JESUS AND THE JEWS: The Pharisaic Tradition in John by Alan Watson

JESUS AND THE JEWS: The Pharisaic Tradition in John

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A bizarre attempt by a legal historian to show that St. John's gospel is based on an anti-Christian Jewish source that was turned around to become Christian propaganda. The Gospel of John includes material not found in the other three and is remarkable equally for its realism and its striking symbolic content. Relying on form criticism, Watson (Law/Univ. of Georgia) claims to discern in this material traces of a coherent and highly unsympathetic picture of Jesus. He believes that John was using an earlier source, now lost, that originated from the party of the Pharisees and was intended to discredit Jesus' character and messiahship, portraying him as a deeply angry man and contemptuous of Jewish customs, thus justifying the active role of the Jewish authorities in his death. This source, surmises Watson, was too well known to ignore, and so John countered it by making changes and incorporating it into his narrative. Although Watson argues his points well and shows that he is acquainted with some of the literature, his unlikely case is undermined by his highly personal reactions to the major episodes peculiar to John: for example, his belief that Jesus' changing the water meant for purification into wine was a deliberate insult to his mother, the wedding party, and Jewish ritual. Even more arbitrary is his heavily Freudian reading of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman, according to which the rich, archetypal language thinly disguises an explicitly sexual flirtation. Watson's suggestion that the Pharisees invented the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in order to justify Jesus' destruction by the Jewish authorities is both convoluted and at variance with most recent scholarship, according to which the Romans, rather than the Jews, were really responsible for the crucifixion. Purely arbitrary interpretations that, when all's said and done, just don't fly.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1995
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia