Monday, November 22, 2010

SBL in ATL, redux

The SBL is well underway now. It takes some effort to avoid getting caught up in the phrenetic activity of this, our largest professional meeting of biblical scholars. But here's a quick rundown of my Saturday experience.

I began the day with two papers in the Intertextuality in the New Testament consultation. First, Alain Gignac's paper, "'We know that everything that Law says... '. Rom 3:9-20 as a narrative utilization of intertextuality that develops its own theory of intertextuality," read Paul's catena of citations from the Psalter and Isaiah (and Ecclesiastes?) in Romans 3 in terms of a judicial seat in which Paul (the prosecutor) called ὁ νόμος ("the Law") as a witness against Israel. Second, J. R. Daniel Kirk's paper, "Toward a Theory of Narrative Transformation: The Importance of First Context in Paul’s Scriptural Citations," sought to develop a theory of intertextuality by employing Greimas's actantial model.

After Kirk's paper, I left the NT intertextual discussion to poke my head into the Institute for Biblical Research's (IBR) Historical Jesus Group discussion. That group recently published a hefty volume, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence (Darrell Bock and Robert Webb, eds.; WUNT 247; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), which has been reissued at a less-insane price by Eerdmans. Bock and Webb presented the book's basic historiographical method and a preview of that method's application to the gospel tradition, and James Charlesworth responded. I spoke with Bob at some length about the book the next day (Sunday), especially because I have some fundamental criticisms of his discussion of history and historical method. I'm looking forward to continuing that conversation—and making it public, probably in the JSHJ—in the near future.

In the early evening I attended the Q section, whose theme was "Oral or Written? The nature of the double tradition material." Terence Mournet presented a paper on parsimony and the use of Occam's razor in source-critical analyses, entitled, "Oral Tradition and Q: Historical Complexity and the Synoptic Problem." Alan Kirk then delivered a paper, entitled "Tradition, Memory, and Scribes: Critical Reflections on Some Recent Accounts of the Origins of the Double Tradition," on the media conceptualizations—oral and (or even versus) written media—driving some recent accounts of the Double Tradition (material in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark). These were both interesting discussions, particularly Kirk's, though I'm not convinced of some of his key arguments. Perhaps more on that later.

I spent the evening schmoozing at the British New Testament Society/King's College reception and then with friends from Cincinnati Christian University. All-in-all it was a good day, though Sunday would be, as it turned out, even better.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


The Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting gets underway later this morning, though the meeting really got underway last night. I made the short drive from Knoxville to Atlanta yesterday morning, parked in one of the northern suburbs, and rode the MARTA train into downtown. After a few hours of getting my bearings, doing some reading, and running into a couple friends, I did attend two meetings. First was the Stone-Campbell Journal Reception, which featured an informal conversation with Loren Stuckenbruck and Randy Chestnutt on why apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts matter for anyone interested in Christian origins and the New Testament. There were, perhaps, fifty attendees, so the atmosphere was relaxed and casual.

After the SCJ meeting I headed over to the Institute for Biblical Research Annual Lecture, which was relaxing but certainly not casual. N. T. Wright's lecture, "The Kingdom and the Cross," was vintage—or typical—Wright, depending on what you think of his work. He made a strong case that the kingdom of God and the cross of Christ are mutually interpreting, though he did overstate his thesis's innovation. The respondent, Mike Bird, duly pointed out the misstep. Both presenters were engaging, perhaps even thought provoking; the questioners afterward were perhaps less so. Since this is my blog I'll point out that I made an off-hand comment in Structuring Early Christian Memory that, I think, was largely along the same lines Wright proposed:
Though Jesus’ reputation would centre on his healing and exorcistic prowess in some circles, in the New Testament his salience centres on his crucifixion and resurrection. As a phenomenon in itself resurrection did not necessitate Jesus’ status as messiah or guarantee him a hearing with onlookers. But in New Testament traditions the significance of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms transferred onto his death and resurrection, so that these latter, like Jesus’ exorcisms, took on ‘more significance’. In this latter case, Isaiah continued to function as a vital traditional locus, but here texts like Ps. 22 also came into play. Though we cannot pursue this avenue of inquiry here, the way is thus opened up for us to not only understand Jesus’ healings and exorcisms within the context of Jesus’ overarching βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ [‘kingdom of God’] programme but also to understand the connections between the historical Jesus and the memory of Jesus among his followers. (221–22)

