John – Jesus – History

A program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature

Sessions held at the 2007 Annual Meeting
(San Diego, CA; November 17-20, 2007)

S17-115: John, Jesus, and History
Saturday, 11/17/2007, 4:00 to 6:30 PM, Room: San Diego A - MM

Theme: Jesus and John 13-21
Felix Just, SJ, Santa Clara University

Papers for this session will be distributed in advanced and summarized at the meeting. To receive advance copies of the papers, please contact Tom Thatcher:

S18-147: John, Jesus, and History (Joint Session with "Johannine Literature" Section)
Sunday, 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

S19-22: John, Jesus, and History (Joint Session with "Johannine Literature" Section)
Monday, 11/19/2007, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room: Salon G - MM

Theme: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies, Part I: The Fourth Gospel as/in History
Presiding: Craig Koester, Luther Seminary

S19-71: John, Jesus, and History (Joint Session with"Johannine Literature" Section)
Monday, 11/19/2007, 1:00 to 3:30 PM, Room: Salon G - MM

Theme: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies, Part II: The Sources and Structure of John's Narrative
Presiding: Jan van der Watt, University of Pretoria

S19-117: John, Jesus, and History (Joint Session with "Johannine Literature" Section)
Monday, 11/19/2007, 4:00 to 6:30 PM, Room: Salon G - MM

Theme: The Past, Present, and Future of Johannine Studies, Part III: Johannine Hermeneutics and Theologies
Presiding: Jeffrey Staley, Seattle University

S20-9: John, Jesus, and History
Tuesday, 11/20/2007, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room: 25 C - CC

Theme: Jesus and John 13-21
Presiding: Jaime Clark-Soles, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University


S17-115: Helen K. Bond, At the Court of the High Priest: History and Theology in John 18:13-24

In contrast to the rest of his gospel, John’s account of Jesus’ Jewish interrogation in 18.13-24 is often regarded as historical. There are several reasons for this: (1) the legal difficulties with the Jewish trial in the synoptics, (2) John’s apparently straightforward account of events, (3) the superfluous nature of any kind of trial at this point, (4) the presence in John of several authentic-sounding details: the prominence of the high priestly office, the presence of Annas, the marital link between Annas and Caiaphas, the association of the high priest and prophecy, and the absence of a formal Sanhedrin, (5) the presence of ‘the other disciple,’ and (6) the apparent lack of theology in this section. But how strong are these arguments? I wish to challenge (6) in particular, and to argue that this scene is highly theological. John characteristically reduces groups of characters to one figure (contrast Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb with the women of the synoptics). And, in a gospel which continually juxtaposes Jesus alongside Jewish feasts and institutions, we should hardly be surprised that the evangelist brings Jesus face to face with the supreme representative of ‘the Jews’ at this climactic point (whether the high priest is Annas or Caiaphas here, I suggest, is perhaps deliberately ambiguous; John is interested in the office rather than its incumbent). Jesus speaks with dignity and majesty, echoing the voice of God/Wisdom while the high priest seems almost visibly to disappear (whatever happened before Caiaphas, ‘the high priest that year’ in 18.24 is not even worthy of mention). For John, the role of high priest – like every other institution of ‘the Jews’ - has been transcended and superseded by Jesus. Once the theological tendencies of the scene are recognised, several supposedly ‘historical’ details become much more problematic.

S17-115: Richard A. Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to the Ethics of the Historical Jesus and John’s Gospel

At first sight, John appears very different from the other gospels with its neglect of the kingdom of God, exorcisms, parables and pithy sayings, all associated with the historical Jesus. Most studies of John 13-21 in particular stress the negative attitude towards ‘the Jews’ and ‘the world’. The Farewell Discourses breathe a different atmosphere from teaching blocks like the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, they focus on a small introverted group of disciples, with the double command to love God and neighbour being narrowed down to ‘love one another’ within an exclusive sectarian community. This suggests a large gulf between the ethics of the historical Jesus and the fourth gospel. However, it is a genre mistake to treat the gospels as though they are ethical treatises. Comparing them instead with other ancient biographies reveals how such ‘lives’ attempted to portray their subject’s words and teachings within a narrative of their deeds and activities, especially their last hours and death. Such portraits provided an exemplary model for moral imitation, mimesis. Interpreting the Synoptic gospels in this way shows how Jesus’ rigorous ethical teaching is set within a narrative of his welcoming acceptance of those with moral problems, like ‘sinners’, within an inclusive community. How does the apparently exclusive ethic of the Farewell Discourses with its opposition to ‘the Jews’ and ‘the world’ and its introverted attitude to love of other members fit in with that? This paper attempts a brief biographical account of the deeds and words, teaching and activities of the historical Jesus and his ethical example for emulation and compares it with a similar biographical reading of John’s gospel. It argues that despite all the differences, John’s portrait of the divine love bringing truth into the world still stands in the same tradition of ‘imitating Jesus’.

S17-115: Jaime Clark-Soles, John 13: Footwashing and History

What claim, if any, does the foot washing in John 13 have to historical veracity? The question has not been raised to date but bears investigation. Scholars readily adduce Joseph and Asenath and the Testament of Abraham as parallels since both have references to foot washing and are probably 1st cent. CE documents. One reads of Abraham’s gesture of welcome (Gen. 18). Philo notes that foot washing was required before entrance into the temple. Mary Coloe, God Dwells With Us (74-82), admirably treats the theme of foot washing in John as it relate to FE’s temple replacement theme, but historicity is not her lens in that piece. Generally, the literature emphasizes the washing of feet as the job of a servant, done routinely and necessitated by wearing sandals in a dusty world. But is that truly all we can say? For this paper, I will investigate ancient literature to fill out the picture regarding this practice. I will then relate it to the likelihood that John’s account reflects an historical event.

S17-115: Bas van Os, John’s Last Supper and the Resurrection Dialogues

The Gospel of John is seldom understood as containing the ipsissima verba of the historical Jesus. Nevertheless, there is an increasing appreciation of the historical and cultural setting in which the dialogues of Jesus are presented in the GJohn. The difference between the synoptic gospels and the GJohn in the passion narrative is very significant. Where the synoptic gospels show us a very frail and human Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, GJohn gives us a victorious high priest in the farewell discourse and prayer. In this paper, I aim to demonstrate the likelihood, that two or more post-resurrection discourses have been set into the narrative framework of the last supper. This has been argued and dismissed some 40 years ago, but at that time scholars could not take into account the Nag Hammadi writings in their understanding of the genre and form of the ‘resurrection dialogue’. I will argue (1) that dialogues of John 13-17, when understood in a post-resurrection setting, may have been seminal for the development of the genre of the resurrection dialogue, and (2) that, when we remove the elements that belong to the resurrection discourses, a narrative outline remains that is fairly compatible with the synoptic outline and can be used for historical critical analysis.

S20-9: Mark A. Matson, The Historical Plausibility of John's Passion Chronology: A Reconsideration

As is well known, one of the most distinctive features of the Fourth Gospel, and one that is most difficult to coordinate with the Synoptic Gospels, is the chronology of the passion week. John’s last supper is explicitly not a Passover meal, and Jesus is executed instead on the Passover. In the Synoptics, by contrast, Jesus’ last meal is a Passover meal, and so his death occurs on the first day of unleavened bread. Various attempts have been made to explain the differences and to evaluate the relative historical probability of both the Johannine and the Synoptic accounts. Such attempts have often turned to consideration of various Jewish calendars and to Jewish law. In this paper I will examine the data again, survey the main approaches, and evaluate them. The Johannine chronology appears to come from an independent source and appears to accord best with preponderance of the evidence, but the calendrical argument is a weak basis for such a conclusion.

