Jews and Judaism in the New Testament: Decision Points and Divergent Interpretations. Terence L. Donaldson. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press. ISBN 978-1602582637 and 1602582637.
Donaldson seeks to examine whether and/or to what extent the Christian New Testament is anti-Judaic, if not antisemitic. To do so, he uses a tripartite analysis, with each of the three parts reflecting opinions similar to (or derived from) arguments put forth by Jules Isaac, Gregory Baum, and Rosemary Ruether.
In doing so, Donaldson looks principally at the Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline corpus. For each part, (with Luke and Acts combined as one chapter for those two Bible books had a single author), Donaldson looks primarily at three aspects: self-definition, the social location, and the rhetorical function of each book. Along the way, he also examines sub-themes more extensively, such as the use of the term ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John as well as how Gentiles, the world, and Jesus and those who believe in him are treated in the same Gospel. He follows this in each Gospel or portion of the Christian Bible.
When viewing the works through Isaac’s eyes, it’s essentially a ‘things are bad, but not as bad as they can be.’ Isaac, a Jewish historian, was his family’s sole survivor of the Nazi genocide against Jews in World War II, and felt that the genocide was the ultimate culmination of centuries of teachings based on the New Testament. Baum’s representations of the Gospels and Pauline letters are ‘there’s nothing wrong here, though one can see why you might think so.’ Baum, at least in his early theological writings, defended his Catholic Church against charges of antisemitism (later disavowing much of what he’d written earlier). Ruether’s take is ‘everything that’s happened negatively to Jews through the years is a direct result of anti-Judaism and antisemitism within the New Testament.’ Ruether, another Catholic, fired the most effective salvo against the church for its long-held historical animus against Jews (called the Contra Judeos tradition) in her work Faith and Fratricide.
Donaldson seems to fall more into the Baum line, with a smattering of Isaac. And Donaldson’s stance is part of the issue with this book.
He tries to maintain a centrist course and leave interpretation to others. The author acknowledges the problems that might be found within the New Testament, but doesn’t really see the issues as being with the New Testament. Rather, it is the interpretations of that Christian work that is the cause of the difficulties.
An example is his citing as positive the Johanine take on Israel and/or Jews, Jesus’ comment to Nathaniel “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47). That is far from a positive comment; it implies that in other Israelites (if not most) there is deceit. It’s hardly positive and is typical of John. By steering a centrist course, Donaldson misses a grand opportunity to acknowledge Christian culpability for the heinous acts against Jews through the centuries – and it diminishes the work done to lessen the anti-Judaism and antisemitism that is still taught in Christian churches today.
Perhaps Baum and Donaldson are right, that the interpretations of Christian Scripture are largely the issue. However, those interpretations are based on fair readings of the texts. And when the interpretations are given from the pulpit, the average person sitting in the pew will accept those readings without question, especially when those interpretations come from their beloved preacher/pastor.
I keep hoping that I’ll find a book written by Christians that fully explores the problems inherent in the Christian Scripture. To date, I have not yet found one. If you’re looking for a primer on different renderings of the main parts of the New Testament, this might be a decent place to start. But if you’re looking for something that truly delves into the New Testament to determine what it says and why it’s seen as anti-Judaic if not antisemitic then, like me, you’ll need to keep looking.