Friday, January 26, 2007

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

Part 5: Reconstructing the Dialogue between Pilate and the Jews in GJohn's Source

For Part 1: Introduction, go here.
For Part 2: Pilate talks to Jesus: GMark vs. GJohn, go here.
For Part 3: Reconstructing Pilate's Dialogue with Jesus in GJohn's Source, go here.
For Part 4: Pilate talks to the Jews, go here.

Let’s now look at Table 4 where I propose a reconstructed earlier written source for GJohn’s dialogues between Pilate and the Jews and where I address the concerns previously noted.

The dialogue starts as it presently does in GJohn, with the launching of unspecified accusations. GJohn’s additional pre-inquiry dialogue with the Jews is moved to a later point in the proceedings. Pilate goes into his headquarters to conduct the interview with Jesus and emerges to tell the Jews that he finds no case against Jesus.

At this point I moved the later statement in GJohn that Pilate from then on tried to release Jesus to immediately after this initial declaration that he found no case against Jesus. This, I suggest, then provoked a Jewish reaction against the release. The Jews remind Pilate that anyone claiming to be a king sets himself against the emperor.

It is at this point that Pilate recalls the custom of releasing a Jew for the holidays and figures that such custom would justify releasing even a man who claimed to be a king, especially one whom Pilate doesn’t take very seriously. The Jews, however, reject the offer and demand the release of Barabbas instead.

Pilate then asks if he should crucify “your king.” Why “your king” if he has found no case against Jesus? The implication appears to be that Pilate considers Jesus’ claim to kingship to be ridiculous and not threatening, and he wants to convey that understanding to the Jews in the hope that they would agree to release Jesus. But the Jews remain adamant and say, that Pilate should indeed crucify Jesus.

At this point, Pilate, having found Jesus not deserving of a death sentence under Roman law and annoyed at the Jewish resistance to Jesus’ release, tells the Jews to take Jesus and judge him by their own law. The Jews respond that under Jewish law he deserves a death penalty for claiming to be the Son of God.

Pilate then replies that if he deserves to die under your law, take him yourselves and crucify him. It is here that the Jews tell Pilate that they are not permitted to put anyone to death.

I suspect that at this point in the dialogue, Pilate resigned to the idea that he must deal in some manner with Jesus has him flogged and mocked in the hope that this will satisfy the crowds. After the abuse, Pilate again tries to release the man, again sarcastically calling him “your king.” Presumably, the purpose is to make clear that Pilate’s mockery of Jesus’ claim to being a king shows that there is no perceived threat from him and that the Jews should cease their opposition.

Nevertheless, the Jews stick to their theme, that anyone claiming to be a king is an enemy of the emperor and they reject Pilate’s offer to release “your king” by saying that they have no king but the emperor.

Pilate makes one last-ditch effort to change their minds. He brings out the beaten Jesus, bloodied and in mock royal garb, a pathetic looking creature that couldn’t possibly be any threat to the Romans. Implicitly, by displaying Jesus in this manner, he is trying to shame the Jews into releasing him. As if to emphasize the point, Pilate no longer sarcastically refers to Jesus as a king, points to Jesus’ appearance, and says, “Here is the man.” The statement shows that Pilate considers Jesus innocent of the charge that he claims to be a king. Nevertheless, the Jews don’t accept Pilate's verdict and again demand that Jesus be crucified. Pilate finally yields.


In the above analysis I have attempted to show that several questions and answers in Pilate’s Johannine dialogues between Pilate and Jesus and Pilate and the Jews appear to be out of chronological order and that some answers seem to belong to different questions. Such an understanding would only make sense if there had been an earlier written source to re-arrange. By attempting to create a logical chronological sequence for the questions and answers, restoring some of the original dialogue as reflected in GMark, and creating a smoother narrative flow, I have attempted to reconstruct what would appear to be the earlier written source that the author of GJohn relied on. I have also attempted to show that both the author of the source material and the author of GJohn attempted to address perceived problems with earlier versions of the Passion Narratives.

Finally, I want to emphasize that this is an attempt at narrative reconstruction and not historical reconstruction. Whether or not, this earlier source or GJohn contains historically accurate accounts of what happened between Pilate, Jesus and the Jews is a separate question from whether or not the author of GJohn relied upon an earlier written source and made changes to that source for his own narrative purposes.

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