S20-9: Jeffrey Paul Garcia, See My Hands and Feet: Fresh Light on a Johannine Midrash

The Johannine pericope of Doubting Thomas (Jn. 20:19-29) provides the only explicit reference to the wounds of Jesus (vv. 25, 27). On the other hand, both the crucifixion and resurrection accounts in the Synoptic Gospels are silent regarding the use of nails or Jesus’ wounds. Even John’s own crucifixion narrative lacks any mention of wounds or nails. Scholarship has assumed that Luke 24:39 also alludes to Jesus’ stigmata. Yet, neither the context of the Lukan story, nor the disciple’s fears indicate that Jesus showed his hands and feet in order to show his wounds. Instead, his demonstration, similar to his eating fish (Lk. 24:41-43), was intended to dispel the disciples’ disbelief that what they were seeing was a ghost (v. 39). Scholarship has paid little notice that the only occasions in which Josephus utilizes the term ‘to nail’ (proselow) to describe crucifixion are during the procuratorate of Gessius Florus between 64 and 66 C.E. and Titus’ barbarity during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (J.W. 2:308, 5:451). Prior to this, the collocation of the verb ‘to crucifiy’ (avastaurow or staurow) with ‘to nail’ never occurs. It seems that the Roman practice, in Judea, of nailing victims to the cross during crucifixion developed only in the decades after the death of Jesus. This study will trace the language employed to describe crucifixion in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, and the Gospels. It will demonstrate that the Johannine account is a midrashic re-presentation of the death of Jesus in light of specific passages from the Hebrew Scriptures.

S20-9: Michael Labahn, John 21 and the Adoption of Sinners: Developing Meaning Between Johannine Repetitions/Variations, Relecturing John and Memorizing Jesus

This paper will explain the origins and function of John 21 from the methodological perspectives of relecture and secondary orality, with special attention to repetitions and variations within the text. Although John 21 is a self-contained narrative unit possibly later added to John 1–20, it should be analysed with methods of innertextual analysis. Close attention to the phenomenon of literary repetition and variation, viewed within the framework of a relecture model of composition suggests that John 21 reflects earlier chapters in the book, adding new but not strange meaning to an earlier text that was still meaningful to its first readers. In the process of “re-lecturing” passages from John 1–20, the Fourth Evangelist incorporates additional traditional material, namely the miraculous catch of fish (John 21:1–14). The phenomenon of “secondary orality” suggests that a synoptic text (Luke 5:1–11) has been integrated into a re-reading and re-telling of certain Johannine passages. Through this process, the Evangelist forms a new ending for an old and still valued gospel. Is there any place for historical tradition? At first glance, the closing chapter of the Gospel of John does not seem to be very important for the quest for historical information about Jesus. From the whole chapter, the miraculous catch of fish may be an only exception, as some scholars view the story as a relocated, pre-Easter narrative. However, we have to understand it by re-memorizing Luke 5:1–11 through secondary orality and by re-lecturing John 6:1–15. Nevertheless, the message of the Historical Jesus, which challenged not only this contemporaries but also later Christian communities, is clearly present in the backdrop of John 21. Repenting Peter’s guilt as a part of the missionary outlook of John 21 is a creative reference to the historical Jesus’ adoption of sinners in the Fourth Gospel; John 4 and the Samaritan woman are another one.

S20-9: R. Alan Culpepper, John 21:24-25: The Johannine Sphragis

John 21:24-25 has typically been examined for clues to the composition history and setting of the Gospel. The questions asked of it have concerned the identity of the Beloved Disciple, the "we," and the "I," and the role of the Beloved Disciple in the writing of the Gospel. Here, I propose to look at its function as a "sphragis" (seal) for the Gospel. The Gospel of John is distinctive in that it is "self-referential" and concludes with a guarantee of its own truthfulness. Would this literary seal have been recognized as a standard element of ancient historiography? How does it function? For whom is it designed to be convincing? And, what can we learn from the literary seals in other documents?

Call for Papers 2007 (retained here for archival purposes):

The John, Jesus, and History Group will host one open session at the 2007 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Proposals should explore issues of historicity related to John 13-21,including discussion of the Last Supper/Farewell Address; Jesus' arrest; Jesus' Jewish trials; the trial before Pilate; the crucifixion account; and, John's resurrection stories. 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 at

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This website is sponsored by the Steering Committee of the John-Jesus-History Group.

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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