A program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature
Sessions Held at the 2015 Annual Meeting
(Atlanta, GA - Nov. 20-24, 2015)
S21-131: John, Jesus, and History
11/21/2015, 9:00 to 11:30 AM
Theme: Portraits of Jesus in the Gospel of John
In 2013 the John, Jesus, and History group began a series on Portraits of Jesus in the Gospel of John. It explores roles ascribed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, which also appear in other early Christian sources. Two years ago we considered Jesus as rabbi, prophet, and apocalyptic Son of Man. This year we continue with Jesus as healer, controversialist, Davidic Messiah, and Son of God.
Craig R. Koester, Luther Seminary, Presiding (5 min)
Graham H. Twelftree, Regent University Jesus as Healer in the Gospel of John (30 min)
Abstract: John’s portrait of Jesus is markedly different from the tradition of the Synoptics to which he had access. Gone are the stories of exorcism and those of the healing of withered limbs, lepers, fevers, hemorrhages, dropsy, the deaf and the mute. Only four healing stories remain: the official’s son with a fever, the paralytic, the blind man, and the raising of Lazarus. Yet, attempting to explain the motivation for his alternative portrait of Jesus, and identifying the importance of Jesus as healer for John, this paper will note that of the seven pre-Easter signs or miracle stories, four, including the climactic one, are healings. Moreover, John has raised healing to the significance of the Synoptic nature miracles. In turn, in the face of scholarly disputes about the significance of the signs it will be seen that through interpretive clues, including a link between miracles and messiahship, it is as healer that Jesus’ origin, identity—including his relationship to God, his work, and his reception and immediate fate, as well as eventual destiny, are understood. Further, it is as healer that Jesus is relevant to John’s readers. Their present and future life depends primarily on their response to Jesus as healer.
Tom Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University Jesus as Controversialist: Media-Critical Perspectives on the Historicity of the Johannine Sabbath Controversies (30 min)
Abstract: Apart from scattered sayings with clear parallels in other texts, it remains the case that the Johannine discourses are almost categorically disregarded as useful sources for the message of Jesus. Consistent with this approach, the dialogues of Jesus in John 5--10, which include some of the most significant Christological statements in the Gospel, are generally discounted whole as reflections of the Johannine imagination. The present paper will utilize insights drawn from media-criticism to propose a more holistic approach that seeks to identify broad patterns in John's presentation that reflect widely-accepted themes in the message and program of the historical Jesus. Close analysis reveals that the discourses in John 5-10 are prompted by specific acts of protest by Jesus (the two Sabbath healings) that are directed toward the brokers of the Jerusalem great tradition. Against the establishment claim that he is a "sinner," Jesus contends that his widely-documented activity as a healer would be impossible were it not sanctioned by God: If God objected to healing on Sabbath, then how could Jesus do so? One may reasonably conclude that the more elaborate theological statements in this central section of the Gospel are in fact grounded in three widely accepted conclusions: that the historical Jesus was a healer; that he challenged conventional views of Sabbath; and, that he openly opposed the Judean religious establishment.
Matthew Novenson, University of Edinburgh Jesus as Messiah: The Unlikely Trove of Messiah Traditions in the Gospel of John (30 min)
Abstract: The Gospel of John presents a puzzle for students of ancient Jewish and Christian messianism. It is a relatively late Gospel text, and its christological idiosyncrasies take it far afield from the relatively mainstream messianism of the Synoptic tradition. And yet, John preserves more, more detailed, and more varied Jewish (and even Samaritan) messiah traditions than any other early Christian Gospel. In this paper, I undertake to explain why John preserves these sundry traditions and how he sorts them out in relation to the figure of Jesus.
Alicia D. Myers, Campbell University Jesus as God’s Son: Blending Voices and Memory to Hear John’s Word (30 min)
Abstract: Beginning in 2013, the John, Jesus, and History group initiated a new sort of “quest” for the historical Jesus from John’s Gospel. In so doing, these scholars have largely built on the work of Dale Allison, who emphasizes the often overlooked significance of the numerous and surprisingly-consistent “general impressions” concerning Jesus in the four, canonical Gospel accounts—John among them. While not a transparent window back to the “historical” person of Jesus, these “general impressions” are useful for communicating the ways in which Jesus was remembered by other persons in history. Among these impressions is the title “Son of God” (huios tou theou). Appearing frequently in the Synoptics, this title also surfaces at least seven times in the Gospel of John ([1:34]; 1:49; 3:16; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4, 27; 20:31). Jesus himself uses the moniker four times (3:16; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4), others confess this title as an identity for him at least two times ([John the Baptist, 1:34]; Nathanael, 1:49; and Martha 11:27), while the narrator provides the capstone reference in the so-called purpose statement of the Gospel in 20:31. Each use of the title, however, does not appear in isolation, but rather is intimately bound to other titles and metaphors for Jesus’ identity, especially in relationship to God as “Father.” In this way, references to Jesus as “Son of God” in the Fourth Gospel reach far beyond a singular referent (i.e. only royal connotations) and instead branch out to link other images to the larger motif of Jesus as “son” (and God as “father”). In this way, the more general tradition of Jesus as the “Son of God” is blended with other, arguably more exalted traditions, in the memory of the Johannine community. For this community, Jesus as God’s Son means that he is more than a human leader for God’s Kingdom—he is instead the unique enfleshment of God’s Logos who alone reflects and shows the way to the Father’s glory.
Discussion (25 min)
S21-227: John, Jesus, and History
11/21/2015, 1:00 to 3:30 PM
Theme: A Review of the John, Jesus and History Project
The John, Jesus, and History project has been contributing to the discussion of the Fourth Gospel and questions of history since 2002. This year a panel will reflect on the work that has been done, the contributions that have been made, and the questions that might set directions for the future.
Helen Bond, University of Edinburgh, Presiding (5 min)
Jan van der Watt, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen A Critical Appraisal of Challenging and Critical Views on the Historicity of John (30 min)
Abstract: A review is offered of the first volume in the series, John, Jesus and History: Critical Appraisals of Critical Views, edited by Paul Anderson, Felix Just and Tom Thatcher. This volume challenges and offers a variety of perspectives on the notion of the so-called inferior historicity of the Gospel of John. To a certain extent this volume set the stage for the discussions that followed. The fact that the quest went on in such a lively way proves the validity of some of the claims made in this initial volume. Its contribution to the debate will be critically considered.
Andrew Lincoln, University of Gloucestershire What is “History” in John, Jesus and History? (30 min)
Abstract: This paper will review and assess the state of the discussion about the historical dimensions of the Fourth Gospel at the end of the second stage of the John, Jesus and History project. It will do so by reflecting on issues raised in the essays and papers collected in the Group’s 2009 publication – John, Jesus and History, Volume 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel.
Michael Labahn, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg The “Johannine Lens” and Many Current Lenses on “John and Jesus”: A Review of John, Jesus and History Volume III (30 min)
Abstract: The focus of the essays in John, Jesus and History III is on Jesus’ passion, works and words, analyzing very different texts and topics. It is a well- known fact that the Fourth Gospel tells its very own story of Jesus. It is also a very well-known fact that John uses a quite different approach in re-telling his Jesus-story by using his own lens. Nevertheless, there are still a number of questions about how the Fourth Gospel remembers Jesus. How much history is in the Johannine Jesus and what can we learn from the Johannine Jesus about historical fact? To answer such questions, it is important to understand the Johannine lens used in his project of remembering and actualizing Jesus for his own time and that of his community. Furthermore, the contributors to Volume III use different hermeneutical and methodological “lenses” to understand the Johannine special post-Easter hermeneutic. My review will ask whether we can find a unifying band in the current approaches that could be taken as a point of departure for future research. In particular, an understanding of the Johannine narrative world and the Johannine approach to the building up of meaning from the memory of Jesus might be promising. Thus, it will be necessary to integrate a variety of methods in order to find a successful approach to John, Jesus and history.
Mark Goodacre, Duke University "Strange, Restless and Unfamiliar": The Character of the Fourth Gospel in the John, Jesus and History Project (30 min)
Abstract: This paper addresses the scholarly receptions of the John, Jesus, and History project. It will highlight emerging themes in such receptions and reflect on the relationship between these themes and the diverse articles included in the first three volumes of John, Jesus, and History.
Catrin Williams, Prifysgol Cymru, Y Drindod Dewi Sant - University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Respondent (10 min)
Discussion (15 min)
S22-127: John, Jesus, and History
11/22/2015, 9:00 to 11:30 AM
Theme: Jesus Remembered in the Johannine Situation—Jewish-Johannine and Roman Johannine Dialogues
Paul N. Anderson, George Fox University, Presiding (5 min)
Meredith J. C. Warren, University of Sheffield History, Memory, and Transculturality in the Gospel of John (25 min)
Abstract: This paper will discuss the modes of transculturation apparent in the Gospel of John. The troubled relationship this gospel exhibits with regard to “The Jews” (hoi Ioudioi) is well known; John’s Jesus devalues Moses (e.g. 6:32; 7:22), breaks the Sabbath (e.g. 9:14, 16), and is frequently openly hostile to “The Jews” (e.g. 8:44). But John also affirms Moses (e.g. 1:45; 5:46) and embraces its Jewish context as much as it displays discomfort with certain Jewish-associated elements. “Rabbi” Jesus (e.g. 1:38, 49; 3:2, 26; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8) confirms his Jewish identity by his participation in ritual and community activities (e.g. Passover, 2:13; 6:4; 12:1) and by using scripture to support his views (e.g. 7:38). At the same time, the Fourth Gospel owes much to the literature and cultures of the non-Jewish ancient Mediterranean; John frequently translates Aramaic and Hebrew terminology for an audience that the author assumes would not understand (e.g. 1:38, 41, 42; 4:25; 5:2; 9:7; 11:16; 19:17; 20:16, 24), and scholars have located in John broader Greco-Roman literary tropes, such as the genre of bios of the hero (e.g. Wills 1997) and anagnorisis (e.g. Culpepper 1983; Larsen 2008). These elements are expertly brought together in the Gospel in order to construct a collective memory of Jesus’ life and death. The relationship in the Gospel to ancient historiography, memory, and John’s cultural inheritance is therefore complicated. How does the Fourth Gospel “remember” Jesus? How are historiographical elements bent toward John’s own rhetorical ends? The Gospel of John preserves the intercultural complexities involved in the ancient creation of history as a means of memorialization.
Sherri Brown, Creighton University The Memory of Jesus through the Sabbath: Exploring Jewish-Johannine Dialogues in the Diaspora (25 min)
Abstract: Asia Minor is likely the formative center for Johannine Christianity in the decades following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Traditionally, Ephesus has been identified as the locus of its developing social and religious life and relationships in this new diaspora setting. Although the Johannine community would have sought fellowship in the Jewish synagogue, they also would have found themselves in dialogue and, soon, conflict with these same kinspeople about not only their belief in Jesus as Messiah but also their developing high Christology. This same sort of good news would not have been a problem in the nascent Gentile churches of the region. This distancing from mainstream traditional Judaism and simultaneous pull toward the Hellenistic Gentile mission through the shared memory of Jesus who is the messiah who is both divine and human is a strong undercurrent of the Gospel of John. This paper explores how this undercurrent rises to the surface in the Fourth Evangelist’s shaping of traditions about Jesus’s actions and teaching on the Sabbath. The sign and discourse of John 5 focus on the feast of the Sabbath and John’s understanding of Jesus’ authority to work as God works on the Sabbath. The Evangelist’s composition of the sign, the ensuing trial process, and Jesus’ response in John 9 is more subtle: the spotlight shines elsewhere—on the response of those he encounters to Jesus—yet he is careful to set the entirety of the scene on the Sabbath. John and his community live in this memory of the Jewish Messiah and his revelation of God on the Sabbath, but, like Jesus before them, find themselves at odds with their own people, now in the diaspora. The implications of this marginalization through belief in the Word of God in Jesus are far reaching for both the Johannine community and developing Christianity.
Warren Carter, Brite Divinity School (TCU) John, Jesus, and the Roman Empire (25 min)
Abstract: This paper will explore some of the interactions between John’s Gospel and the Roman Empire. How does the world view of John’s Gospel construct the Roman Empire (imperial structures and personnel)? How does it construct Jesus? How do these constructions interact?
Travis Trost, Independent Scholar Jesus, Moses, and the Johannine Community after the Jewish Revolt (25 min)
Abstract: The Moses motif in the Gospel of John, when compared with certain texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, provides an opportunity to understand Jesus through a Johannine perspective. Likewise, the post-70 CE situation beyond Judea, in dealing with social and political turmoil among Jewish and Roman audiences, faced parallel challenges with the situation in the 30's. The Johannine community still needed to grapple with intramural Jewish debates on the person of Jesus, and the Moses-sayings of Jesus in John help explain Jesus' Jewish identity and mission, reconfigured later into the community's Hellenism-friendly Logos hymn.
David Rensberger, Decatur, GA, Respondent (15 min)