John the Jew and Torah Observance: Enoch Seminar Day 2

John the Jew and Torah Observance: Enoch Seminar Day 2 June 21, 2016

Today was even more thrilling than yesterday, as we began to move beyond stating the views that we brought with us to the conference, to a deeper interaction that is causing us to think new thoughts.


One example is the discussion we had of whether the author and community behind the Gospel of John was Torah observant. There were a number of different viewpoints expressed, but many noticed that John, unlike Paul, does not provide clear signs of dealing with ceasing to observe food laws, sabbath, festivals, etc.


I found myself thinking about the sociological setting of Torah observance, and the apparently different situations between the Gospel of John and Romans. The reference in the latter to some who only eat vegetables has been explained in connection with the expulsion of Jews under Claudius, and the inability of Jewish Christians to reintegrate into the Jewish community in Rome when they returned, depriving them of access to kosher butchers. In John, it is explicitly synagogue authorities who expel those who believe in Jesus from the synagogue, not the wider Jewish community that expels or ostracizes Christians. In some contexts, if someone is expelled from a religious meeting or censured by a religious authority, the whole community will also shun or persecute them. In others, however, the religious authority is not revered in the same way. A Catholic may be barred from receiving communion, but not ostracized by their Catholic family and friends, for instance.

And so this seems to provide some important information about the sociological realities behind the Fourth Gospel. What do you think?



Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    References to the synagogue appear 11 times in Mark, 9 times in Mattthew, 16 times in Luke, and five times in John (The Christian movement may have been expelled from the synagogue around 88CE, which may be why the references drop off in John).

  • histrogeek

    The Johnanine author is usually described more Hellenistic than the Synoptic Gospels, with the esoteric references to Logos for example.

    How does this square with the idea that they were practicing Jews? Were they Jews educated in Hellenic philosophy or were they converts who adopted Jewish practices when they converted to Christianity and/or Judaism?

    • arcseconds

      The references to the Logos are not far of Philo, and may draw from his work. There’s at least a coherent and very plausible story that one can tell here of a Hellenic Jew, someone not unlike Philo himself or maybe Paul, who was a fan of Philo’s before joining the early Christian movement.

      But isn’t the prologue to John with all the mysterious Logos references widely regarded to be a later addition?

      • That has been one of the topics that has come up again and again, and while many would confidently say “yes, it is a later addition,” some prefer to avoid hypothetical redactional theories and to stick with the text we have. Yet I would say that even so, we must consider that if the author wrote the whole Gospel we now have all at once, it might still be that readers would have previously heard the narrative stories about Jesus but not the prologue to the written Gospel. And so even treating the work as a unity, the question arises of whether to read the narrative in light of the prologue or vice versa.

        • arcseconds

          An interesting possibility to consider (and your “all at once” seems to allude to this) is the ‘both and’ possibility where the Gospel of John was written by one author including the prologue and the prologue was a later addition.

          It wouldn’t be the only or even the first time a writer came to a different understanding of his own work later in life and wished to project it in a different light.

          • Indeed! I can’t remember who it was that said it, but one scholar’s comment on the stylistic uniformity coupled with awkward breaks in the Fourth Gospel was to say that, if the author used sources in composing his work, it looks like he wrote them all himself.

          • arcseconds

            haha, that’s a great quote 🙂

          • arcseconds

            it also almost puts me in mind of another paradoxical statement, possibly about a writer, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…

          • arcseconds

            ah, I remember!

            The notion that the Iliad and the Odyssey were not written by Homer, but by a different man of the same name.

        • John MacDonald

          Daniel Boyarin has an interesting article about the Jewishness of John’s Logos and Prologue in “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” called “Logos, A Jewish Word – John’s Prologue As Midrash (546-549).” It is published online here:

    • If you read older scholarship you will indeed find that the consensus used to be that John was “more Hellenistic.” But the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls with their many parallels to John’s distinctive language, combined with Hengel’s work demonstrating that there was no “non-Hellenistic Judaism” after the Hellenistic era, changed that.

