SBL 2006

Sessions and Papers related to Johannine Literature
presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
Washington, DC - November 18-21, 2006

[For the latest updates, check the complete Online Program Book from the official SBL website.]

Sessions Sponsored by
the Johannine Literature Section:

S18-66: Friday, November 18, 2006 (1:00 – 3:30 PM; Room: 159B - CC)

Theme: Empire and Drama: New Perspectives on the Gospel of John
Presiding: Turid Karlsen Seim, University of Oslo

  • Stephen D. Moore, Drew University, “The Romans Will Come and Destroy…Our Nation” (John 11:48): Representing Empire in the Fourth Gospel (45 min)
    • Rome is an object of extraordinary ambivalence in the Fourth Gospel. On the one hand, certain surreptitious elements in the Roman trial narrative embody the most scathing critique of Roman imperialism found in any of the canonical gospels, as this paper will contend. On the other hand, whether in 11:47-52—the most explicit interpretation in John of Jesus’ death as substitution—or the trial narrative, the primary object of propitiation is not the Jewish God but the Roman emperor. The subversion of Roman imperial ideology is further complicated by the absence of a dramatized parousia in John—a theological vacuum that Rome rushes in to fill, itself assuming apocalyptic agency: “the Romans will come….” In tacitly allowing Rome to survive, and further implying that it is destined to be transformed from within rather than replaced from without, the Fourth Gospel ultimately shows itself to be the charter document of imperial Christianity.
  • Gerhard van den Heever, University of South Africa, Respondent (15 min)
  • Steed Davidson, Luther College, Respondent (15 min)
  • Discussion (10 min)
  • Jo-Ann A. Brant, Goshen College, Johannine Tragic Dialogue and Comic Sketches (25 min)
    • The realization has dawned that our silent, isolated readings of the Fourth Gospel, or any other ancient text for that matter, is a categorically different experience than that of those who first received the text as audiences of a performance. I contend that the author of the Gospel borrowed heavily from the conventions of Greek tragedy in his construction of his dialogues to suit the demands of a performance text. I will revisit my work on the use of tragic conventions in the trial scene and the recognition scene in the garden. I will then take my analysis in a new direction by exploring the significance of the construction of the scenes at the cross as discrete tableaux that drew upon conventions that informed the construction of Roman and Hellenistic comedy, in particular mime. However audacious it may seem to suggest that the Johannine crucifixion account could have been influence by early mime -- condemned by the early Church Fathers for its vulgarity -- we must accommodate in our readings the culture of spectacle and performance in which the gospel’s author and first audiences would have been steeped. Given that the event upon which the passion narratives was based was itself a calculated violent spectacle about which refined Roman authors hesitated to write, the gospel writer parodies the Roman theater of cruelty. Comparison with extant, comic performance pieces brings into sharper relief the art of representation of action and elements of resistance to Roman signification in Johannine story telling.
  • George Parsenios, Princeton Theological Seminary, The Lawsuit Motif and Dramatic Recognition in the Gospel of John: Semeia and Anagnoresis Reconsidered (25 min)
    • This paper weaves together into a new pattern several strands of Johannine study which are currently perceived separately. Recent research has emphasized the thoroughly forensic character of key Johannine concepts like witness (marturia) and signs (semeia). Other research has illuminated with equal clarity that portions of John's plot resemble dramatic scenes of recognition (anagnoresis). These two approaches are pursued in isolation from, or even in opposition to, one another, and the present paper will show that they actually complement and support one another. For, ancient drama (both comedy and tragedy, in both Greece and Rome) was largely influenced by, and itself influenced, forensic rhetoric and the law courts. Comparing Aristotle's Rhetoric with the discussion of tragic recognition in his Poetics demonstrates this reality. Even more important, the tragedians regularly employ the language of rhetorical proof (marturia, semeia, tekmeria, etc.) as the language of deliberation and argument, and apply this language to more than merely recognition scenes. Debates and inquiries on various subjects assume a forensic form and adopt the language of forensic proof. But, forensic themes certainly appear in recognition scenes. When tragic characters evaluate evidence leading up to recognition, a phrase so apparently Johannine as "I believe the signs" (pisteuw ta semeia) can appear. This paper will explore how tragedians dramatize the evaluation of evidence and testimony in recognition scenes, in order to compare and contrast how the Gospel of John dramatizes the evaluation of evidence and testimony in the recognition of Jesus.
  • Discussion (10 min)

S21-13: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 (9:00 – 11:30 AM; Room: 140A - CC)

Presiding: Jaime Clark-Soles, Southern Methodist University

  • J. Albert Harrill, Indiana University, Cannibalistic Language in the Fourth Gospel: Ideology of Internal War (25 min)
    • Previous scholarship on John 6:51–71 has focused exclusively on whether the language is “Eucharistic. I propose a new literary context in which to understand this imagery: the ancient narratives of internal (civil) war. In Greek and Roman culture, cannibalism was a traditional way of talking about threats to society. Internal threats and dissention among fellow citizens were believed to overturn the value system within which people think and to destroy the old linguistic and semantic world. We find the classic expression in Thucydides’ narrative of the revolt (stasis) at Corcyra during the Peloponnesian War. Rebels and conspirators distort and misuse words, and the disturbance of discourse leads to cannibalism being revalued, a complete inversion of civilization and savagery. Cannibalistic metaphors, allusions, and scenes were, thus, a favorite horror of ancient writers on the topic (Tacitus, Sallust, Dio Cassius, Lucan) because its sickening imagery of self-evisceration and the mauling of corpses best manifested for ancients the grotesque indistinguishableness of humans and beasts. My hypothesis is that the author of John turned the slander of cannibalism, with which synagogue leaders may have originally branded the rebel Jesus-confessing sectarians, into a tool for self-definition. I intend to explore both the author’s indebtedness to classic literary models as well as his deviation from them. The cannibalistic language does not belong to misunderstandings of the Christian Eucharist as such, but is a rhetorical category located in the specific discourse of internal war.
  • Chris Keith, University of Edinburgh, Jesus and Hoi Grammateis: Scribal Literacy in John 7 and the Pericope Adulterae (25 min)
    • One of the most enigmatic pieces of tradition in the New Testament is the Pericope Adulterae. Further, within that story, Jesus’ action of writing has been a particularly salient object of scholarly speculation. This paper argues that, though PA is not original to John, it was inserted into the text originally at John 7.53 – 8.11 in order to provide an example of Jesus with an equivalent level of scribal literacy (if not a superior level) to his opponents. Displaying sensitivity to the narrative context, this addition to the Johannine text comments upon the efforts of the Jewish leadership and ‘the crowd’ to identify Jesus and establish his qualifications as a teacher in John 7. Scholarly speculation on the content of Jesus’ writing in the pericope has obscured both the fact that this is the sole location in the Jesus tradition where (kata)grapho is attached to Jesus and the connection of this claim with John 7.
  • Judith Hartenstein, Philipps Universität, Marburg, Peter in the Gospel of John: A New Approach to an Ambiguous Figure (25 min)
    • The characterization of Peter in the Gospel of John is notoriously difficult to grasp and the results in exegetical literature differ widely. In my paper, I view the portrayal of Peter as a dialogue between the gospel and its readers. The Gospel of John takes as assumed that Peter is known. The Johannine picture of Peter builds on this knowledge, but at several junctures offers new perspectives, even challenging the position of the reader. Depending on the starting point, readings may differ and formerly held opinions are subjected to modification. Readers who are critical of Peter are forced to consider positive traits of character, whilst those who view Peter in a positive light come up against criticism. The ambiguity of Peter in the Gospel of John cannot be reduced to simply positive or negative terms. Nevertheless, there are some general tendencies: the Gospel of John sees Peter as an important figure, but derives his authority from his death as martyr, not from his faith or from an appearance of the risen Lord, as other tradition does. On the other hand, Peter is seen as distinguished, but not as the sole authority in the Gospel of John. He is portrayed as a member of the group of disciples, depending on others and shouldering responsibility with others.
  • Phillip B. Muñoa, Hope College, John, Jesus, and Metatron: Knowledge and Mediators in John's Gospel (25 min)
    • While it is a scholarly truism that Christianity is indebted to Judaism, a growing number of studies are making it more apparent that early Christianity drew upon Jewish traditions when articulating its Christology. Research has established that canonical Jesus traditions share common interests with Jewish traditions that reflect mystical interests. John 2:25 is one such text. Commentators offer many suggestions for the meaning of John 2:25 and its reference to Jesus’ knowledge. Hugo Odeberg, in his partially completed commentary, The Fourth Gospel, paralleled Jesus’ knowledge with Metatron’s knowledge, the exalted angel of 3 Enoch, a text of merkavah mysticism that is also known as Sefer Hekhalot. This type of comparison is to be preferred because it places Jesus in the context of intermediary figures, many of them heavenly in origin, that were a focal point of Johannine theology and its interests. Jewish mysticism offers the best interpretive recourse for Jesus' knowledge in John 2:25: a heavenly figure equipped with divine knowledge. Encouragement for this comparison can be found in the writings of Justin Martyr, who in the second century identifies Jesus as God’s chief angel, and the interpolated synagogal prayers of book eight of the Apostolic Constitutions, which dates to the fourth century, where Jesus is identified as the “Angel of the Great Counsel.” Mounting evidence has made it quite clear that Jewish angelology was factor among some first century Jews, early Christian conceptions of Jesus as found in John’s Gospel, and that both Jesus and Metatron were depicted in similar ways.
  • John Byron, Ashland Theological Seminary, Slaughter, Fratricide and Sacrilege: Cain and Abel Traditions in 1 John (25 min)
    • In 1 John 3:11-18 Cain symbolizes the antithesis of brotherly love. Scholars agree that as the first murderer Cain represents a compelling illustration of what it means to hate one’s brother. The figure of Cain stands in direct contrast to Christ. Cain took another’s life; Christ laid down his life for others. But an examination of how Cain was portrayed in contemporaneous Jewish literature suggests that there may be more to the illustration than has previously been appreciated. The choice of terminology used to describe the slaughter of Abel in 1 John retains the ritual overtones that pervade the original story in Genesis 4. While this terminology can communicate a violent type of death, it is more often used to describe a murder that is somehow linked to a ritual act or suggestive overtones. This slaughter language could also be used to describe the act of fratricide. Despite the fact that Cain is portrayed as a “murderer” in 1 John, some interpreters of the Genesis story preferred to identify him more specifically as the “fratricide”. In Jewish literature, fratricide was sometimes considered to be a more heinous crime than homicide and could be regarded as a form of sacrilege. Such an assessment of Cain is reflected in Philo of Alexandria. This paper will demonstrate that the description of Cain in 1 John reflects the common conviction among authors like Philo, Josephus and the Sybil that fratricide was an act of sacrilege. The ritual overtones in the passage help to emphasize the contrast with Christ. By linking those who “hate their brothers” with Cain, the author of 1 John was accusing them of an act that stood in contrast to the self-sacrificial act of Christ. Hatred of others meant they were guilty of communal fratricide, which is a sacrilege.

Papers related to Johannine Literature in Other Program Units:

S18-13: New Testament Textual Criticism (11/18/2006; 9:00–11:30 AM; Room 146A - CC)

  • Kevin Wilkinson, Yale University, "Hermeneiai" in Manuscripts of John's Gospel and the Art of Bibliomancy

S18-115: Gender, Sexuality, and the Bible (11/18/2006; 4:00–6:30 PM; Room 159B - CC)

  • Elaine M. Wainwright, University of Auckland, Unbound Hair and Ointmented Feet

S18-118: Jesus Traditions, Gospels and Negotiating the Roman Imperial World (11/18/2006; 4:00–6:30 PM; Room 151B - CC)

Theme: Gospel of John
Presiding: William Herzog, Colgate Rochester Divinity School

  • Warren Carter, Saint Paul School of Theology, John's Gospel and the Imperial Cult (28 min)
  • Brian Walsh, University of Toronto, Respondent (15 min)
  • Discussion (30 min)
  • David A. Reed, Regis College, University of Toronto, Anti-Violence, the Gospel of John, Banditry and the Roman Empire (25 min)
  • Discussion (10 min)
  • Jason J. Ripley, Saint Olaf College, Laying Down Life for God: Johannine Christology and the Martyrdoms of Isaac in an Imperial Context (25 min)
  • Discussion (10 min)

S19-13: Hellenistic Moral Philosophy and Early Christianity (11/19/2006; 9:00 – 11:30 AM; Room 150B - CC)

Part 2: Pneuma in Stoic Cosmology and the New Testament

  • Gitte Buch-Hansen, University of Copenhagen, A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in the Gospel of John

S19-105: Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics (11/19/2006; 4:00 – 6:30 PM; Room 204C - CC)

  • Gilbert Van Belle, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, The Use of the "Pronomen Abundans" in the Fourth Gospel

S20-21: Latter-day Saints and the Bible (11/20/2006; 9:00 – 11:30 AM; Room 208B - CC)

  • Jared Ludlow, Brigham Young University, Hawaii, A Survey of Latter-day Saint Scholarship on John (30 min)
  • John F. Hall, Brigham Young University, Parenetic Apocalypticism as Exhortation against Apostasy in 1 John (40 min)
  • Richard D. Draper, Brigham Young University, The Latter-day Saint New Testament Electronic Database (10 min)
  • Eric D. Huntsman, Brigham Young University, And the Word Was Made Flesh: Latter-day Saint Exegesis of the Blood and Water Imagery in John (30 min)

S20-77: Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity (11/20/2006; 1:00 – 3:30 PM; Room 149B - CC)

  • Steven Nash, Faculdade Teológica Batista de São Paulo, Psalm 2 and the Son of God in the Fourth Gospel

S20-109: Corpus Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti (11/20/2006; 4:00 – 6:30 PM; Room 304 - CC)

  • George Parsenios, Princeton Theological Seminary, The Impossibility of Communication in Seneca's Tragedies and the Fourth Gospel

Call for Papers for 2006

We encourage submission of papers on any topic related to Johannine Studies for our open session at the 2006 Annual Meeting. The other session will feature invited papers.

Steering Committee Co-Chairs:
Prof. Colleen Conway, Seton Hall University (
Dr. Turid Karlsen Seim, University of Oslo (


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