That is, despite how seemingly self-interpreting the claim to resurrection seems to us, within the discursive field of Second Temple Judaism resurrection was a more ambiguous—if not a more common—phenomenon. The early Christians, however, understood Jesus' resurrection (and the crucifixion that necessarily preceded it) along lines that were already established during Jesus' life and teaching. The strategies of interpretation that Jesus' followers brought to bear on the healings and exorcisms are largely those we find at work in discussions of Jesus' death and resurrection. Both, Paul might say, were κατὰ τὰς γραφάς (see 1 Cor. 15.3–8).

But enough of that. I also met up with some friends from Sheffield and from Cincinnati Christian University; this is the best part of the SBL. Oh . . . and the free books. InterVarsity Press gave out a free copy of Anthony Thiselton's recent introduction to Paul, The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle's Life and Thought (Downer's Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2009) to IBR members. I was excited, as I'm looking for a good introduction to Paul. I'm not sure, however, that this is the one I'm looking for. The SBL also were distributed free hardback copies of their new Greek New Testament, edited by Michael Holmes. I'm not sure the need for this one, except perhaps for the much-relaxed copyright claims the publisher holds over this text. If you're interested, you can download an electronic copy for free here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

see you in Louisville

I just found out today that my paper, "Speaking of Jesus: 'Oral Tradition' beyond the Form Critics," was accepted by the (SBL) New Testament section for the 2011 SECSOR meeting. That meeting will be held the weekend of 4–6 March, 2011, in Louisville, KY, at the Galt House. Here's my paper's abstract:
Oral tradition has been a live analytical concept in gospels research at least since the form critics but especially since Werner Kelber’s The Oral and the Written Gospel (1983). Recently, numerous high-profile publications in Jesus and gospels research attest the ascendency of memory as an equally live subject in the exploration and explanation of Christian origins. One by-product of this confluence of issues—oral tradition and memory—has been a renewed discussion of form criticism and its legacy. The apparent connection with the form critics’ aims risks misdirecting contemporary exploration of the early Christians’ use of oral and written traditions down potentially blind alleys. This paper offers three specific areas that distinguish—or ought to distinguish—contemporary oral-traditional research from form-critical inquiry. First, contemporary scholarship conceptualizes orality in terms broader than merely the transmission of tradition. Second, contemporary scholarship problematizes the construction of trajectories as explanatory models of Christian origins. Third, contemporary scholarship highlights both the similarities and the differences between oral and written expressions of tradition and explores the interface between the two. As a result, contemporary scholarship would be well-served by fostering an abrupt rupture between the current interest in the oral Jesus tradition (and the constitutive role of memory therein) and the procedures and products of Formgeschichte.

My thanks to the SBL NT section committee for approving my proposal. You can find more information about SECSOR at their website.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bennema on Pontius Pilate

In his analysis of Pontius Pilate in the Fourth Gospel (Encountering Jesus: Character Studies in the Gospel of John [Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009], 183–89), Cornelis Bennema makes an interesting argument. Scholars sometimes describe the Johannine Pilate as weak, lily-livered, indecisive, easily manipulated, etc. This, of course, conflicts with the portrait of Pilate in Josephus and Philo, where he appears strong, cruel, and ultimately too harsh to remain in charge of Judea (Rome removed Pilate from power in 36 CE).

