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

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