John – Jesus – History

A program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature

Sessions held at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the SBL
(Philadelphia, PA; Nov. 19-22, 2005)

S20-21: Sunday, Nov. 20, 9:00 - 11:30 AM (Room 108-B - Pennsylvania Convention Center) - abstracts at the bottom of this page

Paul Anderson, George Fox University, Presiding

Papers will be distributed before the meeting and summarized and discussed at the session. To receive a copy of the papers, please contact Tom Thatcher via e-mail:

S21-22: Monday, Nov. 21, 9:00 - 11:30 AM (Room 114: Audium - Pennsylvania Convention Center) - abstracts at the bottom of this page

Theme: Issues in John 1--4

Mary Coloe, Australian Catholic University, Presiding


Larry W. Hurtado, University of Edinburgh, Remembering and Revelation: The Human Jesus and His Divine Glory in the Gospel of John

I build upon the discussion of Johannine Christianity in my recent book, "Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity" (Eerdmans, 2003), exploring how the Gospel of John advocates a knowledge of Jesus that is revealed "post-Easter" by the Spirit, and also emphatically affirms that this revelation only lays bare the glory of the historically-situated figure of Jesus. "Remember/remembrance" is the uniquely Johannine terminology adapted to convey this dialectical notion.

Craig S. Keener, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, John's Theophanic Vision of Jesus

John claims an eyewitness testimony to Jesus, but virtually scholars recognize that he interprets and expounds this vision differently than the Synoptics. Because John presents Jesus' enfleshed glory in terms of prior biblical theophanies, he invites readers to grapple with his theologizing interpretation of the history he reports.

Mary Coloe, Australian Catholic University, Was There Another Vine? Questions on John 15:1

This paper will explore the historical and contextual background of the description of Jesus as the "true vine" in John 15. Against its Jewish backdrop, John 15:1-17 may have emerged to confront the undermining influence of Jewish Messianic hopes at the end of the first century. At the same time, the language and imagery of this passage suggest that there may be another possibility closer to Christian circles, namely the re-emergence of claims about John the Baptizer by disciples of his in the Disaspora. In this case the "vine" statement would make its appeal to those members of the Johannine Community who were once followers of the Baptist and may still be experiencing doubt about the relative status of Jesus and John.

James Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary, Ophidian Symbology, Johannine Theology, and the Historical Jesus (John 3:13-16)

This paper will explore several key questions relating to the background and interpretation of the "serpent" imagery in John 3. What is the meaning of the reference to "the serpent" in Jn 3 and how is it related to the Son of Man traditions in the Fourth Gospel? How has the exegesis of Numbers 21 and the perception of Genesis 3 informed the Fourth Evangelist's thinking? How does intertextuality help us grasp the meaning of this chapter? How and in what ways, if at all, has serpent symbolism shaped this saying of Jesus and how is it related to other sayings of Jesus? Finally, why have New Testament scholars not taken seriously the language of symbolism in interpreting John 3?

Mark Appold, Truman State University, Jesus and His Bethsaida Disciples Remembered: A Study in Johannine Origins

Strikingly unique to the Fourth Gospel is the call narrative of 1:35-51 where connections are established between Bethsaida, an enigmatic fishing village, and early followers of Jesus described as having their home there. Also integral to this narrative is the singular portrayal of John the Baptist as the first true witness to Jesus who subsequently is confessed as Messiah by one of John's followers. The threefold purpose of this study is 1) to examine the yet unexplored relationships between the locale of Bethsaida and reminiscences of Jesus' Bethsaida disciples; 2) to rethink the implications of conflict and change in the special relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus and their respective followers; and 3) to explore the type of tradition in which the Johannine call narrative is embedded. Here the aim is to clarify the transition from a substratum of orality to the distinctive final version of the Johannine written text. Independently attested in Q, John, (Mark), Josephus, and Pliny the Elder, Bethsaida is a location pivotal to the ministry of the historical Jesus. Central to this study is the interface between archaeology and text and the new information yielded by fifteen years of excavation at Bethsaida, a site unique for its complete accessibility to first century level investigation. Material finds from the still nascent project will be used to shed light on those formative factors that shaped the community and may help to explain why Bethsaida is given such prominence in the way the ministry of Jesus is remembered. Traces of an early oral tradition may be found in the call narrative with its cluster of Aramaisms and Bethsaida reference where select disciples are remembered in ways unparalleled in other Biblical traditions.

