great deal of wisdom and mercy and compassion in it as well. But it’s a tribal narrative, and it’s got a lot of factionalism in it. The Jews are only really united when facing down a common enemy. The rest of the time, they’re fighting amongst themselves, always at odds, never agreeing on anything.

    There’s a reason these texts have resonated across the centuries, among people who are not even remotely Jewish.

    One thing I never realized growing up, is that while the Old Testament books (and the New) can speak to people of all backgrounds and generations, they do not embody all the strains of Jewish or Christian culture that existed when they were written. Even though it’s pretty obvious when you think about it. History is not always written by the winners–it’s written by the people whose books survive the longest. Assuming the other people wrote their stories down to begin with.

  7. Avatar
    Jana  October 9, 2015

    The ironic twist (taking a page from fiction writer Nikos Kazantzakis) is that Christianity and its portal to beatific Afterlife hinges I have learned from reading your blogs and books on the Crucifixion and the following Resurrection for which the Jews are being blamed.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 10, 2015

    This idea that the present affects the memory of the past is one of the main points, if not the main point, of your upcoming book.

  9. talmoore
    talmoore  October 15, 2015

    I think in this case scholars are getting hung up on the notion of “Jews” or being “Jewish”. Human beings are a tribal species, so we have a tendecy to label each other in order to distinguish in-group vs out-group. In the case of splinter groups, such as religious sects, such labelling can go in either of two directions. Either the sect can claim the label–that is to say, they can claim they are the true X group–or they can reject the original label and essentially start a new brand.

    We don’t just see this with religious sects. It’s common amongst all human social groups. Take street gangs as an example. Let’s say you have a gang that calls themselves the Jets. The leader of the Jets leaves (or, more likely, dies) and now there’s a conflict over succession between two senior members. The gang members themselves evenly divide into those who support the leadership of senior A and those who support senior B. Eventually, the groups simply splits into separate gangs (of sects?), each possibly claiming the title of the (real) Jets. Eventually, one gang will acquiesce and take on a new title–let’s say the Sharks–but the acrimonious fight over the original label may cause the new Sharks to attempt to delegitamize the old name (“Pfft, we didn’t want to be stupid Jets anyway!”).

    I can see this clearly happening between Jews and Christians in the 1st century. At first they were bickering over what it means to be a true Jew. A true Jew either A) accepts Jesus as the Messiah or B) rejects Jesus as the Messiah. So for the first several decades Jewish Christians simply considered themselves (true) Jews. But at some point they each needed a much clearer label to distinguish themselves from the other (heretical) group, and since the Jews obviously weren’t going to give up their name, the Jewish Christians had to drop the Jew part of their label and simply go by Christians. At that point, the Christians resorted to the typical schoolyard mentality: “Pfft, well, we didn’t want to be Jews anyway!”. So it wasn’t so much that the Christians rejected Judaism per se as much as they rejected the label of Judaism out of spite.

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