SBL 2007

Sessions and Papers related to Johannine Literature
presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
San Diego, CA - November 17-20, 2007

[For the latest updates, check the complete Online Program Book from the official SBL website.]

Sessions Sponsored by
the Johannine Literature Section:

S17-17: Johannine Literature
11/17/2007, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room: 29 D - CC

Theme: Questions of Background and Reception
Presiding: Colleen Conway, Seton Hall University

  • Harold W. Attridge, Yale University
    Cultural Contexts and Literary Dynamics (45 min)
    • A critical examination of seeking the Dead Sea Scrolls as a background for the Fourth Gospel, especially in light of the gospel's literary dynamics.
  • Discussion (15 min)
  • Kyle Keefer, Converse College
    Who Are the Devil's Children?: John 8 in the Early Church (30 min)
    • The passage most central to the discussion of anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John is 8:31-59. Many scholars in the past two decades have explored the question of whether anti-Judaism is inherent to the gospel itself. As a way of broadening this discussion, I explore in this essay the ways that this passage was read in pre-Nicene Christianity. Sometimes this passage was used by interpreters in arguments against Jews, but often interpreters glossed over the Jewish aspect of the text, instead labelling other Christian opponents as those who have the Devil as their father. What I try to show in this essay is that even if the anti-Judaism of chapter 8 is often de-emphasized, the passage nevertheless functions in early Christianity similar to the way scholars have assumed it did in the Johannine community.
  • Kasper Bro Larsen, Aarhus University
    John Gone Epic: Reception and Transformation in the Paraphrase of John’s Gospel by Nonnus of Panopolis (30 min)
    • The above-mentioned work, most commonly attributed to Nonnus Panopolitanus (5th century CE), is a Greek hexametric poem of twenty-one songs paraphrasing the Fourth Gospel. As such, it forms an outstanding example of the phenomenon of “reception through reproduction” in Late Antiquity. Since the renaissance, most commentators on this literary metabole have focused on identifying the author, appraising the features of language and style, and reconstructing the underlying version of the Gospel text. The present paper, however, examines the ideological and hermeneutical characteristics of the poem in order to point out its function as Fourth Gospel reception for audiences in a post-Constantinian context. As to its means of persuasion, the paraphrase employs two normative traditions: the canons of New Testament scripture and Homeric poetry, respectively. By clothing its Vorlage in such new garments, the paraphrase presents the Fourth Gospel as the ultimate epic and the genuine successor to the works of Homer and Virgil.
  • P.J. Williams, University of Aberdeen
    Not the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel (30 min)
    • This illustrated paper considers the history of the transmission of the opening verses of the Fourth Gospel and the ways in which the text was divided or not divided into segments by commentators (e.g. Ptolemy, Heracleon, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril, Philoxenus), liturgical systems, and the scribes of early manuscripts (e.g. Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Greek, Latin, Syriac). There is then investigation of the division of the text in the period of print from 1495 (the first printing of John 1:1-14) to the present. It is found that systems that regarded John 1:1-5, 1:1-14, or 1:1-17 as a unit preceded those that regarded 1:1-18 as a unit and that these earlier analyses each have distinct exegetical advantages over the common modern position of viewing 1:1-18 as a unit. The reasons for the currently preferred division and its exegetical consequences are explored with the strong conclusion that John 1:1-18 should not be regarded as the prologue of the Fourth Gospel.

S17-65: Johannine Literature
11/17/2007, 1:00 to 3:30 PM, Room: 28 A - CC

Presiding: Turid Seim, University of Oslo

  • Janelle Peters, Emory University
    The “World” in Imperial Cult Iconography and the Gospel of John (30 min)
    • The rhetorical imagery of Jesus and the “world” in the Gospel of John is in dialogue with the late first century Roman iconographic association of “world” and imperial cult. While Brown notes that John 16:33 imitates "secular victory proclamations," these victory declarations correspond to a more pervasive imperial aesthetic programme whose influence extended from elite frescoes to common terracotta lamps. Augustus inaugurated this imperial aesthetic programme as Victory on the Globe. The rise of imperial cult led to a conceptual shift in which Roman artists and viewers positioned the imperial family—past, present, and future—in the place of Victory on the Globe. The imperial family had overcome the “world” while still being in it. This shift began under the reigns of Caligula and Claudius and flourished in those of Titus and Domitian, around the time of the composition of the Fourth Gospel. Thus, John’s earliest audiences would have understood the “temporal omniscience” (Meir Sternberg) of Jesus vis-à-vis “the world” as mapping onto the Roman imperial cult’s temporally fluid relationship with the “world.” This approach has important implications for the discussion of John's level of acculturation to imperial culture. Roman imperial presentation of its liminal role in the “world” included depictions of its political and personal weaknesses. The imperial planisphere fresco which creates an apotheosis of the viewer, for instance, was located adjacent to one depicting Daphne turning into a laurel tree to escape the imperially associated god Apollo. Domitian defiantly deifies his infant son above the globe on the reverse of his coinage and yet depicts his more politically connected wife on the obverse. The Gospel of John adopts the imperial cult imagery and critiques it insofar as the gospel presents the imperium's political and personal frailties while portraying Jesus' only weakness as a lack of political connections.
  • Raimo Hakola, University of Helsinki
    The Gospel of John and the Mediterranean Diaspora (30 min)
    • The Gospel of John is often located somewhere in the Mediterranean Diaspora even though scholars hesitate to detail the locale of the community that produced the Gospel. The conflict between the Johannine Jesus and “the Jews” is read as a reflection of the violent conflict between a local Jewish synagogue community and the Johannine Christians. This persecution scenario is based largely on the assumption that Diaspora synagogue communities lived in isolation from their environment and had strict boundaries defined by a strong leadership class. In recent decades, however, the idea of the social and cultural isolation of Diaspora communities has been severely challenged. The paper draws on recent studies dealing with such issues as the interaction between synagogue communities and their Greco-Roman surroundings, the synagogue organization and leadership and the diversity among Diaspora communities. This evidence suggests that societal structures in the Diaspora were much more complex than the persecution scenario assumes. It is conceivably that the boundary between the Jews who came to believe in Jesus and other Jews remained open and that it was possible for Jesus’ followers to interact with synagogue communities and their members in different ways. Furthermore, the strict distinction between Jewish and Greco-Roman stimuli is not viable in the Diaspora context. While John’s various convictions most certainly originate from the multiform Jewish traditions, the larger Greco-Roman background makes it possible to appreciate more clearly how the message of the Gospel was perceived and received in the social, cultural and political climate of the day.
  • John W. Daniels, Jr., University of South Africa
    Gossip as Adjudicative Testimony for an Elusive Jesus in John's Gospel (30 min)
    • While important work has been done recently on how the cultural phenomenon of gossip might be brought to bear on the New Testament, none significant has yet been applied to the function of gossip in John’s gospel. Although the gospel offers examples throughout of texts reporting gossip, there are as well a number of texts explicitly describing gossip as it occurs. This essay explores the form and function of a number of texts [John 6:41-71; 7:10-13; 7:25-36; 7:40-44; 9:13-17; 10:19-21; 11:32-37; 11:45-46] that appear to be a flurry of peculiar gossip activity in John from chapters 6-11 – peculiar in that these instances may embody a kind of “adjudicative testimony” concerning Jesus’ identity and/or origin that is ultimately divisive to greater or lesser degrees. Richard Rohrbaugh, in his most recent book, has proposed that testimony, martyria/martyreo, is in fact, part of the semantic field for gossip, which suggests a relationship between the concepts of testimony and gossip. Moreover, since the forensic character of the Fourth Gospel has been emphasized in recent work, it may stand to reason that gossip in John exemplifies a kind of testimony. Indeed, it may then be asked whether such curious testimony – testimony embodied in argumentative gossip – serves not only to advance the narrative, but also to process John’s portrait of Jesus in such a way as to keep Jesus “under construction” and so continually “up for grabs” in disputatious discourse underscored explicitly in a number of scenes by schism.
  • Mavis M. Leung, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
    The Historic Present in the Gospel of John with Reference to Verbal Aspect and Discourse Function (30 min)
    • This essay studies John's use of the historic present, focusing on non-lego verbs. After a brief survey of the state of scholarship, general observations about the usage and discourse function of the historic present will be offered. What follows is a more detailed examination of several sample passages (e.g. 1:35-51; 13:1-30; 20:1-18), particularly those in which a cluster of historic presents is situated. The explanatory power of various theories in accounting for the phenomena in John will also evaluated, where it is prompted by the subject matter. The result of this study will demonstrate that while discourse function is helpful in understanding John's use of the historic present, it could not explain all the phenomena. The tense-choice could be prompted by lexical factor, Johannine idiosyncrasies, or simply by the aspectual value of the present tense.
  • Lori Baron, Duke University
    Re-creating the Shema: The Johannine Jesus’ Reinterpretation of God’s Oneness (30 min)
    • The Gospel of John lacks the synoptic story of the Great Commandment, in which Jesus sums up the Jewish Law by citing Deut 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This passage comprises the centerpiece of ancient synagogue liturgy known as the Shema. Although explicit quotations of the Shema are conspicuously absent in John, the prayer was not outside of the purview of the Fourth Gospel. Rather, the Fourth Gospel weaves affirmations of God’s oneness throughout the narrative. This is typical of the way in which OT scripture is often utilized in John; while there are explicit quotations, there is also a sense in which Jesus is portrayed as “embodying” or fulfilling tradition, often in the form of a direct challenge to Second Temple Jewish institutions and practice. Seen through this lens, Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is a re-imagining of the Shema, affirming both God’s oneness and Jesus’ exalted status, along with the command of love. The unity of the Father and Jesus, the Logos, is boldly proclaimed at the outset (1:1). Jesus “exegetes” the Father, for only Jesus has seen God, and only he is able to make God known to humans (1:18). The Father has invested divine authority in the Son; they have a unity of purpose and both have the power to judge the living and raise the dead (5:19ff). I argue that John’s emphasis on the oneness of Father and Son is a response to the Jewish emphasis on the Shema, an emphasis which in turn seems to have grown in response to the challenge of Christianity. By stressing the Father-Son unity, John answers the challenge that Jesus’ claim to exalted status constitutes a breach in the divine Oneness: Jesus’ relationship with God embodies what the Shema intended all along. Furthermore, the appeal for unity among believers as an embodiment and a witness to the Oneness of God constitutes nothing less than a reinterpretation of the Shema itself.

S18-147: Johannine Literature (Joint Session with "John, Jesus, and History" Group)
11/18/2007, 7:00 to 9:00 PM, Room: Salon 5 - MM

Theme: John and Qumran: Sixty Years of Discovery and Dialogue
Presiding: Mary Coloe, Australian Catholic University

  • Paul N. Anderson, George Fox University
    John and Qumran: Discovery and Interpretation over Sixty Years (20 min)
  • James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary
    To What Extent and Through What Means Have Qumran Unique Terms and Concepts Influenced the Johannine Community? (20 min)
  • Eileen Schuller, McMaster University
    Reflections on John and Qumran (20 min)
  • Discussion (60 min)
  • John Ashton, Oxford, UK
    The Concept of "Mystery" in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Fourth Gospel
  • George J. Brooke, University of Manchester
    The Scrolls and the Luke/John Overlaps
  • Brian Capper, Canterbury Christ Church University
    John, Qumran, and Virtuoso Religion
  • Jorg Frey, Ludwig-Maximilians Universität
    The Spirit-Paraclete in John: Qumran Parallels and Early Christian Background and Theological Function
  • Hannah K. Harrington, Patten University
    Purification in John in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Loren Stuckenbruck, Durham University
    Prayer for One's Descendants and Jesus' Prayer in John 17

Call for Papers for 2007

We invite submission of papers on any topic related to Johannine literature for our open session at the 2007 meeting. For the second session, we seek papers that move beyond the Jewish vs. Greco-Roman dichotomy in examining the context out of which the Johannine Literature emerged. Proposals dealing with the Gospel's complex imperial context, or the ancient reception of John in the broader Mediterranean milieu are encouraged.

Steering Committee Co-Chairs:
Prof. Colleen Conway, Seton Hall University (
Dr. Turid Karlsen Seim, University of Oslo (


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