Bennema, however, recognizes (I think rightly) that Pilate in the Fourth Gospel isn't the push-over some have read him to be. Bennema refers to Pilate's "politically motivated game of mocking and manipulating 'the Jews,'" by which Pilate gets "the Jews" "to admit their allegiance to Rome" (187). I think this is exactly right. On the next page Bennema explains,
In our reading of the Johannine Pilate we differ from the majority of scholars who portray Pilate as weak and indecisive. While we generally agree with scholars who view Pilate as a strong character, they seem to overrate Pilate's control over the situation by downplaying the force of 19:12 where "the Jews" finally get a grip on Pilate. Pilate is a competent, calculating politician who wants to show "the Jews" he is in charge while also trying to be professional in handling Jesus' case. But he is unable to achieve either aim because he underestimates the determination and shrewdness of "the Jews." (188)

I imagine Bennema would include me among those who "seem to overrate Pilate's control over the situation," since I'm not persuaded by his reading of John 19.12. I don't think Pilate genuinely sought to release Jesus out of any appreciation for Jesus' innocence; I do think that Pilate simply wanted to reinforce for "the Jews" that he doesn't do their bidding, even if he does ultimately put to death the man they handed over to him.

And I'm not sure what Bennema means when he refers to Pilate's efforts to be "professional." Nothing I've seen about the expression of Roman power and its domination over subjugated populations suggests professionalism was ever a concern for those in charge. Even so, I am reminded of a description of Pontius Pilate I wrote for my freshman Gospel Narratives course:
[According to the gospels,] The Jewish authorities only wanted to get rid of Jesus. Pilate probably wanted to get rid of Jesus as well, but he also needed to avoid the impression that he did what the Jewish authorities told him to. When we recognize that Pilate most likely did not want to release Jesus but rather wanted to affirm and strengthen the Jews’ subjection to his authority, the significance of his actions changes considerably. . . . When we re-read the accounts of Jesus’ trial before Pilate with an eye out for [the story's] political dynamics, it becomes clear that the evangelists portray the Jewish leaders on trial as much as Jesus is on trial. The difference, of course, is that Jesus refuses to acknowledge Rome’s power and is handed over to be crucified, while the Jewish leaders proclaim their loyalty to Caesar and deny the reign of Israel’s God.

Just my two cents.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Bennema on Nicodemus

In chapter nine of Encountering Jesus: Character Studies in the Gospel of John (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), Cornelis Bennema analyzes the character of Nicodemus, an ambiguous character who appears at three crucial points in the gospel (John 3, 7, and 19). Bennema offers some interesting proposals, some of which I find more convincing (e.g., that "Nicodemus, accompanied by his disciples, came one evening to have a discussion with Jesus and his disciples" [79]), some less (e.g., that "Nicodemus is the teacher or 'top theologian' of Israel," or that his question at 3.4 "seems to imply that he was advanced in age" [78]).

Of course, the most pressing question is whether the Fourth Gospel portrays N. positively—as one who responds appropriately to Jesus—or negatively. Early in his discussion, Bennema reproduces rather than explains or explores the ambiguity we find in the gospel. N., that is, was "attracted to and even 'believed' in Jesus on the basis of his signs but Jesus was critical of his response" (80). So N. observes what Jesus does and appropriately, in the terms established at the end of the gospel (see 20.30–31), recognizes that Jesus comes from God. But despite his ability to recognize Jesus as "from above," N. is somehow nevertheless "unable to grasp the real significance of these signs" (80). But what is that "real significance" that N. misses, if not that Jesus "comes from God"? Bennema never answers this question.

Even so, in the conclusion to his discussion of N. and Jesus in John 3, Bennema rightly notes that N. "remains ambiguous and as readers we must look at his two later appearances to determine whether he is able to progress in his understanding of Jesus" (80). The evangelist has certainly not tied up all the loose ends at the conclusion of this first encounter between N. and Jesus.

Nicodemus appears twice more in the Fourth Gospel. In 7.45–52 N. speaks up on Jesus' behalf—sort of—as the chief priests and Pharisees berate the "attendants" [ὑπηρέται; hypēretai] they had sent to arrest Jesus. In his discussion, Bennema notes N.'s ongoing ambiguity in the narrative; so far so good. But he appeals to the "edict" mentioned in 9.22 to explain N.'s ambiguity:
We learn later that the parents of the man born blind failed to testify because of fear of the Jewish religious authorities, who had decided to excommunicate anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah (9:22). Nicodemus would certainly have known of this edict and may have been afraid of his colleagues. In John 3 we were uncertain about Nicodemus's attitude and what he had grasped of Jesus' identity, and this incident only adds to his ambiguity. (81; my emphasis)

I think here Bennema misreads John. Certainly at some point [very] early in the history of John's gospel the Johannine audience would have known of the edict mentioned at 9.22, and perhaps John's audience would have interpreted N.'s actions in John 7 in against the "fear" [φοβέω; phobeō] of the blind man's parents in John 9. But this isn't what Bennema claims. Instead, he slips out of a narratological analysis and into a historical argument: (i) The Jewish authorities had decided to expel Jesus' followers from the synagogue, (ii) N. was a member of the Jewish ruling class (7.50), and so (iii) N. knew of the authorities' decision, and (iv) this helps explain N.'s actions in the narrative. There are at least two problems here.

First, Bennema makes a number of historical assumptions that are at the very least open to challenge. Even if ultimately we want to agree with those assumptions, Bennema doesn't offer any kind of historical argumentation to support those assumptions. For example, he assumes that N. is a historical character who actually existed outside the Johannine narrative. He additionally assumes that the decision mentioned in John 9.22 was a historical event that actually existed outside the narrative. And he also assumes that this decision helps explain both the actions of the historical N. and of N. the narrative character in the Fourth Gospel. These first two points are both debated issues among Johannine and Jesus scholars. But even if both N. and the authorities' decision are historical realities, there simply isn't any evidence that either the historical N. or the Johannine N. shied away from a bold, public defense of Jesus for "fear of the Jews" and of being expelled from the synagogue. Granted the value of Bennema's proposed "historical narrative criticism" (13), I'm not convinced that this is a helpful use of the method.

Second, if we limit ourselves to making literary-critical observations, we really can't escape the observation that the Johannine narrator simply does not appeal to the decision in 9.22 to explain N.'s ambiguity. Had this been the key to understanding N.'s behavior, it would have been helpful—even necessary!—for the narrator to mention the authorities' decision in this context. Certainly the narrator doesn't exhibit any hesitation to mention the expulsion "from the synagogue" [ἀποσυνάγωγος; aposynagōgos] to explain the blind man's parents' melting in the face of fierce opposition in John 9. Why, then, should he avoid it here? I think the answer is clear: The Johannine narrator does not interpret (or intend his audience to interpret) N. in light of the decision to excommunicate Jesus' followers from the synagogue.

This is a pretty major weakness in Bennema's analysis, and I don't want to downplay it. But there's also a pretty major strength, I think. Bennema respects the ambiguity of the Johannine portrayal of N. Though I think he misreads certain features of that ambiguity (e.g., I think N. actually draws the correct inference from Jesus' "signs," viz. that Jesus "has come from God" [3.2]), he nevertheless recognizes it as the overriding characteristic of this Jewish leader. "John does not provide sufficient evidence that Nicodemus's actions or understanding of Jesus is adequate for salvation. Although Nicodemus remains sympathetic to Jesus, it is uncertain what he understands of Jesus and his mission" (82–83). And yet, John's gospel is not particularly known for its embrace of the ambiguous; if anything, John files everything into one of two categories: light or darkness, from above or from below, life or death, etc. And so Bennema, even as he recognizes the ambiguity of the Johannine N., argues that the narrator presses the reader to assess N. as one or the other. Bennema's conclusion, then, respects N.'s ambiguity but insists that he "is attracted to the light but does not remain in the light; he keeps moving in and out of the shadows, and within John's dualism, there is no place for a twilight zone" (84).

