The Shema in John's Gospel Against its Backgrounds in Second Temple Judaism

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Baron, Lori


Marcus, Joel

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In John's Gospel, Jesus does not cite the Shema as the greatest commandment in the Law as he does in the Synoptic Gospels ("Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" [Deut 6:4-5]; only Deut 6:5 appears in Matthew and Luke). This dissertation, however, argues that, rather than quoting the Shema, John incorporates it into his Christological portrait of Jesus' unity with the Father and of the disciples' unity with the Father, the Son, and one another.

This study employs historical-critical methodology and literary analysis to provide an exegetical interpretation of the key passages relevant to the Shema in John (John 5:1-47; 8:31-59; 10:1-42; 13:34; 14, 15, 17). After examining the Shema in its Deuteronomic context and throughout the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish literature, the study considers how John's understanding of the divine unity has been shaped by some of these writings. Just as some of the OT prophets and authors such as Philo and Josephus interpret the Shema within their historical settings, John, in turn, interprets the divine unity within the socio-historical realities of his community.

According to John, Jesus does not violate the unity of God as it is proclaimed in the Shema. Rather, Jesus resides within that unity (10:30); he is therefore uniquely able to speak the words of God and perform the works of God. John depicts the unity of the Father, Jesus, and the disciples as the fulfillment of OT prophecies of restoration. Zechariah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel envision Israel as one people regathered in the Land, worshiping the one God of Israel (11:52; 17:11, 21-23). John filters this eschatological understanding of the Shema through a Christological lens: disciples of Jesus are the one flock gathered to the one Shepherd and testifying to Jesus' unity with the Father (10:16). The Farewell Discourse material confirms this thesis; Jesus models obedience to the Shema and also commands that he receive the love normally reserved for YHWH (14:15, 21, 23, 24). He issues his own commandment of love (13:34; 15:12), which has far-ranging implications for John's view of the Mosaic Law.

This reading of the Shema coheres with the Martyn-Brown hypothesis that some Jewish leaders during the late first century excluded believers in Jesus from the synagogue. The author of the Fourth Gospel reverses the situation, composing a narrative of empowerment for his embattled community. His rendering of the Shema provides legitimation for the Christological claims of the Johannine community, while at the same time excluding unbelieving Jews from God's eschatological people. John's high Christology, intertwined with his expulsion of unbelieving Jews from Israel's covenantal life and eschatological hopes, constitutes a form of theological anti-Judaism which defies mitigation. The Johannine crucifixion and Prologue bear this out: "the Jews" reject Jesus' unity with the Father and thereby cut themselves off from the people of God (19:15; 1:11).

John's language has all-too-often been used in a pernicious manner against Jewish people in the post-biblical era. One of the aims of this study is to properly situate John's reinterpretation of the Shema in its social and historical setting and thereby to apprehend fully its anti-Jewish potential. In so doing, it sheds fresh light on the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity and creates new opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation.






Baron, Lori (2015). The Shema in John's Gospel Against its Backgrounds in Second Temple Judaism. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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