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Re: [John_Lit] Radical Chic: J of A, Nic, and the Boys of the Way

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  • Diane Yoder
    Well, actually, one can t get away from literary characteristics... it IS literature, after all, and literary analyses can fill out the picture along with
    Message 1 of 21 , Mar 26, 2006
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      Well, actually, one can't get away from 'literary characteristics...' it IS literature, after all, and literary analyses can fill out the picture along with linguistic studies, biblical studies and archaeological evidence.

      Diane Yoder, Historical Theology
      Toronto School of Theology


      kalvachomer <kalvachomer@...> wrote:
      Tom, Diane, Tim,

      Some brief if belated responses. Tom, I don't see Nicodemus as
      representing the Sanhedrin, even though as a "leader of the Jews" and
      "teacher of Israel" he might have been a member, had he existed. He does
      not appear threatened by, or hostile towards, Jesus and his followers.
      He approaches Jesus as an individual, not as a member of a group, and by
      night because he is out of step with his social group and would be
      embarrassed to be found calling on this wandering holy man from
      Gallilee. He does not come to trap Jesus into an incriminating
      statement, but appears to be trying to make sense of this preacher who
      speaks with authority, has a God-given ability to heal, yet makes a
      point of breaking Jewish law and (to follow the sequence in John), has
      created a major disturbance at the Temple.

      But no sooner has Nicodemus respectfully opened the conversation than
      Jesus redirects it, telling Nicodemus not only that he doesn't
      understand, but as one not reborn of water and spirit he can't
      understand. Jesus doesn't deign to explain how Nicodemus might himself
      be "born anew"; one might infer that since the spirit, like the wind,
      blows where it wills, there is nothing Jesus or Nicodemus can do to cure
      Nicodemus's evident spiritual idiocy. Jesus then utters a series of
      pronouncements that Nicodemus, had he existed, would surely have found
      unintelligible, and Nicodemus disappears from view.

      Perhaps the point is that Jesus stands outside the categories of
      Nicodemus's Judaism; to call Jesus a teacher, even one sent by God, as
      Nicodemus does, reveals a failure of understanding. Jesus is not a
      bearer of God's message to be understood, but is God's presence to be
      experienced.

      But perhaps the real point is to show Jesus' triumph over Nicodemus,
      whose sins, other than the timidity of his response to Jesus, appear to
      be that he is wealthy, a leader, a rabbi, and a Pharisee. To show this
      powerful figure sneaking out to meet Jesus at night, obsequiously
      addressing him as "Rabbi," only to be reduced by a magisterial Jesus
      to stammering befuddlement, is almost comic. I only pointed out that
      his name appeared to set him up for his downfall.

      Tom, I was going to ask you why you thought Lazarus might be a stand-in
      for the Temple priests. I saw your reference to the Lazarus parable in
      Luke and reread it, but I see no allusion to priests or the Temple. Can
      you say more? It is interesting that Jesus is Greek for Joshua, in the
      book of Joshua, Joshua is paired with Aaron's son Eleazar as High
      Priest, and Eleazar is Lazarus in Hellenized Aramaic. But John's
      Lazarus is entirely passive, so that coincidence appears to fizzle. I
      have my own wild speculation about Lazarus, but it involves a chain of
      inferences and I'll save it.

      Diane, I had no "literary characteristics" in mind; it seemed obvious.
      But after writing my post I happened to look in John Ashton's anthology,
      The Interpretation of John (2d ed. 1997), and found the following at p.
      176-77, from a 1972 essay by John A. Meeks, The Man From Heaven in
      Johannine Sectarianism, originally published in JBL 91 (1972) at 44-72:

      Nicodemus plays a well-known role: that of the rather stupid disciple
      whose maladroit questions provide the occasion (a) for the reader to
      feel superior and (b) for the sage who is questioned to deliver a
      discourse. The genre is widespread in the Greco-Roman world . . . . In
      such contexts, one frequently meets the cliche', "You do not understand
      earthly things, and you seek to know heavenly ones?"

