Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pilate's Extended Dialogues in the Gospel of John: Did the evangelist alter a written source?

Part 3: Reconstructing the Dialogue Between Jesus and Pilate in GJohn's source

For Part 1: Introduction, go here.
For Part 2: Pilate talks to Jesus: GMark vs. GJohn, go here .

In the preceding discussion, I noted that GJohn's Jesus gives different responses to GMark's questions from Pilate, and gives GMark's responses by Jesus to a different set of questions from Pilate. I have also suggested that there seem to be elements of chronological disorder in the Johannine narrative. Let me turn now to my proposed reconstruction of a prior written source and see how my suggestions address these problems. Look at Table 2 to see how I have rearranged the questions and answers.

In this reconstruction I start with the original GMark question and answer. As noted above, Jesus’ reply in GMark seemed inappropriate to Pilate’s question, as Pilate had not said that Jesus was the king of the Jews but only asked if that was so. Here, this proposed pre-Johannine source picks up on that concern. When Jesus says “you say so” Pilate’s replies, “I am not a Jew, am I.” Pilate is essentially rebuking Jesus, pointing out that he "didn't say that, the Jews said that."

The author of GJohn may have found this particular scenario troubling as it depicts Pilate as possibly getting the better of Jesus in the inquiry and felt a need to rearrange the material so that it showed Jesus always in command, a Johannine theme throughout GJohn. In the earlier source, however, Jesus responds to Pilate's rebuke with his first line of defense. He talks about his role as a prophet rather than as a king, someone who has come to speak the truth, and implies that the Jews don’t like the message he is bringing and therefore they have brought false charges against him.

Pilate, however, presses further. He is still not quite sure what it is that Jesus claims to be and asks what truth Jesus is teaching vis-à-vis his role as a king. Jesus, perceiving the nature of the question, again avoids a direct answer. He wants to know why Pilate asks the question. Is it based on things that Pilate knows or only on what the Jewish authorities have told him?

Pilate responds by saying the Jewish authorities have handed Jesus over and Pilate wants to know why they did so. As in GMark, Jesus remains silent when asked about the charges brought against him. Pilate becomes angry at the silence and reminds Jesus of the power to condemn him to death. Jesus responds that Pilate has no such power unless it comes from heaven.

The reference to power coming from heaven leads Pilate to ask Jesus where he comes from. Jesus responds with the statement that his kingdom is not from this world. Pilate concludes from that answer that Jesus does claim to be some sort of king and says, “So you are a king.” The dialogue ends at this point and in the original source this probably led to the mockery of Jesus by Pilate and the Roman soldiers who ridicule his claim to being a king.

The final conclusion in the proposed written source is that while Jesus claimed to be some sort of ethereal king, he did not claim to be an earthly king and Pilate determined that Jesus’ claim to being a king was somewhat nonsensical and not deserving of death as he doesn’t appear to be challenging Roman authority. Traces of this conclusion are obvious in GJohn, but the re-arrangement of the theological/philosophical discussions seem designed to show Pilate with a more respectful attitude towards Jesus, a Pilate that might be more offended by the Jewish opposition than appears in the written source. The author of GJohn also probably found the concluding accusation in the written source, “So you are a king,” to be offensive and decided to rearrange the dialogue in order to change the import of the accusation.

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

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