Skip to content

Remembrance and Revelation in John

July 21, 2010

I’ve now posted (on the “Essays, etc.” page) the manuscript of my essay on “Remembrance and Revelation:  The Historic and Glorified Jesus in the Gospel of John”, which was published in a multi-author volume in 2007.

The focus of the essay is on the interesting (distinctive) way that the author of GJohn deploys and develops language of “remember/remembrance” in sentences that rather clearly talk about new/further revelation about Jesus (esp. in the “post-Easter” period).  I explore how the author does this, and what he seems to have intended by doing so.

I propose that the author consciously used what he regarded as the greater insight into Jesus’ significance that he ascribed to the Holy Spirit (or in GJohn’s terms “Paraclete”) after Jesus’ death/departure.  I also propose that the author tells readers that he’s doing this, that he expected his readers to see it and appreciate it.

For simple historical-Jesus inquiry (a sort of, “just the facts, Jack” assumption), this will be judged anachronism, of course.  If we were to explain to the author of GJohn modern historical-Jesus interests, he’d probably be puzzled or maybe amused, and might quickly agree that this isn’t his agenda.  Instead, he wants to say that the historical figure was all along the embodiment of divine glory, but it wasn’t really till after Jesus’ death and resurrection that this became fully apparent.

About these ads

From → Uncategorized

14 Comments
  1. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘ If we were to explain to the author of GJohn modern historical-Jesus interests, he’d probably be puzzled or maybe amused, and might quickly agree that this isn’t his agenda.’

    Modern historical Jesus interests often interest themselves in the question of the existence of Judas, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea.

    Would such questions never have occurred to the author of GJohn?

    • Scholars tend to think that these figures were not invented by/in GJohn, but taken over from the Jesus-tradition that had been circulating for decades, although GJohn seems to develop these characters in its own way. I’m urging that we try to get inside the head of the author, rather than bringing to the text our own agendas. The latter we’re free to do, but a somewhat adversarial approach to any author can severely limit our understanding of what he/she was up to.

      • Steven Carr permalink

        Lazarus is a character in a parable in Luke.

        Isn’t it important to try to discover if Judas was an invented person, or Lazarus?

      • By all means. And I’m saying that some 200 years of such scholarly work has yielded the majority view that characters in parables are fictive, and that figures such as Judas, or Mary Magdalene, or Peter, or James and John Zebedee, are real historical figures. We’ve gone at this matter before, Steven, and it’s not the subject of the post to which you’re commenting.

      • By all means. And I’m saying that some 200 years of such scholarly work has yielded the majority view that characters in parables are fictive, and that figures such as Judas, or Mary Magdalene, or Peter, or James and John Zebedee, are real historical figures. We’ve gone at this matter before, Steven, and it’s not the subject of the post to which you’re commenting.

  2. Dr Hurtado said “To make the point clear, the author was, I propose, perfectly aware that much of what he put into the mouth of Jesus was never spoken by Jesus in his earthly life, and, indeed, the author gives readers rather clear indication of this also” [page 24 of your essay]

    I see a problem here . Do we have to say then that God ( the Holy Spirit who inspired John ) told people unhistorical sayings and stories about Jesus ( although these stories reflect a true picture about his ” = Jesus ” divine status ) ? Can we say that this is a kind of white lies aiming at promoting faith ( I don’t know how to phrase it in a different way ) ? These sayings are theologically and christologically accurate , but they were put into a historical framework ( unlike the sayings mentioned in the book of revelation , every one knows that this is a vision and not something happened in Jesus earthly life ) in the earthly life of Jesus , so wouldn’t this be a lie ?

    I think this is what make historians deal with the gospel of John very carefully in their quest to discover the ” historical Jesus ” .

    Thank you sir

    • You are free to call it what you like, but I strongly suspect that the author of GJohn would have objected strongly to your “white lies” label. After all, how could he be lying when, as I propose in the essay, he rather clearly tells readers that what he is giving is revelation from the Paraclete? He’s not deceiving anyone.

      Also, part of good historical work is trying to get inside the heads of the authors we study. In this case, we have to get ourselves inside the head of a person who honestly believes that the Paraclete has given further revelation of Jesus’ glory, which was true all along.

  3. phil_style permalink

    It seems to my untrained eye, that someone writing a story, even a narrative, based on retroactive “knowledge” is actually writing a narrative of what they think “should have happened”, rather than “what did happen”.

    So, isn’t it a reasonable assumption to conclude that the author of GJohn is inventing events, in order to satisfy theological criteria? If the historical Jesus did not actually say “x” and the author knows full well that “x” was not physically spoken, then having “x” be said IS an invention. IT’s an imagined event, not a real event.

