Sunday, November 29, 2009

I am Not Elijah, Intro

The following is the introduction to a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

I am not Elijah: The Use and Non-use of Elijah/Elisha Material in the Gospel of John[1]

Gary T. Manning Jr., Ph.D.
Pacific Rim Christian College, Honolulu

From the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, it is clear that John has a different perspective on John the Baptist than the Synoptic Gospels do. John certainly does not disparage John the Baptist; he is, as the evangelist says, “a man sent from God” who came “to testify… so that all might believe through him” (John 1:6-7). But John is not interested in portraying JTB as Elijah. It is not only that John the Baptist refuses the title of Elijah (John 1:20, 25); but John also omits other synoptic details that link Elijah to John the Baptist: his Elijah-like clothing (Mark 1:6 and parallels/2 Kings 1:8) and Jesus’ identification of John the Baptist as Elijah (Mark 9:12-13 and parallels). The Gospel of John also omits mentioning two other references to Elijah found in the Synoptics: Elijah’s appearance to Jesus at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:4-5 and parallels); and the observers’ belief that Jesus was calling to Elijah on the cross (Mark 15:35-36 and parallels). Of course, John omits many synoptic sayings and details, so we need to be cautious about speculating about single omissions. However, the fact that John omits all of the explicit references to Elijah found in the Synoptics suggests that the omissions are intentional.

John also goes out of his way to apply Elijah/Elisha imagery to Jesus. On six occasions in John, miracles, or sayings associated with miracles, seem to be designed to draw attention back to similar stories in the Elijah/Elisha cycle (1 Kings 17-2 Kings 13). Some of these allusions are quite strong and recognizable, while others are weaker and open to challenge. When viewed together, these allusions suggest that John wanted his readers to compare Jesus to Elijah and Elisha,[2] and perhaps thought that the role of Elijah applied more to Jesus than to John the Baptist.[3]

Allusions are slippery things, and so attention to method is essential. The last twenty years have seen an abundance of studies on allusions to the Old Testament in the New Testament, producing some consensus about methods for identifying and analyzing allusions. There is wide agreement that the presence and strength of an allusion can be established based on factors such as the number of words and phrases in common; the similar narrative use of such words and phrases; resonance or congruence between the context of the earlier text and the context of the alluding text; the presence of repeated quotations or allusions to the same text or nearby texts; and similarities in the structure of the two contexts. There is also consensus that the meaning of an allusion should be evaluated on the basis of such factors as the role of the allusion in its new context, ways in which the alluding author modifies the source material, the implied interpretation of the source material, and ways in which other authors from the same period made use of the same material.[4] All of these methods have informed the study of the following allusions, but space does not permit a thorough evaluation of each method for each proposed allusion.

[1] Marianne Meye Thompson first brought my attention to John’s theme of Jesus as Elijah, while I was a student in her Johannine Christology seminar at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1999.
[2] Why does John use allusions to both Elijah and Elisha? It is natural for readers to connect Elijah and Elisha, since they have similar types of ministries, and since Elisha received the “double portion” of Elisha’s spirit (2 Kgs 2:9-14). Their ministries were also compared in Sirach 48, and Elisha was described as “filled with his [Elijah’s] spirit” (ἐνεπλήσθη πνεύματος αὐτοῦ, Sir 48:12).
[3] J. Louis Martyn first presented the idea that John, or one of his sources, presented Jesus as Elijah. J. Louis Martyn, “We Have Found Elijah,” pages 181-219 in Jews, Greeks and Christians: Religious Cultures in Late Antiquity: Essays in Honor of William David Davies, ed. Robert Hammerton-Kelly and Robin Scroggs. Leiden: Brill, 1976.
[4] This paragraph is adapted from G. Manning, “Shepherd, Vine and Bones: The Use of Ezekiel in the Gospel of John,” in After Ezekiel: Essays on the Reception of a Difficult Prophet (ed. Paul Joyce and Andrew Mein; LHBOTS; London: T&T Clark, 2010). For a more thorough exploration of these methods, see G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), xxiii-xxviii; G. Manning, Echoes of a Prophet: The Use of Ezekiel in the Gospel of John and in Literature of the Second Temple Period (JSNTS 270; London: T&T Clark, 2004), 7-19.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I am Not Elijah, Part 1 (John 4:29, 2 Kings 6:12-13)

