SBL 2009

Sessions and Papers related to Johannine Literature
presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
New Orleans, LA - November 20-24, 2009

22-123: Johannine Literature Section
Sunday, 11/22/2009, 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM, Room: Napoleon C2 - SH

Theme: The Relationship of Judaism to Johannine Writings
Presiding: George Parsenios, Princeton Theological Seminary

  • Ken Brown, Trinity Western University
    Tabernacle, Sinai and the Beloved Son in John's Prologue (30 min)
    • Several recent monographs on the Temple in John (particularly those by Coloe, Kerr, Hoskins, and Um) have looked to the prologue for evidence of Jesus’ “replacement” of the Tabernacle, Temple or Torah, and have stressed the “polemical” tone of 1:14-18. Fuglseth has rightly argued against this approach (Johannine Sectarianism in Perspective), but his brief treatment of this text leaves much still to be said. He is correct that John’s allusions to the Tabernacle and Sinai are not intended to show the “replacement” of any particular Jewish institution, but they are extremely significant, for they serve to tie the man Jesus to the divine identity in a way that is at once unprecedented and in explicit continuity with the history of Israel. In the prologue, Jesus is not “the new Tabernacle;” he is the incarnation of the one that dwelled in the Tabernacle. On comparison with 12:41, the prologue’s claim that “no one has ever seen God” (1:18a), but “we have seen his glory” (1:14c) is not a polemic against Moses, but an affirmation that the very same glory that was seen by Moses has now become flesh. Moreover, John's allusions to the beloved son tradition (monogenes; cf. also Levenson, Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son), suggest that it is primarily through Jesus’ death and resurrection that the “grace and truth” revealed to Moses are fully seen, or rather, embodied: “no one has ever seen God, but the only son, (himself) God, has made him known” (1:18).
  • Mary Spaulding, Nazarene Bible College
    Transformation or Termination? The Johannine Feast of Booths and Jewish-Christian Identity Issues (30 min)
    • One may well argue that the Johannine author portrays the replacement of the Jerusalem temple by Jesus in chapter 2. This passage is setting the stage for other Jewish motifs subsequently presented in the Gospel. Is it also setting a pattern of replacement for these motifs? If continued identity with Judaism is alleged on the basis of Christological fulfillment of Jewish motifs, on what grounds can one speak of fulfillment but not of replacement when replacement has already been established? This paper will utilize Social Memory Theory with regard to the Johannine Feast of Booths (Sukkot) to explore this conundrum. A review of Jewish festival associations pre- and post-70 will first be undertaken. After the destruction of the temple, temple-dependent memory and identity associations were transferred onto other festival elements in order to foster continued Jewish identity structures among co-religionists. For the author of John, the Feast of Booths provided a rich mosaic of Jewish associations. We will explore how the temple-dependent Booths rituals are layered with new Christological symbolism in such a way as to transform the rituals’ value for Jewish Christ-followers without negating their prior worth. Jesus is not symbolically replacing the festival itself but only the outstanding elements of the festival that are no longer viable without a temple, paralleling similar transference techniques employed by other Jews of that time. Social Memory Theory provides a sociological explanation as to how the Johannine author could portray replacement of the temple institution in John chapter 2 yet permit continued festival memory and identity associations among Jewish Christ-followers in later chapters. The study confirms a Johannine acceptance of Judaism in its transformed Christological state rather than its abrogation, providing support for the position that the Johannine Gospel portrays a Christianity that has not yet decisively broken with Judaism.
  • Break (5 min)
  • Adele Reinhartz, University of Ottawa
    “Hoi Ioudaioi” Revisited (45 min)
    • A group referred to as “hoi ioudaioi” plays a major role in the Gospel of John, primarily though not exclusively as Jesus’ major antagonists and opponents. At first glance, the appropriate translation of this term might seem obvious: “hoi ioudaioi” are clearly “the Jews,” who were a definable and well-known group in both Judea and the Diaspora in the late first century, to which the Fourth Gospel is usually dated. Nevertheless, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether “the Jews” is in fact the best translation, given its usage in the Gospel and, more generally, the nomenclature in the first century. This paper will a) engage in a critical analysis of the debate, with particular attention to the most recent contributions by scholars such as Mason, Schwartz, Cohen, and Runesson, b) offer its own solution, and c) consider what is at stake for our understanding of “hoi ioudaioi” in the narrative and theology of the Fourth Gospel.
  • Discussion (40 min)

