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Notes from 3/31 Part 3

Chester O.
user 8161442
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 32
An Aside on Anti-Semitism

I want to make a few important notes on the supposed anti-Semitism of the Gospels. First, my Newer Testament professor, Dr. Marilyn Salmon, argues, quite persuasively, that it is inappropriate to deem the Gospels anti-Semitic for a few reasons, despite the fact that they’ve been used by Christians much later to justify anti-Semitism. The main thrust of her argument is that Christianity did not exist in name or as a unique and sustained tradition at the time that the Gospels were composed. “Christianity” was merely a minor branch within Judaism, i.e., an interpretation of Judaism, along side a wide variety of other branches – all of which were disputing with each other as to who had the most authentic understanding of the tradition. This debate was especially intense after the Jerusalem Temple, the center of the Jewish cult, was destroyed and Israel, religiously and nationalistically, was sent into chaos. Dr. Salmon describes this ensuing and volatile situation as more of an intra-Jewish or family debate, much like how Americans argue, for example, about who are “real” Americans with regards to support of our wars or peace. I am sure you’ve all heard the phrase, “Peace is patriotic?” Thus, it is anachronistic on our part if we read into the Gospels any sort of Christian vs. Jews interpretation. Everyone was a type of Jew at that point. Her argument is also the reason I refer to early “Christians” as messianic Jews.

The other important point I want to make is specifically related to the Gospels’ attacks on the Pharisees. When interacting with Jews today, we should all remember and be sensitive to the fact that modern Judaism comes primarily out of the tradition of the Pharisees, and that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time are not the same as Jews today. Their tradition has developed, much like Christianity. Furthermore, it is highly questionable to what extent the descriptions of Pharisaism are accurate portrayals of Pharisaism as a whole. The highlighting of the Pharisees in the Gospels, Salmon argues, is primarily related to their prominence and power and, in John’s case, the apparent persecution of the “Christian” minority. Due to Pharisaism’s position, it became a kind of foil against which the “Christian” minority primarily sought to create a contrasting identity for itself. The term “foil” is a bit too extreme or harsh a descriptor, however, when we recall that the dispute was a family one. This use of Pharisaism as a kind of foil makes sense, though, I think. It is common to human experience, it seems, when one seeks to identify or characterize oneself or one’s group, to do so in contrast to another more prominent group (one that everyone is aware of to some extent) to indicate not only differences, but similarities. When describing your country or culture to another, would you be more likely to do so by making a comparison to Fijians or Chinese?

Sources: Class Notes from Marilyn Salmon (2007), and Preaching Without Contempt, Marilyn Salmon.
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