John – Jesus – History

A program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature

Sessions held at the 2006 Annual Meeting
(Washington, DC; November 18-21, 2006)

S19-120: Sunday, Nov. 19, 4:00 - 6:30 PM (Room: 158A - CC)

Theme: History, Theology, and Rhetoric in John 5-12
Presiding: Jaime Clark-Soles, Southern Methodist University

S20-69: Monday, Nov. 20, 1:00 - 3:30 PM (Room: 150B - CC)

Theme: History, Theology, and Rhetoric in John 5-12
Presiding: Felix Just, SJ, Santa Clara University


S19-120: Craig A. Evans, Feeding the Five Thousand and the Eucharist

The purpose of the present study is to explore the possibility that the feeding story of John 6, made up of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the “eucharistic” discourse, may constitute tradition that predates the Synoptic Gospels, where the feeding story is separate from the eucharist. Most interpreters assume that what is disparate in the Synoptics the fourth evangelist has combined. In John 6 we may have not a late combination of feeding miracle and discourse but early tradition that has been edited to reflected interest in Jesus as the giver of the new covenant. Thus, the bread of the eucharist has become the manna of the wilderness.

S19-120: Sean Freyne, Jesus as a Member of the Galilean ‘am ha-Aretz’:  Fact, Johannine Rhetoric, or Both?

John 5-12 portrays a number of conflicts between Jesus and "the Jews" of Judea, often at feasts in Jerusalem. This paper will consider the extent to which this Johannine literary theme may reflect actual historical tensions between Galilee and Judea in the first-century.

S19-120: Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Bethany Family

Those sceptical of historical accuracy in John have usually thought that John knew nothing about the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus except what he learned from Luke about the two sisters. He is supposed then to have identified Mary with the anonymous woman in Mark 12, and perhaps to have taken the name Lazarus from the parable in Luke 16. All else is free creation by the evangelist. This paper will argue that there is no good reason to doubt that this group of siblings living in Bethany really were disciples of Jesus to whom he was very close. Gerd Theissen's notion of 'protective anonymity' in Mark's passion narrative will be extended to explain why the woman who anointed Jesus is so remarkably anonymous in Mark and why the raising of Lazarus is so surprisingly (supposing it to be historical) absent from Mark (and thence from Luke and Matthew). The Bethany family fit into a plausible pattern of sources from which the Johannine traditions derive.

S19-120: Ben Witherington, The Historical Figure of the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel

There have always been problems with discerning the identity of the Beloved Disciple, not least because this figure is nowhere clearly identified with any named person in this Gospel, not even John son of Zebedee, from Jn. 13 on. The internal evidence in this Gospel in fact suggests a very different conclusion about the identity of this person than the traditional one. It has too seldom been noted however that there is a named person in this Gospel who is called "the one whom [Jesus] loves", namely Lazarus in Jn. 11. This study will explore the possibility of Lazarus being the Beloved Disciple, and investigate the explanatory power of this suggestion. We will suggest that it clears up a number of mysteries about this Gospel including: 1) its Judean focus and character; 2) the locale of the Last Supper; 3) how the Beloved Disciple could have ready access to the High Priest's house; 4) why none of the special Zebedee stories found in the Synoptics are included in this Gospel; 5) the ending of the Epilogue in Jn. 21 which suggests there was a tradition that this disciple would not die (again); 6) how a male could be standing at the cross in Jn. 19 when the Synoptics suggest none of the Twelve were present; and 7) how the Beloved Disciple could take Mary into his home in Judea, in this case nearby Bethany.

S20-69: Brian D. Johnson, The Jewish Feasts and Questions of Historicity in John 5-12

The Jewish feasts mentioned in John 5-12 provide a thematic backdrop to the narrative’s action. The presentation of Jesus’ identity and his teaching allude to language and practices that are consistent with our understanding of the first century practice of these feasts. This paper will specifically examine what information these feasts give about the historicity of John’s presentation of Jesus. First, it will be suggested that the feasts can be understood as presenting a consistent chronology of Jesus’ ministry. The three accounts which mention the Passover are especially important for a reconstruction of the chronology of Jesus’ ministry. This paper will show that it is crucial to begin with the narrative purpose of the feasts as they are presented before attempting to understand any chronology they may present. Second, what does the Gospel of John’s strategy of using the Jewish feasts tell us about the historical setting relatively to the destruction of the Temple in CE 70? This paper will consider whether it is better to understand the accounts of Jesus’ actions at the feasts in light of the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple, or as recollections from before the destruction of the Temple. Third, this paper will build on Adele Reinhartz’ inquiry about “the Gospel of John as a potential source of knowledge of first-century Judaism” (Reinhartz 2005,110). Is the Gospel of John’s treatment of the Jewish feasts consistent with the trajectory of Jewish belief and practice throughout the Second Temple period?