22-224: Johannine Literature Section
Sunday, 11/22/2009, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM, Room: Studio 6 - MR

Presiding: Kasper Bro Larsen, University of Aarhus

  • Tom Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University
    The Riddle of the Baptist and the Genesis of the Prologue: John 1:1-18 in Its Oral/Aural Media Context (30 min)
    • How might a greater sensitivity to ancient media culture impact understandings of the composition-history of the Fourth Gospel’s Prologue? Analysis of this passage has generally assumed that John 1:1-18 includes portions of an ancient “hymn” that would have been familiar to John’s first audiences from their liturgical experience. This conclusion is based both on the content of the unit and, more particularly, on its style and structure. But while source-critical approaches have produced interesting readings, they proceed from an essential misconception of the media dynamics of early Christian culture and, further, of the actual compositional dynamics of the passage itself. John 1:1-18 should not be understood as the reworking of a hymn, but rather as an original composition and as the Evangelist’s poetic expansion of a traditional saying associated with John the Baptist. To defend this thesis, I will first briefly review source-critical research on John 1:1-18, focusing on approaches that view the Prologue as a primitive hymn that has been absorbed into the current text. I will then place these approaches in dialogue with Werner Kelber’s research on the problem of the “original form” of an oral text, which would suggest that any attempt to isolate and reconstruct a primitive precursor to this passage is misguided. I will proceed to argue that the Prologue evidences a high level of compositional unity, and that this unity is a product of the fact that the Prologue was composed through the expansion of a traditional oral unit which may now be found on the lips of the Baptist at John 1:15. By all appearances, John 1:1-18 seems to have been orally composed as an organic element of the larger narrative that it introduces, and 1:15 should be regarded as the compositional genesis of the Prologue rather than as an interpolation.
  • Gitte Buch-Hansen, University of Copenhagen
    Johannine Emotions: A Challenge to a Philosophical Perspective on John? (30 min)
    • The FG has been described as both the most philosophical and the most emotional among the canonical gospels. From the perspective of Hellenistic philosophy, Platonic or Stoic, this appears a contradiction of terms. As the hour approaches, Jesus succumbs several times to emotional upheaval, and the prospect of death causes him to feel anger and fear. Similarly, among the disciples. The gospel singles out Peter who, in spite of his sincere wish to follow Jesus, ends up paralyzed in the high-priest’s courtyard neither fleeing nor following. The FG thus appears to be guided by a worldview foreign to Hellenism. However, although apatheia remained the goal in ethical thinking, Hellenistic philosophers developed a growing interest in progressing persons, who were neither wise nor evil, and whose actions were neither good nor bad. For these people, moral growth was usually followed by ‘progressor-pains’, i.e. emotions derived from the awareness of past or present evils. As ‘true’ and ‘appropriate’ these emotions weren’t to be characterized as passions, but also not as the eupatheiai of wise persons. The tears of Alcibiades in Socrates’ lap became paradigmatic in discussions of how teachers should handle their students’ emotions: should these emotions be curbed or enhanced? A balance between consolation and frank speech was recommended. Philo, who had to come to terms with Moses’ tears and the Israelites’ remorse, used this tradition to promote remorse to the status of the fourth Stoic eupatheia (the missing counterpart to lypê). Taking Peter’s case as a starting point, the paper examines the Farewell Speeches and their promise of another Paraclete in the light of the philosophical discourse of intermediary emotions and progressor-pains. Attention is given to the parable about the woman in birth-pangs. The conclusion is that neither Jesus’ emotions nor those of his disciples make John any less philosophical.
  • Alicia Myers, Baylor University
    Prosopopoetics and Conflict: Speech and Expectations in John 8 (30 min)
    • This paper explores the conflict of John 8 within the larger context of the Gospel and in the light of the ancient rhetorical practice of prosopopoeia, or speech-in-character. Prosopopoeia is the creation of speech for characters within a narrative. These speeches were intended to add to the credibility and persuasiveness of the narrative by being “appropriate” for both the person speaking (i.e. conforming to their origins, age, gender, and status) and the situation in which the speech is given (cf. Theon, Prog. 115-118). Although perhaps not prosopopoeia in the traditional sense of lengthy speeches from Greek histories, this paper argues that the Johannine evangelist nevertheless makes use of prosopopoetics by creating appropriate, albeit unnerving, words for Jesus that elevate the audience’s position and add the persuasiveness of his work. In John 8, Jesus builds on conflicts begun in