John – Jesus – History

A program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature

Sessions held at the 2009 Annual Meeting
(New Orleans, LA; Nov. 20-24, 2009)

21-325 – John, Jesus, and History
Saturday, 11/21/2009, 4:00 to 6:30 PM, Room: Waterbury – SH

Theme: Methodologies for Determining Johannine Historicity
Presiding: R. Alan Culpepper, Mercer University

22-329 – John, Jesus, and History
Sunday, 11/22/2009, 4:00 to 6:30 PM, Room: Waterbury - SH

Theme: Glimpses of the Works of Jesus through the Johannine Lens (A)
Presiding: Thomas Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University

23-129 – John, Jesus, and History
Monday, 11/23/2009, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room: Waterbury – SH

Theme: The Fourth Gospel and Archaeology
Presiding: Jaime Clark-Soles, Perkins School of Theology

23-323 – John, Jesus, and History
Monday, 11/23/2009, 4:00 to 6:30 PM, Room: Waterbury – SH

Theme: Glimpses of the Works of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens (B)
Presiding: Paul N. Anderson, George Fox University


21-325: Paul N. Anderson, George Fox University, Dialectical History and the Fourth Gospel

Aspects of historicity in the Gospel of John have been displaced by historical problems besetting the interpreter, not the least of which include striking differences with the Synoptics and a highly theological presentation of Jesus as the Christ. While John's theological tensions have been addressed dialectically -- providing a way forward, John's historical tensions have not. Ironically, this oversight reflects primarily the failure of modern interpreters to consider the character of historiography as highly dialectical, in and of itself. This paper will explore several dialectical aspects of history (cognitive-reflective, social-dialogical, and literary-rhetorical) as core elements of any historiographic work, and then it will show how a critical analysis of the Fourth Gospel as dialectical history solves some problems while creating new ones.

21-325: Harold W. Attridge, Yale University, John, History, and Historiography

Many recent discussions of the "historicity" of elements of the Johannine narrative do not consider the literary framework and generic conventions within which the Gospel may be operating. This paper will explore the topic by considering the theoretical discussion of historiography (Lucian, How to Write History) and the programmatic statements of authors telling tales of the past. To find out how this relates to the Fourth Gospel, you will have to come to the paper.

21-325: Stanley E. Porter, McMaster Divinity College, Criteria for Determining Johannine Historicity

This paper will explore various traditional criteria for authenticity and their applicability to the Gospel of John as well as suggesting some potential new forms or criteria and ways forward in the discussion.

21-325: Ruben Zimmermann, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Text as History - History as Text: New Models for Consideration

The paper will be exploring new methodologies for considering historicity--especially with relation to Gospel studies and the Johannine tradition in particular. For instance the narratological approaches as well as the memory paradigm will be taken into account.

21-325: Ann Graham Brock, Iliff School of Theology, Historical Kernels in the Gospel of John: Women and Inclusivity

In numerous ways, the traditionally stark dichotomization of Matthew, Mark, and Luke over and against the Gospel of John is not sustainable, especially with respect to the role of women among the first followers of Jesus. In fact, in some significant ways, John actually has more in common with Mark and Matthew than does Luke, and thus may preserve a more authentic glimpse of Jesus and his followers than the Gospel of Luke has to offer. Rhetorical criticism, as the primary methodology for this paper, helps us discern some significant differences among the gospels with respect to the role of women, the role of Peter, and the use of authoritative titles.

22-329: Felix Just, Loyola Institute for Spirituality, Who Were the First Disciples of Jesus? (cancelled)

Those who assume the historical facticity of Mark’s Gospel rarely admit how unrealistic and improbable the “call” stories of Mark 1–2 really are. They often also assume that “the twelve apostles” were with Jesus throughout his public ministry. In contrast, the Fourth Gospel evidences a more realistic and natural process of how the first few disciples came to follow Jesus, as well as the variety of disciples who accompanied him at various points of his ministry. By recognizing and setting aside Mark’s theologically driven emphases, we come to a better realization of the greater historical plausibility of the Johannine presentation of the relationships between Jesus and his core group of disciples.

22-329: Robert L. Webb, McMaster University, John the Baptist and Jesus in the Fourth Gospel

John is never called "the Baptist/baptizer" in the Fourth Gospel, and yet he is clearly described as engaging in a baptizing ministry. The portrait of John the Baptist is distinctive in each Gospel, but the portrait in the Fourth Gospel is quite different from that found in the Synoptic Gospels. This paper seeks to explore four questions: (1) How is John the Baptist portrayed in the Fourth Gospel? (2) How is this portrait different from that painted by the Synoptics? (3) What does the Fourth Gospel’s portrayal of John contribute to our understanding of Jesus? (4) To what extent is this Johannine picture of John the Baptist historical?

22-329: Udo Schnelle, University of Halle, The Signs in the Gospel of John

John takes up the historical fact of Jesus doing miracles and integrates it into his theological conception. The concept of perceptible signs is a central element of the Fourth Gospel's incarnation Christology. John integrates seven miracle stories into his Gospel, an expression of the number seven as representing fullness and completion, as in Gen. 2:2. Each type of miracle is found only once in John. The individual miracle stories are systematically apportioned throughout the public ministry of Jesus, and illustrate a central aspect of Johannine Christology: the saving divine presence in the Incarnate One, who as the mediator of creation created life at the beginning (John 1:3), is himself the Life (John 1:4), and is the giver of life to others.

22-329: Gary M. Burge, Wheaton College, Revisiting the Johannine Water Motif: Jesus, Ritual Purification and the Pool of Siloam in John 9

Since the discovery of the first century Pool of Siloam in 2004, many scholars have identified the pool as a Jewish mikveh used for ritual washing. Johannine scholars have watched this development with interest because of the reference to the pool in John 9. Not only is this discovery itself important archaeologically but the pool’s identification as a mikveh renders new historical significance to the narrative of John 9. New questions must be asked about the historical plausibility of this unique healing story. The Siloam mikveh also opens a variety of new historical questions about the Johannine Jesus and history. Scholars will need to revisit the well-known Johannine water motif that appears in many critical passages (1.26, 33; 2.7, 9; 3.5, 23; 4.7-15; 5.7; 7.38; 13.5; 19.34). Throughout the history of interpretation the water motif has enjoyed numerous symbolic or theological meanings. However this paper will suggest that the motif is primarily concerned with ritual purity and gains strong plausibility as a firm Johannine datum for the historical Jesus.

23-129: Rivka Nir, Open University of Israel, John the Baptist’s Geographic Arena: History and Theology

The Gospel According to Mark describes John the Baptist as having been active in the wilderness and the Jordan. Matthew identifies the wilderness as the “wilderness of Judea.” Luke mentions neither the wilderness nor the Jordan as the locus of John’s activity; he refers, rather, to “all the region around the Jordan.” The Fourth Gospel mentions two places at which John practiced baptism: “Bethany across the Jordan” and “Aenon near Salim.” In this paper, I will consider whether these places reflect the historical arena in which John the Baptist was active or whether they are the product of a theological agenda. I will argue that the Synoptic tradition’s association of John the Baptist with the wilderness (or the wilderness of Judea), the Jordan and “the region around the Jordan” reflect, first and foremost, theological tendencies that can be understood in light of the parts played by John the Baptist in the history of the gospel and the significance of the baptism he instituted. But over and against these theological tendencies, there is a solid tradition tying John’s activity to the Trans-Jordan region. That tradition emerges between the lines in Matthew and Luke, but it is clearly expressed in the Fourth Gospel. It appears to have been preserved within Christian or Judeo-Christian communities in Trans-Jordan during the first century CE, and it may reflect an authentic, historical memory of the arena in which John the Baptist was active.

23-129: Robert J. Bull, Drew University, The Worship Site on Mt. Gerizim

Mount Gerizim is the second highest mountain in the range of mountains in southern Samaria. Its highest peak was thought to be the locus of the Samaritan Temple. In 1966, a survey and excavations were undertaken on Tell er Ras, the second highest and northernmost peak on Mt. Gerizim. Excavations uncovered Structure A, a tetra style pseudoperiptal Zeus temple of the 2nd century AD. Structure B, was a massive half cube of coursed unhewn limestone and huwwar. The approximate date of Structure B was determined to pre-date Hadrian, as shown by ceramics and more than 40 coins. This evidence argues that Structure B is the altar of the Samaritans.

