John: The Mundane Gospel and its Archaeology-Related Features

However, in addition to its theological features, the Fourth Gospel is also the most mundane of the gospels. John has more empirical (sensorily attributed) references, topographical details, and archaeologically attested features than all the other gospels combined—canonical and otherwise. This is an empirical fact, which creates upheaval among scholarly theories regarding John’s character, origin, and implications, as it must also be seen as the Mundane Gospel.

 

See Also: “On Biblical Forgeries and Imagined Communities—A Critical Analysis of Recent Criticism."

 

By Paul N. Anderson
Professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies
George Fox University
July 2020

Jesus of Nazareth is the most important figure in human history. Yet, an ironic fact of biblical scholarship over the last two centuries is that the one gospel claiming first-hand knowledge of the life of Jesus has been pervasively disparaged as ahistorical—off limits in the historical quest of Jesus. This, of course, is because the Gospel of John is different from the Synoptics, and especially because the three-verse Christ-hymn added as a confessional prologue (John 1:1-5, 9-13, 14 and 16-18) is highly theological in its thrust. In something of a conjectural means of distinguishing the Johannine Gospel from the others a century or so later, Clement of Alexandria distinguished it as the “spiritual gospel”—misleading modern critical scholars along three fallacious lines.

First, the distortive 1890 translation by McGiffert referred to the Synoptics as recording “the external facts” of the ministry of Jesus, when τὰ σωματικὰ is better rendered “the bodily things.”[1] Thus, scholars and interpreters alike wrongly distinguished the Synoptics and John as factual history versus spiritualized embellishment, when this is not what Clement said or meant.

Second, Clement’s conjecture was no more based on historical knowledge than his inference that Matthew and Luke were written before Mark because they began with birth narratives. It simply reflects his attempts to account for the differences between John and the Synoptics, likely influenced by the Johannine Christ-hymn as the introduction to the narrative. Likewise, modern scholars allow John’s more mundane material to be eclipsed by the pre-existent confession of the Prologue, thereby overreading the wondrous in the narrative and overlooking John’s pervasive mundane features.

Third, Clement’s inference that John’s work was inspired by the Spirit (based on John 14-16) has led modern scholars to infer pneumatism as the imaginary source of John’s distinctive thrusts rather than traditional memory, when they more likely reflect the paraphrastic work of the narrator, couching the teachings and ministry of Jesus in the terms of the evangelist’s developing teaching ministry over the years, connecting earlier memory with the needs of emerging audiences.[2] How else would a follower of the Master connect the past with present situations?

However, in addition to its theological features, the Fourth Gospel is also the most mundane of the gospels. John has more empirical (sensorily attributed) references, topographical details, and archaeologically attested features than all the other gospels combined—canonical and otherwise. This is an empirical fact, which creates upheaval among scholarly theories regarding John’s character, origin, and implications, as it must also be seen as the Mundane Gospel.[3]

Think of it: what if the Gospel of John were discovered today, in some cave in Israel or the West Bank, presenting an alternative account of Jesus’ life and work in ways parallel-to-yet-distinctive-from the other Gospels, claiming first-hand impressions? That would raise the interest of the History Channel or CNN far more than the discovery of a second- or third-century collection of Gnostic sayings or stories! Yes, it is introduced with a worship hymn, and John’s Jesus speaks in the evangelist’s language, but does this discount it entirely as an independent witness to the ministry of Jesus? Among the many “riddles of the Fourth Gospel,”[4] John’s archaeology-related features require serious consideration, and such is the goal of the present essay.

Objections to John’s Grounded Account

At the outset, however, some of the major objections to John’s representing an autonomous and authentic Jesus tradition require attention.

First, if John’s account of Jesus and his ministry does not represent an individuated memory, its grounded features must be explained in other ways—notably, as dependent on alien sources or as a spiritualization of the Synoptics. However, when these theories are tested critically, there is no literary evidence that John’s material originates from alien sources (contra Bultmann, Fortna, and others), and theories of John’s dependence on the Synoptics are frustrated by the facts that no overlaps with Mark or other Gospels are verbatim (other than a word or two), and 85% of John’s material is unique to John (contra Streeter, Barrett, and others).[5] It represents a self-standing memory of Jesus and his ministry, even if it is rendered in the paraphrastic language of the evangelist. The final editor claims to be finalizing the work of the Beloved Disciple after his death (John 21:23-24), and the editor’s work is similar to that of the author of the Epistles, suggesting more than one authorial hand.

Second, assuming that some of John’s material was added later, the first edition (minus 1:1-18 and chapters 6, 15-17, 21) appears to be an augmentation (and modest correction) of Mark. Thus, John’s five miracles in its first stages are precisely those not found in Mark. It is different on purpose. And, if John was familiar with Mark’s basic story of Jesus, the “first” and “second” signs (2:1-11; 4:46-54) reflect a chronological augmentation of Mark, while the signs of Jesus in Jerusalem and Bethany (5:1-15; 9:1-12; 11:1-45) reflect a geographical augmentation of the same. Parallel to the five teachings of Jesus in Matthew, the five signs of Jesus in John’s first edition are crafted to show his fulfilling the five books of Moses as the Jewish Messiah/Christ (20:30-31).[6]

Third, the Prologue (1:1-18) was likely not the first stroke of the evangelist’s quill. It represents a hymnic response of the community to John’s story of Jesus (as does the author of 1 John 1:1-3), which was added later as an engaging introduction to the Gospel when it was circulated. John’s narrative, however, renders the story of Jesus for a Hellenistic audience (traditionally in Asia Minor—Ephesus), as can be seen in the translation of Aramaic and Hebrew terms and the explanation of Jewish customs. That being the case, John’s topographical, earthen, and archaeologically attested features deserve a brief overview.[7]

Topographical and Contextual Features in John

Among John’s topographical features, it is obvious that the author (1) possesses first-hand familiarity with the terrain and topography of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. The trans-Jordan baptismal site of John the Baptist is referenced (1:28), as are the stream-waters of Aenon near Salim (3:23). Elevations are familiar, as noted by traveling “down to Capernaum” (2:12) and “up to Jerusalem” (2:13; 5:1; 11:55). Passing “through Samaria” coheres with the traveled path between Galilee and Jerusalem (4:4), and Jesus and his disciples cross over to “the other side” of the lake before coming back to Capernaum—followed also by the crowd in their boats from Tiberias (6:1, 17, 22, 24-25, 59).

(2) Aramaic and Hebrew names for places and people are translated for Greek-speaking audiences (Rabbi à “teacher,” 1:37; Messias à Anointed One, or “Christ,” 1:41; Kēphas à rock, or “Peter,” 1:42; Siloam à “sent,” 9:7; Gabbatha—a different name for the stone pavement, which is called “ridge of the house” in Aramaic, 19:13; Golgotha à “place of the skull,” 19:17; Rabbouni à “master,” 20:17), and Roman names for places are also used alongside Galilean ones (Galilee à called “Tiberias,” 6:1; 21:1). These features reflect two grounded realities. First, the original settings in which John’s tradition developed made use of Aramaic and Hebraisms; this clearly reflects the Jewish ethos of Palestine. Second, the fact that these terms are translated into Greek betrays the Gospel’s being prepared for a Hellenistic setting in the Diaspora.

(3) Jewish religious and burial customs are explained for non-Jewish audiences. The Jewish Passover was near (2:13; 6:4; 11:55); stone water jars for Jewish purification were present at the wedding (2:6); Jews did not share drinking vessels with Samaritans (4:9); the Jewish festivals of Tabernacles and Dedication and the day of preparation are mentioned (7:2; 10:22; 19:14, 42—stipulating that the season of the Dedication Festival is winter, 10:22); Sabbath expectations and regulations are referenced (5:1-18; 7:22-23; 9:16; 19:31); Jewish burial customs are noted (19:40). The author thus serves as a bridge between the Jewish ministry of Jesus and the Hellenistic setting in which the Gospel is finalized.

(4) Further, tensions between Judea and Galilee are reflected in the presentation of Jerusalem leaders rejecting the idea of Jesus’ being identified the messianic Prophet because he comes from Galilee and not the city of David (7:40-44, 52). Jesus is also accused of being a Samaritan and a demoniac by the Jerusalem leaders (8:48), and being from Nazareth is disparaged by Nathanael (1:48). These features reflect socio-religious familiarity with regional tensions and rivalries internal to Palestine, and they are especially pronounced in the rejection of the Galilean prophet by the Judean leaders. John is thus not anti-Semitic; it reflects tensions between an unofficial figure from the village and centralized religion in the capital.[8]

(5) In addition, personal knowledge of people and their places of origin is represented in John’s narrative. Philip, Andrew, and Peter hail from Bethsaida (1:44; 12:20-21); Nathanael is from Cana of Galilee (21:2); Judas (son of Simon) is from Kerioth in Judea (6:71; 12:4; 13:2); the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is in Bethany (11:1, 18; 12:1), Jesus is from Nazareth (1:45; 18:5, 7; 19:19); Mary of Magdala features prominently in the narrative—distinguished from others with the same name by referencing her city of origin (19:25-26; 20:1, 18); and the man named providing a tomb for Jesus is Joseph of Arimathea (19:38). Thus, many people are identified by their domestic places of origin in John, reflecting features of personal knowledge within the tradition.

Mundane Features in John

In addition to Palestinian and Jewish features of John’s narrative, rendered in a Diaspora setting, a number of mundane features are unique within John’s story of Jesus. (1) Distances, directions, amounts, and costs are also known and conveyed by the Johannine evangelist. The middle of the lake is correctly referenced as 25 or 30 stadia (furlongs—about 5-6 kilometers; the Sea of Galilee is around 11 kilometers across; 6:19), stating how far the disciples had rowed. Bethany is said to be 15 stadia (2.5 kilometers) from Jerusalem (11:18), accounting for the presence of Jewish leaders coming from Jerusalem to grieve the loss of Lazarus.

(2) Other spatial and mundane details, which play no role in the advance of the narrative, are also referenced in John. The boat is about 100 meters from shore in John 21:8 (200 pēchōn—cubits), and Jesus instructs the disciples to cast their nets on the “right” side of the boat (v. 6). The number of large fishes caught up in the net is 153 (21:11—a number not readily recognizable as having a symbolic function). The fish eaten is a prepared food common to locals (opsarion, 6:9; 21:9, 13), and the bread eaten is barley loaves (krithinou, 6:9, 13; perhaps also an echo of Elisha’s feeding of the 100 in 2 Kings 4:42, associating Jesus with fulfilling the Eschatological Prophet typology).[9] Likewise, it is the right ear of the servant that is severed, and the perpetuator’s and the victim’s names are also given: Peter and Malchus (18:10).

(3) Measures, costs, and times of day are also featured distinctively in John’s narrative. The amount of water held in six stone jars is two or three metrētas (2:6, twenty or thirty gallons), and the weight of embalming myrrh and aloes is listed as being around 100 pounds (litras hekaton, 19:39). The cost of feeding the multitude is listed as two-thirds of a year’s wage, and the cost of the pure-nard perfume is nearly a full year’s wage (200 and 300 denarii, 6:7; 12:5—details shared with Mark’s rendering). The time of day is mentioned several times: the “tenth hour,” suggesting the end of the day (1:39); the “sixth hour,” alluding to the middle of the day (4:6; 19:14); the time of the official’s son being healed was the “seventh hour,” connected with the timing of Jesus’ word from afar (4:52-53).

(4) Finally, a vast number of sensory references are mentioned in John, including mentions of all five senses: instances of ocular sight are reported ­­98 times (blepo, eideo, emblepo, theaomai, theoreo, ide, idou, optomai, orao); auditory sounds are reported 30 times (akouo); that which is smelled is reported twice (odzo, eplerothe ek tes osmes); that which is tasted is reported once (geuomai); and that which is touched is reported 4 times (aptomai, ballo). The temperature is mentioned in John, accounting for people warming themselves around a charcoal fire (18:18, 25), and Jesus again gathers his followers around a charcoal fire as Peter is given a threefold opportunity to affirm allegiance to the one he had denied thrice (21:9-17). In these and other ways, the sensory references in John’s story of Jesus suggest first-hand reflections within its distinctive narration of memory and impressions.