The following is part 1 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

1. “Come and See”

2 Kings 6:12-13 (LXX)[1] One of his servants said, “No, my lord the king. Elisha, the prophet in Israel, reports to the king of Israel all the words that you say in your bedroom. [The king of Aram] said, “Go, see (Δεῦτε ἴδετε) where this man is, and I will send and take him.” And they announced to him, saying, “Behold, in Dothan.”

John 4:29
“Come, see (Δεῦτε ἴδετε) a man who told me all that I had done; surely he is not the Christ, is he?”

The first proposed allusion is admittedly weaker than most of the following parallels. However, the phrase “come and see” is somewhat distinctive; Δεῦτε ἴδετε occurs in only two other places in the LXX (Ps 45:9 [46:8], 65:5 [66:5]), and neither of them otherwise parallels John 4:29. The phrase is not entirely distinctive in the NT, however. Δεῦτε ἴδετε is used in Matt 28:6, and the similar ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε is used in John 11:34 (see also John 1:39); neither seem to be allusions to 2 Kgs 6:12-13. Although this allusion is weaker than some others, it still is worth considering. The presence of other solid allusions to Elijah/Elisha material in John confirms the possibility that John may use more subtle allusions to the same material. Most importantly, there is some resonance between these two passages. The king of Aram is seeking Elisha because his prophetic knowledge threatens the outcome of his war with Israel. Likewise, the Samaritan woman uses the phrase to point to Jesus’ prophetic knowledge of secret things. Jesus’ knowledge of her multiple marriages was enough for her to suggest that he was a prophet, and perhaps even the Christ (John 4:19, 29).

If the saying of the Samaritan woman is an allusion to 2 Kgs 6:12-13, then John 1:46 may also: “Philip said to him, “Come and see” (ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε).” While ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε looks different from Δεῦτε ἴδετε, the main change is from plural to singular. The switch to ἔρχου is then necessary since there is no singular form of Δεῦτε. Both phrases are legitimate translations of the Hebrew phrase in 2 Kgs 6:13, לכוּ וּראו (see Jdg 13:18, 18:19). Philip invited Nathanael to meet Jesus, who could reveal secrets. While we don’t know what Nathanael’s secret was, Jesus’ knowledge was surprising enough that Nathanael confessed Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel. If John 1:46 is an allusion to 2 Kgs 6:12-13, then there is some resonance between the two accounts: Elisha prays for spiritual sight for his servant, and he sees a vision of fiery horses and chariots (2 Kings 6:17-18); Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see a vision of the heavenly ladder (John 1:51).

Of course, there are significant differences between the accounts in John and in 2 Kings 6. Nathanael and the Samaritan woman are both positive examples who quickly trust Jesus based partially on his prophetic knowledge, while the king of Aram is trying to capture or kill Elisha because of his prophetic knowledge.

We might understand subtle allusions like this better if we think of ways that biblically literate people make allusions today. Recently, while I was speaking at a Christian conference, another speaker scheduled at the same time encouraged people to leave his session and come to mine. I later emailed him and thanked him for his self-denying promotion of my teaching. He quickly sent back the reply, “You must increase while I must decrease.” Anyone familiar with the story of John the Baptist quickly recognizes what my friend was doing with the allusion: he was humbly (but humorously) claiming that my teaching was more important than his. He was probably also alluding to the fact that John the Baptist encouraged his disciples to leave him and follow Jesus. But of course it is not a perfect allusion. My friend was not (I hope!) claiming that I was the Messiah, or that he would be beheaded at a party. There are any number of facts about John the Baptist and Jesus that he was not applying to our situation.

