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Re: [John_Lit] Discussion of Colleen Conway's SBL2000 Paper

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  • FMMCCOY
    Dear Colleen Conway: In your paper, you approvingly note, Jean Howard has wriitten that history is not objective, transparent, unified, or easily knowable
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 1, 2001
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      Dear Colleen Conway:

      In your paper, you approvingly note, Jean Howard has wriitten that
      "'history' is not objective, transparent, unified, or easily knowable and
      consequently is extremely problematic as a concept for grounding the meaning
      of a literary text". If this statement is correct, then this has profound
      implications for someone, like myself, who is interested in uncovering the
      meaning of John intended by its author(s).
      However, is this statement correct? History is said to be "a concept".
      In one sense, this may be right. That is, if there is an eternal and
      perfect being, then, I suppose, history may exist in the mind of this
      being as a concept.
      Still, isn't history simply the past? So, when we say, "Well, it's now
      history!", do we not mean that "it" belongs to the past? Certainly we don't
      mean that "it" is now a concept. Indeed, each one of us will have a
      different concept of "it"--so that there will be as many concepts of "it" as
      there are people aware of "it".
      Also, is there not a sense in which elements of history continue to exist
      in the present? You kick a stone and see in it a sea creature preserved
      unchanged for millions of years. You also see on the stone stirations that
      are 40,000 years old--with they having been created when it was transported
      by a
      glacier. You look up in the sky and see a star as it appeared millions of
      years ago--it taking that long for the light from it to reach your eyes.
      You read John and you real a text that has remained basically unchanged for
      well over a thousand years.
      Using these still existing elements from the past existing into the
      present, we have been able to broadly sketch the history of the Cosmos from
      almost the instant of the Big Bang to the present, to broadly sketch the
      history of the earth for over 4 billion years, to broadly sketch the
      evolution of life, to broadly sketch the pre-literate history of humanity,
      and to sketch, much more fully, the history of humanity since writing was
      invented. We actually have a pretty decent idea of the first and second
      century CE Roman Empire and of first amd second century CE Judaism. I also
      think that, as the Dead Sea scrolls are now open to public view, we will be
      gaining major new insights into first century CE Judaism in the coming
      decade. Hence, while it must be granted that it is not an easy task to
      re-construct the meaning of John intended by its author(s) by examining the
      elements from the past that still exist, is it really "extremely
      problematic"? Isn't the basic problem the practical problem of recognizing
      and fully utiilizing the clues that the text itself provides us rather than
      any theoretical and/or philosophical problem? In any event, is there even
      any other way to go
      about it?.

      Regards,

      Frank Mccoy
      Maplewood, MN USA

      However, in another sense, this is wrong. For example, if you look up at
      the sky at night, what you see all happened in the pastis history--with some
      of the stars you are seeing being as they were millions of years ago. As a
      result,
      The initial problem is that "history" is taken to be "a concept" rather
      than "what really happened in the past". Please advise the definition of
      the word "history" as used in the "New Historicism" school of thought.
      The second problem is that, for someone like myself, the interest is in
      finding out the meaning of John as intended by the author(s). It seems to
      me that this can be learned only through historical research. Are those in
      the "New Historicism" movement saying that, as history is too "problematic",
      we can never know what the author(s) of John meant when he/she/they wrote
      this gospel?
      You also state, "Finally, perhaps the most problematic assumption of
      those
      who brought us the drama of the Johannine
      community is that the text represents historical reality."


      To me,
      "historical reality" means "what really happened in the past". So, to me,
      the only people who assume that the text of John represents "historical
      reality" are those who take it to be inerrant. People like Martyn, it seems
      to me, merely make the point the that there were historical processes in the
      history of the Johannine community (however the word "community" be defined)
      that influenced the writing of this gospel and that are alluded to in this
      gospel.
      It is obvious to me that we have different definitions of "historical
      reality", so could you please give me your definition of what this term
      means..


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Felix Just, S.J." <fjust@...>
      To: "Johannine_Literature E-Group" <johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Monday, January 29, 2001 5:16 AM
      Subject: [John_Lit] Discussion of Colleen Conway's SBL2000 Paper


      > For the coming week (Jan. 29 - Feb. 4), the focus of our group discussion
      > will be the paper presented by Colleen Conway at the SBL meeting in
      > Nashville last November, entitled "The Politics of the Johannine Drama".
      In
      > case you haven't read this paper yet, please see
      > http://bellarmine.lmu.edu/~fjust/John/SBL2000-Conway.html.
      >
      > We encourage a few more folks to participate actively in this discussion
      > (posting comments and questions to Colleen), but still ask everyone to
      limit
      > yourself to no more than one message per day, to give Colleen and everyone
      > else a chance to read and respond to all the messages on a regular basis
      > (hopefully daily).
      >
      > For the schedule of other papers to be discussed in the next few weeks, in
      > case you want to read and prepare in advance, please see
      > http://bellarmine.lmu.edu/~fjust/John/SBL-Discussions.html
      >
      > FJ
      > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      > Felix Just, S.J. - Dept. of Theological Studies
      > Loyola Marymount University - 7900 Loyola Blvd.
      > Los Angeles, CA 90045-8400 - Ph (310) 338-5933
      > Homepage: http://bellarmine.lmu.edu/~fjust
      > ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      >
      >
      > SUBSCRIBE: e-mail johannine_literature-subscribe@egroups.com
      > UNSUBSCRIBE: e-mail johannine_literature-unsubscribe@egroups.com
      > PROBLEMS?: e-mail johannine_literature-owner@egroups.com
      >
    • Colleen M. Conway
      ... meaning ... don t ... as ... I guess this the point, as I see it. Since there will be as many concepts of it (i.e., some past event) as there are people
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 2, 2001
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        > Dear Colleen Conway:
        >
        > In your paper, you approvingly note, Jean Howard has wriitten that
        > "'history' is not objective, transparent, unified, or easily knowable and
        > consequently is extremely problematic as a concept for grounding the
        meaning
        > of a literary text". If this statement is correct, then this has profound
        > implications for someone, like myself, who is interested in uncovering the
        > meaning of John intended by its author(s).
        > However, is this statement correct? History is said to be "a concept".
        > In one sense, this may be right. That is, if there is an eternal and
        > perfect being, then, I suppose, history may exist in the mind of this
        > being as a concept.
        > Still, isn't history simply the past? So, when we say, "Well, it's now
        > history!", do we not mean that "it" belongs to the past? Certainly we
        don't
        > mean that "it" is now a concept. Indeed, each one of us will have a
        > different concept of "it"--so that there will be as many concepts of "it"
        as
        > there are people aware of "it".

        I guess this the point, as I see it. Since there will be as many concepts of
        "it" (i.e., some past event) as there are people aware of "it," Howard's
        statement seems on target--this "it" is not objective, transparent, unified,
        or easily knowable.

        > Also, is there not a sense in which elements of history continue to
        exist
        > in the present? You kick a stone and see in it a sea creature preserved
        > unchanged for millions of years. You also see on the stone stirations
        that
        > are 40,000 years old--with they having been created when it was
        transported
        > by a
        > glacier. You look up in the sky and see a star as it appeared millions of
        > years ago--it taking that long for the light from it to reach your eyes.
        > You read John and you real a text that has remained basically unchanged
        for
        > well over a thousand years.

        Hence, while it must be granted that it is not an easy task to
        > re-construct the meaning of John intended by its author(s) by examining
        the
        > elements from the past that still exist, is it really "extremely
        > problematic"? Isn't the basic problem the practical problem of
        recognizing
        > and fully utiilizing the clues that the text itself provides us rather
        than
        > any theoretical and/or philosophical problem?

        I certainly agree that elements of history continue into the present,
        especially, in the case of New Testament studies, interpretive history. So
        that while we may read a text such as John that is "unchanged for over a
        thousand years" we read it through the lens of an interpretive history that
        is ever-changing. For instance, before redaction criticism and the birth of
        the Johannine community, one would be hard pressed to find readings of the
        Gospel through this particular window to the "past." The "clues" in the text
        would lead the reader to quite different conclusions. My guess is that in
        another thirty years scholars will read such clues in a different way.

        Still, whether or not there is an objective history that one can know is,
        for me, not as crucial as the additional point that Howard makes regarding
        the relationship between history an literature. I am interested in the ways
        that literature participates in historical processes (rather than merely
        reflecting historical fact). How does the Gospel of John become an agent in
        constructing a culture's sense of reality? I think this is a fascinating
        question both in terms of the ancient readers of this Gospel, and for
        contemporary ones.

        Many thanks for your thoughtful response,

        Colleen
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