Archaeological Soundings in John

In the light of the above phenomena, John’s archaeological features are all the more impressive in terms of the realism they contribute to understanding the historical ministry of Jesus. These cohere with an important essay written by William Foxwell Albright in 1956, followed by Raymond E. Brown several years later. Along these lines, James H. Charlesworth has advanced the subject of archaeology and Jesus considerably, and the John, Jesus, and History Project invited fifteen papers on the subject at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings, which will be published in the near future.[10]

(1) First, the Transjordan baptismal site of John the Baptist is distinctively referenced three times in John (1:28; 3:26; 10:40), which coheres with archaeological findings over the last several decades. In the early third century, Origen traveled this region and concluded that “Bethany beyond the Jordan” in John 1:28 was a mistake. The name of the real site was Bethabara (also referenced in several ancient texts), which is also listed on the Madaba mosaic map (although from the east, “beyond the Jordan” puts it on the western side in the mosaic). Thus, the Bethany reference reflects either a flawed scribal inference or a geographical mistake by the evangelist (after all, Bethany is near Jerusalem, not the Jordan—see John 11:18). In the light of Origen’s view and archaeological findings, the former is the more likely inference.

What archaeologists have discovered at the site of Al-Maghtas (“the site of baptism,” Arabic; also called in Hebrew Qsar el-Yahud, “castle of the Jews”) is a series of pools on the path of Wadi al-Kharrar, a stream that flows into the Jordan River from the east. These pools show evidence of having served as ancient baptismal sites, perhaps going back to the time of Jesus. Established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, this site is found along an ancient road crossing the Jordan River from the King’s Highway to Jerusalem. Pilgrimage records, monasteries, and hermitage dwellings abound from the 4th through the 6th centuries, and while certainty is elusive, the Johannine presentation of John baptizing across the Jordan—at least at this site—is confirmed by archaeological research.[11]

(2) A second Johannine site attested by recent archaeological research involves the reference to the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:2). The reference to five porticoes has been somewhat confusing to scholars, as construction in Greco-Roman times was rectangular, with virtually no pentagon structures. However, a reference to “the place of the twin pools” in Jerusalem has been found in the Qumran writings (Copper Scroll, Cave 3, Col. 11), and if there were indeed two side-by-side pools in Jerusalem, surrounded by four porches, with one running in between the pools, that would explain this unusual detail in the Fourth Gospel.

This site is located near the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem, and this is the traditional site of the healing of the lame man in John 5. Archaeological evidence of its being a therapy and healing site in ancient times is confirmed by the discovery of Asclepius images in the area, so the man waiting for 38 years to be healed seems to match the function of the site. Archaeologists have also confirmed two pools with a column running between them, so the presentation of the healing by the Pool of Bethesda matches the archaeological evidence regarding such a setting.[12]

(3) A second pool mentioned in the Gospel of John has also been corroborated by archaeological discoveries, but more recently. In John 9:1-11, Jesus healed the blind man and sent him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. Because the meaning of the word is translated (Siloam means “sent,” 9:7), scholars have assumed that because this reference carried symbolic meaning, it was theological in its origin rather than historical. After all, the man becomes something of an apostle (an apostle is “one who is sent,” with a commission), and this inference served as further evidence of John’s theological interest at the expense of historical concern. A small pool, fed by the Gihon Spring, was the assumed site of the pool for more than a century.

In 2004, however, things changed with the discovery of a second Pool of Siloam, a much larger one, a short distance away. As excavators sought to repair a water pipe, archaeologists discovered a series of steps leading down to a flat surface, which turned out to be a cleansing pool. Coins from the first century were found, suggesting that this site had been buried since that time. As a Mikveh, a Jewish pool of purification, this larger one was used for ritual cleansing and purification before people entered the temple in Jerusalem.