Some subtle allusions in the NT may be like this.[2] They use phrases that were well-known enough to biblically literate Jews and Christians to make them recall an OT passage. The allusions are intended to make just a few connections between the OT and NT situations. But the allusions do not imply every connection that is possible to make between the OT and NT situations.

[1] The NA27 list of allusions suggests both 1 Kings 6:13 and10:16, but 10:16 otherwise has very little in common with John 1.
[2] Brown pointed out another such sly allusion: the use of θύω (normally used for sacrifices) to refer to the hirelings’ killing of sheep in John 10:10 is “a sly reference to the priestly authorities.” R. Brown, John, 1: 386

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 2 (John 2:3-4, 2 Kings 3:9-22)

The following is part 2 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

2. “What to you and me?” (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, ti emoi kai soi)

2 Kings 3:9-22 (LXX)
The king of Israel and the king of Judah and the king of Edom went… and there was no water (οὐκ ἦν ὕδωρ) for the army or for the cattle… So the king of Israel and the king of Judah and the king of Edom went down to [Elisha]. Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What do I have to do with you? (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί)…

John 2:3-4 And Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. And when the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine (οἶνον οὐκ ἔχουσιν ).” Jesus said to her, “What do I have to do with you? (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί)

It is common for commentaries on John to refer to 2 Kings 3:22 (along with Jdg 11:18, 2 Chr 35:21, 1 Kgs 17:18, and Hos 14:8) as an example of the idiom Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί in John 2:4. However, John 2:4 has never been seen as an allusion to 2 Kgs 3:22 until recently. Mickey Klink’s recent article ably demonstrated that Jesus’ miracle in John 2 is told in a manner designed to recall Elisha’s water miracle.[1]

Although the exact verbal parallel extends only to the phrase Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, there is significant resonance between the two passages. In 2 Kings 3, water for the army runs out, the king asks Elisha for help, and the man of God responds with Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί. Despite his initial reluctance, Elisha helps. He gives some rather strange commands; once the commands are obeyed, the water miraculously arrives, filling the trenches. In John 2, wine for the wedding runs out, Mary asks Jesus for help, and Jesus responds with Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί. Despite his initial reluctance, Jesus helps. He gives some rather strange commands; once the commands are obeyed, the water miraculously turns to wine, filling the water jars.[2]

If this is a genuine allusion, as seems possible, then it clears up the mystery of why Jesus at first appears to refuse, then helps anyway. The conversation between Jesus and his mother is designed to point to Jesus’ similarity to Elisha. His initial refusal does not really make sense in John’s story, but it does make sense in its original context in 2 Kings 3. This is the nature of many quotations and allusions to the OT: when they are removed from their original context and placed in the NT, slight irregularities are introduced. In some cases, minor grammatical irregularities occur, as when the tense of verbs do not match the new context or the pronouns are not quite appropriate for the new context. In other cases, the meaning of the original text goes through small distortions as it is placed in a new context.

[1] Edward Klink III, “What Concern is that to You and to Me? John 2:1-11and the Elisha Narratives,” Neotestamentica 39.2 (2005) 213 -287. Klink pointed out that Raymond Brown had twice hinted at the connection between this passage and the Elisha story. Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (AB, 29-29A; 2 vols; Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966, 1970), 1:110; Brown, “Jesus and Elisha,” Per 12 (1971) 85-104.
[2] Another, more coincidental connection between the passages can be found in 2 Kings 3:22. The Moabites see the water in the trenches “red like blood” (אדמים כדם); both terms are sometimes used to describe wine (Gen 49:11, Isa 63:2).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 3 (John 4:7, 1 Kings 17:10-14)

The following is part 3 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

3. “Give me a Drink”

1 Kings 17:10 (LXX)[Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath, to the city gate, and behold, a widow was there gathering firewood, and Elijah called after her and said to her, “Please give (Λαβὲ δή μοι / קחי־נא) me a little water (ὕδωρ) in a jar and I will drink (πίομαι).”
14 “… the flour jar will not run out, and the oil jug will not run short until the day the Lord gives rain upon the earth”

John 4:7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water (ὕδωρ). Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink (δός μοι πεῖν).”
14 “whoever drinks from the water I will give him will never thirst; but the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water…”

John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Sychar is probably not a pure allusion to a single OT passage. As others have pointed out, a meeting between a man and a woman at a well is an archetypal image suggesting courtship and marriage (Gen 24, Exod 2). However, in the case of both Elijah and Jesus, the scene describes the beginning of a relationship between a prophet and an outsider woman.

There are a few direct verbal similarities between the two passages. Both include the obvious words ὕδωρ and πίνω. In the LXX, Elijah’s request Λαβὲ δή μοι … ὕδωρ (“please take me … water”) is a fairly wooden translation of קחי־נא, and does not represent the normal use of λαμβάνω. John’s phrase δός μοι πεῖν is a more normal way of requesting water in first-century Greek.

It is the similarities between the whole accounts that are the most striking. God clearly appoints the meeting between Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-9). As most commentaries on John point out, the phrase “Jesus had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4) indicates Jesus’ divine appointment with the Samaritan woman. Both the widow of Zarephath and the woman of Sychar are outsiders; the one, a Sidonian widow; the other, a Samaritan sinner. In both cases, the woman gives sustenance to the man of God, and the man of God gives far greater sustenance to the woman. Elijah promises the Sidonian woman that “the vessel of flour will not give out, and the jar of oil will not run short, until the day the Lord sends rain upon the land” (1 Kings 17:10). Jesus promises the Samaritan woman that “whoever drinks from the water that I will give to him will never be thirsty, but the water that I give him will become a spring of water in him leaping up to eternal life” (John 4:14).[1] The allusion seems even more likely to be intentional when we realize that the following scene in John alludes to the following scene in 1 Kings (John 4:46-54/1 Kings 17:17-24).

Although both conversations begin over water, they turn towards God. The Sidonian woman swears “as Yahweh your god lives…”, and Elijah pronounces to her, “Thus says Yahweh, God of Israel…” After Elijah raises her son, the woman affirms her belief: “Now I have known (ἔγνωκα) that you are a man of God and the word of Yahweh is truly in your mouth” (1 Kings 17:24). The Samaritan woman affirms her faith as well: “Lord, I see that you are a prophet” (John 4:19); and “he isn’t the Christ, is he?” (John 4:20). Both stories are, in essence, conversion accounts. The Sidonian woman affirms her belief in Yahweh and Elijah as his messenger; the Samaritan woman affirms her belief in the salvation that comes from the Jews and in Jesus as the messenger of that salvation. In OT terms, both women are invited to join in the blessings of the covenant. In this sense, all five similar stories of a meeting at a well – Rebecca, Hagar, Zipporah, the Sidonian woman, and the Samaritan woman – show the inclusion of an outsider woman in the covenant people.

[1] Although Jesus does not ask the woman for food, the disciples get food from Sychar, and food is a prominent theme in the story (John 4:8, 31-34).

I Am Not Elijah, Part 4 (John 4:50, 1 Kings 17:21-24)

The following is part 4 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

4. “Your Son Lives”

1 Kings 17:21-24 (LXX)
[Elijah prayed,] “Oh Lord my God, please let the life of this child return to him.” It happened as [he had prayed], and the child cried out. [Elijah] led him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother, and said, “See, your son lives” (ζῇ ὁ υἱός σου). The woman said to Elijah, “Behold, I have known (ἔγνωκα) that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord is true (ἀληθινόν) in your mouth.”

John 4:50 Jesus said to him, “Go, your son lives. (ὁ υἱός σου ζῇ)” The man believed the word that Jesus said to him and began going.
… ὁ παῖς αὐτοῦ ζῇ (4:51)
… ὁ υἱός σου ζῇ (4:53)

In John, repetition and final sayings are often keys to the meaning of stories. “Your son lives” is Jesus’ final saying in this pericope, and it is recorded three times. Jesus’ saying reminds us of John’s theme of Jesus as the source of life, found in almost every pericope in John. As with the rest of the “signs” in John, the healing of the nobleman’s son is designed primarily to reveal something about Jesus’ identity.

