SBL 2010

Sessions and Papers related to Johannine Literature
presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
Atlanta, GA - November 19-23, 2010

[For the latest updates, see the official SBL website.]

Program of the Johannine Literature Section

21-129: Johannine Literature Section
Sunday, 11/21/2010, 9:00 to 11:30 AM, Room: Techwood - Hyatt Regency

Theme: Open Session
Presiding: Kasper Larsen, University of Aarhus

  • Grant Gieseke, Drew University
    The Postcolonial Prologue: John 1:1-18 and Cosmic Colonization (30 min)
    • As suggested by Frank Kermode, the critical theorist and occasional interloper into New Testament studies, many endings in narrative texts are irresolute because they reflect a sense of the incompleteness of life with which artists are acutely familiar. But what of the sense of a beginning? The prologue to the Fourth Gospel has been understood by many as the construction of the work’s hermeneutical framework; thus, in a Gospel in which Rome plays such a significant role in Jesus’ climactic passion, we would expect a prologue similarly occupied with the Roman colonial elephant in the room. I suggest in this paper that the prologue to the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1-18) is constrained by colonial hybridity, as understood by the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha. Hybridity is the product of a network of overlapping projects and ideologies under the auspices of the colonizer’s culture that seek to establish the identity of the colonized as inferior and hopelessly fractured. John’s conception of Jesus as the logos is audaciously universal, extended immediately and infinitely across time and space and for all people. And yet, this fracturing of identities is evident in the prologue insofar as John’s perception of the timeless logos is immediately problematized by the intruding present (as references to John the Baptist uneasily interrupt the prologue). Similarly, to read the prologue as a meditation on “logos theology” (to refer to Daniel Boyarin’s framing) demonstrates the multivalence of a signifier that would resonate both in Jewish and Hellenistic milieus, thus strategically appealing to hybridity to make claims that transcend cultures and ideologies. Finally, the sectarianism posited by J. Louis Martyn, though sublimated in this passage, punctures the prologue (in allusions to Moses and to the rejection by the logos’ own) and its bold, universal claims by exhibiting a parochial hybridity among Jewish communities. The prologue is thus irrevocably hybridized, reflecting a sense of fracture and incompleteness that lurks in the Johannine prologue and perhaps even across the hybrid whole of the Fourth Gospel.
  • David Lamb, University of Manchester
    The Language of the Gospel of John: The Antilanguage of an Antisociety? (30 min)
    • In their depiction of the Johannine Community as a sectarian group both within Judaism and early Christianity, a number of recent sociological commentators on the Gospel of John have drawn on a concept from the discipline of sociolinguistics. This concept, that of "antilanguage", denoting the sociolect of a distinct and subordinate group opposed to wider society (an "antisociety"), was first proposed by the British sociolinguist, Michael Halliday (the founder of systemic functional linguistics) in an essay published in 1976. The concept was applied to the language of the Gospel of John by Bruce J. Malina in a paper given in 1984 and it has since been adopted by a number of other commentators, including Norman J. Petersen, Jerome A. Neyrey, Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Philip F. Esler and Ronald A. Piper. I suggest that the use of the term "antilanguage" may be perceived as lending interdisciplinary weight to the arguments of those who support a sectarian view of the Community. However, I will argue that a close examination of the way the concept and related terms, such as "relexicalization" and "overlexicalization", have been used by these scholars reveals a number of key ways in which Halliday’s original proposal has been misrepresented and that there is, in fact, no sociolinguistic support for modelling the Johannine Community as an "antisociety".
  • Martijn Steegen, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
    To Worship the Johannine "Son of Man" (John 9:38): Refining Early Christian Devotion to Jesus (30 min)