      Kevin


      --- In johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com, Tom Butler

      wrote:
      >
      > Tim, Diane and all,
      > My interest in considering any character in the 4G
      > as a literary character grows especially out of my
      > consideration of Lazarus, who appears to have a larger
      > than life role in the Jesus narrative, yet he is not
      > mentioned at all by the other cannonical gospels or in
      > the Acts of the Apostles or in any other (especially
      > historical) record that I've been able to find of the
      > first century Christian communities. It hardly seems
      > likely that a person whom Jesus raised from death at a
      > point in the 4G narrative so near to Jesus' own
      > resurrection would not receive even a mention in any
      > other (especially cannonical) source.
      > I find Tim's comment useful:
      > > I do think though, that the author of 4G has a habit
      > > of using real characters as templates for his
      > > literary work, though some of these characters may
      > > be composites and others represent the actions of
      > > groups.
      >
      > Indeed, the 4G, especially in reference to Lazarus,
      > seems to follow the example of Jesus, Himself, who
      > created characters (usually without names) in His
      > parables. Lazarus is the one exception to the rule of
      > no name for these characters (Luke 16: 19-31). In
      > this case, the author(s) of the 4G seem(s) to have
      > elaborated upon what at first appears to be a literary
      > character, keeping little more than the death and
      > resurrection theme and the name of the principle
      > character. Does that mean that Lazarus was not a
      > historical figure, a "real" person? I don't think so,
      > but I do agree with Tim that Lazarus may represent an
      > entire group of people. (I have suggested that that
      > group could be Temple Priests or even the Temple
      > priesthood. That theory is consistent with a careful
      > reading of the parable in Luke, identifying "the rich
      > man" as the High Priest and the gates outside of which
      > Lazarus lays dying (starving?) as the gates to the
      > temple.)
      > The point of course is that a character in any
      > narrative, including the 4G can be both a literary
      > character AND a historical character. In ancient
      > literature myth and history are not so distinct.
      >
      > Tom Butler
      > --- "Timothy P. Jenney" drjenney@...
      > wrote:
      >
      > > I really don't think there is much possibility of
      > > determining whether a
      > > character is real [or not] from the internal
      > > evidence of 4G. That's not just
      > > true for Nicodemus, but for every character in the
      > > Gospel. All of them are
      > > [just] "foils" for Jesus!
      > >
      > > 4G has many of the literary features of myth or
      > > legend, where the original
      > > event has been stripped down to his/her/its
      > > essentials, "abstracted," if you
      > > will, in order to better serve as a universal
      > > referent. It's like the
      > > difference between a photograph of a fruit bowl, an
      > > oil painting of it and
      > > an abstract painting of it.
      > >
      > > I do think though, that the author of 4G has a habit
      > > of using real
      > > characters as templates for his literary work,
      > > though some of these
      > > characters may be composites and others represent
      > > the actions of groups.
      > > That said, I would not be so quick to dismiss the
      > > possibility of Nicodemus
      > > as having been a real person. I'm certain I would
      > > not do so based on any
      > > specific "literary characteristics" in this
      > > particular gospel.
      > >
      > > Tim Jenney
      > > Adj. NT prof.,
      > > Asbury Theological Seminary-Orlando
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > > From: Diane Yoder torontoscholar@...
      > >
      > > >
      > > > What literary characteristics do you see that
      > > leads you to believe that
      > > > Nicodemus is a fictional character? I have no
      > > opinion on the subject, but as
      > > > a theology scholar, I am interested in the
      > > justification for this hypothesis.
      > > >
      > > > Diane Yoder
      > > > University of St. Michael's College
      > > > Toronto School of Theology
      > > >
      > > > Ron Price ron.price@... wrote:
      > > > Kevin wrote:
      > > >
      > > >> I want to toss out the possibility that
      > > Nicodemus, who I believe
      > > >> appears only in John, is a purely fictional
      > > character, invented as a
      > > >> foil for Jesus.
      > > >
      > > > Kevin,
      > > >
      > > > Agreed. The long speech in 3:1ff., in which the
      > > theology and style is
      > > > typically Johannine, looks very much like an
      > > imaginative composition by the
      > > > author of the gospel.
      > > >
      > > > Ron Price
      > > >
      > > > Derbyshire, UK
      > > >
      > > > Web site:
      > > http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
      > > >
      > > >
      > > >
      > > >
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      Yours in Christ's
      service,

      > Tom
      Butler

      >




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    • Timothy P. Jenney
      Hi, all! My reading of 4G suggests the following interpretation of Nicodemus: He comes to Jesus in spiritual darkness [ by night ] in attempt to broker an
      Message 2 of 21 , Mar 26, 2006
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        Hi, all!

        My reading of 4G suggests the following interpretation of Nicodemus:

        He comes to Jesus in spiritual darkness ["by night"] in attempt to broker an
        undercover deal of sorts between Jesus and the religious leaders ["we
        know..."].

        Jesus, having nothing to do with such deals, challenges his epistemology.
        Neither Nicodemus nor his group could know whether Jesus was "sent from God"
        unless they were spiritually "aware," i.e. "born from above/again."

        The epistemological test takes the form of a conundrum: how will Nicodemus
        understand the Jesus' question? Which understanding of Gk. anothen will
        cause Nicodemus the least cognitive dissonance? If Nicodemus is aware of the
        possibility of a spiritual birth, he will understand anothen as "spiritual
        birth" [from above]. If he is not, he is forced to an interpretation that is
        grotesque, morally repugnant and ceremonially unclean ["go back into his
        mother's womb"?!?]. Sadly, Nicodemus fails the test.

        Later though, Nicodemus will separate himself from his former group [7:50]
        and will identify himself to a Roman authority as having been a secret
        disciple of Jesus [19:38].

        The story of Nicodemus thus provides a template: a Jewish religious leader,
        having personally "heard" Jesus and "judging for himself," becomes a "secret
        follower" of Jesus, eventually becoming "willing to identify with Jesus in
        his death," even before a Roman procurator.

        Tim Jenney
        Adj NT prof.,
        Asbury Theological Seminary-Orlando


        > From: Diane Yoder <torontoscholar@...>
        > Reply-To: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com
        > Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2006 14:45:22 -0500 (EST)
        > To: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com
        > Subject: Re: [John_Lit] Radical Chic: J of A, Nic, and the Boys of the Way
        >
        > Thank you Ron! Are there any extra-biblical texts written around the same
        > time as John's gospel that one can compare with the style of John, to see if
        > there are similar stories extant not related to the gospel? (since you
        > mentioned stylistic similarities of myth and legend). For instance, Frances
        > Flannery-Dailey in "Dreamers, Scribes and Priests' draws comparisons between
        > the style and structure of the Pentateuch (and the dreams recorded) with extra
        > biblical Mesopotamian texts from around the same time.
        >
        > Diane Yoder, Historical Theology
        > Toronto School of Theology
        >
        >
        >
        > Ron Price <ron.price@...> wrote: Diane Yoder wrote:
        >
        >> What literary characteristics do you see that leads you to believe that
        >> Nicodemus is a fictional character? I have no opinion on the subject, but as
        >> a theology scholar, I am interested in the justification for this hypothesis.
        >
        > Diane,
        >
        > John 3:1ff. has a style and vocabulary typical of the gospel as a whole,
        > with no detectable distinction based on whether the words belong to Jesus,
        > someone else, or the narrator. This fact is well illustrated here by
        > 3:16-21. Are these supposed to be Jesus' words or the narrator's words?
        > Scholars cannot be sure. Along with other features, the text can be seen to
        > have the characteristics of myth or legend (c.f. Tim Jenney's posting).
        >
        > The crucial question then is whether the story was written around a core
        > involving a historical person called Nicodemus, or whether "Nicodemus" was
        > merely part of the myth.
        >
        > I cannot *prove* that Nicodemus was unhistorical, but it looks to me very
        > likely. Why would the author have any need to choose a historical person for
        > his foil? With a fictional character, the author is free to choose a name
        > which has a subtle meaning, e.g. as Kevin has suggested. The author of
        > John's gospel was fond of subtle meanings.
        >
        > Ron Price
        >
        > Derbyshire, UK
        >
        > Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
        >
        >
        >
        >
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      • Ron Price
        ... Diane, I don t know of anything comparable, but then my knowledge of contemporary extra-biblical texts is rather limited. Ron Price Derbyshire, UK Web
        Message 3 of 21 , Mar 27, 2006
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          Diane Yoder wrote:

          > Are there any extra-biblical texts written around the same
          > time as John's gospel that one can compare with the style of John, to see if
          > there are similar stories extant not related to the gospel?

          Diane,

          I don't know of anything comparable, but then my knowledge of contemporary
          extra-biblical texts is rather limited.

          Ron Price

          Derbyshire, UK

          Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
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