“Your son lives” also seems designed to draw the readers’ attention to Elijah’s famous healing of the widow’s son at Zarephath. The phrase is distinctive; it is not found elsewhere in the NT or LXX. It also functions as an allusion in that the phrase causes the reader to notice other connections between the two miracle accounts. In both cases, the miracle results in the parent’s belief that the healer is genuinely from God and speaks for God. The nobleman believed when he heard Jesus (4:50), and then he believed when he heard news of his son’s healing (4:53). The widow’s response to the healing affirms her belief in Elijah in terms that could be comfortably applied to Jesus in the gospel of John. The use of the perfect ἔγνωκα to intensify or solemnize a statement of belief is well-known in John (6:69, 11:27; cf. 1:34, 1:41, 1:45, 4:42). Elijah, like Jesus, is a “man of God” who speaks the word of God. John may have even been drawn to this passage because of his interest in “truth” (ἀληθινόν).[1] Although many books in the LXX use ἀληθινόν, in the NT, it is primarily a Johannine term, and usually applies to Jesus or his message (23 of its 28 occurrences in the NT are in John, 1 John, or Revelation). John’s theology of signs is very similar to the theology of Elisha’s miracle: both produce faith in God’s representative and his message.

If John 4:7 contains an allusion to 1 Kings 17:10 (argued above), then John 4 contains two successive allusions to two successive passages in the Elijah narrative. In intertextual studies, repeated allusions to the same text or nearby texts is one of the criteria for verifying the genuineness and strength of an allusion. The second allusion confirms the suspicion in the reader that the first allusion was intentional. Combined, the allusions suggest that John wanted to show a Jesus who was like Elijah.

John is not the only NT author to allude to Elijah’s raising of the widow’s son. Luke’s account of the raising of the widow’s son at Nain contains the allusive phrase “and he gave him to his mother” (καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὸν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτοῦ, Luke 7:15/1 Kings 17:23).[2] Luke’s allusion is stronger than John’s, since it has more details in common (the raising of a dead widow’s son by touch rather than the healing of a nobleman’s son at a distance). This suggests that John’s appropriation of Elijah imagery for Jesus is not unique to John.

[1] Similarly, John’s ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινὴ (John 15:1) is an allusion to Jeremiah’s ἄμπελον… ἀληθινήν (Jer 2:21).
[2] A similar allusion can be found in Acts 20:7-10/2 Kings 4:32-37. Paul raised Eutychus from the dead by laying down on top of him, as Elisha did to raise the son of the Shunammite woman.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 5 (John 6:9-13, 2 Kings 4:42-44)

The following is part 5 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

5. “What are these for so many?”

2 Kings 4:42-44 (LXX)
A man came from Baal-shalisha[1] and brought twenty barley loaves (ἄρτους κριθίνους) and dried fruit cakes from his first-fruits to the man of God. [Elisha] said, “Give to the people and have them eat.” His servant said, “What, shall I give this before a hundred men?” (Τί δῶ τοῦτο ἐνώπιον ἑκατὸν ἀνδρῶν) [Elisha] said, “Give it to the people and have them eat, for thus says the Lord: ‘They will eat and there will be some left over (καταλείψουσιν).’” And they ate and there was some left over according to the word of the Lord.
John 6:9-13
“There is a little boy here who has five barley loaves (ἄρτους κριθίνους) and two fish; but what are these for so many?” (ταῦτα τί ἐστιν εἰς τοσούτους). Jesus said, “Make the people sit down for the meal...” Then they sat down for the meal, the men about 5000 (ἄνδρες... ὡς πεντακισχίλιοι ) in number… When they were filled, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather the leftover pieces…” (τὰ περισσεύσαντα κλάσματα). Then they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with pieces from the five barley loaves that were left over from what had been eaten.

