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.
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to release Jesus, and as such he is “dishonest, corrupt and evil” 12. Tuck-
ett argues that, although Pilate finds no legal grounds (ouvdemi,an aivti,an)
to convict Jesus, that is not enough for him to consider Jesus as non-
dangerous. Pilate remains conscious of the potential danger of Jesus.
This is not so far-fetched. As R. Bieringer observes correctly, Pilate re-
mains closed to the religious dimension of Jesus’ kingship. yet, this
does not prevent us from imagining that Pilate considers Jesus’ king-
ship as a threat to his position because of the possible consequences
that it could have for the worldly political powers 13. Jesus’ behavior
had a big impact on the Jewish world, and, as such, it had implications
for the world that Pilate had in common with the Jews 14. It is not until
19,12 that this potential danger for Pilate actualizes itself. It is in 19,12
that the Jews start to question Pilate’s loyalty to the Roman emperor,
and therefore Jesus’ kingship becomes harmful for Pilate.
Is then de Boer’s position that Pilate does not consider Jesus as a
threat to him false? No, not necessarily. De Boer’s viewpoint on Pilate’s
deeds and words is only determined by another conceptual framework.
De Boer characterizes Pilate as reluctant, and he treats the narrative gap
in 18,33 in a different manner. This framework makes a total view of
the deeds and words of Pilate possible, but it is not falsified in any way.
De Boer considers Pilate as “an extremely reluctant participant in the
drama of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion” 15. Where Tuckett interprets the
same deeds and words of Pilate with the concept of aggressiveness, de
Boer uses the concept of reluctance. Pilate is convinced of Jesus’
innocence and sincerely wants to release Jesus, but the Jews hinder this
and force Pilate in 19,12 to sentence Jesus to his death on the cross 16.
The characterization of Pilate starts within the eye of the beholder. There
is no neutral stance in this regard. The interpreter is necessarily
prejudiced. Furthermore, it is not a logical procedure that lies at the
basis of this act of interpretation. The procedure consists in circular rea-
soning. The concept of reluctance or aggressiveness is used to fill in the
TUCkeTT, “Pilate”, 136.
BIeRINGeR, “My kingship”, 165, 171.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 142, correctly states that the view that Pi-
late belongs to this world is “an assumption rather than a matter of demonstration”.
We agree with de Boer that 19,15 otherwise makes no sense. PIPeR (“Characteri-
sation”, 130) gives another good argument for the statement that Pilate and the
Jews share the same world, namely that there is an overlap between “the Jews”
and “the world” in John’s vocabulary.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 142.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 142-145.