The Gospel of John and the Future of Israel

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2017

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Abstract

The canonical gospels are each concerned to present the significance of Jesus vis-à-vis the Jewish tradition. Yet the Gospel of John exhibits a particularly strained relationship with Judaism, especially through its frequent description of Jesus’s opponents as “the Jews,” its presentation of numerous hostile exchanges between Jesus and characters described as “Jews,” and its application of significant Jewish imagery (e.g., “the temple of his body,” “I am the true vine”) to the person of Jesus rather than to traditional Jewish institutions or figures. This dissertation argues that the Gospel of John presents Jesus as the one through whom the Jewish tradition realizes its eschatological hopes in continuity with the stories and symbols of its past. As the Fourth Gospel presents its theological vision for the significance of Jesus, it also criticizes the theological vision of a rival group—that is, “the Jews.” In the Fourth Gospel, “the Jews” represents an alternative—and for John, a rival—theological vision for how the Jewish tradition might live into its future in continuity with its past. Therefore, John’s affirmations of many aspects of the Jewish tradition are bound up with its negation of how another segment of the tradition would construe those same features of the tradition.

Methodologically, this study attends to how the narrative of John characterizes Jesus as the fulfillment of particular Jewish hopes and expectations, and also as the narrative of John states (or implies) the shortcomings of Jesus’s opponents insofar as they fail to bring the Jewish tradition into more thorough continuity with its storied past and prophesied future. Attention to John’s narrative does not override the importance of its historical location, however. Questions that were directly relevant to Second Temple and late first-century Judaism about how the tradition might live faithfully are pertinent to the structure of the Fourth Gospel and its presentation of Jesus and “the Jews.” John narrates the fulfillment present in Jesus and the failure represented by “the Jews” by drawing on discourses that were accessible within late first-century Judaism. Historical context is thus essential for understanding the logic of John and the terms in which the Gospel tells its story. This study concludes that the Fourth Gospel is a late first-century narrative that takes up the question of how the Jewish tradition might move into its future in continuity with its past. Through the vehicle of the Gospel narrative, John argues for Jesus as the one who enables the people of God to experience the future toward which the Jewish tradition had long been oriented.

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Blumhofer, Chris (2017). The Gospel of John and the Future of Israel. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/16345.

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