John – Jesus – History

A program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature

Sessions held at the 2010 Annual Meeting
(Atlanta, GA - Nov. 19-23, 2010)

S20-224 – John, Jesus, and History
Saturday, 11/20/2010, 1:00 to 3:30 PM,
Room: Atrium Ballroom AB - Marriott Marquis

Topical Session A: Glimpses of the Words of Jesus through the Johannine Lens
Presiding: Jaime Clark-Soles, Perkins Theological Seminary

S21-219 – John, Jesus, and History
Sunday, 11/21/2010, 1:00 to 3:30 PM, Room: International North - Hyatt Regency

Topical Session B: Glimpses of the Words of Jesus through the Johannine Lens
Presiding: D. Moody Smith, Duke University

S22-120 – Joint Session: Historical Jesus Section & John, Jesus, and History Group
Monday, 11/22/2010, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room: Regency VII - Hyatt Regency

Theme: The Use/Disuse of the Fourth Gospel in Historical Jesus Research
Presiding: Gregory Sterling, University of Notre Dame

S22-323 – John, Jesus, and History
Monday, 11/22/2010, 4:00 to 6:30 PM, Room: A706 - Marriott Marquis

Theme: The Fourth Gospel and Archaeology
Presiding: Craig Koester, Luther Seminary


S20-224: Peder Borgen, University of Trondheim, God’s Agent in the Fourth Gospel: Son, Prophet (like Moses?), Messiah, Son of Man, Logos? How Does the Judicial Agency Motif, as Developed in the Fourth Gospel, Cast Light upon the Mission of Jesus?

In the Fourth Gospel God is referred to as “He who sent me,” etc. Jesus is seen as being this emissary, but also John the Baptist refers to “the one who sent me.” Another phrase includes those who receive the emissary: “he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him,” etc. There may be a chain of agency: “he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.” Similar and corresponding phraseology and ideas are to some extent found in the Old Testament (LXX), Philo, Josephus, Rabbinic writings as well as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Fourth Gospel the authorization may refer to Jesus as Son, Prophet (like Moses), Messiah, the Son of Man, Logos, etc. The perspective ranges from the divine level when Jesus says “I and he who sent me” to the situation when the people were about to force Jesus to make him king, and he withdrew from them. How can this judicial agency motif in the Fourth Gospel cast light upon the mission of Jesus of Nazareth, as he may have been seen by various people, and even as Jesus may have seen himself?

S20-224: Joerg Frey, University of Zurich (Switzerland), Eschatology and the Kingdom in the Fourth Gospel

The issue of eschatology has always been one of the most debated issues in Jesus research and in Johannine scholarship as well. The eschatology of Jesus (as reported in the Synoptics) seems to be far away from the eschatology of the Fourth Gospel, with its stress on the presence of life and judgment and its apparent radical reduction (or even negation) of apocalyptic and future-oriented elements. For the liberal theologians in the 19th century, the Johannine view seemed to be more acceptable than the Synoptic expectation of the Son of Man; the earlier Jesus research (before Weiss and Schweitzer) was strongly inclined to accept a more “Johannine” reconstruction of Jesus’ eschatology. Only after Weiss and Schweitzer was there a clear alternative between “Synoptic” and “Johannine” views, and the Johannine texts were totally dismissed from the range of sources for the views of the Jesus of history. In view of the recent questioning of that “critical consensus,” the issue of eschatology may be an interesting paradigm for considering afresh the relationship between the Synoptic views and the Johannine views. The present paper will focus on the notion of the Kingdom. The basileia tou theou is the central eschatological idea in the Synoptics and there can hardly be any doubt that it belongs to the authentic preaching of Jesus. In John, the notion is also presented, but only twice in John 3:3, 5 in a traditional saying, which is presented in two slightly different versions. Further on, the notion of the kingdom is strictly related to Jesus himself, who is finally presented as a king whose kingdom is not from this world (John 18:36). Thus, in Jesus’ kingdom the kingdom of God is realized. The notion of the kingdom is, thus, strongly influenced by Johannine Christology. The differences between the Johannine view and the earlier tradition are obvious, and it is necessary to account for the reason for the differences. Are they only due to the development Johannine theology, or is there a continuity with the eschatological views of Jesus himself?

S20-224: Jan Van der att, Radboud University Nijmegen, What is Ethical according to the Johannine Jesus?