    I note your use of the phrase “forensic work of the Spirit-Paraclete”. To me, this suggests a similar “secrecy” motif to what we find in Mark, that the true nature of Jesus wan’t known until the spirit/resurrection made these things clear. But, if GJohn is articulating theological truths that are revelaed in the post-resurrection climate, by the paraclete, why does the author need to change the physical events of the past in order to do this? Why try to locate those theological statements in space and time? Why not just make theological statements and be done with it? Isn’t that a bit like placing evidence at the scene of a crime, albeit that the evidence incriminates the actual perpetrator?

    • People giving a narrative of the past have open to them a variety of literary measures. E.g., I presume that we’ve all read accounts (and also seem films) of historical personages and events, in which the author has chosen to create dialogue because there was no tape or transcript available. But the aim in such cases is not typically to falsify but to amplify, to bring out the significance of a character or event that may well have become clearer only subsequently to the events themselves.

      Remember also that the authors of the intra-canonical Gospels don’t seem to have been writing academic history, but instead quasi-biographical narratives intended to confirm believers in their faith, and provide in a more systematic and connected form a narrative portrait of Jesus. Think of what sometimes preachers do with biblical events/texts, richly amplifying to make a sermonic point.

      In the essay I propose that the use of “remember” language in GJohn to talk about new/further post-Easter revelations of Jesus’ signficance was intended to convey the view that what was revealed was really true all along. So, in the author’s view, to cast these revelations back into the Jesus-narrative, though technically an anachronism, was not theologically wrong. And the reason he puts these things into the scenes and settings of the story of Jesus is, I propose, because he wants to emphasize that it was precisely the human figure, Jesus of Nazareth, who all along embodied the glory of God (albeit insufficiently recognized).

  4. ANNANG ASUMANG permalink

    Thanks Prof; But, I am sorry that perhaps you feel that you have been misunderstood. Personally, I cannot see how else I could understand a statement such as “To make the point clear, the author was, I propose, perfectly aware that much of what he put into the mouth of Jesus was never spoken by Jesus in his earthly life, and, indeed, the author gives readers rather clear indication of this also” [page 24 of your essay] as suggesting that “John felt he had a charismatic license to “fill in the gaps” of his historical account”. I know your statement is not uncommon in large sections of Euro-American academia, but I am yet to read any evidence adduced in support of construing the genre of John’s Gospel in this strange fashion. Perhaps I need to read more.

    • Thanks for your clarification. It wasn’t clear from your initial comment whether you had read my essay. Assuming now that you have, if you see no basis in it for the view that I propose, then I guess that’s it. The whole point of the essay was to offer a basis for the view that the author of GJohn was telling his Jesus-story from the standpoint of the revelations that he believed had come in the post-Easter period. In other words, a revelation with retroactive effects.

      It is precisely in “Euro-American” academia of the last 200 yrs that the notion of a supposedly impartial/objectivist historiography emerged, impugning the value of the Gospels because they are colored by theological motives.

      This in turn generated a conservative back-lash (a back-lash is always shaped by what it’s reacting against, take care!), in which the modernist historiography was accepted, and then fervent apologetic efforts were made to try to show that the Gospels were “factual” in this modernist sense. So, e.g., Jesus cleansed the temple twice, talked one way recorded in GJohn and another way reflected in the Synoptics, etc.

      So, could I respectfully suggest that your anxiety about the sort of view that I propose (which, honestly, is an attempt simply to take stock of what the author of GJohn provides in the text) may be an indication that you’ve been shaped by Euro-American historiographical ideas, esp. stemming from the 18th century. Anyway, if you don’t agree with what I’ve offered, then we can still be friends :-)

      • ANNANG ASUMANG permalink

        I don’t see fundamentalism as the only viable alternative to the hermeneutic above. I just think John has unfairly suffered from being the “minority” among the intra-canonical Gospels, despite the writer’s claim of being an eyewitness and also the Gospel’s historical pedigree, a point which your essay paradoxically begun with. But yes, I remain a good “virtual” friend, and extremely grateful for your helpful efforts.

  5. ANNANG ASUMANG permalink

    I do totally concur with the idea that John indeed is transparent about his methodology. For John, being an eyewitness of Jesus was not just a matter of being present, seeing and hearing the events, but also receiving capacity to understand and believe the significance of the events in the light of Easter and the Jewish Scriptures.

    In my view, any historian worth his sort should articulate the methodology by which s/he interprets past events in the light of a certain perspective, and transparently state her/his criteria for accepting the credibility of claims. It appears to me that in this respect, John is in many ways much more transparent in his historical methodology than some modernist historians of Christian origins give him credit for or even practice themselves in their work.

    However, I do feel a touch uncomfortable about the way the Paraclete passages in John are sometimes employed to suggest that John felt he had a charismatic license to “fill in the gaps” of his historical account. The Paraclete, John underlines, gave him, and his readers the perspective to understand and interpret the raw data of history. No more.

    What do you also think, Prof Hurtado, of the idea that John’s frequent references to memory was meant also to be a way of clarifying the synoptics, especially Mark?

    • Can I ask you to read the essay I’ve posted before you pose this sort of question?

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,873 other followers

%d bloggers like this: