Thomas Tops, «Whose Truth? A Reader-Oriented Study of the Johannine Pilate and John 18,38a», Vol. 97 (2016) 395-420
This contribution investigates the role of the reader in character studies of the Johannine Pilate. It contends that every characterization of Pilate is determined by narrative gaps, because they give occasion for different ways of interpreting Pilate’s words and deeds. The potential meaning of the text is always actualized by our act of interpretation. This revelatory dimension of the text is valuable in itself, and therefore should be considered as a secondary criterion for evaluating interpretations of the Johannine Pilate. In the second part of this contribution, we illustrate how this can be done for Pilate’s question of truth.
WHoSe TRUTH? A ReADeR-oRIeNTeD STUDy 399
characterize Pilate as aggressive, we are inclined to interpret 18,33c
as an assertion or question that is used by Pilate to drive the Jews
into denying their religious identity and heritage in 19,15. Hence, we
have to argue that Pilate gives the impression that he considers Jesus’
kingship as a political threat, although he possibly knows better
than that. Piper and Tuckett defend this position. That is why Piper
does not exclude the possibility that Pilate himself devised the accusa-
tion, “king of the Jews” 10. If we characterize Pilate as reluctant, we
will rather be inclined to understand 18,33c as an assertion or question
that Pilate himself does not really take seriously, because he is able to
see that Jesus is no political threat to him. For this reason, Pilate reacts
reluctantly to the accusation of the Jews. This is how de Boer charac-
terizes Pilate. That is why he thinks the Jews devised the charge, “king
of the Jews”.
The role of the narrative gap of 18,33 is all-determining. It deter-
mines how one characterizes all the other deeds and sayings of Pilate
in relation to Jesus and the Jews. We will illustrate this extensively. Ac-
cording to de Boer, it is unconvincing that Pilate considers Jesus as a
political threat to him, because Pilate declares: evgw. ouvdemi,an eu`ri,skw
evn auvtw/| aivti,an (18,38f.). Pilate repeats this statement in 19,4.6 11. By
contrast, Tuckett concludes the opposite from 18,38f. and 19,4.6. Al-
though Pilate comes to a clear decision about Jesus’ innocence, he fails
H.k. BoND, Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation (MSSNTS 100;
Cambridge 1998) 167, 177, avoids the implication that an aggressive Pilate de-
vised the accusation himself by presupposing that the Jews made an arrangement
with Pilate before Jesus’ arrest. The Jews brought Jesus to Pilate’s attention before
the arrest with the charge, “king of the Jews”. She finds support for this in “the
arrest” and “the Jewish plot in chapter 11, where the chief priests and Pharisees
express their fear that the Romans will take severe measures against Jesus’
increasing popularity (11,48)”. Nevertheless, Piper (“Pilate”, 144) remarks that
Jesus’ arrest in John is “an event with cosmic significance” in which the world’s
forces have been marshalled to confront Jesus, and as such it has another narrative
function than pointing out to the reader that there was a previous arrangement
between the Jews and the Romans. The possibility of a previous arrangement
between the Jews and the Romans is “not excluded, but neither does it seem to
be the point”. This is also the case for 11,48. The fact that the Jews think that the
Romans will interfere against Jesus’ increasing popularity does not force us to
infer that there was a previous arrangement between the Jews and the Romans.
This might be possible, but the arguments that Bond gives are far from compelling.
As such, we conclude that Bond’s hypothesis is another way to fill in the narrative
gap of the origin of the accusation, “king of the Jews”, although not more com-
pelling than the others.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 143 n. 11.