    • Recently, scholarly studies have focused on the emergence of the devotion to Jesus during early Christianity as one that arose from “an explosion in devotional innovation” against the background of monotheistic Second Temple Judaism (Hurtado, 2003: 136). Of the Johannine believers, it is said that they “attributed to Jesus a status in their religious life and thought that exceeds anything we know by way of analogy in… Jewish traditions about… agents of God…” (Hurtado, 2003: 360). In the Gospel of John, Jesus seems to function most clearly as a deity (1:1.18; 20:28) and therefore as a recipient of worship (see Keener, 2003). In the recent debate, a great deal of attention has been given to a wide range of distinct divine agencies in Second Temple Judaism to elucidate the possible background of early Christian devotion. In current scholarship, there is a notable absence on the semantic range of relevant Greek terms designating worship (latreuo-latreia, leitourgeo-leitourgia, thrèskeia, proskyneo) to Jesus in the Gospels. In this paper, I shall study the use of the term “proskynèsen” of Jesus as “Son of Man”, by the man born blind, in the text-critically difficult passage 9:35-38. Although the term proskyneo frequently describes respect given to a variety of figures and therefore, is usually not an implied deification given to the recipient, some commentators argue that the worship of the man born blind (9:38) “fits the Johannine portrait of Jesus’ deity and invites John’s own audience to worship Jesus” (e.g. Keener, 2003: 795). It is my contention that John’s Christology is less innovative and explosive in comparison with Jewish thought and praxis found within the arguments of Hurtado. Therefore, in this paper I will provide an in-depth exegetical study of the use of the verb proskyneo in John 9:38. Through this study, I will defend the notion that the use of proskyneo, by the man born blind, should not be understood as directly and exclusively addressed to the Johannine Jesus but alternatively, as an acknowledgment and recognition that the Father is made known in the person of Jesus (cf. 9:3).
  • Gitte Buch-Hansen, University in Oslo
    Gender Ambiguity and the Johannine Signs (30 min)
    • The Samaritan woman suggests that Jesus is “the anointed” and her testimony causes her fellow-citizens to believe. Yet, having spent some days with Jesus, the Samaritans reject her testimony; their belief in Jesus as the Savior of World is caused by his words. Although Martha believes that Jesus is the “Son of God”, Jesus rebukes her for failing to understand how God’s glory manifests itself. Mary Magdalene recognizes the risen Christ as her teacher. Nevertheless, Jesus warns her not to touch him and sends her to his brothers with the message about his immediate ascent. Apparently, Mary isn’t among the disciples receiving the spirit. Since John’s women are the first to break Mark’s secret about the Messiah and also to be appointed apostles, feminist exegetes evaluated this Gospel positively. Yet, this valuation fails to grasps the ambiguity of John’s female characters; seemingly, they never enter into the intimate circle of understanding disciples. The paper takes issue with this ambiguity. John’s secret differs from Mark’s suffering Messiah; instead, the Johannine puzzle concerns the “uplifting and glorification”. All Jesus’ signs and sayings represent this enigmatic event, which I argue refers to Jesus’ translation into the divine spirit. Jesus leaves and unites with the pneumatic Father; and he returns and begets the disciples from above. Cf.20:31, the decoding of the Johannine signs takes place in two steps. Initially, the signs must engender faith in “the Messiah, the Son of God”(31a). This the women grasp. Yet, in order to have “life in his name”(31b), one must also be able to decode Jesus’ signs and sayings ‘spiritually’ as a reference to Jesus’ translation and their own renewal by the spirit. Consequently, the Johannine surplus is ‘impregnated’ with Aristotelian epigenesis: The women provide the ‘synoptic’ matter which the Johannine spirit transforms into the new (male) life.
  • Lorne R. Zelyck, University of Cambridge
    The Reception of the Fourth Gospel in Gospel of the Savior (30 min)
    • The newly discovered Gospel of the Savior (Papyrus Berolinensis 22220 + Strasbourg Coptic Papyrus) is an extra-canonical gospel from the third century CE that has been influenced by the Fourth Gospel. This paper will address the claims of Jacoby, Hedrick and Mirecki, and Schenke who suggest that Gos. Sav. was written independently of the canonical gospels and relied on oral tradition from the first half of the second century CE, but will agree with Schmidt, Frey, Emmel, T. Nagel, P. Nagel, and Plisch that Gos. Sav. is dependent on Matthew and the Fourth Gospel. Previous examinations of Gos. Sav. have not focused on its use of the Fourth Gospel. This paper will examine how Gos. Sav. uses passages from the Fourth Gospel in order to determine the author’s theological motivation. There are striking similarities between the interpretations of John 10:30 in Gos. Sav. and Praxeas (Prax. 20), as well as John 19:34 in Gos. Sav. and other literature from the second and third century CE. I conclude that the author has supplemented and omitted Fourth Gospel material, as well as arranged Fourth Gospel passages in order to extend the “Johannine trajectory” by glorifying the salvific role of the Savior and minimizing his fleshly suffering.

