Biblical studies: March 2004 Archives

In my Old Testament and New Testament courses in college, I was led to believe that the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is largely thought to be from later Christians reading their own disputes back into the time of Jesus by writing the gospels in a way reflecting current concerns in their own communities. I know that some people have thought this (e.g. as diverse scholars as E.P. Sanders and Jacob Neusner, usually on opposite sides when it comes to the history of rabbinic thought), and I never myself thought there was evidence for this, but it surprised me to encounter a discussion of this this morning that shows the scholarly consensus on the matter to be moving in exactly the opposite direction. Here are some of the reasons they're moving back toward a traditional view on this.

I have a few posts I want to do that will take a good deal more work than I'm willing to do right now, so I'm resorting to the old "repost something written a while ago" trick. I have lots of stuff from my old website that I'd eventually like to get transferred over here, so I might be doing this again the next time I feel the urge not to come up with anything new. I originally wrote the basis of this post for a listserv discussion whose context I don't remember, and I sent the message on 23 April 2001. I revised it on 20 January, 2003 and posted it to my website. I haven't changed any of the substance this time around, though I have reformatted it a bit and added links to the scriptures referenced. [I'm struck by how different my writing sounds after three years, not just in terms of readability (which I think has improved a lot) but even vocabulary. Remember this phenomenon for when I talk about Pauline authorship of the later letters attributed to him, often declared to be in a style incompatible with being his work.]

Some people claim that the gospel of John is a much later retelling of the story of Jesus� life that is only loosely connected to the actual life of Jesus of Nazareth. The arguments for this view often beg the question, but I�m less concerned in this writing with refuting the reasons for thinking this (negative reasons against the arguments) and more with positive reasons to resist this view. This gospel seems to assume the other gospels at many points, and that explains much of the differences, which fits quite well with the view that John was written to expand and explain much of what just appears in the other gospels. This often involves leaving out details that the reader would already be familiar with, and it usually also involves fuller accounts of the meaning and explanation behind some basic themes about Jesus� identity and mission. This fits nicely with the traditional authorship of the apostle John, writing significantly later than the other gospels to expand on them regarding things they don�t cover or explain fully or things whose theological punch they don�t develop. This is so obvious to someone open to the traditional view that one must wonder how anyone can ignore this point without ignoring much of the gospel of John.



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