James F. McGrath, Butler University, "Destroy This Temple": Issues of History in John 2

The proposed paper will provide a case study of the usefulness of the Gospel of John for historical study at those points where John's information overlaps with that found in other sources. The saying attributed to Jesus in John 2:19, claiming that he said something about the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days, is also found in Mark 14:58 and in the Gospel of Thomas. Given that this is one of the rare instances where we have an opportunity for such 'synoptic' comparison of John and other sources, it represents an important window into the question of John and history. John's transformation of the saying is not that different from what we find in other sources, ones that are usually considered to be of greater historical value than John. This paper will note both the evidence that John knew this saying/incident independently of the Synoptics, and also that the author took liberties with the saying in using it in his Gospel. The study will conclude that, in the case of this saying at least, it is impossible to simply place the evidence into airtight categories like 'history' or 'fiction', since we find evidence of both preservation of information about the past, and new creative reworking of that information.

Susan Miller, University of Glasgow, The Woman at the Well. John's Portrayal of the Samaritan Mission

The account of the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John's gospel contains several similarities to the synoptic description of the encounter of Jesus with the Syrophoenician woman in Mark and the Canaanite woman in Matthew. In both accounts a meeting between Jesus and a woman is developed into a narrative that supports the mission to those outside Israel. The conversations focus on the sharing of water and bread, and in this way are related to purity issues between Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles. These issues reflect current conflicts in the gospel communities. In both accounts Jesus meets the women alone. In John, the disciples are surprised to find Jesus talking to a woman, and in Matthew the disciples urge Jesus to send the woman away. A comparison between the account of the Samaritan woman and the portrayal of the Syrophoenician woman also points to tensions between John's community and the Pharisees over the Samaritan mission. In both narratives Jesus withdraws to Samaria and gentile territory on account of conflicts with the Pharisees. John, moreover, juxtaposes the positive account of the woman's faith with the lack of understanding of the Pharisee, Nicodemus. There is also a later indication that some Pharisees become followers of Jesus (8:13, 31), and they accuse him of being a Samaritan. This passage is concerned with the question of the legitimate children of Abraham, which is also an issue of tension between Jews and Samaritans.

Peter J. Judge, Winthrop University, The Royal Official and the Historical Jesus

This paper investigates the possible "nuggets" of the historical life of Jesus that may be embedded in the story of Jesus' healing of the Royal Official's Son - John 4:46-54. Practically all agree that John narrates the same incident as is found in Matt 8:5-13 par. Luke 7:1-10. Some scholars rely on what they see as a pre-Johannine tradition, independent of the Synoptic Gospels, as an aid in reconstructing the historical or the literary tradition behind the texts of Mt 8 and Luke 7. Indeed, the Critical Edition of Q and the complementary volume, Documenta Q - Q 7:1-10, reflects something of this approach. Others prefer to regard John 4:46-54 as a post-Synoptic development. Does John offer a glimpse at the historical event that might not be available to us in the Q/Synoptic story? Thus, for example, C. Tuckett: "in some respects FG's story seems to be more primitive than the Q version"(2001. Was it Q (Tuckett) or Mt/Lk (Catchpole), for instance, who made the official a Gentile centurion, while John preserves the more primitive tradition that the man was Jewish or at least of undetermined ethnicity? I try to frame the question somewhat differently by paying attention to the possibility that John's version of the story is the end-point on a trajectory from the historical Jesus through Q and the Synoptic Gospels. I recognize fully that the author of John reported this incident of miracle and faith with a peculiar theological nuance and higher Christological signification, in line with the full sweep of the Fourth Gospel. In examining John's version of the story, however, might it be suggested that this author both preserves some special historicity of the incident and knows the ways in which it has been manipulated and presented by previous authors?

Urban C. von Wahlde, Loyola University of Chicago, The New Excavations Near the Pool of Siloam and Some Preliminary Observations on Their Significance for the Gospel of John and for Second Temple Judaism

In December, 2004, it was announced that a pool south of the traditional Pool of Siloam had been uncovered -- in the area known as the Birkat el Hamra. This paper will describe (with slides) the finds encountered there and make some preliminary observations about their significance.

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