I'm not sure if I follow Bennema here. I think N. may come off a bit more positively than he has allowed. But overall I think he's right: Despite the haziness of John's portrayal of N., the narrative presses us to understand N. as either in or out, for Jesus or against him. And once we—as John's readers—adjudge N., the way is set for us to assess ourselves and, hopefully, respond more appropriately (i.e., less ambiguously) than he.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"messiah" in John

I'm continuing to read Cornelis Bennema's character study of the Fourth Gospel, Encountering Jesus: Character Studies in the Gospel of John (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009). In his chapter on Nathanael, subtitled, "The Genuine Israelite" (64–68), Bennema makes the following, typical statement about the messianism of first-century CE Judaism:
In first-century Judaism, many Jews expected a royal-political messiah who would liberate Palestine from the Roman oppressors and establish a new age of peace and justice. John, however, presents Jesus primarily as a Teacher-Messiah who liberates people from the spiritual oppression of sin and the devil through his Spirit-imbued teaching. (67; original emphasis)

I'm automatically a little suspicious of any historical claims that assert anything of "many Jews." That this assertion is so typical of late-Second Temple era Judaisms gives me additional pause. Apart from its accuracy, this statement strikes me as simply too blunt to be of much help for either exegesis or historical reconstruction.

But I suspect Bennema here makes a good point about John's portrayal of Jesus' messianic status, that he is a "teacher-messiah" who offers liberation through his teaching. Given my relative inexpertise with the Fourth Gospel, I thought I would solicit the help of those of you more familiar with John's gospel. Is this, in your view, a helpful way of thinking about John's presentation of Jesus' status as "messiah"? I suspect it is, largely because in the Fourth Gospel Jesus opposes his spiritual enemy—the devil [διάβολος; diabolos]—by teaching the truth he has heard from God (see 8.42–47). Contrast that with the synoptic gospels, in which Jesus opposes the devil directly (Mark 1.12–13 parr.) and defeats him repeatedly in his exorcisms (Matt. 12.22–30 parr., passim). Indeed, in John's gospel Jesus doesn't perform a single exorcism, except metaphorically (perhaps) in 12.31, though even here Jesus pronounces a "casting out" rather than performs it.

You Johannine scholars out there: Any thoughts?

Monday, November 01, 2010

the best sign ever

Why society—like information—moves at the speed of volunteer, unpaid acquisitions editors.

HT: InsideHigherEd

the battle of the G[r]eeks wages on (or, pt. III)

In my previous post on first-year Greek grammars, I briefly laid out four aspects of my Elementary Greek class and what I'm looking for in a first-year grammar in light of those aspects. It's been a while since that post, so here's a quick recap:

  1. The class is quick-paced and intense, so I don't need an intense grammar. I want a text that presents the book quickly, basically but accurately, and without excessive nuance.
  2. I don't need a grammar that is "all things for all persons." A flexible grammar leaves room for the classroom experience to do more than simply read through the book. I will add material as I see appropriate, but my grammar just needs to establish a solid foundation.
  3. I prefer an approach that balances morphological analysis (and the dreaded memorization) with early and thorough-going exposure to actual Greek texts. Students can't do the latter reliably and quickly until they've mastered the former, but the motivation for the former comes from the latter.
  4. I want a grammar that ranges broadly across and progressively deeper into Greek linguistic structures rather than that presents all the material in a certain area (say, indicative verbs) before presenting other material.
If these are my four most basic expectations, how do Black and Croy line up on the issues? Here are my basic thoughts on each.

Regarding my first concern—a basic, quick-and-dirty presentation of the material—both Black and Croy come out strong. This, in fact, is why I have evaluated every introductory grammar in terms of Black's. Croy does explain in a parenthetical comment,
The original endings for the present active indicative were -μι, -ς, -σι, for the singular, and -μεν, -τε, -νσι, for the plural. In some cases, however, the original endings have undergone such changes that it is best simply to learn the resultant forms rather than the process by which they came about. The original endings are preserved in another conjugation to be learned later. (p. 8)

This is about as complex an explanation as I would be willing to give my beginning [nineteen-year-old!] students. Compare the nuanced discussion in Mounce (131–34), which is largely unnecessary. However, one of my students' frustrations with Black is the stuttered presentation of vocabulary. Some of Black's chapters have over thirty vocabulary words to learn (some considerably more than thirty!), while some have almost none. Croy, on the other hand, presents a steady dozen-or-so vocabulary words for each of his lessons. Less intense = good.

Regarding my second concern—a flexible grammar that allows me to tailor my class to my own idiosyncrasies—Croy's discussion of present active indicative and infinitive verbs (Lesson 2) does little more than present the necessary morphology and the very basic grammar of the present-tense verb (i.e., its aspect). Croy does, however, briefly discuss the "accentuation of verbs" (§13; pp. 9–10). But this is ideal for me, as this was one of the areas I would bring into my classes from Black's book. Black has a general discussion of accentuation in an appendix (§§184–87; pp. 216–19). I like that Croy has tailored his discussion of accents specifically to verbs and, later, to nouns (see Lesson 3; §20; p. 15). So this just happens to provide material that I was already providing beyond Black's chapters, and it does so in smaller, more focused bits that fit my purposes.

Regarding my third concern—an approach balanced between inductive and deductive instruction—I'm torn between the two books. Croy's presentation of Greek morphology is . . . well, it's awful. Black has the clear upper hand here. You simply have to compare the look of the page to appreciate how little thought and effort went into presenting the material. Black, on the other hand, employs clearly laid out tables with (in the newest edition) shading to help the student see what's going on. This will be an area where I will have to provide students with more helpful ways of presenting and organizing the information. But Croy provides something Black doesn't: For every lesson, beginning in Lesson 1, Croy has four kinds of exercises. First is the all-too-familiar "practice and review" exercises comprised of made-up Greek (of the "The apostles loose the slaves in the church" ilk). Second and third, however, Croy provides actual texts from both the LXX and the NT, respectively. In order to aid students with these exercises Croy provides a "Vocabulary for LXX and NT Sentences" section at the end of each lesson. Finally, and fourth, Croy provides a few English to Greek exercises. Compare Black's exercises, which are only ever Greek-to-English and which aren't drawn from actual biblical texts until into the second half of the book.

Regarding my fourth concern—a grammar that ranges broadly and progressively deeper into Greek—I rather like Croy's substance even if his form leaves something to be desired. For some reason, Croy doesn't give each lesson a title, so you actually have to look into the subtitles of each lesson to get an idea of what's covered when. But when I do this, I like what I see. The first real lesson—Lesson 2—presents present active indicative and infinitive verbs. Lessons 3 and 4 present the first and second declensions, respectively (I think I would agree with Black in reversing these), and Lesson 5 presents the full form of the article and first/second declension adjectives. Lesson 6 presents feminine second declension and masculine first declension nouns; I think I like breaking these off into a separate chapter. A little further on, Lesson 9 presents the present middle and passive indicative and infinitive verbs, and Lesson 10 introduces the difference between primary and secondary tenses (as well as the imperfect active indicative). Again, I think I like that Croy sticks with the first principal part before jumping to other verb stems. After Lesson 11 (imperfect middle/passive indicative), Lesson 12 introduces the concept of principal parts and then covers the second principal part (future active and middle indicative verbs). While Croy's order of presentation is, perhaps, the point of widest departure from Black's approach, and while I approve of and appreciate Black's approach, I think I prefer Croy's. A year or two in the classroom will help me decide whether or not I actually do.

Related to this last point, I've always thought—first as a student and then later as faculty—that the second half of Black's grammar does not divide the material into sufficiently manageable chunks. Third declension nouns, contract and liquid verbs, and participles each have one whole chapter. Croy, however, offers two lessons on the third declension (Lessons 17 and 25), three chapters on participles (Lessons 18–20), and a chapter each for contract (Lesson 21) and liquid verbs (Lesson 22). In addition, Black covers -μι verbs in a single chapter, whereas Croy provides three (Lessons 28–30). I anticipate my students will find these smaller, bite-sized lessons helpful (though I have some concerns, which I'll raise in a fourth and final post in this series).

I have learned and taught from Black's book for a dozen years now, and I'm very appreciative of Black's approach to Greek pedagogy and grammar. None of my comments here convey a sense of disappointment with Learn to Read New Testament Greek. In fact, I'm a little nervous about switching texts next year. I have never used another grammar, and I anticipate a bit of a learning curve as I figure out how this book fits within the structure of my particular class. But I'm also excited about any new challenges teaching from a different grammar will present. I remember another exciting switch, one that involved a bit of a learning curve but has certainly improved my quality of life. And as long as I continue to experience God's blessing, I shall never go back to using a PC!

chronology and the gospels

I admit I'm persuaded that we simply cannot develop a chronology of Jesus' life on the basis of the four gospels. It isn't that I don't "trust" the gospels on this account. But as far as I can tell, the gospels just don't intend to present Jesus' life in chronological order. And if the gospels don't even try to narrate Jesus' life chronologically, I don't see how we can reconstruct a sequential "life of Jesus" from them. Perhaps if more information had been preserved we could arrange a few pericopae in relative order (e.g., perhaps Jesus' adventures in Judea and Samaria [John 2.13–4.42] occurred before his return to Galilee in Mark 1.14 parr.). But in general the data simply doesn't enable us to do more than speculate. Despite my "high view" of the gospels (whatever that actually means), I also don't turn to them to understand aerodynamics or how to bake snicker doodles. If the gospels don't present a certain type of information, in general I try not to divine that information from them. And as I read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I just don't find either snicker doodle recipes or a chronological life of Jesus. Would that either were there!

Cornelis Bennema's narratological analysis of the characters in the Fourth Gospel, Encountering Jesus: Character Studies in the Gospel of John (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), recognizes John's relative freedom to move events around in his account of Jesus' life and ministry. Even an event as significant as the Temple incident, which in the synoptic gospels precipitate Jesus' arrest and execution can be moved to much earlier in Jesus' story. Bennema acknowledges,
Most scholars agree that there was only one cleansing of the temple, towards the end of Jesus' ministry (as we find in the Synoptics), and that John has brought this incident forward for theological reasons. Thus, the incident mentioned here reflects a situation at the end of his ministry when the chief priests come to the fore. (39–40)

Admittedly, Bennema's immediate purposes here are different than mine. I am questioning the feasibility of ordering the Jesus tradition; he is setting up his analysis of "the Jews" as a character in John. Even so, he clearly recognizes the thematic (or "theological") presentation of pericopae in the gospels.

So I'm a little unsure what Bennema intends when he uses temporal language. Here are two examples. The first may not be actually temporal, but it occurs in an important context (indeed, immediately after the text quoted above). He detects a shift from religious-theological conflict with the Pharisees early in Jesus' ministry to a religious-political conflict with the chief priests later on. When does this shift occur? Bennema calls it "halfway" (40). Without pressing the temporal aspect of "halfway," I can't help but wonder, What does halfway mean with texts like these? If all he means is "halfway through the story," then fine. But if he intends a more historical "halfway through Jesus' ministry," then problems ensue.

The second example is more problematic because it's more clearly temporal. In his analysis of Andrew and Philip Bennema says, "The disciples have been with Jesus for just over two years, seen him perform several miracles and heard most of his teaching" (49). In a footnote he explains,
Both 2:23 and 6:4 mention the Passover, occurring in March/April, and 5:1 may refer to the Feast of Weeks around May/June. Then, 4:35 mentions that the summer harvest in May/June is four months away, putting the context of 4:35 around January/February. Hence, another, unrecorded Passover must have gone by between 4:35 and 5:1 so that the period between 2:23 and 6:4 is two years. (49, ftn 5)

Perhaps. But remember that the Passover in 2.23 (and the Temple incident that the passage narrates) was moved by the Johannine author from the end of Jesus' ministry. How, then, we can infer the types of chronological relationships between texts that Bennema infers eludes me.

But I'm nitpicking. I don't agree with Bennema's analysis here, but his discussion of John the Baptist and of "the Jews" (Bennema always uses inverted commas here; see 38, ftn 1) provides helpful nuance to scholarship's somewhat "flattened" reading of these characters as simply "witness" or "opponents," respectively. And his analysis of Philip and Andrew (47–52) raises some interesting questions that I hope to pursue in a future post. Encountering Jesus is an easy book to read, and so far I don't have any reservations recommending it to anyone interested in the characters of John's gospel and how they respond to Jesus.

My Visual Bookshelf