Elisha’s miracle is often noted as an important background text to Jesus’ feeding miracle in all four gospels.[2] However, John includes two unique phrases that connect his story even more firmly back to Elisha’s. John alone tells us that Jesus’ disciple commented on how little the food is by saying “What is this for…?”, just like Elisha’s servant (Τί τοῦτο / ταῦτα τί ). Second, John alone tells us that these are barley loaves (ἄρτους κριθίνους), like Elisha’s. Other details strengthen the allusion: in both accounts the man of God gives a command to feed the people; both accounts mention the amount of males (ἄνδρες) fed; and both emphasize that there was food left over. Although the two passages use different words for “left over,” both καταλείπω and περισσεύω (or cognates) are used to translate the Hebrew ytr (2 Ki 25:11, 1 Sam 30:9). John often updates septuagintal language in his quotes and allusions; καταλείπω no longer had the meaning of “left over” by the first century; other NT passages describing leftovers use περισσεύω or πλήρωμα.

John likely has two reasons for mentioning the barley loaves. First, it will remind his readers of Elisha’s miracle. Second, barley loaves connect both accounts to Passover. The barley harvest began at Passover,[3] and the offering to the prophets at Gilgal was likely a Passover offering. John wants us to know that the feeding miracle occurred near Passover (6:4), since the Bread of Life discourse plays on Passover themes.

It is interesting to note that both stories include the same types of characters who say the same sort of things. A generous outsider[4] brings a small but generous gift of food; the man of God unreasonably suggests to his servant that he should feed a large crowd with it; the servant questions whether the food will be adequate. Both stories have a similar goal: to reveal the power of the miracle worker. Both reveal the miracle worker as one moved by the needs of those around him.[5]

[1] LXX has Beth-sarisa.
[2] T.R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, 55; Burge, John, 193; Brown, John 1:110.
[3] ISBE 3:676, s.v. “Passover” by M.R. Wilson.
[4] T.R. Hobbs sees generosity as one of the key themes of the three miracle stories in 2 Kings 4. T.R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, 49.
[5] The Elisha stories in ch. 4 have “… generally no point beyond demonstrating the miraculous power and authority of Elisha.” Gray, 466, quoted in T.R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, WBC, p. 45.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Part 6 (John 9:6-15, 2 Kings 5:10-15)

The following is part 6 of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

6. “Go, Wash”
2 Kings 5:10, 14-15 (LXX) Elisha sent (ἀπέστειλεν) a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash (Πορευθεὶς λοῦσαι) seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 14 Naaman went down and washed himself (ἐβαπτίσατο) in the Jordan seven times according to the word of Elisha, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a small child, and he was cleansed… [Naaman] said “Behold, surely I have known (ἔγνωκα) that there is no god in all the earth except in Israel.”
John 9:6-15
[Jesus] spat on the ground and made mud from the spittle and anointed the mud on his eyes said to him, “Go, wash (ὕπαγε νίψαι) in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated ‘Sent’ (ἀπεσταλμένος). Then he went away and washed himself (ἐνίψατο), and came back seeing… 12 “Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, “Go to the pool of Siloam and wash;” so I went and washed and then I saw.” 15 “He put mud on my eyes and I washed and now I see.”

The healing of the blind man in John 9 is another of John’s signs that is designed to display the identity of Jesus. Jesus is displayed as the light of the world, not only in the opening dialogue (9:4-5), but throughout the blind man’s trial and defense of Jesus. The healing itself also recalls the water motif found throughout John. The pool of Siloam was the well-known source of water for the water ritual at the Feast of Tabernacles, a ritual which provided the setting for Jesus’ water proclamation (John 7:37-39). John recounts the healing three times, although some of the details (anointing with mud, Jesus’ instructions, going to Siloam, washing, and seeing) are recounted as few as twice or as many as five times. Clearly the washing is crucial to the story.
Jesus’ command is translated the same as Elisha’s command, but represent different words in Greek. However, the words used in John’s narrative are close enough semantically that an allusion is still possible. When John quotes or alludes to the OT, he sometimes updates the language of the LXX to more contemporary Greek, or at times he may be using his own translation of the Hebrew text. Elisha orders Naaman to go (Πορευθεὶς), while Jesus instructs the blind man to go (ὕπαγε). While πορεύομαι is used in a variety of ways in the NT, it is commonly used to describe travelling some distance, such as to another town (John 4:50, 7:35, 11:11). ὑπάγω focuses on the act of departing, and can be used for either short or long distances (John 4:16, 7:3). ὑπάγω was almost non-existent in septuagintal Greek, but relatively common in NT Greek; quite likely it sounded better in this context. John’s use of νίπτω instead of λούω for wash is also quite normal. Both the LXX and the NT use λούω or βαπτίζω for bathing the full body and νίπτω for washing part of the body, such as the hands, feet or head (see especially John 13:10). The LXX consistently translates רָחַץ with νίπτω or λούω depending on whether part of the body or the whole body is washed. So, although John replaced both words with synonyms, it is still quite possible that this is an intentional allusion.

