Johannine Literature 2021 Programme

Chairs: Andy Byers and Cornelis Bennema

Session 1

Thomas Habib, University of Cambridge, ‘Guilty of Sin? Ignorance and Moral Responsibility in the Gospel of John’

This paper forms part of my current PhD research into the moral characterisation (ἦθος) of unbelief in John’s Gospel.  In this presentation, we will consider whether characters who do not believe in Jesus are portrayed as morally responsible for their ignorance/lack of recognition.  In John 9:41, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would not have sin (ἁμαρτία). But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (NRSV).  In this verse, Jesus offers a moral evaluation of the Pharisees as ‘sinners’ for their failure to recognise him and believe.  Yet this verse also raises the question of moral responsibility: why are the Pharisees blamed for their ignorance of Jesus?  In what sense are they not blind?  Adopting Aristotle’s theory of general and particular ignorance as a starting point, we will examine how the author employs a series of narrative devices to portray unbelievers morally culpable for their ignorance/lack of recognition of Jesus. 

Zacharias Shoukry, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, ‘Healings as (Re-)Creations in the Gospel of John?’

Within the framework of Ruben Zimmermann’s project Creation in the Gospel of John, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, I am working on my PhD thesis regarding the tradition history of the creation theology in the Fourth Gospel. Past research has indicated that there are not only explicit statements about creation (1:1–3, 10) but also specific motifs that reveal implicit creation theological conceptions (the giving of the spirit in 20:22, expressed through the same verb [ἐμφυσάω] as in Gen 2:7).  In this paper, I want to focus on the question of whether Jesus’s healings can be understood as acts of (re-)creation. Do Jesus’s words, healing the official’s son, have the same power as the creator’s words in the beginning? Is the healing of the sick man at Beth-zatha part of the father’s and the son’s ongoing creational activity (5:17)? Might the making of mud be a creation motif, opening up the possibility of reading John 9 as the blind man’s re-creation? Does the raising of Lazarus point to the life-giving power of Jesus as creator?

Ahreum Kim, University of Cambridge, ‘Conquering the Greco-Roman World in John and 1 John’

This paper will look at the “conquering” language in the Gospel of John and the First Letter of John in Greco-Roman context. In the Gospel, it is Jesus who conquers the world (16:33), and his opponent is the “ruler of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), which could refer to the emperor, who is represented by Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers. In 1 John, the conquerors are the “young men” (2:13-14) and the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (5:4-5), and the multiple opponents include the evil one, the devil, false prophets, and antichrists. This paper will show that both the Gospel and the Letter suggest a conquering of the Greco-Roman world through pistis (belief/faith) in Jesus as the divine Son, which counters the concept of victory in the culture that is associated with the goddess Nike (Roman: Victoria) and military victories achieved through a submissive “pistis to the Romans.”

Session 2

David Lamb, University of Manchester, ‘The Science of Biblical Studies and the Continuing Influence of Raymond E. Brown’s Anchor Bible Commentary on the Gospel of John’

The year 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of the second volume of Raymond E. Brown’s landmark two-volume commentary on the Gospel of John for the Anchor Bible Commentary series. This commentary is probably the most influential English language commentary on the Gospel of the 20th Century and continues to be widely cited. This paper looks at some of the reasons for the commentary’s enduring popularity, before examining in detail Brown’s adherence to the historical-critical method, which he repeatedly describes as a ‘scientific’ approach to exegesis. The appropriateness of scientific terminology for biblical studies will be considered and an evaluation made of how ‘scientific’ Brown actually was, with reference to the methodology explicitly set out in an earlier published article on “The Johannine Sacramentary Reconsidered”, material from which was incorporated into his commentary. Finally, an assessment will be made of Brown’s continuing influence in the light of subsequent reactions against the historical-critical method and the rise of literary and reader-response approaches to exegesis. Is there a place for Brown in contemporary Johannine scholarship?

Rachel Danley, University of Aberdeen, ‘Ideological Temple Space as a Theological Expression of Participation in the Fourth Gospel’

Within the Fourth Gospel, Johannine scholars have increasingly identified Temple imagery with often conflicting conclusions, but this has not been connected significantly with the gospel’s participatory language. I hope to rectify this disengagement by drawing upon the interdisciplinary fields of Conceptual Metaphor Theory and Critical Spatiality to recognise how various aspects of theology are expressed through the Temple’s multivalent metaphors and metaphorizations of space. In this paper, I will engage these interdisciplinary tools alongside traditional exegetical methods to observe how Second Temple Judaism expresses the holiness of God through various images of the Temple. Through the physical space of the Temple humans require extensive purification in order to gain access to God’s presence. The greater part of this study will consider the Temple imagery of the first two chapters of the Fourth Gospel and how it relates to the gospel’s participatory theology. I suggest that the Fourth Gospel reveals the covenantal work of God through Jesus which purifies believers, thus allowing them access to God, and the indwelling of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Buki Fatona, University of Oxford, ‘Augustine’s seventh gradus: a Johannine-Neoplatonist synthesis?’

St Augustine’s conception of the seven gradus described in his De quantitate animae is usually attributed to Neoplatonism. The gradus being degrees of functionalities the soul possesses. There are strong parallels between Augustine’s schema of the gradus and that of Neoplatonists [see Plotinus’ Enneads 1.2.4; Porphyry Sententiae ad intelligibilia ducentes 32 (p.25.10ff. L.). In this paper, I make two points. First, I propose that in addition to understandings from Neoplatonism, Augustine constructs his schema from an exegesis of John 14. Augustine describes the seventh gradus as not just/quite a gradus but a mansio—i.e., an abode wherein the soul resides in timeless, undisturbed peace. To me, the word ‘mansio‘ has echoes of John 14.2’s “μοναὶπολλαί”. In that both mansio and μονη (sing.) mean “a staying or remaining”. Second, I ask if the use of μονη in John 14.2 is, in turn, reflective of a Platonic conception of eternity as “μένειν ἐν ἑνί“? (Timaeus 37d6) I.e., A place in which the soul ascends “to remain in unity with the One.

Session 3

Panel Discussion and Book Review of Andrew J. Byers, John and the Others: Jewish Relations, Christian Origins, and the Sectarian Hermeneutic

The Johannine Literature has inspired the Church’s Christological creeds, prompted its Trinitarian formulations, and resourced its ecumenical movements. But while confessional readers find in these texts a divine love for “the world,” biblical scholars detect a dangerous program of “othering.” These writings are now understood as products of an anti-society with an anti-language that is anti-ecclesiastical, anti-hierarchical, and, more seriously, anti-Jewish and even anti-Semitic. Is the “John” who has contributed so richly to the Christian theological tradition guilty of sectarian “othering”? In John and the Others, Andrew Byers challenges the “sectarian hermeneutic” that has become a default mode of interpreting these texts and argues that the “Other Disciple” is actually a salutary resource for a contemporary world steeped in the negative discourse of othering. In this panel discussion, reviewers challenge and engage with Byers’ arguments and discuss their implications for Johannine studies.