S22-231: Johannine Literature Section
Monday, 11/22/2010, 1:00 to 3:30 PM, Room: Hanover Hall E - Hyatt Regency

Theme: Theme: Hellenistic Philosophy and Johannine Literature
Presiding: Kyle Keefer, Converse College

  • Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Copenhagen University
    Logos and Pneuma in the Fourth Gospel (30 min)
    • The paper argues – following Francis Watson (1987) and Gitte Buch-Hansen (Copenhagen Ph.D. diss. 2007, soon to be published by de Gruyter) – for a very close connection between John 1:14 and 1:32-33: “the union of the Logos … with Jesus of Nazareth took place in the descent of the Spirit at his Baptism” (Watson). This union should be understood in the light of the Stoic cosmology of the Pneuma (Buch-Hansen). In particular, Logos and Pneuma are two sides (a cognitive and a physical one) of the very same thing, just as Pneuma is understood in Stoicism. When this entity comes to “remain on” the earthly Jesus (= when the Logos “becomes” flesh), Jesus becomes the Christ. Only as such will he have been with God in the beginning. The paper explains this conception by analysing the ties between the Prologue and the Baptist’s witness to Jesus’ baptism later in chapter 1 and then goes on to analyse chapters 3 and 6 in order to show that a Stoic-like understanding of the Johannine Pneuma will solve issues of epistemology in chapter 3 and ontology in chapter 6. This result is taken to support the same understanding of Logos and Pneuma in chapter 1. The paper argues more broadly for three methodological approaches to be adopted in Johannine interpretation: (a) John has a cosmology which is concrete and immediately intelligible. (It is not all “symbolism”, “imagery”, “metaphor”, “poetry” and “myth”.) (b) John must be read over longer stretches (e.g. complete chapters) as aiming to dissolve philosophical puzzles that are presented to begin with. (c) John must be torn away from the usual, Platonizing perspective within which he is normally read (if he is at all read from a philosophical perspective). A Stoicizing perspective is better able to account for the incarnation.
  • Volker Rabens, Ruhr University of Bochum
    Stoic and Early Jewish Ethics in the Gospel of John (30 min)
    • John’s Gospel has recently been interpreted against the background of Stoic pneumatology (Gitte Buch-Hansen, BZNW 173, Berlin 2010). My paper will start with a critical appraisal of the role that is attributed to the ethical work of the Spirit in Stoicism and John’s Gospel by Buch-Hansen. The second part of the presentation will then expound how people are by the Spirit transformed and empowered for ethical living in early Jewish literature. We will look at the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g. 1QH 8.14-20) and particularly at the mysticism of Philo Judaeus (e.g. Leg. All. 1.38-39; Quaest. in Exod. 2.29; Gig. 54-55). Against this background we will demonstrate in the final part of the paper that the Gospel of John was part of a milieu in which the ethical work of the Spirit was often implicitly or explicitly understood to be enabled by deeper knowledge of and an intimate relationship with God and with the community of faith. Accordingly, ethical conduct in the Fourth Gospel is not mainly based on how Jesus expects his disciples to behave, as it is sometimes claimed. Rather, the basis is the experience of God’s love. This relational model of transformation is supported, e.g., by Jn. 13:34c where the Johannine Jesus explains that the disciples ought to love one another as [kathos] Christ has loved them. An interpretation that reads this only as a comparative, requiring the disciples to imitate Christ’s love, misses the experiential dimension of the locution. It will be shown, also against the background of other passages (e.g. Jn. 15), that the experience of Jesus’ love is the basis of the disciples’ ability to love others (cf. Bultmann). The Spirit-Paraclete plays an important role in this process because he mediates the intimate presence of Jesus (cf., e.g., 14:15-18).
  • Jesper Tang Nielsen, University of Copenhagen
    Signs and Signification in Ancient Philosophy and the Fourth Gospel (30 min)
    • One of the characteristics of the Fourth Gospel is its use of the concept semeion about Jesus’ miracles. These are signs that reveal his doxa (2:11). The book is indeed a collection of semeia with the purpose of evoking or confirming the pistis of the reader (20:30f). Although parts of this vocabulary have roots in the Septuagint (cf. 4:48), it also seems to have terminological and structural parallels in ancient philosophical discussions about signs and signification. The paper will introduce to these debates and read the Johannine concept of semeion on this ancient philosophical background. An important conclusion from the investigation is that the Johannine understanding of the signifying process includes three components: the sign, the signified and the effect of the sign. The incorporation of these three aspects in the Johannine understanding of semeion has important implications for the construal of the Christology in the Fourth Gospel.
  • Romulus D. Stefanut, University of Chicago
    Hellenistic Epistemology and the Epistle of 1 John (30 min)
    • From a simple comparative analysis, the epistle of 1 John contains an impressive epistemological vocabulary in relation to other New Testament books. Verbs of sense perception are paired with nouns designating sensory organs; verbs of knowledge are scattered amidst adjectives denoting the truth value of things; these are just some of the linguistic "garden" varieties. If the vocabulary is well suited, the form of argumentation is equally serving an epistemologic agenda for our author. The main form of reasoning employed in 1 John is the categorical implication, typical of Stoic logic. This paper, therefore, will argue that both the content and the form of 1 John reveal an important interest in the pursuit of knowledge. The prologue, with its epistemologic tour de force will be illustrative for the epistemic content of 1 John, as several of the themes introduced in the prologue are further developed in the rest of the ‘epistle.’ The basic forms of categorical implication, modus ponens and modus tollens, are very well represented in our text, in what appears to be a series of tests of orthopraxy meant to edify the Johannine community. This combination of form and content makes 1 John one of the most interesting NT writings in relation to Hellenistic epistemology.
  • Discussion (30 min)

Papers related to Johannine Literature in Other Program Units:

S20-116: Formation of Luke-Acts

  • Timothy Wiarda, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary – The Apostles and the Spirit as Witnesses in Luke-Acts and the Johannine Writings

S20-137: Wisdom and Apocalypticism in Early Judaism and Early Christianity

  • Wooil Moon, Claremont Graduate University – Jesus in the Fourth Gospel as a King Solomon Redivivus: An Influence of the Wisdom Tradition on the Christology of the Fourth Gospel

S20-234: Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
Theme: Religious Experience in the Gospel of John

  • Robin Griffith-Jones, King's College London / Temple Church – The new Temple’s new Liturgy: the Performance of John’s Gospel, its Setting and Effect
  • Martijn Steegen, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven – The Eyewitness Testimony in John 19:35 as Mediation to Revelatory Experience of God
  • Adele Reinhartz, University of Ottawa – Seeing the Word: The role of "this book" in the lived experience of the Johannine community
  • Tom Thatcher, Cincinnati Christian University – Prophetic Speech and Sacred Time in Johannine and AntiChristian Religious Experience
  • Esther Kobel, University of Basel – Experiencing the Meal: The Role of Johannine Meal Narratives in the Formation of Community Identity

S20-332: Qumran
Theme: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Christianity

  • Serge Ruzer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem – Reading 1QS 1 and 1QS 11 as Backdrop to the Johannine Prologue
  • Joerg Frey, Universität München – The 'Spirit of Truth' in Qumran and in John: Influence, Analogy, or What?

S21-218: Jesus Traditions, Gospels, and Negotiating the Roman Imperial World

  • Susan Miller, University of Glasgow – "Are you not also one of this man's disciples?" (John 18:17). Discipleship and Trial in the Gospel Traditions
  • Gilberto Ruiz, Emory University – Protesting Imperial Influence in the Temple in John 2:15

S21-227: Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds

  • Mauro Pesce, University of Bologna and Adriana Destro, Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna – The Slavery in the Gospel of John and Documentary Papyri

S21-315: Ethics, Love and the Other in Early Christianity

  • Thomas E. Phillips, Point Loma Nazarene University – Loving Neighbor, Loving One Another & Loving Enemies: 3 NT ethics of love

S23-130: Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

  • Duane F. Watson, Malone University – Socio-rhetorical commentary on the Johannine Epistles

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


Johannine Literature Section

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

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.

We invite submission of papers on any topic related to Johannine literature for our open session at the 2010 meeting. For our other session, we are particularly interested in papers that explore the influence of the Johannine literature on later cultural phenomena, including theology, philosophy, material culture, and literature.

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


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