This also explains why the blind man was instructed by Jesus to wash in the pool, and why he was confronted by religious authorities in the temple area. If blindness was associated with impurity, the man’s healing required the rite of purification and official certification for him to be restored to social acceptance. In that sense, key features of the healing of the blind man in John 9 are corroborated by the discovery of the second Pool of Siloam. The healings by the pools in Jerusalem are also corroborated independently by the reference in Matthew 21:14 that Jesus performed healings on the blind and the lame people in the temple area of Jerusalem.

(4) A fourth detail in John’s story of Jesus is corroborated by the findings of recent excavations: the stone pavement (lithostrōtos, 19:13) has been found, upon which Pilate’s Praetorium was located. In Jerusalem, there are several sites where floors made of large stones are still visible. Then again, the term could also reference a tile mosaic or an elevated platform on which the judgment seat of Pilate would have stood. Either way, any of these options would fit the mention of “the Upper City” by Josephus as the place where Herod had his palace, coinciding with the area being referenced in the Gospel of John, where Gabbatha (Aramaic for “the high place” or “the ridge of the house”) identifies the place with a different name. The adding of an Aramaic name is thus not a translation. It is a different name used alongside the official Roman name for the same general settings, reflecting on-the-ground familiarity with the governing site of Pilate’s rule and its various appellatives. Thus, like the references to the two pools, this familiarity would have antedated the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE.[13]

(5) A fifth feature commanding archaeological interest in the Gospel of John is the 1968 discovery of a spike driven through the heel or anklebone of a crucifixion victim in Jerusalem. The man’s name is “Jehohanan,” who was probably crucified around the time of the Roman destruction of the city in 70 CE. Josephus references 2,000 Jews being crucified in order to motivate the surrender of the city. This spike, still embedded in the heel of its victim, casts light upon three features of the Johannine crucifixion narrative.

First, it reflects the use of nails in Jerusalem crucifixions, even if the use of ropes was less costly. The Fourth Gospel alone references the use of nails in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus (20:25), and this discovery shows that John’s presentation is not simply an expansion upon a biblical text. Second, the spike, driven through the anklebone, suggests a robust means of supporting the victim’s weight, as legs were on the outsides of the wooden post, rather than feet being together. Third, the leg bone itself was fractured, reflecting crurifragium (the breaking of legs, alone mentioned in John 19:32), which helped victims die sooner.

In these and other ways, John’s presentation coheres with Roman crucifixion practices, archaeologically and historically. Despite the theological meaning attached to the piercing of the side of Jesus with a spear in 19:34-35, “fulfilling” the Scriptures of Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10 as attested by the truth-telling eyewitness, this does not mean these sorts of reports were concocted. Further, the fact that Jehohanan was given a proper burial also corroborates the desire of Jesus’ followers in John to place him in a proper tomb. The reference to the tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea as an unused tomb in John 19:41 is also corroborated by Luke 23:53, as Luke adds to his use of Mark one of more than 70 details or features that coincide with John.[14] Thus, the Johannine crucifixion account bears with it a good deal of independent realism, which archaeological findings corroborate.

Conclusion

Of course, there are many more features in the Gospel of John possessing links with archaeological findings. Even varying investigations of Bethsaida show it to have been a fishing town; the discovery of the Migdal Synagogue Stone shows close connections with the Jerusalem temple; a worship site on Mount Gerizim is evident, not far from Jacob’s well; burial practices of ancient times cohere with John’s stories of the burials of Lazarus and Jesus. What the above findings show, therefore, is that attempts to explain the bulk of John’s distinctive features as products of “the theologizing work of the evangelist” is a disciplinarily flawed venture. This works in some cases, but in others it falls flat when John’s story of Jesus is more robustly attested by material culture than alternative speculations.

