Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Blogging from Singapore's SBL Conference: Wednesday

First, a reminder: today may be Wednesday, but I'll be blogging on yesterday's material.

Actually, I'll be blogging only on yesterday evening's presentation by Harold Attridge, "Johannine Christians: A Distinct Type?"

Held at the chapel of Trinity Theological College, as was Clines's talk, it took place from 8:00 to 9:30 -- though some of that time was taken with other things, including a gift from TTC to Attridge. This is a tradition in Asia, it seems, for the same sort of thing occurs in Korea.

The talk was very good. I didn't take extensive notes, but perhaps the other bloggers will fill you in on more details. Attridge argued that over the years, scholars have developed four models of Johannine Christianity. Here's a schematic outline of these four 'types':

1. Gnostic:

Associated with Bultmann, as everyone knows, this typology saw Johannine Christianity as dependent upon a pre-Christian Gnosticism that provided the dialogues of a revealer-redeemer figure that the fourth evangelist supposedly plagiarized for his own text. (Well, Attridge didn't call it plagiarism, but you know how I feel about copying other people's work . . .) This view hasn't fared too well, for most scholars think that there was no pre-Christian Gnosis . . . or at least that the evidence for it is lacking.

2. Qumranian:

Rather than Gnosticism, Qumranian Judaism stands behind Johannine Christianity as a direct link. Some Essenes who left Qumran entered into a Christian tradition that became the Johannine one and influenced it in its dualism of light and dark, two spirits, and so on. This view of John emphasized its Jewishness. Again, despite the parallels between Johannine Christianity and Qumranian Judaism, most scholars don't see enough evidence to support a link -- though scholars do agree that the parallels show John to be profoundly Jewish.

3. Sectarian:

Johannine Christianity developed from a small Judean group of Jewish Christians. Into this group came an influx of Samaritans. With a rising Christology (and, I presume, the ethnic issue) came expulsion of the Johannine group from the synagogue. As a consequence of this expulsion began the Johannine process of defining itself over against Judaism and then over against other Christians. This view sees Johannine Christianity as having been on a trajectory towards various non-orthodox Christianities of the second century C.E. Again, the evidence does not support this very clearly, for the orthodox Christians seem to have had no trouble using John, whereas the non-orthodox had to deny certain parts before making use of the Johannine text or otherwise engaging with it.

4. Dramatic:

Johannine Christians used the literary medium of contemporary drama to guide their construction of the fourth gospel -- which purportedly explains such things as the bump that comes at the end of chapter 14, which has Jesus saying "Arise, let us go from here." It's a bump -- as everyone knows -- because Jesus and the disciples manifestly do not go anywhere but remain where they are until the first verse of chapter 18, where the texts tells us, "Having said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples." In between comes a lot of discourse, and this -- so say the scholars of ancient drama -- is quite the norm in dramatic texts.

Attridge expressed some support for the general approach of this fourth scholarly position because of its ability to resolve some of the aporias like the 'bump' just mentioned.

He also noted something that he had brought up in his transition from type three to type four, namely, a similarity between Johannine Christianity and Stoicism.

Stoicism presents a fatalistic cosmos that nevertheless leaves room for human freedom. Never mind whether or not this view is consistent -- it's there in Stoicism. The freedom lies in a human being's ability to either assent or withhold assent to the fated conditions in which one finds oneself (a bit like Nietzsche's eternal recurrence, to which one can freely assent . . . or not assent).

Similarly, Johannine Christianity presents a predestinarian theology that nevertheless leaves room for humans to freely choose belief or disbelief. Again, never mind whether or not this view is consistent -- it's there in John . . . maybe.

Belief, according to Attridge, has the functional equivalence in Johannine Christianity to assent in Stoicism.

This was intriguing, so I posed my question:

"Thank you for a stimulating presentation. My question concerns the parallel to Stoicism that you see in Johannine Christianity. In Stoicism, as you noted, despite the fatalism of its system, every human being has the innate power to assent of deny assent to the conditions that fate has wrought. Now, I presume that this power stems from the all-pervading logos that informs human reason and allows one to make choices. In Johannine Christianity, you find that belief has the functional equivalence to Stoicism's assent. If so, what gives human beings this power, according to Johannine views? Does every human have this power? If not, we'd be right back to an inexorable predestination, right?"

Attridge first corrected my assumption, explaining that the all-pervading logos doesn't provide humans with freedom. Rather, the Stoics held that each human being has a "hegemonikon" within that enables it to make free decisions of assent or denial of assent.

(Sounds rather ad hoc of the Stoics to put this hegemonikon into their system.)

As for the Johannine Christians, Attridge pleaded ignorance as to what would parallel the hegemonikon but noted that the Johannine text does assert the reality of human freedom to choose to believe.

That set the gears of my own little hegemonikon in motion. If anything in John might be inherent in all human beings and also enable them to make free decisions, it might be light. John 1:9 refers to the light that enlightens all human beings, and I wonder if this could be an anthropological concept in addition to its theological meaning (and its cosmic one). After the session was over, I approached Attridge and posed this questions. His reply: a resounding . . . maybe. Maybe not. Worth looking into.

Any ideas from those of you reading this stuff?


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