John 7 by shocking his interlocutors with seemingly audacious claims about his identity. According to the perspective of the Jews, Jesus’ words are thoroughly inappropriate because they see Jesus as a man from Galilee who is “not yet fifty years old.” What seems inappropriate to the Jews of John 8, however, is entirely appropriate for the audience of John’s Gospel who has the advantage of the Prologue and narrative asides that provide a more complete characterization of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus’ speech conforms to the origins laid out in the Prologue and has the effect of placing the audience in a privileged position. As such, the audience becomes insiders who understand more about Jesus than those who saw Jesus for themselves. The shock experienced by the Jews in 8:31-59, along with other conflicts that ultimately lead to Jesus’ death, fuels the author’s grander purpose: namely, that of convincing the audience rather than the characters within the narrative.
  • Mark A. Matson, Milligan College
    John’s Rhetorical Use of Narrative Time (30 min)
    • In Paul Ricoeur’s work Time and Narrative, he considers the poetic act of emplotment as involving at once three aspects of mimesis: M1 is that aspect which reflects reality, M2 is the truly creative aspect of imitation which “re-presents” reality within a poetic form, and M3 involves the rhetorical or persuasive turn in the muthos (or plot) of a narrative work. In this construction, Ricoeur considers M2 to be critical because it mediates between the stark imitation of reality (M1), and the intentional effort of the rhetorical purpose (M3). The creative nature of the plotting devices, including aspects of narrative time, can thus be understood as functioning in this mediating role. Narrative time, including duration and point of view or perspective, is an essential feature by which an author represents (or re-presents) a view of the world. The interplay of these elements of mimesis is striking in the Gospel of John. Perhaps no other gospel is as apparent in its rhetorical use of narrative time, both in terms of constructing events and in the use of varied “points of view” of narrative time. The construction of the narrative time around festival seasons, of iterative “signs,” the slow advancement of time in the discourses, and especially the periodic critical observations by the narrator that are clearly from a post-resurrection perspective, all indicate a manifest rhetorical objective (“that you may believe”). At the level of the unfolding drama of the plot, the Fourth Evangelist has often been seen as highly creative. And indeed John’s developing plot, in which the increasing conflict between his self-revelation and the opposition of “the Jews” at once supports the rhetorical purpose of the gospel, and yet also presents a reality which is compelling. In this paper I explore, under the influence of Ricoeur and Gerard Gennette, how the 4th Gospel uses narrative time to both create a pleasing and realistic muthos and to support the rhetorical purpose of the gospel. In the process I also find support for a relatively unified and holistic view of the narrative work of the evangelist—that is, that the overall use of narrative time suggests a consistent poetic effort.
  • Ralph Korner, McMaster University
    The Gospel of John’s Jesus: The Way into a Place, into a People, or to a Person? (30 min)
    • The New Testament understanding of people as sacred space challenges an exclusivist soteriology that finds its basis in John 14:6 (“I am the way, the truth and the life”). Specifically, by recasting “the father’s house” (John 14:2) as the “Temple/New Jerusalem/people of God,” rather than as “heaven” the focus of interpretation moves away from Jesus as “the way” for one to enter a place (“heaven”) towards Jesus as “the way” for one to enter a people (“the Church”). Additionally, then, the emphasis of Jesus’ statement in John 14:6b (“no one comes to the Father except through me”) shifts away from claiming a mediatory role for his disciples’ access to the place where the Father resides (“heaven”) towards an assertion of his unique role in mediating the disciples direct access to the Father during their earthly lifetime for the purposes of ministry effectiveness (John 14:7-13) and personal intimacy (John 14:20-23). This “realized eschatological” reinterpretation assumes a familiarity by the Gospel writer(s) with the symbolic continuity between the Temple and the Church that is suggested in pauline (1 Cor 3:16) and deutero-pauline writings (Eph 2:19-22), as well as in the Apocalypse. In the Apocalypse, however, this Temple imagery appears to be taken even a step further. Therein, the sacred city (New Jerusalem) is transformed into a sacred building (Temple; Spatafora [1997]), which is also a sacred people (Church universal; Gundry [1987]). Some earlier Jewish Second Temple texts also cast the people of God as sacred space (e.g., people as Temple [1 QS 8.5-6; 4Q174 3.1-7], people as the foundations of the New Jerusalem [4QpIsd (4Q164)]). The foregoing suggests the plausibility of viewing GJohn’s Jesus as “the way” through which one enters a People who are in intimate relationship with a Person, rather than as simply “the way” to an eternal resting place.