The Gospel of John gives evidence of different conflicts, both externally and internally. Within this framework, Jesus explains what the will of God is and expresses it mainly in terms of love. He offers a relational ethics in which Jesus should be evident in the believers like branches that stay in the vine and vice versa. This view should determine the behavior of believers towards one another and the world. Although it is not possible to trace the words of Jesus in this regard directly to the historical Jesus, this is at least the message the congregation accepted and practically applied (or at least was expected to apply) in their everyday lives.

S20-224: Linda McKinnish Bridges, Wake Forest University, Agrarian Aphorisms in the Fourth Gospel

Logan Pearsall Smith, author of A Treasury of English Aphorisms, describes the literary genre of aphorism in this poetic manner: “We are startled by their novelty; we catch our breath and gaze for a moment blankly at them. Then, as we ponder their meaning and recall their past, their truth, as well as their lucid perfection, delights us. Like shooting stars, they seem to leave a track of gold behind them; like flashes of lightning they reveal the familiar world in a sudden, strange illumination; the accompanying din alarms us, till, from far ranges of experiences, echoes return in long reverberations to confirm them. This paper seeks to describe these “flashes of light” in the Johannine landscape, by providing an inventory of Jesus’ aphorisms in John, their peculiar identity and function. Special focus on the agrarian and nature-associated aphorisms of John 4:32-38, 12:23-28; 16:20-21 will be provided, highlighting the residual quality of orality inherent in the sayings as well as the transmissional process of the aphorism located within the synoptic traditions.

S21-219: R. Alan Culpepper, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Jesus Sayings in the Johannine Discourses

This paper proposes a compositional approach to identifying traditional sayings, “maxims of the Johannine community,” in the Gospel of John. Traditional approaches have focused on either the content of the sayings (dissimilarity, embarrassment, Semitic elements) or parallels in other sources (multiple attestation). Neither works well for the Gospel of John because of its differences from the synoptic gospels and the distinctive content and style of its discourses. Relying on work by Peder Borgen, John W. Bowker, E. Earle Ellis, and Charles A. Kimball on early Jewish exegetical and homiletical patterns, we will draw observations regarding the placement and interpretation of traditional material in John’s discourses, and then identify sayings that by placement, function, and interpretation may derive from early or pre-Johannine tradition.

S21-219: Michael Theobald, Universität Tübingen, Johannine Jesus-Sayings as “Metatexts” to the Synoptic Jesus-Words? Considerations on a Reception-History Category

The creativity of the Johannine communities in dealing with primitive Jesus traditions should not be underestimated. Admittedly, it is difficult to explain why large sections of Synoptic sayings-materials (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount/Plain or Jesus' parables about the Kingdom of God) have left few if any traces in John's Gospel. Were they unknown in the Johannine communities, or were they intentionally ignored there? All the more interesting are those Johannine texts in whose background one may suspect synoptic materials. This paper considers selected examples (images such as John 10:9, cf. Matt 7:13f/Luke 13:24; also John 21:22f /Matt 9:1; etc.) in the context of a "hierarchy of proximity" to explore a new tradition-critical category: Johannine words as "Metatexts" to the Synoptic words of Jesus, with variations including "Deepening, Explication, Surpassing, and Critique." Such movements are also found within the Synoptic tradition (e.g., compare Matt 13:24-30 with Mark 4:26-29) and in the tradition of the Gospel of Thomas (e.g., compare GTh 2 with Luke 11:9f) and help us to profile the Fourth Evangelist's rendering of Jesus-sayings in Johannine terms.

S21-219: Steven A. Graham, George Fox University, Semitic Language and Syntax within the Speech of the Johannine Jesus

Despite the fact that the Fourth Gospel was finalized in a Hellenistic setting, its cultural background and thought forms remain thoroughly Jewish. Recognizing Semitic terms and syntax in some of Jesus’ language in the Gospel of John may also provide a distinctive window into the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, this paper will explore John’s use of Aramaic terms and language, as well as Hebraic ideas and thought forms, in its presentation of Jesus speech. While such an inquiry cannot claim to identify particular teachings of Jesus, it may at least suggest primitivity within the Johannine tradition as well as further implications.

S21-219: William Loader, Murdoch University, What Happened to "Good News for the Poor" in the Johannine Tradition?

A central element of the preaching of Jesus was the proclamation of "good news to the poor," in which he announced radical change for his people, especially in their poverty and need. It informed both his eschatology and his action in ministry, as through healing and exorcism he addressed some of the drivers of poverty in the ancient world and looked to God's rule replacing the rule of his time. As the Jesus movement faced a world beyond Galilee and Judea and beyond Jesus' own Jewish people, it had to come to terms with what it might mean to proclaim good news for the poor in the wider world, whether through universalizing Jesus' message, or through retaining its promise to God's people into whom Gentiles now might be incorporated and so share its promise. The paper will argue that while this aspect of Jesus' preaching appears to have been lost in the Johannine tradition, a closer examination suggests that the Johannine community had appropriated it like most other branches of the movement at the time on the model of incorporation in Israel, and that beyond the mere solidarity of defensiveness its message of mutual love also had roots in this tradition - not least in the implications of such teaching for the poor and impoverished in both means and status. The first letter's challenge about poverty is not a one-off illustration but reflects what is mainstream in the Johannine tradition. In any such development there is both continuity and discontinuity, loss and gain, and the paper will seek to address this issue.

S22-120: James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary, Using the Witness of John in Jesus Research

Mark mostly and also Q intermittently have been the major sources utilized for recreating the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Acknowledging the significance of these two sources and recognizing the paradigmatic importance of archaeology and sociology, I shall explore the best ways ahead to include the Gospel of John in Jesus Research. Many scholars now admit that they should have used John is writing a book on Jesus and there is a growing awareness that archaeologists have found the Fourth Evangelist [or at least the author of the First Edition of John] to be astoundingly well informed about pre-70 Jerusalem. Alone among the Gospels, John claims to be based on an eyewitness. Is that claim only a typos or a clever rhetorical ploy?

S22-120: Paul N. Anderson, George Fox University, The Dialogical Autonomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Theologically Engaged Jesus Tradition and Implications for Jesus Studies

For nearly two centuries and spanning the first three quests for Jesus, one judgment has remained largely constant among critical scholars: the quest for the Jesus of Nazareth ought to be conducted untainted by the Fourth Gospel’s potentially distortive influence. While reasons for excluding John from Jesus studies are understandable, they bear new sets of critical problems making such an operation finally unsatisfactory. Despite the Johannine tradition’s highly theological character, its mundane and distinctive features call for the questioning of its historical exclusion bolstered by the following bases. First, the dialogical autonomy of the Fourth Gospel invites its consideration as an alternative Jesus tradition with its own plausible contributions to perspectives on Jesus. Second, a Bi-Optic Hypothesis accounts for major similarities and differences between the Johannine and the Markan Gospels in ways that have literary and critical integrity posing a challenge to the programmatic rejection of the one tradition claiming direct access to the ministry of Jesus. Third, new criteria for determining historicity with John in the mix deserve consideration, potentially leading to a fourth quest for Jesus—one that welcomes all suitable resources for critical analysis, including the Fourth Gospel.

S22-120: Ismo Dunderberg, University of Helsinki, How Far Can You Go? Jesus, John, the Synoptics and Other Texts

The paper pinpoints three questions related to the use of the Gospel of John as a potential source for the historical Jesus, and reviews how these questions have been addressed in the John, Jesus, and History Project (JJH) thus far: 1) The figure of "the beloved disciple," not mentioned in the synoptic gospels, appears in John in passages that have clear synoptic parallels. It has even been suggested that these passages in John are dependent on the synoptic gospels (Neirynck, Thyen, Kügler etc.). How does the alternative perspective emerging from the JJH respond to this view? How does it explain the absence of the beloved disciple in the synoptic parallels? And what does this perspective make of the fact that we find similar figures of authentication in other early Christian gospels and revelation dialogues? 2) How does the new perspective explain Jesus' secret dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3, where scholars have previously detected strong affinities with Hermetic traditions? 3) If the new perspective allows for the possibility that the Gospel of John, in spite of all the differences to the Synoptics, can be a reliable source of the historical Jesus, what should we make of the other "different" gospels (of Thomas, Judas, Mary etc.)? It would seem a natural consequence of the new perspective that the potential value of (some of) these other early Christian texts as witnesses to the historical Jesus should be taken more seriously than before. Is JJH willing to go into that direction, or does it play a role that the Gospel of John is in the canon, while the other "different" gospels are not?

S22-120: Richard A. Horsley, University of Massachusetts Boston, Rethinking How We Understand the Gospels as Historical Sources for Jesus-in-Context

A call for a serious change in the way we understand the Gospels as sources, one that includes John along with text-fragments from the Synoptics and non-canonical Gospels: For several years the John, Jesus, and History Group has been asking hard questions about the use and disuse of the Gospel of John for investigation/ construction of the historical Jesus, significantly broadening the continuing debates about what sources are to be used, how they are to and how. “Jesus-scholars” working from the different perspectives in these debates, however, have so far not taken into account recent research that is calling into question some of the most fundamental assumptions of the study of the Gospels and of Jesus. Literary criticism has shown that the Gospels are whole stories with plots and agendas, not mere containers of individual sayings and mini-stories. (Moreover, to have become a significant figure historically, Jesus must have communicated with people; but people do not communicate in individual sayings.) Leading text-critics are saying that because of the considerable diversity of Gospel MSS until the 4th-5th centuries, it is probably impossible to “construct” an early (much less original) text of any of the canonical Gospels. Extensive research has shown that, with literacy quite limited in the ancient world, communication was predominantly oral. Thus the Gospel stories were almost certainly orally performed, even after they existed in written form. Investigation of long orally performed texts has shown that particular lines and stanzas vary from performance to performance, while the overall story or plot of a given text remains basically stable. Recent research on all these interrelated matters indicates that individual sayings and stories isolated from literary context are unstable and unreliable as “data” for historical reconstruction, and that the Gospels are usable as historical sources only as whole stories. The first and ground-laying step in historical investigation of the historical Jesus, rather, would be careful investigation of the various Gospels’ portrayals of the key activities and aspects of his mission, which would start from the main plot and agenda of each Gospel. The implication of this conclusion, moreover, is that John and the Synoptic Gospels are on (more or less) the same footing as whole stories about Jesus’ mission. The plot/ agenda of Mark is Jesus leading a renewal of Israel over against the rulers of Israel. Matthew and Luke both expand on Jesus’ renewal of Israel (from the Q speeches) and sharpen the opposition to and by the Jerusalem and Roman rulers. The plot/agenda of John also happens to be Jesus’ renewal of Israel in opposition to and by the Judean and Roman rulers. John presents a Jesus with many of the same features as in the Synoptics, such as opposition to and by the Pharisees and a demonstrative entry into Jerusalem and a prophecy against the Temple in context of a forcible demonstration against Temple. But John has some different emphases from the Synoptics: e.g., Jesus active in all three districts of Israel; and frequent confrontations with Judean rulers at festivals in Jerusalem. In contrast to Mark, moreover, John (like Matt and Lk) views Jesus as the Messiah and even has the people want to make him king (similar to Josephus’ accounts of popularly acclaimed kings). Finally, by comparison of the somewhat different portrayals of Jesus’ interaction with followers and opponents in the Gospels, in further comparison with other literary and archaeological sources, it may be possible to reason our way historically to Jesus in relation to others in historical context.

S22-323: Rami Arav, University of Nebraska at Omaha, The Archaeology of Bethsaida and the Gospel of John: Convergences and Divergences

Bethsaida, “the House of the Fishermen,” is the most frequently mentioned site in the Gospel narratives after Jerusalem and Capernaum. Archaeologically, it is unique because it is the only site that was visited by Jesus and is available to archaeological research. Unlike other Galilean sites such as Nazareth, Chorazim and Capernaum, Bethsaida was never disturbed by Byzantines masonry and its first century stratum is the first under the top soil. The excavation of Bethsaida since 1987 has yielded finds that may present areas of converges and diverges with the Gospel of John. This presentation aims to shed light on these areas and suggests a few implications to the study of John. Convergences include: (1) Some scholars suggest that John was familiar with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Bethsaida too has some common denominators to Qumran, one for example is the unique cemeteries. (2) Another is the small finds. Recently, the scraped spout “Herodian” oil lamps were proved to be manufactured in Jerusalem. These oil lamps make the vast majority of the first century oil lamps of Bethsaida and other Jewish sites. (3) Limestone vessels were also found in Bethsaida and testify that the site of Bethsaida, together with Capernaum and Nazareth were thoroughly Jewish and that Jesus visited Jewish settlements. (4) The parable of the carpophores dying grain (John 12:24) may allude to familiarity with the Roman Imperial cult center of Livia/Julia in Bethsaida. Divergences include: The Gospel of John demonstrates acquaintance with the topography of Jerusalem; yet, he refers to Bethsaida as a Greek city, “polis,” and places it in Galilee. This information created a long debate over the identification of the site.

S22-323: C. Thomas McCollough, Centre College, Why Cana of Galilee? The Impact of the Archaeology of Khirbet Qana on the Gospel of John’s use of Cana of Galilee

While Cana of Galilee is given a prominent role in the Gospel of John, the village is never mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Why did the Gospel of John pick this village to initiate the ministry and cycle of miracles? This paper will present the evidence for identifying Khirbet Qana as Cana of Galilee and will go on to argue that the excavations of the first century village have revealed aspects of the village that bear on the question of its role in the Gospel of John. Our excavations disclose a village that grew substantially after 70 C.E., and that growth included the construction of a large public building that we have identified as a synagogue. This archaeological evidence sheds new light on the narrative strategy of the Gospel writer and in particular suggests that the wedding feast and attendant miracle may be part of the larger Johannine-Jewish rhetoric of the Gospel of John.

S22-323: Steven R. Notley, Nyack College, Josephus, John, and the Way of the Cross

During excavations of the Old City of Jerusalem, Nahman Avigad identified the remains of the Gennath Gate under today's Cardo. Scant attention has been given to the significance of this discovery. Coupled with the recognition by Pierre Benoit and other Christian and Jewish scholars in the 1960's and 70's that Jesus was condemned by Pilate in Herod the Great's Palace (not the Antonia Fortress as traditionally assumed), the route by which Jesus would have been led to his crucifixion (i.e. the site of the Holy Sepulchre) must necessarily be redrawn. In Josephus' description of the walls of first century Jerusalem, the historian only describes one gate on the northern approaches of the First Wall: the Gennath Gate. The etymology of the name means the Garden Gate, which suggests that the gate led to an agricultural area just outside of the northern city walls. This description echoes the Evangelist's unique detail: "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid" (John 19:41). The paper looks at the topography of the passion with special attention to the significance of the Gennath Gate for reconstructing the Way of the Cross and perhaps further commending the vicinity of the Holy Sepulchre for the site of Jesus' death and resurrection.

S22-323: Brian L. Johnson, Lincoln Christian University, Historical and Archaeological Evidence for Crurifragium in John 19:31-37

The detail of the breaking of the leg bones in John 19:31-37 is frequently cited as an historical detail of the Fourth Gospel’s presentation that contributes to a sense of this Gospel’s historical reliability. This paper will assess the Fourth Gospel’s description in relation to the evidence of historical accounts of crurifragium and the archaeological evidence of the Giv’at ha-Mivtar ankle bone in order to determine how specifically the details of this ancient practice can be understood. This paper will suggest that the Gospel of John possibly provides the historian with the earliest detailed account of the practice of crurifragium, and therefore should be treated as a telling piece of the first-century historical evidence. The statement of eyewitness testimony that accompanies this account in John’s Gospel will also be considered in order to understand how this account serves the narrative purposes of the author. This will provide a way to approach the Fourth Gospel’s presentation of history and will suggest the need for a properly nuanced approach to questions of historicity in John’s Gospel.

S22-323: Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Food and Clothing in the Gospel of John

Scholars have noted that the Fourth Gospel provides historical and archaeological information including references to sites in Jerusalem which is not contained in the Synoptic Gospels. This suggests that John drew on or incorporated some different sources than the Synoptic accounts. Is the additional information provided by John historically and archaeologically accurate, and does this information preserve authentic traditions relating to the historical Jesus? This paper examines selected details surrounding food and clothing in the Fourth Gospel which are not contained in the Synoptic Gospels, in an attempt to ascertain whether this information might be connected to the historical Jesus.

Call for Papers 2010 (retained here for archival purposes):

The John, Jesus, and History Group launches the third year in the third phase of its program: “Glimpses of Jesus through the Johannine Lens,” focusing on the words of Jesus as presented in the Fourth Gospel. Its two invited sessions will involve a joint session with the Historical Jesus Section addressing the use of the Fourth Gospel in Jesus research and a session of invited papers on “Glimpses of the Words of Jesus through the Johannine Lens.” An open session on that topic will also be offered. A second open session will feature “Archaeology and the Fourth Gospel,” and papers are especially welcome on such topics as: the stone pavement in Jerusalem, Gabbatha, stone water jars, Bethsaida, Cana, Ephraim, the Sheep Gate, the treasury in the Temple, houses in Capernaum, the rebuilt Synagogue in Capernaum, Magdala, Bethsaida, Aenon near Salim, Bethany, the garden across the Kidron valley, Pilate’s praetorium, Jewish burial customs, the courtyard of the high priest, Jewish festivals (Booths, Dedication, Passover), etc. Inquiries on particular topics are welcome, and encouraged.

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