Saturday, January 13, 2007

Pilate's Extended Dialogues in the Gospel of John: Did the evangelist alter a written source? Part 2: Pilate Talks to Jesus: GMark vs. GJohn

For Part 1 go here.

In GMark Pilate asks Jesus only two questions. First, Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews and Jesus responds, “You say so.” [15:2] Second, Pilate says, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” [15:4] Jesus responds with silence. [15:5] GMark’s account.seems to have several shortcomings from a logical narrative point of view and GJohn appears to address some of those concerns.

For example, nothing about Pilate's interrogation of Jesus in GMark would reasonably lead Pilate to think Jesus is innocent. In fact, in GMark Pilate never makes any claim that Jesus is innocent whereas GJohn has three specific declarations by Pilate that he finds no case against Jesus. Also, when GMark’s Jesus’ says, “you say so,” the response seems slightly off kilter. Pilate didn’t say so; he only asked a question. Either Pilate’s question had a more accusatory tone than Mark let’s on, or Jesus’ answer was inappropriate. GJohn, on the other hand, has a longer conversation between Pilate and Jesus that gives the reader some reason to think that Pilate could find Jesus innocent, and GJohn has Jesus give GMark’s "you say so" answer to Pilate’s question about being a king only after Pilate makes a more forceful accusation.

Let’s look at how GJohn handles GMark's dialogue between Jesus and Pilate. Table 1 sets forth the complete dialogue between Pilate and Jesus, following the same chronological order as it appears in GJohn. (The numbering sequence in column 1 will make it easier to follow the reconstruction of the source dialogue later on.)

GMark and GJohn both begin Pilate's interrogation of Jesus with the same question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” [John 18:33.] But in GJohn Jesus responds with a question of his own. “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” [18:34.] This answer avoids the dismissive air of GMark’s Jesus. GJohn’s Jesus simply attempts to find out if the accusation of being a king is based on Pilate’s personal knowledge or based on what the Jews have told him.

This leads Pilate to put forth a variation of GMark’s second question. “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” [18:35.] This second question by Pilate in GJohn is the functional equivalent of Mark’s second and final question to Jesus. Both GMark and GJohn point out that the Jewish authorities have placed charges against Jesus and each have Pilate ask Jesus to respond to the charges. In GMark the request to respond to the charges is met with silence. In GJohn, however, Jesus again responds in a different manner. “My kingdom is not from this world.” [18:36.] GJohn’s Jesus then adds an attack on the Jews for handing him over. [18:36.] It is this answer in GJohn that provides a basis for Pilate finding no case against Jesus. Instead of dismissing the accusation, as Jesus does in GMark, GJohn’s Jesus explains that he is not in competition with the Roman Empire because his kingdom is not over any earthly territory. (GJohn doesn't address the question of how the Roman God Jupiter might respond to this claim about a heavenly kingdom.)

So, GJohn’s dialogue between Pilate and Jesus begins with essentially the same two questions that Pilate asks in GMark, but GJohn’s Jesus gives two very different responses. GJohn’s Jesus is more responsive and less dismissive than GMark’s and arguably provides a reason for finding him not guilty of the charges that he claims to be King of the Jews.

Where, then, in GJohn are the two answers that Jesus gave in GMark? The first of the two GMark answers comes in response to Pilate’s third question in GJohn. After Jesus explains the nature of his kingdom, Pilate makes a direct accusation against Jesus. “So you are a king?” [18:37.]

It is at this point that GJohn’s Jesus gives the GMark response, “You say that I am a king.” [18:37.] To which, he adds, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [18:37.]

In GJohn, Jesus’ response is far more appropriate than in Mark’s. First, Jesus has already explained that he is not a king in the sense that Pilate means. Second, Pilate has made a direct and allegedly erroneous accusation against Jesus. The response by GJohn’s Jesus suggests more an air of frustration at what he perceives as Pilate’s dim-wittedness rather than Mark’s more dismissive attitude.

The second part of Jesus’ answer, about being born to the truth, however, presents a problem. It doesn’t seem to address Pilate’s lack of comprehension. The issue immediately before Pilate is not credibility but clarity of expression. Pilate has essentially said, “So what is it? Are you or aren’t you a king.” Jesus’ answer doesn’t clarify matters.

That Jesus’ explanation seems somewhat muddled in this context, at least to Pilate, is apparent from Pilate’s response. “What is truth?” [18:38.] Although this statement is often treated as a deep philosophical reflection on Jesus’ prior answer, the context suggests otherwise. The question is rhetorical, more a mumbled burst of annoyance to no one in particular than a deep philosophical thought, and Pilate doesn’t wait for an answer. Instead he leaves Jesus inside and goes out to address the crowd.

There he announces to the public assembly that he finds no case against Jesus. However, that is not what he said just a few moments earlier, when he accused Jesus of being a king. Basically, GJohn’s Pilate seems to display no understanding of what Jesus is talking about and as his later actions demonstrate he treats Jesus’ claim to kingship as more a matter for ridicule than as a serious threat. It is this understanding that later leads Pilate and the Roman guards to mock and abuse Jesus as King of the Jews and to argue that the Jews should let him go.

A more difficult problem emerges with GJohn’s treatment of GMark’s second response by Jesus, silence. After some interaction with the Jewish crowd Pilate returns to ask Jesus another question. “Where are you from?" [19.9.] It is this question in GJohn that Jesus refuses to answer and his silence in this regard is most bizarre.

In the first place, a fundamental theme in GJohn is that Jesus comes from Heaven, and he preaches that doctrine frequently in the Gospel. Pilate’s question about where Jesus comes from seems to be the natural lead-in for some remark by Jesus about his being sent from heaven. Second, Jesus has already told Pilate that Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world. Having said that, why would Jesus suddenly clam up when it comes to addressing a fundamental doctrine of his ministry? This sequence of Jesus’ silence about where he comes from after talking about his kingdom not being from this world suggests a chronological problem with the order of GJohn’s narrative.

In response to Jesus’ silence, Pilate challenges him further to respond. “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” [19:10.] Pilate’s follow-up suggests a further chronological problem. At this point in time Pilate has made three public declarations that he found no case against Jesus. Why would Jesus’ silence as to the question of where he came from provoke a threat of crucifixion? In terms of narrative flow, one suspects that this question must have originally come earlier in the sequence of events.

In Part 3: Reconstructing the Dialogue between Jesus and Pilate in GJohn's Source
In Part 4: Pilate Talks to the Jews
In Part 5: Reconstructing the Dialogue between Pilate and the Jews in GJohn's Source

No comments: