SBL 2008

Sessions and Papers related to Johannine Literature
presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
Boston, MA - November 21-25, 2008

SBL 22-118: Johannine Literature
Saturday, 11/22/2008, 4:00 to 6:30 PM, Room: 202 – CC
Presiding: George Parsenios, Princeton Theological Seminary

  • Judith Hartenstein, Philipps Universität-Marburg
    Thomas's Confession (John 20:28) and the Christology of the Gospel of John (30 min)
    • When Thomas meets Jesus after his resurrection, he calls him “My Lord and my God”, a sharp contrast to the former disbelief he showed regarding the resurrection of Jesus. This confession is often considered as the climax of the Gospel of John and as a most adequate expression of faith. But does the Gospel of John really lead its readers to believe that Jesus is God? In my opinion, the context of Thomas" statement does not strengthen this interpretation. Only a few sentences later, the purpose of the gospel is given explicitly, and this purpose is belief in Jesus the son of God. To understand why Jesus is called God, the person of Thomas as the speaker of this statement must be taken into account. Thomas is a prominent person in parts of early Christianity and the Gospel of John treats him as a person already known to the readers. There might be connections to Thomas traditions as preserved, for example, in the Gospel of Thomas. In my paper, I will use this background about Thomas and his general portrayal in the Gospel to illuminate the meaning of his confession. Furthermore, I will examine other passages (in John 10 and in the Prologue) often seen as examples of “high Christology”. I will show that the Gospel of John plays with the idea of an identification of Jesus with God, but it does not actually favour it.
  • Dorothy Ann Lee, Trinity College Theological School
    Divine Absence and the Fourth Gospel (30 min)
    • The emphasis of the Fourth Gospel is on the radical presence of divine love, joy, peace and union within the believing community. By contrast, the theme of absence is more usually associated with Mark's Gospel than John's—particularly the cry of dereliction from the cross (Mk 15:33). By contrast, the fourth evangelist seems more concerned to depict plenitude and harmony than desolation and dearth, not only in the crucifixion narrative but elsewhere in the Gospel. Yet there are sufficient indications of an absence theme in the narrative of the Fourth Gospel: Jesus" power in physical absence, for example; his reluctance on occasions to perform miracles; the development of faith beyond his proximity; and, above all, his departure through glorification on the cross, leaving the community to deal with distance, dejection and persecution. Though all manifestations of absence are not identical, the Fourth Gospel nonetheless presents it as part of the unfinality of the world, the puzzling assertion of darkness and death despite the eloquent triumph of the light. The Fourth Gospel attempts to confront the mystery of divine absence within its own framework in order to provide consolation for Johannine disciples. It does so by assigning theological meaning to Jesus" physical absence, a meaning that forges a path and holds out a destination as well as offering unseen companionship. Throughout the narrative, the reader perceives that absence begins to open the way to another and deeper comprehension of propinquity, a propinquity bounded theologically by a more capacious sense of presence. The English Jacobean poet, John Donne (1572-1631), expresses a similar dynamic between absence and presence in the love poem "Valediction Forbidding Mourning", an analysis of which can help to illuminate the Johannine paradoxical dynamic.
  • Edward Klink, Talbot School of Theology
    Johannine Dramatics: A Study of Past Methods and a Proposal for the Future (30 min)
    • For over a century the Gospel of John has been described as “dramatic” or as a “drama.” The uses of the category of drama are hardly monolithic, but they do reveal developing trends in Johannine studies. But what exactly do we mean by the term “drama” as it is applied to the Gospel of John? From “a testimony to the frequently challenged organic unity” of John (Hitchcock, 1907), to the two-level reading that deciphers John “in his own terms” (Martyn, 1968/2003), John has been dramatized. Did John intended to write in the genre of drama (Brant, 2004), or did we append dramatic categories to John for our own ideological purposes (Conway, 2002)? Either way, John has been dramatized; almost every textbook on John will speak with the category of drama, supported by numerous footnotes, as if the entire dramatic enterprise were paradigmatic. But what do we mean when we speak of John as “drama?” Is the category of drama to be used to depict the ancient context of the gospel (Martyn) or merely our own contemporary production(s) of the Gospel (Conway)? After examining a century of Johannine dramatization, this paper will argue that a more robust understanding of the category of drama is needed. After looking at the limitations of the categories of “history” and “narrative” in recent research, this paper will argue that the category of drama might function as a meta-category, a more capable conceptual model within which the categories of history and narrative may function and inter-relate. Rather than being a mere heuristic device, the category of drama will be shown to be a helpful metaphor in trying to understand the interrelation of history and theology and the performative nature of the Gospel of John.
  • Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger, Muenster, Germany
    Journeying, Tenting, Home-Coming: Rereading Johannine Characters from Exile (30 min)
    • The Word-become-flesh tented among „us“and journeyed on earth as a „non-resident alien“ (L. Guardiola-Sáenz) until his return/home-coming into the Father´s womb. The „journey of the Word“ is not only essential for the plot of John´s Gospel (cf. F. Segovia), it also provides the matrix for other characters and their encounters with Jesus during their own journeys. This paper focusses on characterization from a narrative-critical reader response perspective, combined with an autobiographical biblical critical (ABC) approach by re-reading Johannine characters from my own “non-resident” location of exile and border crossing journeys.
  • Matthew E. Gordley, Regent University
    The Johannine Prologue and Hymnic Reviews of History (30 min)
    • It is widely acknowledged that the portrayal and description of Wisdom in a number of Second Temple Jewish writings provide a conceptual framework that can help to illuminate features of the prologue of John's gospel. In spite of this recognition, there is still a segment of material in some of these writings which has gone largely unnoticed. The reviews of history in hymnic form found in a number of Second Temple Jewish texts constitute an under-explored storehouse of comparative material that can shed additional light on the prologue of John's gospel. Reviews of history in psalms, hymns, and prayers are found in such places as the Wisdom of Ben Sira, Wisdom of Solomon, Psalms of Solomon, Hellenistic Synagogue Prayers, and some Qumran texts as well. Reading the Johannine prologue alongside other early Jewish hymns that review major events in the history of Israel yields several significant results. First of all, this kind of comparative analysis leads to new insights regarding both the form and function of the prologue. More importantly, when one views the prologue as a whole as a hymnic review of history the major emphases of the prologue are clarified, while secondary themes take their proper place. Finally, the connections between the prologue and Jewish theology become more pronounced, including the writer's intentionally positive portrayal of the nature of the relationship between Jesus and Moses. Ultimately, this paper argues that the prologue presents a comprehensive review of the manifestations of God"s redemptive work in history through the Logos.

