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.

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