      • arcseconds

        Being Hellenized and even being literate in Greek doesn’t entail familiarity with the Platonic tradition, though, surely.

        My understanding is that the Aristotelian/Platonic synthesis that would eventually give rise to neoplatonism was just regarded as ‘philosophy’ simpliciter, so, sure, anyone with an understanding of philosophy would be familiar with the concept of ‘logos’, maybe, but it might be a bit like knowing what ‘supervenience’ means today— something you can expect of a philosophy graduate maybe, but hardly common knowledge.

        Do the Dead Sea scrolls show any evidence of Platonic influence? This would be both surprising and intriguing to me…

        • Being Hellenized does not mean explicit conscious familiarity with philosophy, to be sure. But on the one hand, Plato gave expression to ideas that were not unrelated to his wider context, and on the other hand he was himself influential on those who came after him. And so I don’t think that the Memra of the Targums stems from such direct interaction with Platonism as we find in Philo, but both probably reflect that same Hellenistic context in which Platonism is a major influence. It is much as one can talk about ego without having read Freud or even knowing his connection to the term and concept.

          As for the Dead Sea Scrolls, it has been suggested that all apocalyptic of the Greek era and beyond reflects the view that the real is located in the celestial realm and has parallels in earthly shadows thereof.

          • arcseconds

            I hadn’t heard of the Memra before, thanks for mentioning it!

            However, obviously the Memra is similar to the Shekinah and the Wisdom of G-d: some aspect or something intimately associated with G-d that has become personified.

            It seems to me that these are more likely to be Judaic notions. There’s some kind of internal logic to the development: as G-d is understood more and more as an abstract, non-concrete being that isn’t the sort of thing that can be located in one place, places in the Bible which suggest he dwells in or on top of the Ark and suchlike need to be reinterpreted. Once you start reifying the presence of G-d as some kind of quasi-independent entity, that opens the way to doing the same thing with other aspects. The fact that Elohim speaks the world into existence in Genesis 1 is striking — unlike other creation myths that are viscerally concrete, involving primordial eggs, couples, or the death and butchering of some primordial giant monstrous creature. So one can maybe see why the word would be a tempting candidate for personification.

            And so I wonder whether it’s not so much Judaism that’s been influenced by Hellenic philosophy here but maybe the other way around, particularly in light of the article John links to. Philo may have taken a Judaic notion of a quasi-independent divine Word, and maybe also divine Wisdom, and turned it into one notion with a Greek name and incorporated it into a Platonic structure.

            As far as I know, prior to Philo, logos in greek philosophy referred to discourse, logic, meaning, etc, and wasn’t anything divine or especially metaphysical.

          • arcseconds

            Regarding the celestial realm, this certainly doesn’t resemble Plato very closely.

            Plato doesn’t actually present a single, well-organised theory of forms, but they seem to somewhat equivalent to concepts, sometimes quite simple ones (like large) or perhaps abstract blueprints (like the paradigm of the animal, or creature, the most supreme instantiation thereof being the Universe itself according to Timaeus), or maybe Man. But there’s no suggestion that there might be a form of James McGrath.

            Also, one of the features of the forms is that they are unchanging, so the earthly realm can’t mirror events in the Platonic form realm — there are no events there.

            My supposition about the celestial duals since I learned about them was that this has its origin in the sorts of experiences where one sees oneself from the outside, or sees familiar places or people transformed.

            Histrogeek may be right and there was a ‘vulgar Platonism’ where the idea of immaterial copies somehow got picked up and mutated into a celestial realm with particular celestial versions of people, cities, etc. in them. That’s not implausible, but I’d want some actual evidence for it before I took it too seriously… is there any?

          • arcseconds

            I don’t want to make the mistake of assuming some kind of pure tradition, of course. My guess as to the commonality between the development of Greek and Judaic philosophy/theology is that it’s a lot more general than specific philosophies causing specific changes elsewhere. It seems to me that both traditions were moving in the direction of a more abstract understanding of divinity at roughly the same time, for example.