While the Fourth Gospel is indeed different from the other Gospels, and while it possesses a good deal of theological content, it nonetheless features more links with archaeological discoveries than all the other gospels combined—canonical and otherwise. In that sense, it deserves consideration as “The Mundane Gospel” in addition to its spiritualizing features. Thus, John’s story of Jesus bears considerable implications, not only for understanding the Christ faith, but also the Jesus of history. As the first three Quests for Jesus have excluded the Gospel of John programmatically since the work of David F. Strauss in 1865, this calls for more inclusive quest—a fourth quest—in the new millennium.[15] And, in the light of archaeological and material soundings, that quest has only just begun.

Bibliography

Albright, William F. “Recent Discoveries in Palestine and the Gospel of St. John,” The Background of the New Testament and its Eschatology: In Honor of Charles Harold Dodd, edited by W. D. Davies and D. Daube (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 153-171.

Anderson, Paul N. The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6, WUNT 2/78 (1996; 3rd edition with new Introduction and Epilogue, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010).

_____. “On Guessing Points and Naming Stars—The Epistemological Origins of John’s Christological Tensions.” In The Gospel of St. John and Christian Theology. Edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 311-45.

_____. The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus: Modern Foundations Reconsidered, Library of New Testament Studies Series 321 (London: T&T Clark, 2006).

_____. “Aspects of Historicity in John: Implications for Archaeological and Jesus Studies,” Jesus and Archaeology, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 587-618.

_____. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011).

_____. From Crisis to Christ: A Contextual Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 2014).

_____. Acts 4:19-20—An Overlooked First-Century Clue to Johannine Authorship and Luke’s Dependence upon the Johannine Tradition.” The Bible and Interpretation September 2010 (online: http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/acts357920.shtml).

_____. “Glimpses of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens—An Introduction and Overview of John, Jesus, and History, Vol. 3.,” with Jaime Clark-Soles. The Bible and Interpretation (December 2015, (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/12/and398021.shtml).

_____.  “Jesus, the Eschatological Prophet in the Fourth Gospel: A Case Study in John’s Dialectical Tensions.” Reading the Gospel of John's Christology as Jewish Messianism: Royal, Prophetic, and Divine Messiahs, ed. Ben Reynolds and Gabriele Boccaccini, Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 106 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2018), 271-99.

Anderson, Paul N., Felix Just, S.J., and Tom Thatcher, editors, John, Jesus, and History, Volume 1: Critical Appraisals of Critical Views, Symposium Series 44 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2007; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2007).

_____. John, Jesus, and History, Volume 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel, Symposium Series 49 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2009; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2009).

_____. John, Jesus, and History, Volume 3: Glimpses of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens, Early Christianity and its Literature 18 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016).

Brown, Raymond E. “The Problem of Historicity in John,” CBQ 24.1 (1962): 1-14 (revised and published later in Brown’s New Testament Essays, Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1965, 187-217).

Burge, Gary M. “Siloam, Bethesda, Siloam, and the Johannine Water Motif.” John, Jesus, and History, Volume 3: Glimpses of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens, eds. Paul N. Anderson et al, Early Christianity and its Literature 18 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016), 259-70.

Charlesworth, James H. Jesus Within Judaism: New Light from Exciting Archaeological Discoveries (London: SPCK, 1989).

Charlesworth, James H., editor, Jesus and Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

_____. “The Historical Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: A Paradigm Shift?” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 8 (2010): 3-46.

Dodd, C. H. Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963).

Funk, Robert W. Honest to Jesus; Jesus for a New Millenium (San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1996).

Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1998).

Goodenough, Edwin R. “John: A Primitive Gospel.” Journal of Biblical Literature 64 (1945): 145–82.

Higgins, A. J. B. 1960. The Historicity of the Fourth Gospel (London: Lutterworth).

Koester, Craig R. “The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18): A Study in Light of the Archaeological Evidence from Bethesda, Jewish and Greco-Roman Practice, and the Johannine Narrative.” The Johannine Kerygma According to John 3-5, ed. R. Alan Culpepper and Jörg Frey, WUNT 1/423 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019), 243-73.

Magness, Jodi. “Jesus and Archaeology.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 127.1 (2007): 87-88.

Potter, R.D. “Topography and Archaeology in the Fourth Gospel,” Studia Evangelica I (1959): 329–37.

Taylor, Joan E. “John the Baptist on the Jordan River: Localities and Significance.” ARAM 29.1/2 (2017): 1-19.

Von Wahlde, Urban C. “Archaeology and John’s Gospel,” Jesus and Archaeology, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 523-586.

_____. “The Puzzling Pool of Bethesda.” Biblical Archaeology Review 37.5 (2011): 40-65.

_____. “The Pool of Siloam: The Importance of the New Discoveries for Our Understanding of Ritual Immersion in Late Second Temple Judaism and the Gospel of John.” John, Jesus, and History, Volume 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel, eds. Anderson et al, Symposium Series 49 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2009; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2009), 155-74.

 

[1] The Church History of Eusebius, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co.), 6.14.7.

[2] See, for instance, Edwin R. Goodenough, “John: A Primitive Gospel.” Journal of Biblical Literature 64 (1945): 145–82; C. H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963); John A. T. Robinson, ed. J. F. Coakley (London: SCM, 1985); James H. Charlesworth, “The Historical Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: A Paradigm Shift?” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 8 (2010): 3-46.

[3] Much of the following parts of this essay was published in Spanish, Paul N. Anderson, “Juan. El Evangelio Terrenal y la Arqueología,” Arqueología e Historia 18 (April 2018): 39-45; see also idem, “Aspects of Historicity in John: Implications for Archaeological and Jesus Studies,” Jesus and Archaeology, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 587-618. Along these lines, see especially R. D. Potter, “Topography and Archaeology in the Fourth Gospel,” Studia Evangelica I (1959): 329–37; William F. Albright, “Recent Discoveries in Palestine and the Gospel of St. John,” The Background of the New Testament and its Eschatology: In Honor of Charles Harold Dodd, ed. W. D. Davies and D. Daube (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 153-71; Raymond E. Brown, “The Problem of Historicity in John,” CBQ 24.1 (1962): 1-14 (revised and published later in Brown’s New Testament Essays, Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1965, 187-217); Urban C. von Wahlde, “Archaeology and John’s Gospel,” Jesus and Archaeology, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 523-86.

[4] For an overview of a dozen theological tensions, a dozen historical problems, and a dozen literary perplexities within the Gospel of John, see Paul N. Anderson, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John (Minneapolis: Fortress 2011).

[5] For an extensive analysis of John’s use of alien sources or the Synoptics, see Paul N. Anderson, The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6, WUNT 2/78 (1996; 3rd edn, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010).

[6] Paul N. Anderson, The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus: Modern Foundations Reconsidered, Library of New Testament Studies Series 321 (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 101-26.

[7] With Rudolf Bultmann and others, this Christ-hymn seems to represent an early Christian worship composition, in my view, added by the author of the Johannine Epistles (note the similarities with 1 John 1:1-3) following the death of the Beloved Disciple (John 21:20-24). Thus, the original opening of the Johannine narrative began with vv. 1-5, 15, 19ff. of ch. 1, around which the Christ-hymn was apparently crafted before its circulation. Paul N. Anderson, “On Guessing Points and Naming Stars—The Epistemological Origins of John’s Christological Tensions,” The Gospel of St. John and Christian Theology, eds. Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 311-45.

[8] Paul N. Anderson, “Anti-Semitism and Religious Violence as Flawed Interpretations of the Gospel of John.” John and Judaism: A Contested Relationship in Context, eds. R. Alan Culpepper and Paul N. Anderson, Resources for Biblical Study 87 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2017), 265-311 (a longer edition published on The Bible and Interpretation, October 2017, https://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2017/10/and418017.shtml).

[9] Paul N. Anderson, “Jesus, the Eschatological Prophet in the Fourth Gospel: A Case Study in John’s Dialectical Tensions,” Reading the Gospel of John's Christology as Jewish Messianism: Royal, Prophetic, and Divine Messiahs, eds. Ben Reynolds and Gabriele Boccaccini, Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 106 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2018), 271-99.

[10] See above notes and bibliography. These and other sites will be addressed by a world-class group of scholars in the forthcoming book—the first collection on the subject, ever—Archaeology, John, and Jesus: What Recent Discoveries Show Us About Jesus From the Gospel of John, ed. Paul N. Anderson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021).

[11] Joan E. Taylor, “John the Baptist on the Jordan River: Localities and Significance,” ARAM 29.1/2 (2017): 1-19

[12] See Urban C. von Wahlde, “The Puzzling Pool of Bethesda.” Biblical Archaeology Review 37.5 (2011): 40-65; Gary M. Burge, “Siloam, Bethesda, Siloam, and the Johannine Water Motif,” John, Jesus, and History, Volume 3: Glimpses of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens, eds. Paul N. Anderson et al, Early Christianity and its Literature 18 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016), 259-70; Craig R. Koester, “The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18): A Study in Light of the Archaeological Evidence from Bethesda, Jewish and Greco-Roman Practice, and the Johannine Narrative,” The Johannine Kerygma According to John 3-5, eds. R. Alan Culpepper and Jörg Frey, WUNT 1/423 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019), 243-73.

[13] So argued by Albright and Brown, op cit.

[14] Paul N. Anderson, Acts 4:19-20—An Overlooked First-Century Clue to Johannine Authorship and Luke’s Dependence upon the Johannine Tradition,” The Bible and Interpretation September 2010 (online: http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/acts357920.shtml).

 

[15] For an overview of new and inclusive criteria for determining historicity, see Paul N. Anderson, “Glimpses of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens—An Introduction and Overview of John, Jesus, and History, Vol. 3.,” with Jaime Clark-Soles. The Bible and Interpretation (December 2015, (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/12/and398021.shtml).

Article Comments

Submitted by Martin Hughes on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 05:55

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John seems to me to tell us very plainly that he is not a mundane writer. The reproof to Nicodemus’ literalism is surely a general reminder not to read the words attributed by John to Jesus - and thus what John tells us about Jesus - in too literal a spirit.
The strong suggestion that the High Priesthood was an annual office suggests considerable detachment from the milieu of the events.
The whole point of ‘Bethany beyond Jordan’ is surely that it had the same name as ‘Bethany near Jerusalem’: Jesus was not with, but also with, Lazarus at the time of his sickness.
John’s assignment of the Temple Cleansing to an early point in Jesus’ ministry seems to me to make it harder to believe. Jesus uses a potentially lethal weapon against lawful activity in a sensitive place and it’s not easy to think that there would be no reaction - as there would if the same thing were done in (say) Westminster Abbey. The atmosphere at the arrest scene verges on surreal, where Jesus establishes an ascendancy over the arresting party such that they fall to the ground before him and then take no notice of Peter’s action against Malchus. Just imagine the scene in a modern, mundane city where one of police arresting a suspect has his ear removed by the suspect’s friend - who then turns up at the Archbishop’s house where another of the suspect’s friends, also a friend of the Archbishop, gets him admitted by a young female doorkeeper. I don’t think ‘surrealist’ is an excessive word here. Not that surrealist narratives need lack power or truth.

Submitted by John MacDonald on Wed, 07/08/2020 - 18:54

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This piece seems riddled with questionable conclusions. For instance, the writer says

"A fifth feature commanding archaeological interest in the Gospel of John is the 1968 discovery of a spike driven through the heel or anklebone of a crucifixion victim in Jerusalem ... First, it reflects the use of nails in Jerusalem crucifixions, even if the use of ropes was less costly. The Fourth Gospel alone references the use of nails in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus (20:25), and this discovery shows that John’s presentation is not simply an expansion upon a biblical text."

One historical example of nails being used in a crucifixion proves John's account of Jesus being impaled is not simply an expansion on biblical text?

The author has made a severe leap of faith concluding from a lot of mundane details that the the writer(s) of the fourth gospel had a wealth of mundane historical source material, while an alternate theory could simply be the author(s) of the fourth gospel simply had a writing style of creating detailed historical fiction, like author Jack Whyte for instance.

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