Cast Out of the Covenant

Jews and Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John

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Adele Reinhartz
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , July
     2018.
     248 pages.
     $95.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781978701175.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Cast Out of the Covenant: Jews and Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John represents the culmination of Adele Reinhartz’s work on the Gospel of John, and is likely her ultimate work on the Fourth Gospel. Throughout her career, Reinhartz has foregrounded her identity and social location as a Jewish scholar of the New Testament and the Gospel of John. The history of the study of the Fourth Gospel has seen a conflict among scholars, specifically on the question of the Gospel’s putative anti-Judaism.

Reinhartz begins by reminding readers of the usefulness of rhetorical analysis as well as her deftness with such approaches. She lays out the basics of rhetorical criticism, constructing an imagined reader named Alexandra, with whom she has frequent recourse throughout the study. This imagined reader is intended to stand in for a compliant audience—a part Reinhartz indicates she “cannot play on [her] own” (xxix)—and assists Reinhartz in constructing a potential rhetorical situation for the text. Alexandra is effective at times, yet can also feel like an awkward set-piece. Still, Reinhartz’s overall rhetorical reading strategy is, as expected, productive and illuminating.

Through her careful reading of John’s Gospel, Reinhartz highlights two broad rhetorical strategies the Gospel’s author deploys: the rhetoric of affiliation, and the rhetoric of disaffiliation. Attention to these strategies produces insightful (re)readings of many important Fourth Gospel texts, while also allowing her to wade into other significant issues regarding the study of the Gospel of John as well as, more broadly, the New Testament, Second Temple Judaism, and early Christianity. 

For example, following up on the fantastic Marginalia forum—on the question of how to best translate Ioudaios in various texts from various periods—Reinhartz revisits the issue and specifically frames her position in terms of its importance for the study of the Fourth Gospel. She argues that “Jew” remains preferable to “Judean” as it closely reflects “the ethnic-political, social, religious, and emotional identity to which the ancient term Ioudaios refers” (103). Furthermore, with respect to the Gospel of John, she argues that retaining “Jew” “allows readers to see the link between the Johannine Jews that are vilified by the Fourth Gospel and those who fell victim to anti-Semitism that arose out of long habits of vilification” (101).

Part 3 of the book represents its most important contribution—Reinhartz’s sustained critique of J. Louis Martyn’s expulsion theory, and a new proposal, which she terms the “propulsion theory.” She has offered critiques of Martin’s theory in the past—as have others, on occasion—but this, she recognizes, is her clearest articulation of an alternative theory. In the move from expulsion to propulsion, Reinhartz demonstrates her usual deftness through her attention to rhetorical contours and the power of rhetoric in shaping identities.

Readers familiar with the Fourth Gospel will know that much of Martin’s theory rests on a reading of aposynagōgos as part of a two-level drama in which the historical experience of a presumed discrete Johannine community is reflected in the fear of the parents of the man born blind in John 9—that they might be expelled from the synagogue if they are perceived as followers of Jesus. While Reinhartz questions the methodology of this approach, and its many assumptions, her fundamental question has to do with how effective the fiercely dissociative rhetoric would be for such an imagined community. She wonders “whether such a group, no matter how angry about their expulsion from the synagogue, would have resonated with the stark dissociation from the label Ioudaioi that is so central to Johannine rhetoric” (135). She further argues that the expulsion theory is, at least in part, a way of making its harsh rhetoric more palatable to post-Holocaust readers of the Gospel.

In place of the expulsion, Reinhartz suggests we think of the function of the rhetoric in terms of propulsion; that is, its ability—or at least its attempt—to create a new community. Rather than assuming the intended audience would consist of expelled Jews, she wonders if the Gospel’s complex rhetorical strategies make more sense for Gentile Christ-confessors. In other words, the rhetorical world of the text does not reflect “the expulsion of the Johannine Jewish Christ-believers from the synagogue, but the propulsion of those Christ-believers into the coveted role of God’s covenant people” (132). In this sense, while recognizing the complex scholarly conversations around the highly controversial “parting of the ways,” she sees John’s rhetoric as, in part, an attempt to promote a “cosmic” parting of the ways (132). 

Reinhartz then goes on the demonstrate the usefulness of this model through careful readings of key texts (e.g., John 7:32-35, 12:20-24) to illustrate the Gospel’s attempt to shift the eschatological schema to make room for the Gentiles, and justify the Gentile mission. Ultimately, for Reinhartz, the rhetoric of the Fourth Gospel is about constructing a new community forged around a new common identity steeped in anti-Jewish sentiment. For Reinhartz, the rhetorical strategies of affiliation and disaffiliation have to do with the constitution of a new community, perhaps one in which “the Gospels implied author(s) saw themselves as competing with the synagogue or with Judaizing Christ-confessing leaders for Gentile adherents” (145).

Reinhartz’s final foray into the rhetorical world of the Fourth Gospel is as incisive as ever. She ends her project with a fitting section on ethics and exegesis in which she calls on readers of John to resist the vitriolic aspects of its rhetoric, which requires a clear reckoning with that vitriol. She hopes that Christian readers will be willing to forge an identity that rejects the anti-Judaism of the Gospel, while emphasizing the aspects of the Gospel she finds so compelling. Her willingness to, at times, lay herself bare—emphasizing her identity and social location—make Reinhartz’s analysis crucial reading, and offers a helpful model for readers to follow.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Sheldon Steen is a doctoral candidate in Religions of Western Antiquity at Florida State University.

Date of Review: 
April 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Adele Reinhartz is Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa.

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