SBL 23-27: Johannine Literature
Sunday, 11/23/2008, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room: 301 – CC
Presiding: Colleen Conway, Seton Hall University

  • Kasper Bro Larsen, University of Aarhus
    John 4:4–42 as Recognition Scene: Challenging Current Consensus (30 min)
    • Contemporary research in the Fourth Gospel seems to agree that the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman is modelled in the likeness of the betrothal or courtship scenes of the Hebrew Bible. The present paper, however, argues that the cognitive game in the text points toward a different underlying literary pattern: the recognition type-scene (anagnorisis). This type-scene was a tremendously popular feature in ancient fiction when motifs of hidden identities, Sein and Schein, deception and discovery played a central role in the plot. For example, it appears frequently in the Hebrew Bible, the Homeric Epics, as well as the Greco-Roman tragedies, comedies, and romances. In the presentation, I shall (1) identify the main conventional features and inherent social ideology of the ancient recognition scene, (2) discuss the outline of John 4:4–42 in relation to this type-scene, and (3) point out how the pericope transforms its genre with certain ideological effects. Through the lenses of the ancient recognition type-scene, the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritans appears as a narrative about identification and mutual recognition, allocation of social space, and exchange of hospitality. These are motifs well known from the recognition type-scene, but here they appear with a distinctly Johannine coloring.
  • Susan Miller, University of Aberdeen
    “They Shall Look on Him Whom They Pierced” (John 19:37): Visuality in the Fourth Gospel (30 min)
    • This paper explores the significance of visuality in an analysis of the relationship between sight and the sacred in the Fourth Gospel. The Prologue gives an account of the word made flesh, and the testimony of the Johannine community "we have seen his glory" (1:14). Two modes of seeing, however, are associated with the presentation of Jesus' signs. For those who see with faith, the signs reveal the glory of Jesus (2:11) but others view the signs and see only the material world (2:23-25). Scholars including Jas Elsner examine visuality in the Graeco-Roman world, and note that an individual's mode of seeing may lead to union with the sacred, and transformation into the image he or she observes. A person's mode of seeing may also focus on the material, and he or she may fail to perceive the transcendent. These features of visuality are evident in the account of the crucifixion of Jesus. One of the soldiers pierces Jesus' side with a spear, and blood and water come out (19:34). The citation of Zech 12:10 "They shall look on him whom they pierced" emphasises the associations of sight with judgment and salvation. Those who look on are judged by what they see, and they see themselves observed by the one they see. Paradoxically, the crucifixion also brings salvation. In 12:32 Jesus teaches "After I am lifted up from the earth I shall draw everyone to myself." The sight of the crucified Christ becomes central to the believers' mode of viewing the world. This mode of seeing forms the basis of the testimony of the Beloved Disciple "He who saw it has borne witness" (19:35).
  • Stephen P. Ahearne-Kroll, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
    Birth and Memory: Platonic and Johannine Epistemologies in Dialogue (30 min)
    • One aspect of Platonic epistemology claims that memory is integral to knowledge. In Phaedrus 246a-249d, Plato paints images of the otherworldly journey of the disembodied soul. What is experienced in varying degrees in this otherworld—beholding the ideal forms by following the gods—affects the health and status of the soul in its embodied existence after its birth as a living being (zoon, Phaed 246c). Key to living well as a living being is creating understanding through consolidation of the sense perceptions, which Plato describes as “a remembering (anamnesis) of those things which our soul saw (eidon) when it journeyed along with god (sumporeutheisa to theo) and despised the things that we now say exist and rose up into that which truly exists” (Phaed 249b-c). The categories of memory, understanding, seeing the divine world by “journeying with” a divine being, birth, and life are all present in the Gospel of John, and comparison of its thought system with Plato's as expressed in the Phaedrus can be instructive for contextualizing John within its greater philosophical world. Where Plato expresses learning as a function of post-birth memory of beholding the divine world of ideal forms, John expresses learning as post-(re)birth memory of beholding the divine world of the Father through remaining with Jesus the divine being. In Plato, the more one can remember, the higher the social status of the living being upon birth (Phaed 248c-e). In John, the ability to remember depends upon the Spirit which facilitates (re)birth and reminds the disciples of all that Jesus said while they encountered him as a physical embodiment of the divine world. The abiding Spirit, then, acts to mark one's status as disciple and raise the level of knowledge of the divine world, thus legitimating the community"s existence as Jesus" followers.
  • Judith Stack-Nelson, Princeton Theological Seminary
    Two Stories of Two Storeys (30 min)
    • Though NT scholars who employ a narrative approach have often noted the use of irony in John's gospel, both Stephen Moore and Jeffery Staley have pointed out that, while certain aspects of the narrative do promote an ironic perspective on the part of the reader, there are other aspects that effectively undermine this ironic stance. In my paper, I examine the relationship of the two-level structure of irony to the oft-noted Johannine dualism, particularly the cosmological (i.e., spatial) dualism of heaven (above) vs. cosmos (below) that pervades the 4G, and was, in fact, a feature of both Jewish cosmology and Greco-Roman philosophical reflection, particularly in Plato and Aristotle. Through an examination of the Prologue, Bread from Heaven Discourse, and the Farewell Discourse, I demonstrate that the text of John successively asserts and undermines or transgresses a dualistic cosmological perspective through the motifs of light and darkness, ascending and descending, and the unity of the Son and the Father. The net effect of this is that the classic distinction between Heaven/above as the realm of all that is eternal and spiritual and the cosmos/below as the realm of the transient and fleshly is, at some points in the text, abolished and at others forcefully re-established in a way that mirrors the alternating building and destroying of the elevated position occupied by the reader in the ironic structure. Finally, Jesus" resurrection serves as a final transgression of this dualism by spiritualizing flesh beyond recognition and permanently enfleshing the eternal.
  • Ismo Dunderberg, University of Helsinki
    Sin and Sinlessness in 1 John: Theory and Practice (30 min)
    • The author of 1 John claims both that sinlessness is impossible and asserts that no one born of God can sin. These conflicting statements can be better understood, if we take into account the double discourse of sin in the Hebrew Bible, and the ideal of a therapeutic community in the ancient schools of thought. In the Hebrew Bible, it is affirmed that all humans are sinners, but “sin” is also a social boundary marker used to distinguish between “us” and “them,” the righteous and the sinners. The author of 1 John makes use of this double discourse on sin to prevent more people drifting away from the in-group to the opposed front. First, he makes use of the “sin-as-a-boundary-marker” discourse to maintain those who have left the in-group are per definitionem “sinners.” Second, the author seeks to reinforce the in-group from within by insisting upon the “all-of-us-are-sinners” discourse. Here the author's tone turns from judgmental to therapeutic. The author's therapeutic concern, in turn, connects 1 John with ancient schools of thought, in which students had to subject themselves to moral reproach and were required to confess their sins. One of the best descriptions of such practices is the treatise On Frank Criticism by the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus. In comparison to this text, the author of 1 John remains strikingly cautious as regards the discipline to be professed in the case of in-group sinners. Instead of reproaching these people, the author only recommends praying for them. This suggests that, in addressing the situation of apostasy, the author of 1 John could not take the risk that someone, who was still in the in-group, would be offended at being reproached.

SBL 24-29: Johannine Literature
Monday, 11/24/2008, 9:00 to 11:00 AM, Liberty Ballroom A&B – SH

Theme: The Past, Present, and Futures of the Fourth Gospel as Literature
Kyle Keefer, Converse College

  • Tom Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University
    Introduction to Anatomies of Narrative Criticism (10 min)
  • Gail R. O'Day, Emory University
    Review of Anatomies of Narrative Criticism (20 min)
  • Colleen Conway, Seton Hall University
    On Future Directions of Literary Criticism of the Fourth Gospel (20 min)
  • Stephen Moore, Drew University, Respondent (20 min)
  • R. Alan Culpepper, Mercer University, Respondent (20 min)
  • Discussion (30 min)

See also the sessions of the John, Jesus, and History Group

Call for Papers for 2008
(retained here for archival purposes)

We invite submission of papers on any topic related to Johannine literature for our open session at the 2008 meeting. For the second session, we plan to continue our 2007 discussion of the interplay between the Johannine literature and the broader Mediterranean milieu. We are calling for proposals that explore how the Johannine literature interacted in the world of antiquity from the first through the sixth centuries. Arenas of interaction might include texts, worship practices, creedal statements, art or material culture.

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


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