What should churches do about the treatment of “the Jews” in John?

“Each of the typical approaches has problems. The best solution would be to change the lectionary.”

Amy-Jill Levine is professor of New Testament and Jewish studies at Hartford International University. Her books include The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, and the forthcoming Jesus for Everyone: Not Just Christians; she is also coeditor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament and coauthor of several children’s books. A member of an Orthodox synagogue, Levine speaks frequently to Christian audiences.

Western Christians have long read the Passion narrative from John’s Gospel at Good Friday worship, a tradition that lectionary-observing churches continue today. Whatever else it is, this is a passage with some explicitly anti-Jewish elements. Can you describe the main problems that exist in this text?

John 19:12 describes how “the Jews”—Ioudaioi in Greek—“cried out” to Pontius Pilate, “‘If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar.’” Thus, for John, “the Jews,” as puppet-masters, control Pilate. John 19:38 describes Joseph of Arimathea as Jesus’ disciple, but a “secret one because of his fear of the Jews.” The language divorces Joseph from his Jewish community, lumps all Jews together as opponents of Jesus, and depicts the Jews as a dangerous political force.