Re: [John_Lit] Discussion of Colleen Conway's SBL2000 Paper
> Dear Colleen Conway:meaning
> 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
> of a literary text". If this statement is correct, then this has profounddon't
> 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
> mean that "it" is now a concept. Indeed, each one of us will have aas
> different concept of "it"--so that there will be as many concepts of "it"
> 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 toexist
> in the present? You kick a stone and see in it a sea creature preservedthat
> unchanged for millions of years. You also see on the stone stirations
> are 40,000 years old--with they having been created when it wastransported
> by afor
> 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
> 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 examiningthe
> elements from the past that still exist, is it really "extremelyrecognizing
> problematic"? Isn't the basic problem the practical problem of
> and fully utiilizing the clues that the text itself provides us ratherthan
> 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
Many thanks for your thoughtful response,