Monday, February 06, 2006

Source Criticism At Its Best (?)

After finally turning in my chapter on John the Baptist last Tuesday (can you hear the orchestra playing in the background?), I have now moved on to my analysis of Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John. One of the issues I am addressing in this section is the referent and meaning of the noun Ioudaioi ("Jews"). The portrayal of the Jews in the FG is undoubtedly a major reason this canonical work has sadly caused some serious problems in modern history.

One of the works I discuss in this section is an article by Urban C. Von Wahlde entitled, "The Johannine 'Jews': A Critical Survey." In this article, the author attempts to liberate the FG from blame by arguing that the characteristic Johannine use of the noun Ioudaios refers to the Jewish religious leaders. Von Wahdle’s analysis effectively demonstrates the noun does refer to the Jewish leaders in some contexts (cf. 1:19–24; 7:32–36; 9:13–16, 18, 22, 40). Von Wahdle also acknowledges the noun has a number of other referents within the FG (46). However, he distinguishes between these uses and the “Johannine usage” (that of the original author) on the basis of three criteria: 1) the context indicates the author does not refer to the Jewish people as a whole; 2) the context indicates the individuals referred to express hostility towards Jesus; 3) the context indicates the individuals described do not express an elevated degree of hostility towards Jesus (41, 47). Von Wahlde then categorizes the characteristic “Johannine use” into seven distinct groups:
i) those that clearly describe the Jewish authorities expressing hostility (5:10; 9:18; 18:12);
ii) those that clearly describe Jewish authorities who display doubt (1:19);
iii) those who describe individuals expressing disbelief and uncertainty without explicitly identifying them as Jewish authorities (2:18, 22; 7:35);
iv) those that describe individuals who express opposition towards Jesus without explicitly identifying them as Jewish authorities (7:1, 11; 8:22, 48, 52, 57; 10:24, 31, 33; 11:8; 13:33; 18:31, 38; 19:7);
v) instances in the Passion narrative (19:12, 14, 31) that do not present a clear referent but likely refers to the “Jews” in 18:12, 14, 31, 36, who likely are religious leaders;
vi) uses of the noun that seem to describe the common people (6:41, 52) (pg. 47-49).

The careful reader will note a significant problem with Von Wahlde's sixth category. After all, is not the author's primary thesis that the characteristic "Johannine use" of the noun Ioudaios refers to the Jewish authorities? Is not the use of the noun in John 6:41, 52 a glaring and damaging exception to his argument?

While there are several problems with Von Wahlde's analysis, I am especially interested in his treatment of John 6:41, 52. Again, the author admits that these verses pose a serious problem for his thesis (42-44). How does he deal with this serious problem? He simply confines them to the work of a later redactor. These two verses are not the only problematic texts the author attributes to redactional activity. He also makes similar claims regarding John 3:25; 8:31; 10:19.
Von Wahlde's analysis, in my view, is an extremely prejudicial handling of the evidence. I personally cannot help but thinking this is an example of a scholar desperate to prove a theory at all costs. [The author's third criteria for a "Johannine use" of the noun Ioudaios (the absence of an increased degree of hostility) raises similar concerns.] This article makes me thankful for the emergence of Narrative and Canonical criticism in Biblical Studies. Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt desire that we all would be so lucky to develop theories this easily "defended."

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