23-129: James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary, Two Pools in Jerusalem According to John

Two pools mentioned by the Fourth Evangelist have been discovered by archaeologists within the area enclosed by Jerusalem’s walls before 70 CE. Each pool has an archaeological story that strengthens the growing perception that the Fourth Evangelist intimately knew Jerusalem and mentions details not found in the Synoptics, the Pseudepigrapha, or Josephus. First, the Pool of Bethzatha (Bethesda) (Jn 5) is not a pentagon but it has five porticoes (5:2); and it is precisely where the Evangelist situates it, “by the Sheep Gate.” Second, the Pool of Siloam (Jn 9) is correctly defined as “Sent,” but it is not a paronomasia on Jesus as being sent into the world. It is now realized to be the largest mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) within Jerusalem; it disappeared in 70 CE when the Roman armies covered the area with destruction. A massive staircase leading from it northward to the Temple has been partially uncovered. The discoveries impressively match the Johannine story. Many questions are raised by these discoveries; most will be explored in the lecture. It is clear that the Fourth Evangelist is not only an imaginative writer with a theological agenda; he is also one who was familiar with the topography and architecture of pre-70 Jerusalem.

23-129: Mark A. Chancey, Southern Methodist University, John and the Archaeology of Galilee

This paper will explore the extent to which John's portrayal of Galilee corresponds to the region's archaeological record, devoting particular attention to questions of ethnicity, extent of Greco-Roman culture, and ritual practice.

23-129: Urban C. Von Wahlde, Loyola University of Chicago, Golgotha, The Tomb of Jesus and the Gospel of John

There have been two theories regarding the location of the tomb of Jesus, one the largely-discredited "Garden Tomb" and the site within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There have been two theories regarding the location of the crucifixion, one within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and one about 300 yards south. There have also been two theories regarding the nature of Golgotha. This paper will review and critique each of these theories, evaluating them in terms of the archaeological evidence and information within the Gospel of John.

23-323: Jo-Ann A. Brant, Goshen College, Drop the Bucket!: Water Rights and John 4:1-42

A man, Jesus, meets a woman, the Samaritan, at a well: it must be a betrothal type-scene. But wait! A Jew, Jesus, meets a Samaritan, the woman, at a well: this is an entirely different scenario. When two people of different tribes have an encounter at a well, one drinks and the other dies (in modern story telling from a gun shot wound). The story in John 4:1-42 plays upon both the romantic type-scene and the violent scenario that continues to play itself out in the Palestinian Israeli conflict, as well as in many other armed conflicts. In Genesis, the Patriarchs provide models for how to walk away from a fight. In John, the Samaritan leaves her jar behind so that the Jews can drink freely. This paper explores the strong possibility that the monopoly over worship rights is not all that is at stake in the conflict between Jews and Samaritans and that water rights played a part in the geo-politics of the early first century. The dispute over water both adds to the historical verisimilitude of the encounter in John 4 and informs its theological meaning. This piece of historicity adds weight to other indications of the historicity of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritans: the plausible itinerary through Samaria, the emphasis upon Samaritans in the Gospel of Luke and the Samaritan mission in Acts 8.

23-323: James S. McLaren, Australian Catholic University, The Perspective of a Jewish Priest on the Johannine Timing of the Action in the Temple

In this paper it will be argued that we can draw a line in the ongoing debate regarding the difference between the Johannine and the Synoptic chronology of Jesus’ action. For the positioning of the action at the commencement of Jesus’ public career to be plausible requires that it not be deemed offensive, to the point of warranting immediate punishment. Although lacking first hand accounts from the authorities at the time, Josephus offers reason for confidence. As a priest closely connected with the chief priests of his generation, his writings provide direct insight into someone concerned with the administration of the Temple. Through an examination of his comments regarding the place of the Temple in the Jewish way of life and his accounts of incidents associated with the functioning of the Temple it is evident that both the Johannine and the Synoptic chronologies of the action are problematic; punishment should have followed directly.