S20-69: Antoinette Wire, Weighing the Johannine "I Am" Sayings as History

If the "I am" sayings were not spoken as such by Jesus of Nazareth (a recent scholarly consensus kept under wraps), they were probably a product of the prophetic spirit as the stories of Jesus' life were retold to incorporate the continuing impact of Jesus' presence. Does this cancel out their truth in Christian history and expose them as false witness since they claim to be spoken by Jesus of Nazareth? Or does this limit the significance of these sayings to the time and setting of their prophetic pronouncement in Johannine communities? Or does it rather indicate that historical truth must be revisioned as an evolving reality in the life of a movement, especially so in a movement that begins by announcing God's kingdom about to arrive? To weigh the historical significance of texts in which the prophetic spirit speaks for Jesus, I will focus on one "I am" predication and draw on recent study of prophecy, "relecture" theories about John's gospel, and social memory study. Yet I do not want to skirt the difficult question of what constitutes evidence of historical truth, especially at points where spiritual interpreters of past events contest each other and lack of power leaves many voices unattested.

S20-69: Edward W. Klink III, Over-Realized Expulsion? Historical Minimizations of a Johannine Anachronism

The “expulsion from the synagogue” in John 9 has been dominated for nearly four decades by reconstructed “glimpses” popularized in the two-level reading of the Fourth Gospel by J. Louis Martyn. While starting with the assumption that John has traditional material, hence the history in his “history and theology in the Fourth Gospel,” Martyn has made famous his reading of John’s reapplication of the traditional material, or the theology. The key insight Martyn provided the last generation of students of John is the anachronism in 9:22, an insight that although it has been criticized at the level of historical reconstruction (the official edict of the Jamnia Academy and the Birkat-ha-Minim), has dominated nearly every reading of the gospel. But Martyn has guided us to an over-realized reading of the “expulsion from the synagogue” passages, and his focus on the later Sitz im Leben of John has minimized the Gospel’s explicit interest in the past. Even the term “aposunagogos,” the key evidence for Martyn, reflects a historicity that has been too easily suppressed. This paper will argue that a fresh examination of the historical reflections in the “expulsion of the synagogue” passage in John 9 reveals not only John’s theological interest in the past, but also some potential “glimpses” on the life and ministry of the historical Jesus.

S20-69: Derek M. H. Tovey, On Not Unbinding the Lazarus Story: The Nexus of History and Theology in John 11.1-54

This paper argues for a historical core to the story of the raising of Lazarus, based on multiple attestation of resurrection miracle stories in the Synoptic gospels (Mark 5.21-24, 35-43; Luke 7.11-17), other traditional material e.g. Q (Luke 7.22//Matt 11.5), and historically plausible detail. The paper also argues on the basis of speech-act theory, that the nature of the assertions made depend upon a claim to the reality of the resurrection of Lazarus: as, for example, in assertions made by Jesus to the disciples (11. 7-15) and to Martha (11.23-26, 40). Therefore, both external tradition history and internal narrative dynamics argue for a historical core that points to a historical event where a resurrection occurs. Thus far the paper will build upon and develop positions widely argued within Johannine scholarship. Nevertheless, as is also widely recognised, the evangelist has elaborated upon this historical core to produce a narrative that serves his theological purposes, and the narrative shape of his overall presentation of Jesus. The paper argues that difficulties arise in scholarship when an attempt is made to sever the nexus of history and theology in this narrative, by separating out historical detail from narrative dynamic and theological purpose. An argument is mounted that such an attempt misunderstands (and undermines) the nature of “historical discourse” as interpretation upon event. On analogy with historical fiction, and perhaps other forms of history-writing, the argument is made that the evangelist produces a theological-historical narrative. The overall illocutionary act is to provide an interpretation of the historical Jesus that establishes his historic significance. This act, then, is as much a part of history writing as of theological reflection. The Lazarus story is part of a wider story that culminates in the resurrection story par excellence, that of Jesus the Christ.

Call for Papers 2006 (retained here for archival purposes):

The John, Jesus, and History Group will host two sessions at the 2006 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. One session will be closed (invited papers only); proposals are solicited for the open session. Proposals for 2006 should explore issues of historicity related to John 5-12, including discussion of John's portrayal of Jewish festivals; the Sabbath controversy; the trial motif in chaps. 5 & 9; the Bethesda healing; the miraculous feeding; the dialogues on Bread and Light; Jewish debates over Jesus' identity; the excommunication story of chap. 9; the "Good Shepherd" discourse; the Lazarus story; the plot against Jesus (11:45-53); and, the anointing at Bethany. Topics of interest to the group that fall outside the scope of these chapters will also be considered. Papers may reflect a variety of methodological perspectives, but preference will be given to proposals that interact directly with questions of John's historicity (either in favor of John's historicity or against John's presentation). Please include a detailed abstract, and feel free to contact Tom Thatcher with questions or comments (email To submit your proposal, go to

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For questions about the John-Jesus-History Group, please contact the Co-chair of the Steering Committee:
Prof. Tom Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University,

For comments about this website, please contact Felix Just, SJ,

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