John – Jesus – History

A program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature

Sessions to be held at the 2011 Annual Meeting
(San Francisco, CA - Nov. 19-22, 2011)

S19-126 – Joint Session: "John, Jesus, and History" Group and "Bible in Ancient and Modern Media" Group
Saturday, 11/19/2011, 9:00 to 11:30 AM

Theme: The Fourth Gospel in First-Century Media Culture
Presiding: Anthony Le Donne, Lincoln Christian University

This session is a panel review of The Fourth Gospel in First-Century Media Culture, ed. Anthony Le Donne and Tom Thatcher (T&T Clark, 2011). The main themes of the book will be summarized by the editors, and the panel and open discussions will focus on general themes raised by the book (interpreting FG within its ancient media context), not on its specific contents. Panelists will assume that those who attend the session have NOT read the book beforehand.

S19-327 – John, Jesus, and History
Saturday, 11/19/2011, 4:00 to 6:30 PM

Theme: Media and Method: Reading John and Jesus in an Oral/Aural Context
Presiding: Jaime Clark-Soles, Southern Methodist University

S20-230 – John, Jesus, and History
Sunday, 11/20/2011, 1:00 to 3:30 PM

Theme: The Gospel and Letters of John: Community and Composition
Presiding: Felix Just, S.J., Loyola Institute for Spirituality

This session will feature a panel review of Urban Von Wahlde's The Gospel and Letters of John, with particular attention to von Wahlde's method and model for reconstructing the Johannine Community and the composition-history of the Fourth Gospel. Panelists have been instructed to assume that members of the audience have NOT read Von Wahlde's book.

S21-131John, Jesus, and History
Monday, 11/21/2011, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room 2010 - Convention Center

Theme: The Fourth Gospel and Archaeology
Presiding: Paul Anderson, George Fox University

S22-124 – Joint Session: "Johannine Literature" Section and "John, Jesus, and History" Group
Tuesday, 11/22/2011, 9:00 to 11:00 AM, Room 3004 - Convention Center


S19-327: Richard A. Horsley, University of Massachusetts Boston, The Whole Story: Rethinking John's Gospel as a Source for Jesus in Its Ancient Media Context

This paper calls for a significant reorientation of research into the Gospel of John's value as a source for Jesus. Jesus scholars, working on the basis of modern print-culture assumptions, have tended to treat the Gospels as mere containers of sayings or stories which can be extracted from their present contexts and treated as isolated units of "data." This approach, however, overlooks recent research that calls its essential assumptions into question. Several key themes in this research will be explored here. First, literary criticism has shown that the Gospels are whole stories with plots and agendas, not mere containers of individual sayings and mini-stories. This conclusion is consistent with the fact that Jesus himself must have communicated with people in larger, holistic complexes of words and themes, not in isolated sayings. Second, leading text-critics have concluded that it is likely impossible to “construct” an early (much less original) text of any of the canonical Gospels. Extensive research has shown that, with literacy severely limited in the ancient world, communication was predominantly oral; in such an environment, particular lines and stanzas vary from performance to performance, while the overall story or plot of a given text remains basically stable. This trend would characterize not only the oral stages of the Jesus tradition, but also scribal transmission. Third, in view of the above considerations, the Gospels are useful as historical sources only when viewed as whole stories that were affective for real-life audiences. This being the case, Jesus research should proceed from a careful investigation of the portrayal of Jesus' key activities and aspects of his mission in John (and other Gospels) as indicated by the main plot and agenda of the Gospel. Moreover, since the Gospel of John would have been repeatedly orally performed before communities of Jesus-loyalists, it is utterly inappropriate to treat it as a record of events laid up in an archive. Rather, John's Gospel was a communication between performers and communities that resonated out of the cultural tradition in which both were grounded. Thus, we are looking less for the meaning of the text-in-itself and more for the affect the text had in performances in the community.

S19-327: Tom Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University, There Are No "Aporias": Orality, Memory, and Narrative Aesthetics

Source-critical and developmental approaches to the composition-history of the Fourth Gospel frequently appeal to the notorious "aporias" in the text--narrative and theological discontinuities in the flow of the presentation. Recent research on ancient media culture, however, substantially problematizese these approaches. Many of the classic literary aporias in FG reflect typical oral-compositional practices, while collective memory theories would suggest that groups and individuals do not retain "alien" ideological viewpoints in their representations of the past. While media studies cannot disprove that the current text of FG is a product of redaction or revision, they do suggest that it would be impossible to identify sources or editions with sufficient precision to support source-crtical and developmental approaches.

S19-327: Hellen Mardaga, Catholic University of America, Bis repetita placent: Some Reflections on Repetitions, Orality and John 18:36

The paper focusses on repetition, orality and Johnn 18:36. After a short presentation of C.F. Burney's comments on John the presentation will treat three issues: a) repetition. The definition of "repetition" will be discussed, the parallelism in John 18:36 as an example of repetition and Quintilian's comments on repetition and rhetoric; b) orality.The question will be raised which effect the written text of John 18:36 has on a listening audience, by means of the works of W. Ong and Quintilian; c) Orality and memory. Was Jesus remebered as saying something about his own kingdom?

S19-327: Catrin Williams, University of Wales: Trinity Saint David, Memory, Scripture, and Tradition in the Gospel of John: Insights from Ancient Media Studies

Recent investigations of ancient media culture highlight the significant role of memory in the interplay of orality and writing in antiquity. This paper will examine the extent to which the use of Scripture, particularly explicit quotations, can shed light on the mnemonic processes at work in John’s Gospel, and will consider the implications of those processes for understanding the Johannine handling of Jesus tradition.

S20-230: Urban Von Wahlde, Loyola University of Chicago, Introduction: The Gospel and Letters of John, Model and Method

This paper will offer a brief overview of the research method and primary conclusions of the recently released 3-volume set The Gospel and Letters of John (Eerdmans, 2010). Particular attention will be given to the life setting and composition-history of the Fourth Gospel and 1-2-3 John.

S21-131: James Strange, Samford University, John and the Geography of Palestine

Many scholars of the current incarnation of the quest for the historical Jesus continue to collate and evaluate sayings of Jesus, with the result that the wisdom stratum of the Double Tradition/Q and the sayings found in the Gospel of Thomas constitute primary data for constructing the historical Jesus, while the gospel of John is nearly excluded from the enterprise due to characteristics that are deemed to render the gospel of little use to the historian. To wit, in comparison with the Synoptic Gospels and GThom, John records Jesus’ discourse in a distinctive way and more thoroughly theologizes the ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus than the Synoptics do. This paper takes a different approach. Rather than constructing a historical Jesus, the paper is designed to ask what archaeologists can learn from paying attention to John’s presentation of Jesus’ itinerary.

S21-131: James D. Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Wadi el-Yabis and the Elijah "Wadi Cherith" Traditions in Relationship to John and Jesus in the Gospel of John

According to the Gospel of John the initial activity of John the Baptizer took place "at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there" (John 3:22), whereas Jesus and his disciples are baptizing in the south, in Judea. Later in the narrative Jesus retreats to this area to escape his enemies: "He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptized, and there he remained" (John 10:40). This paper explores the possible connection between the Elijah traditions in 1 Kings 17, where the prophet hid in the "Wadi Cherith" and was fed by ravens when he fled from Ahad and Jezebel and a northern location of "Aenon near Salim" across from Wadi el-Yabis in modern Jordan today. An analysis of the physical terrain, as well as archaeological surveys in the Wadi, is related to John's possible pinpointing of this location. Some consideration of the proximity of the Wadi to the city of Pella is also included as part of the thesis that this area became a focus for Judaeo-Christians who were associating themselves with the Elijah stories in times of danger and distress.

S21-131: Rolan Deines, University of Nottingham, The Stone Jars of Cana: Recent Developments in Studies of Archaeology and the Fourth Gospel

Since the 1990s, the stone jars mentioned in John 2:6 in connection with Jewish purity rituals are a common feature in archaeological discussion. In the newly refurbished archaeological wing of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, some of the most beautifully preserved exemplars of these large stone jars are on display. The explanatory text in the exhibition refers explicitly to John 2:6. In commentaries to the Gospel of John this piece of archaeological information, and connected to it the halakhic traditions, appears now rather frequently, albeit often without much understanding and precision. The paper will analyze the development in archaeological research related to stone vessels, and in the interpretation of John 2:6 in Johannine studies since 1993, when I published the first exegetical monograph on this topic (Mohr Siebeck 1993).

S21-131: James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary, Jewish Purity Laws in the Gospel of John: Shabbat, Tombs, Stone Vessels, Mikvaot, and Archaeological Advances

The presentation is a summary of a vast amount of new data that challenges the customary theological exegesis of the Gospel of John. One aspect gets major attention: While it is sometimes acknowledged that the Fourth Evangelist knows an impressive amount about the Jewish purity laws and the topography and architecture of Jerusalem before 70, it is not well known that he refers to the two main mikvaot near the Temple. The result grounds the new perspective that history is embedded in John and that the masterpiece should be read "within Judaism."

S21-131: Shimon Gibson, University of the Holy Land & UNC Charlotte, The Trial of Jesus and Pilate's Praetorium

The details of the trials of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel include distinctive features not found in other Gospels, but which are confirmed in recent archaeological discovery. This paper will explore the latest finds regarding the houses of Annas and Caiaphas and the Praetorium of Pilate in Jerusalem. These include the courtyard, the lithostrotos, Gabbatha and other Johannine details.

S22-124: Michael Zolondek, University of Edinburgh, History in the Most Christological of Places: The Authentic Core of John 1.19-51

Many scholars are wary of basing historical conclusions on traditions found in the Gospel of John, particularly those traditions located in the context of christological affirmations. In this paper, however, I will do just that. I argue that there is an authentic core underlying the narrative of John 1.19-51. More specifically, it is my contention that the authentic elements of this narrative are at least the following: that the Baptist announced the imminent coming of the Davidic Messiah; that some of the Baptist’s followers left him to follow Jesus because they became convinced that he was this Davidic Messiah; that these followers were convinced of this because the Baptist considered Jesus a candidate for this role and because of their time spent with Jesus; and that after becoming convinced that he was the Davidic Messiah, these followers recruited others to follow Jesus as well. Throughout this paper numerous objections to these assertions will be addressed. Evidence will be presented to counter the claim that the Baptist did not, in fact, proclaim the imminent arrival of the Davidic Messiah, but rather some other figure. The argument that John 1.35-51 should be considered unhistorical because it is part of the Evangelist’s effort to present Jesus as superior to the Baptist will likewise be shown to be unpersuasive. These and other arguments will be dealt with briefly in the course of my positive argument. In the end, one finds that significant historical information may be drawn from John 1.19-51. The findings of this paper are significant for those studying the Gospel of John, as well as the historical Jesus. Not only does this paper indicate that Jesus was believed to be the Davidic Messiah early on, but it also demonstrates that scholars may draw historical conclusions from even those passages in John containing significant christological affirmations.

S22-124: Halvor Moxnes, University of Oslo, John as a National Gospel: Schleiermacher’s Defence for John’s Gospel as a Source for the Historical Jesus

The present discussion of the Gospel of John as a source for the historical Jesus can benefit from studying Schleiermacher’s arguments and his view of history in his lectures on The Life of Jesus (E.t. 1975) in Berlin 1819-32. For instance, in Jesus of Nazareth. King of the Jews (1999), Paula Fredriksen argues that rather than locating Jesus primarily in Galilee (as the synoptic Gospels do), John’s gospel reflects the historically more plausible view that Jesus mission ’was a mission to Israel’ (238, 240). Schleiermacher’s defence for the priority of John was strongly criticized as unhistorical by Strauss and Schweitzer, but for Schleiermacher his position was closely linked to a different view of history. He made a distinction between ’chronicle’, a mere collection of separate events, and’ history’, where the inner meaning of events combined them into a unity. Schleiermacher found that the synoptic gospels were ’chronicles’, and that only John’s gospel presented a unity. As the only gospel John had as an organizing principle the development of Jesus’ ’relationship with the nation.’ Central to Schleiermacher’s view of history was that there must be a unity between the inner side of Jesus’ activities, i.e. his mission, and their external side, e.g. their location. Therefore, since Jesus’ mission was directed at the totality of his people, it could not be limited to Galilee, but must be reflected in Jesus’ travels to all parts of the country and his contact with people at the centre, in Jerusalem. Schleiermacher also offers an explanation for the fact that only Jesus, and none of his disciples, were executed by the Romans. It was out of concern for his people that Jesus did not create a community around him. Since Jesus realized the danger of a conflict between Rome and the Jews, he did not want to give occasion to the outbreak of that conflict. Thus, even with his strong criticism of Jewish religion, Schleiermacher presents Jesus – according to John – as deeply concerned with the Jewish people. Schleiermacher’s focus on Jesus ’relationship with the nation’ as an organizing principle of writing history, reflects his own position within the early national movement in Germany. Moreover, an analysis of his argumentation makes us aware that presentations of the historical Jesus are always part of larger discussions of the goals and presuppositions of history writing.