23-323: Tim Ling, Ministry Division, Church of England, Jesus through the Lens of John’s Indigenously Judaean Virtuoso Religion

This paper draws attention to the distinctive nature of John’s Judaean witness and its potential for contributing to the quest for the historical Jesus. It argues that John’s context was an indigenously Judaean ‘virtuoso religion’, i.e. forms of piety that may lead to the establishment of religious orders, and that this context helps account for the Johannine distinctiveness and contributes a new perspective on Jesus’ ministry. The paper draws on recent Scrolls scholarship, Josephus, Graeco-Roman sources, and social scientific literature, to outline the nature of this Judaean virtuosity. It pays particular attention to the limited Judaea around Jerusalem and Bethany, and John’s presentation of this region from the perspective of an insider. In this context it focuses on three interrelated themes of the Johannine witness to the historical Jesus: the absent poor, the prominent women, and belief as an ethical imperative.

23-323: Colin Humphreys, University of Cambridge, The Historical Last Week of Jesus

There are various real or apparent discrepancies between John and the Synoptic Gospels about the events in the last week of Jesus. For example, as is well known, John and the Synoptic Gospels apparently give a different date for the Crucifixion. According to the Synoptics, the Last Supper was a Passover meal, eaten in the evening of Nisan 15, and the Crucifixion was later that same Jewish day (running from sunset to sunset), hence on Nisan 15. However John places the Last Supper, the trials of Jesus and the Crucifixion all before the Passover meal, so that Jesus died on Nisan 14, at about 3 pm (the same time as the first Passover lambs were slain, according to Josephus). There therefore appears to be a fairly major historical discrepancy between John and the Synoptics about the dates of events as important as the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. There are also discrepancies between John and the Synoptics about other events in the last week of Jesus, for example the cleansing of the Temple. What is required to help solve these problems is a chronological framework we can have confidence in. Most scholars agree that the Crucifixion was on a Friday (all four Gospels) and that Jesus died when Pilate was the Procurator of Judea, well documented to be 26-36 CE. We can therefore pose the following question: when did either Nisan 14 or 15 fall on a Friday in the period 26-36 CE? I have used astronomy to reconstruct the Jewish calendar in Jerusalem in the first century CE and this reconstruction, together with the biblical evidence, clearly rules out Nisan 15 as the date of the Crucifixion. The date of the Crucifixion given by John, Nisan 14, is therefore correct. In this talk I will answer the criticisms of some scholars that astronomy cannot be used in this way. There is then the question of the nature and date of the Last Supper. “Different calendar” theories have been proposed before (in which it is suggested that John and the Synoptics were using different calendars for the date of Passover) but they have not been accepted because they are either wrong or not convincing. However, I have produced a new “different calendar” theory, for which there is evidence, which fits the details in both John and the Synoptics remarkably well. If this theory is accepted, it provides a firm framework for reconstructing the events in the last week of Jesus, and answering a number of historical questions.

Call for Papers 2009 (retained here for archival purposes):

In its third triennium, the John, Jesus, and History Group is focusing now on "Glimpses of Jesus through the Johannine Lens." Our sessions in 2009 will address the works of Jesus (the words of Jesus in 2010), and we will host an invited session and an open session. Successful proposals should include: a) some statement about gradations of certainty regarding the degree to which a particular presentation in John contributes to Jesus research (range including: certainly not, probably not, not likely, questionable, possible, plausible, probably, certainly), and b) an articulation of why one's assertion is tenable. All views are welcome, but critical substantiation will be expected of negative judgments as well as positive ones.
Sessions on two additional topics will also be hosted in 2009, and possibly in 2010. First, "Archaeology and the Gospel of John" will invite papers that connect some feature of archaeological research with places, topography, and mundane references in the Fourth Gospel. While some papers are invited, papers are still welcome on such sites as the transjordan baptizing of John, Bethsaida, Cana, stone jars, the reconstruction and destruction of the temple, Aenon near Salim, Gerizim, Jacob's well, Sychar, the Pool of Beth-zatha, the Sheep Gate, the Sea of Galilee/Tiberias, Tiberias, Kerioth, Magdala, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Capernaum synagogue, the temple treasury, the Pool of Siloam, the Portico of Solomon, Bethany, Bethany tombs and stones, the Kidron valley, the high priest's courtyard, Pilate's praetorium, the stone pavement/Gabbatha, Golgotha, Roman crucifixion/nails, Roman execution inscriptions, tombs in Jerusalem, embalming practices, fishing in Galilee, etc. Papers will be summarized; photos are especially welcome! A second extra session will address "Methodological Approaches to Johannine Historiography in Service to Jesus Research." Most papers have been invited, but inquiries and proposals are still welcome.

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