Wednesday, December 30, 2009

getting at the crux

I was able to continue reading Chris Keith's The Pericope Adulterae, The Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009) yesterday, in part because the family minivan contracted a vehicular strain of swine flu. I suspect a fair bit of scholarship—biblical or otherwise—takes place in automative waiting rooms around the globe.

At any rate, chapters 5–8 represent a turning point in Chris's argument. The first four chapters established the problem and some methodological groundwork, and the next four provide an exegetical discussion of the Pericope Adulterae and the context in which a scribe inserted it (viz., John 7–8). Chris states his thesis clearly at the beginning of chapter six:
What follows will therefore bring these issues to the fore of the discussion by focussing upon the interrelationship of authority, Moses, the law, judgment, and literacy/education as both the crowd and the Jewish leadership attempts to answer the question 'Who is Jesus?' in John 7. (Keith 2009: 143)

One of the marks of an insightful argument, in my judgment, is its power to open new doors in your mind. When you hear the thesis to be argued you begin to see its merits even before you hear the evidence in favor of that thesis. Chris's argument that the debate regarding Jesus' identity and his relation to Moses/the Mosaic Law in John 7 drew the Pericope Adulterae to John 7.53–8.11 more than Jesus' claim to judge no one in 8.15. The Pericope may not be Johannine, in other words, but it does provide evidence of a particular reading of John's gospel in the early (first three or four) centuries of the church's history.

One word of clarification: Notice that Keith's thesis, as stated in the passage quoted above, doesn't argue against John 8.15's relevance for understanding the Pericope's placement. Rather, Keith broadens his view and attempts to demonstrate that both the Pericope and John 8.15 belong to a larger nexus of issues with which John 7–8 (and even John's gospel as a whole) are concerned. Chris's attention to more global, holistic concerns—whether textually, historically, culturally, or whatever—strikes me as entirely appropriate.

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