Re: [XTalk] Re: [Synoptic-L] bibliographical references: the historical unreliability of the sayings of Jesus in GJohn
- To: Crosstalk
In Response To: Bob Schacht (answering Jeffrey Gibson)
On: Authenticity of Jesus in John
gJn is interesting as the only Gospel which (albeit teasingly) not only
claims Apostolic authorship (as Matthew may be thought to have done), but
*favored* Apostolic authorship. The ultimate insider document. Many modern
people find John to be the most theologically and chronologically consistent
of the Four, and the substitution of gJn's timetable for, eg, the Last
Supper is quite common in our time ("John got it right"). Whether
consistently or not with this respect for John's calendar, the question of
Jesus tradition in John is not as firmly championed. Bultmann's proposals of
a "signs" (miracles) source continues to guide gJn thinking, but in
directions away from saying authenticity, and toward early Church legend
character. So also, and even moreso (see below) does the Q hypothesis. No
reflective Trajectory argument will fail to put gJn last among the Gospels.
My personal view is that it is also last in the calendar department, and has
ingeniously framed a chronology which resolves the major questions now asked
of the Last Supper event, which are largely liturgical ones. gJn is also
last in the Biographical Trajectory department: Mark shows Jesus as
discovering his vocation, and identifying his betrayer, only gradually
during the course of his ministry; Mt/Lk retain (in Markan material and its
developments) that view, but increasingly dilute it with more consistent
pictures; gJn is from beginning to end wholly consistent. The "Synoptic"
perception has tended to automatically push gJn to the margin; it is a great
help to have gJn included in the Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum of Kurt
Aland, in its many forms (1970 and later).
Jeffrey had asked: "Can someone here point me to one or two books or
articles (with full bibliographical references) which could be used in a
footnote to buttress the claim that it is usually maintained by
NT/Historical Jesus Scholars that the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John
have less of a claim to representing what the HJ actually said than those we
find in Matthew Mark and Luke?"
Bob had replied: "I think this is so commonplace that you'll probably have
to go back to the 19th century or even earlier to find it as a novel
argument. The usual case, IIRC, is just to point to the long supposedly
"pastoral prayers" of Jesus in GJohn, say the obvious about their
impossibility as transcripts, and use that as an excuse to throw out all of
John's sayings of Jesus, long or short.
BRUCE: There is a useful albeit discursive summary on the "Johannine
Question" in the front matter of Schnackenburg's commentary. His references
to earlier surveys of opinion on the matter range from Loisy and others (p11
n1) through Evanson 1792 and others (p13 n11), to Jülicher and Fascher who
feel that the "Gospel has no value for the history of Jesus" and Haenchen,
who allows it a certain subordinate interest (104n90-91).
BOB: I think what The Five Gospels has to say is that comparing the sayings
of Jesus in the Synoptics and GJohn that you just have to pick one or the
other as a blanket rule, and they opt for picking the synoptics, whether it
makes the most sense in any specific case or not. I don't particularly care
for that assessment. Unfortunately, my copy of T5G is packed away, so I
can't look that up for you.
BRUCE: T5G p3: "Other scholars in the German tradition [than David Friedrich
Strauss 1835] developed a safer, but no less crucial, contrast between the
Jesus of the synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke - and Jesus of the
Gospel of John. . . the second pillar consisted of recognizing the synoptic
gospels as much closer to the historical Jesus than the Fourth Gospel, which
presented a "spiritual" Jesus."
p10: "The first step is to understand the diminished role the Gospel of John
plays in the search for the Jesus of history. The two pictures painted by
John and the synoptic gospels cannot both be historically accurate. . . . In
sum, there is virtually nothing of the synoptic sage in the Fourth Gospel.
That sage has been displaced by Jesus the revealer who has been sent from
God to reveal who the Father is. / These differences are summarized in
Figure 1, facing." What we have here is primary argument; no footnotes.
It will I think be intuitively obvious that acceptance of Q, as a document
equal or [more recently, and more assertively] greater in antiquity and thus
authority to Mark, otherwise the most plausibly early of the Gospels, has
exerted a huge effect in directing attention away from gJn. This dates from
1838, which in fact is also the date when Markan Priority was first asserted
in anything like its modern form (nobody considers Lachmann 1835). My
suspicion is that Markan Priority is not theologically tolerable unless it
is simultaneously balanced by a way of privileging, from the Second Tier
Gospels, at least the core Sermon on the Mount matter; that is, the Nice
Jesus image, which is also the "sage" image, which is developed or perhaps
even created by Mt/Lk. Acceptance of Q is thus probably, for many, the
prerequisite to accepting Mark. All this tends to take the thunder away from
gJn, without necessarily weakening claims of gJn's intimate origins in one
who was personally favored by Jesus above all the other disciples.
Given T5G acceptance of this disesteem of gJn, one pages through the T5G
section on gJn with a certain amount of curiosity to see how much red or
pink it contains. That tale is soon told. There is exactly one pink saying,
namely Jn 4:44. Eschewing the, ahem, Jesus Seminar translation, I will give
it in RSV form:
Jn 4:43. After the two days he departed to Galilee.  For Jesus himself
testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.
It is the latter phrase (cf Mk 6:4, Mt 13:57, Lk 4:24, and yes, gTh 31:1)
that gets the pink. It is notable in gJn as being not directly presented as
a saying of Jesus, but rather *narratively remembered* as a saying of Jesus.
Here, gJn seems to be making its own distinction between Synoptically
attested Jesus sayings and its own stuff.
The box on p419 "The I Am Sayings in the Gospel of John" contains a list and
an overview comment, and concludes with this paragraph: "The readers of the
Fourth Gospel are told from the outset who Jesus is and what he is. Many of
the I AM sayings are designed, in the present form of the gospel, to expand
on who Jesus is by adding identifying phrases. In virtually every case, the
reader is being confronted with the language of the evangelist and not the
language of Jesus."
Again, a determination rather than a survey of previous arguments for or
against that determination.
Walter Schmithals' Introduction to the English translation of Bultmann's
commentary (1971) contains a summary but no specifics. There is a useful
brief summary of the scholarly position in Raymond E Brown, Introduction
(1997) 362f. More informative in matters of fine detail about scholarly
positions is the colossal tome of Benjamin W Bacon, The Fourth Gospel in
Research and Debate (1910), which opens with Lightfoot as a defender of gJn,
and goes on to treat the major topics of contention. To bookend that
century, there is D Moody Smith's John Among the Gospels (2ed 2001), which
explicitly does not attempt to update the bibliographical reach of the 1ed
(1992); it concentrates on the question of gJn's knowledge of the Synoptics.
Smith is not averse to quoting, eg, Origen. His Chapter 2 is on "The
Development of the Independence Theory, from Bacon to Gardner-Smith ."
Among the more exciting of the later chapter titles is Chapter 6, "The
Dissolution of a Consensus." And so on. Fully annotated, and major positions
are extensively described. May be helpful. May also be upsetting, in that it
shows that positions as to the authenticity of gJn material (that is, the
Jesusness as against the Synopticity of its Jesus sayings) have not been
either stable or uniform in the century or so preceding ours.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst