2014 Johannine Literature

Session 1

Joshua Coutts (University of Edinburgh)


Most scholars pass over Jesus’ claim in John 5.43 “I have come in my Father’s name” with little comment. It is simply a standard expression of agency, subsumed within Jesus’ defense. However, John appears here to reflect a programmatic development of the Jesus tradition which linked Psalm 118 with Jesus’ Entry: “Blessed is the one coming in the name of the Lord.” In this paper, I argue that John’ interest in this expression arises from his conviction that the eschatological manifestation of the divine Name occurs in Jesus. Jesus does not only “come in” the divine Name, but is profoundly identified with it, and thereby associated with the Father. This raises questions about the role and significance of the divine Name for John’s wider narrative, and about the factors which may have contributed to the production of John’s Gospel.

Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς: Are You an Emperor, or a King?

Characters in the Gospel of John are generally seen to represent possible responses to Jesus. Although Pilate is also often analysed according to this criteria, he may be an exception that proves the rule. This paper suggests that instead the author of the Fourth Gospel uses Pilate to elucidate for Latin-aware auditors an understanding of βασιλεύς that clarifies Jesus as imperator, not rex.

Since John’s audience already knows the outcome of the trial, Pilate’s final decision is never in doubt. Josephus writes of Romans in general and Philo writes of Pilate specifically, both relating incidents where decisions are made according to political expediency rather than a concern for justice. The actions of Pilate as a character fit that motivation.

If Pilate’s decision, then, is not the focus for John, what is? Archaeological evidence supports contact between Latin and Greek in locations connected with the production of the Gospel. Furthermore, the distinction between imperator and rex was key within the Roman encyclopedia. This paper, therefore, will provide a reading of the trial narrative that brings out this clarification: To claim that Jesus was βασιλεύς meant that he was imperator, not rex.


Session 2

Prof. Dr. George H. van Kooten (University of Groningen)

Heraclitus' Axiom about Apollo "neither telling nor concealing, but signifying": An Ancient Semiotic Interpretation of John’s “Signs”, “Dark Speech”, and “Figures of Speech”

In this paper it is argued that John reflects awareness of an theory of ancient semiotics which was shaped by Heraclitus’ axiom “the Lord whose prophetic shrine is at Delphi neither tells nor conceals, but signifies” (ὁ ἄναξ, οὗ τὸ μαντεῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἐν Δελφοῖς, οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει ἀλλὰ σημαίνει; fragm. 93). Such an acquaintance of John with Heraclitus is not altogether unlikely, as also a Jewish Hellenistic author such as Philo is acquainted with Heraclitus, and refers to him on a variety of issues, emphasizing his compatibility with, or even his dependence upon Moses. It seems that the tension between Heraclitus’ contradiction of “neither telling nor concealing” runs through the Johannine narrative. Interestingly, John appears to reflect on these semiotics in a way very similar to Plutarch’s reflections on Heraclitus’ axiom, in his “The Oracles at Delphi No Longer Given in Verse (De Pythiae Oraculis)”. Making use of Plutarch’s semiotics, this paper will explore how John can be understood as a narrative which is embroidered on the Heraclitean axiom of God “neither telling nor concealing, but signifying”, while clearly marking the transition from the indirect, diffuse circumlocution of “dark speech”, “figures of speech” and “signs” to plain speech at the crucial moment of the last Symposium (John 16.25-29). 


Prof. Andrew T. Lincoln (University of Gloucestershire)

A Life of Jesus as Testimony: The Divine Courtroom and the Gospel of John

This paper resulted from an invitation to give a presentation on the Gospel of John at a conference on “The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective.” That occasion provided the opportunity for the writer to revisit his work on the appeal to the divine courtroom in this Gospel (Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Gospel of John, 2000), to select some key issues in the Gospel’s presentation of this motif, and to do so in the light of more recent treatments of the topic. After sketching some of the salient features of the use of divine courtroom imagery, the paper re-emphasises the importance of Deutero-Isaiah in Greek translation as the major literary source for this usage. It goes on to indicate how this Scriptural source with its courtroom scenes has been mined and re-worked in shaping John’s story of the life of Jesus. Consideration is then given to the likelihood that the social memory of fierce dispute over Jesus’ identity between a group of his followers, represented by the Gospel’s writer, and other Jews constituted a further reason for appeal to the divine courtroom. In interaction with the observation that accounts that have God as judge at the same time make readers judges of God, the paper concludes with some brief reflections on how the forensic rhetoric of this ancient biography of Jesus functions for its implied and real readers.


Session 3

Anthony Royle

1 John as Midrash Pesher on Genesis 1-4: Eschatological Typology, Structure and Early Christian Polemics

Scholars have often ignored the importance of the impact of the OT upon 1 John because of the lack of formal OT citations. However, the singular reference to Cain and multiple allusions to the first four chapters of Genesis require further examination that has been sorely overlooked. This paper explores the author of 1 John’s exclusive allusions to Genesis 1-4 that have a prominent impact upon the language, theology and structure of the epistle.

The author of 1 John has mirrored the narrative structure of Genesis 1-4 in chronological order (1 John 1:1-2:11/Genesis 1:1-5, 1 John 2:20-29/Genesis 2:7, 1 John 3 1:10/Genesis 3:15-16 and 1 John 3:11-24/Genesis 4) culminating in a realized eschatological scenario by means of a Qumranic-type pesher hermeneutic (1 John 4-5). This is accomplished by extending light/darkness dualistic typology to the battle between the sons of God and the seed of the serpent, characterised through midrashic techniques as Cain and Abel who represent the faithful recipients of the letter and those who oppose them.

The association of Cain with the seed of the serpent is also found in pseudepigraphical literature (e.g. Apocalypse of Abraham). Interestingly, the Cain and Abel narrative is alluded to in similar fashion in other NT writings (Jude 11, Hebrews 11:4, Romans 7:11-25), therefore indicating an early Christian understanding of their place in eschatological events. It would appear that the author of 1 John draws upon an early Christian interpretive tradition for his polemic as views and attitudes of the ‘opposition’ match that of Cain (seed of Satan, murderer of the righteous, wanderer, idolater).


Is there moral progress in John's Gospel?

Despite a renewed interest in John's ethics, most of the works have been too narrow in scope and thus have not been able to provide a comprehensive ethical dynamics that undergirds the whole Gospel. Such a challenge lies in the fact that John does not seem to use ordinary ethical language that is common to the minds of the modern readers or that fits the criteria set by the modern concept of ethics. We must examine John's ethics, however, with the ethical criteria drawn from the contemporary world of John's Gospel because ethics is always bound by socio-cultural factors of its time. Unlike the modern concept of ethics, which often makes a clear distinction between 'religious' and 'ethical', I argue that no such distinction existed in the ancient world. In fact, 'believing in or imitating God(s)' was often considered the foundational ethical deed that had a consequential impact on how one lives in relation to other human beings. In light of such a notion of ethics, I propose that there could be a meaningful 'moral progress' in the Gospel of John as the author consciously leads readers to come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God in chs. 1-12 and leads readers further to identify with Jesus more intimately by imitating him in chs. 13-17. I will first examine some of the misconceptions that made John' ethics problematic, and then will provide examples from Greco-Roman literature to show that 'belief in gods' was a moral category in the Greco-Roman world.