            There also seems to be something of a polytheistic ‘pull’ happening on the Judaic tradition, a counter-current to the abstracting and elevation of the divinity to some extent, but also presumably due in part to being part of a cultural milieu where polytheism is widespread and dominant.

          • John MacDonald

            I think most commenters circumscribe a magic zone from about 165 BCE to 70 CE when there was no Jewish inclination, but rather the reverse, to accept Hellenistic influence. They figure that the Hasmonean victory over the Seleucid Hellenizers put an end once and for all to the temptation to Hellenize. Hellenization began to rear its ugly head again only after the Roman victory over Jews.

          • arcseconds

            There’s a difference between embracing overtly Hellenic things things like gymnasiums and temples to Apollo (which if I recall correctlyl were being instituted in ancient Israel at one point, and resisted by reformers) and being subject to a more subtle influence from a general cultural milieu where Hellenism has a paramount influence.

            It might not occur to anyone that a parallel celestial realm or a reified Word was Hellenic.

            (if indeed they were, which as I’ve indicated I’ve yet to be convinced).

            On the other hand, Philo seems to have had more influence in the world of pagan and later Christian philosophy and theology than he did in Judaic circles, and I believe it has been suggested this is because he’s a bit too obviously under the influence of pagan philosophy…

          • John MacDonald

            I tend to agree with you. Consider the astrology of the Dead Sea Scrolls: The presence of horoscopes at Qumran suggests the sectarians actually used or believed in them. And there are second- to third-century synagogues with mosaics of Hercules, Dionysus and the Zodiac.

          • arcseconds

            That’s interesting.

            A quick google though turns up some sites saying that it’s a combination of astrology and physiognomy, and it’s not clear to me that it’s particularly hellenic, and other sites saying that at least some of the material is more astronomical (Arguing for a 364 day year, etc.).

            The 2nd and 3rd centuries are outside your ‘magic zone’ (Protection against the Dark Hellenes), obviously…

          • John MacDonald

            I checked it out on google too and it seems the astrology is not necessarily related to Hellenistic astrology. Seems like the “magic zone” might stand. lol

          • Few if any scholars think that the Hasmoneans were uninfluenced by Hellenism.

          • John MacDonald
          • You may be shocked to learn that conservative Evangelical apologists are not known for being up to date with scholarship nor accurate in conveying its arguments and conclusions…

          • John MacDonald

            You’re right of course. I had another question I wanted to ask. I’ve been making the argument to some friends that Mark doesn’t portray Jesus as a God, but as a fallible human prophet. I give the example that in Mark Jesus identifies with being a fallible prophet, and was unable to perform miracles in his home town. Mark writes that “Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.’ So He could not perform any miracles there, except to lay His hands on a few of the sick and heal them (Mark 6:4-5).” Am I on the right track with what Mark thought of the Christology of Jesus?

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not concerned with whether this event happened historically or not, just what it tells us about Mark’s mindset about Jesus that Mark wanted to include this story in his gospel. I think it may be a window into Mark’s thoughts about the Christology of Jesus.

          • Yes, I certainly think you are on the right track!

          • The point I was trying to make is that the notion of “non-Hellenized Judaism in and after the Hellenistic era” is problematic. The point is not whether any given thinker has understood Plato. The point is that suggesting there is a clear division that can be made between two completely separate cultures and worldviews is comparable to talking about a Native American culture uninfluenced by the culture of the United States, or an Indian culture uninfluenced by Islamic or British rule. That doesn’t mean that there is no longer a distinctive and recognizable Native American or Indian culture. It is just that in a colonial context, even negative responses reflect influence by the broader imperial context.

        • histrogeek

          In this one, I think that there was likely a kind of vulgar Platonism known to a broad swath of semi-educated people in the Hellenistic world. Sort of the way Nietzsche’s ideas of good and evil being constructs, radical freedom, and the superiority of pure individual expression are common throughout the modern world even among people who have never read Nietzsche. Or how Freud is effectively referenced by people who would gag at the idea they are “Freudian.”

      • histrogeek

        That’s what I get for not being up-to-date.