John’s use of the phrase draws attention to other details that resonate between the two accounts. It is not entirely clear why John tells us that Siloam can be translated “sent;” some have suggested a connection to Jesus as the “sent one.” It is also possible that this detail allows John to make a further connection back to the story of Naaman, which prominently features the sending of messengers and scrolls. The account in 2 Kings includes seven occurrences of ἀποστέλλω /ἐξαποστέλλω, translating שָׁלַח.

Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, was a man of God who sometimes used unusual methods in his miracles. The two passages also share a similar theology of healing. After Naaman is healed, he makes a confession of faith in the one God, using the perfect tense (ἔγνωκα) to solemnly affirm his knowledge of God. Likewise, the blind man affirms his belief that Jesus must be a prophet (9:17), an innocent man (9:25, 31), a man from God (9:33), and finally Son of Man and Lord (9:35-38). Elisha’s miracle is like Jesus’ sign: they are works of power that bring people to faith. In both stories, the signs result in glory to God and the prophet. Elisha summons Naaman so that he would “know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). After the miracle, Naaman acknowledges Yahweh as God of the world, and even brings Israelite dirt back to Aram to build a shrine to Yahweh (2 Kings 5:17). Jesus reveals that the blind man is blind “so that the works of God might be revealed in him” (John 9:3), and the Pharisees ironically adjure the blind man to “give glory to God” (9:24), which is of course what the blind man is doing.

It is possible that this passage in 2 Kings is part of the multifaceted background to John the Baptist’s baptisms in the Jordan. The Synoptic Gospels normally portray JTB as a new Elijah, so it is possible that the ritual washings in the Jordan are intended to recall Elisha’s ritual washing of Naaman, the Gentile convert.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Am Not Elijah, Conclusion

The following is the conclusion of a paper I presented at the Evangelical Theological Society in Nov 2009. For all sections of the paper, see here.

1) John’s pattern of omitting references to Elijah found in the Synoptic Gospels, and adding allusions to Elijah/Elisha material in miracle accounts and miracle sayings, suggests that John wants to apply the role of Elijah to Jesus. John’s six allusions to Elijah/Elisha material are all designed to make Jesus look like Elijah. John omits other synoptic references to Elijah (Mark 9:4-5, 15:35-36) because they would distract from his identification of Jesus with Elijah.

2) John is correcting misconceptions about John the Baptist. This does not mean that John is correcting the synoptic accounts, but correcting beliefs about John the Baptist current in late first-century Ephesus. Discipleship to John the Baptist continued after his death (Acts 19:1-7) and possibly on into the second century. To counter beliefs like this, John may have wanted to focus on John the Baptist’s role in pointing to Jesus, and to de-emphasize any sort of exaltation of John the Baptist. This is why John not only downplays John the Baptist’s role as Elijah, but omits all of JTB’s teaching except his testimony to Jesus. The reason that JTB denies the titles “Christ,” “Elijah” and “the prophet” may be because all three belong to Jesus in John.