S22-124: Richard Manly Adams, Jr., Emory University, Jesus Did Many Other Signs: Aelius Aristides’ Parchment Books and the Fourth Gospel’s View of History

The summary comments of John 20:30-31 stand at the center of the debate about the purpose of the fourth gospel. Previous focus on v. 31, though, has led many to overlook v. 30; this reference to “other signs” is often read as a moment of hyperbole, intended to impress upon the audience that the narrator could, if necessary, continue recounting Jesus’ great deeds. In this paper I suggest an alternative rhetorical reading, arguing that here the audience learns more about the function of what the evangelist does report than what he omits. I read this text in conversation with similar comments in Aelius Aristides’ Sacred Tales. Aristides contrasts the tales he presently narrates with his 300,000-word “parchment books,” an unreadable effort to record “with utmost precision what has befallen us” (48.8). While the parchment books reflect the task of “recording events,” the tales are Aristides’ “narrating the providence of the god.” Consistent reference to the parchment books reminds his audience that they are hearing Aristides’ construction of the events wherein he attempts to give his audience an experience of the god’s power, an experience that Aristides admits cannot be achieved by simply recording events. Aristides’ distinction is a helpful way to read John 20:30-31 and the gospel’s view of history. Like Aristides, John offers his selection and configuration of events, written not to record, but to narrate, to offer the audience the ineffable experience of the glory of Jesus Christ. After briefly discussing how this accords with the gospel’s argument about signs and belief, I demonstrate the implications of this distinction by focusing on audience construction and participation in two episodes, the report of the baptism (1:29-34) and the conversation between Jesus and Thomas (20:24-29).

S22-124: Eric J. Gilchrest, Baylor University, Experiencing the Eschaton: John’s Jesus and Qumran’s Community as Entrance to the Eschaton

This paper explores the realized eschatologies of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In it, I attempt to do three things. First, I begin by establishing the presence of realized eschatology in the Dead Sea Scrolls by looking at key texts from the scrolls. In particular, I focus on 1QH, 1QS, and 1QSa noting specific eschatological expectations that are taking place in the present. It is here I argue that one can find six elements of realized eschatology in the scrolls: eternal life, judgment of the wicked, purification, new creation, communion with angels, and the acquisition of special knowledge. Second, I compare the findings of the first section with that of realized eschatology in John. John’s realized eschatology is strikingly similar to that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls; the one major difference being that for John the messiah has come, whereas the Dead Sea Scrolls await a future fulfillment of the messianic hope. Lastly, I offer a thesis that the shared similarities between the eschatologies of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls are largely due to similarities between Jesus and the Qumran community. I argue that because both Jesus and the Qumran community, for their respective documents, constitute a new Temple, they function as the arbiter of God’s truth, the nexus between the heavens and the earth, and the place where atonement is made possible. It is only through Jesus (for John) and through the community (for Qumran) that one is able to experience eschatological realities that would otherwise be inaccessible. In this way, John’s eschatology is tightly bound to his Christology, whereas the eschatology of Qumran is bound to its ecclesiology.

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For questions about the John-Jesus-History Group, please contact the Co-chair of the Steering Committee:
Prof. Paul N. Anderson, George Fox University,

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