Papers related to Johannine Literature in Other Program Units:

21-114: Construction of Christian Identities

  • Adriana Destro, University of Bologna and Mauro Pesce, University of Bologna - How Did "Johannine Christianity" Come into Existence?"

21-210: Christianity in Egypt: Scripture, Tradition, and Reception

  • Christian Askeland, University of Cambridge - Was there a Coptic Translation of John’s Gospel Without Chapter 21?

22-223a: Intertextuality in the New Testament

  • Jill Hicks-Keeton, Duke University - Remember and Believe: Psalm 69:9 in the Johannine Temple Logion

22-226: Mapping Memory: Tradition, Texts, and Identity

  • Catrin H. Williams, University of Bangor, Wales - Abraham as a Figure of Memory in John 8:31-59

23-116: Construction of Christian Identities

  • Michael Allen Daise, College of William and Mary - Ritual Transformation and Johannine Identity

23-205: Bible and Visual Art

  • Kasper B. Larsen, University of Aarhus - Rembrandt as Johannine Exegete: The Example of “Ecce Homo” (1634)

23-322: Jesus Traditions, Gospels, and Negotiating the Roman Imperial World

  • Grant Gieseke, Drew University - The Kidron Connection: Arresting Ambivalence in John 18

24-109: Construction of Christian Identities

  • Lori Baron, Duke University - Interpreting the Shema: Liturgy and Identity in the Fourth Gospel

24-114: Ideological Criticism

  • Sonya Cronin, Florida State University - Raymond Brown: 38 Years of Biblical Interpretation Regarding "the Jews" in the Gospel of John

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

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

Description: The Johannine Literature Section has been a long-standing unit within the Society of Biblical Literature. Its main purpose throughout has been to address issues and concerns having to do with the analysis and interpretation of the Johannine literature--a major component of the Christian Scriptures, encompassing for our purposes the Gospel of John and the three Johannine letters.

Call for Papers: The Johannine Literature section invites papers for its two open sessions at the 2009 meeting. For one session, we are particularly interested in topics related to the intersection of the Gospel of John and ancient philosophy and/or ancient rhetoric. The second session is open to any topic related to Johannine Literature.

Steering Committee Co-Chairs:
Prof. Colleen Conway, Seton Hall University (
Prof. Kyle Keefer, Converse College (


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