3) Popular beliefs about Elijah in the first century may have influenced John to connect Elijah more with Jesus than with John the Baptist. In Sirach 48, Elijah will “calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury” and “restore the tribes of Jacob” (48:10); Elisha was “filled with the spirit” of Elijah (48:12); Elisha “did wonders in his life, and in his death his deeds were marvelous” (48:14); and despite the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, the people did not repent (48:15; cp. John 12:37). Each of these ideas could more appropriately be transferred to Jesus than to John the Baptist.

4) John is able to identify Jesus with Elijah because “Elijah” is an eschatological symbol with some flexibility.[1] Malachi 4:5 does not specifically say that Elijah must come before the Messiah; it says that Elijah must come before the “great and terrible day of Yahweh.” The flexibility of the Elijah symbol is revealed in the use of Elijah imagery in the two witnesses of Revelation 11, another eschatological symbol. Other eschatological symbols have the same flexibility: for example, antichrist language is applied to Antiochus IV (Dan 9:27, 11:31), Titus (Mark 13:14), false teachers (1 John 2:18-22), and the beast (Revelation 12-13).

5) It is possible that John found several qualities about Elijah more appropriate to apply to Jesus than to John the Baptist. In John, only Jesus ascends to heaven (John 3:13, 1:18, 6:46); thus, John may have found it appropriate to compare Elijah to Jesus, not to John the Baptist. As Elijah gave a double portion of his spirit to Elisha (2 Kgs 2:9, 15), Jesus gives the Spirit “without measure” to his disciples (John 1:33, 3:34; 7:37-39, 20:22).

[1] A more common explanation is that John the Baptist was denying his literal equivalence with Elijah (Gospel of John), but agreeing that he had the role of Elijah (Synoptic Gospels). According to Brown (John, 1:48), this explanation can be found in the church fathers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Merry Christmas - November 18

Happy belated real Christmas! Jesus may have been born on November 18 - see here for more details.

Evangelical Theological Society

I am again in nerdvana - nerdvana for lovers of biblical studies, that is. This year, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Society of Biblical Literature, are holding their conventions in New Orleans. Today I listened to a few lectures, tweaked my paper (which I will present Friday, and maybe post here as well), and tried to stay awake after my all-night flight from Honolulu.

One lecture today was from Mark Strauss, who talked about the purpose of Luke-Acts. I attended this session because I will be teaching an Acts class in the spring. Mark summarized the views that have been presented on the purposes of Luke-Acts - a defense of Paul before Roman officials, an evangelistic booklet to convert god-fearers (Gentiles who were interested in Judaism), and several others. Mark suggested that the purpose that best covered all the evidence in Luke is that the purpose of Luke-Acts is to legitimize the church and defend it. Maybe I'll post his reasons later - right now my brain is too jet-lagged to type it out in any coherent manner.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gospel of John Wordle

Wordle: Gospel of John

You can click on the picture to go to the website and get it full-size. I printed one out as a poster for my office.

You make a wordle by dumping some text into The size of each word is directly proportional to how many times the word occurs in the text. I made the John wordle by dumpint the entire text of the Gospel of John into wordle, and setting it to show the top 150 words. Reminds you of what the book is really about!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Writing deadlines!

I probably will not post much for the next three weeks. I have two deadlines. On Nov 15, I am submitting a chapter on "The Use of Ezekiel in John" for a forthcoming book entitled After Ezekiel: Essays on the Reception of a Difficult Prophet, edited by Paul Joyce and Andrew Mein. That chapter will be an abbreviation of my dissertation and monograph.

Then I am presenting a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society in New Orleans on Nov 20. The paper is "I am not Elijah: The Use and Non-use of Elijah/Elisha Material in the Gospel of John."

So I will be trying to grab every spare minute to finish these two papers. As we all know, when deadlines loom, suddenly everything else becomes more fascinating - answering email, blogging, even minesweeper :)... What I really need right now is a computer that has no access to internet, email, computer games, or anything else except Word and Logos!

(Hey - that's a play on words! involving the word "word"! Was it intentional or not? Sorry - ignore the babblings of someone immersed in deciding whether various allusions to the OT in the NT are real or not)