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 401
narrative gap of 18,33, but the aggressive nature of the words and deeds
of Pilate that it henceforth tries to explain is already presupposed by the
concept. For example, why does Pilate declare that there is no legal
ground for Jesus’ conviction, but then does not release him? Do you
really explain anything when you respond that the reason is his aggressive
determination to drive the Jews to neglect their religious identity and
heritage, or his reluctance to give in to the accusations of the Jews, but
also that he is too weak to be able to defy them? What is in need of ex-
planation, namely the aggressiveness or reluctance of Pilate’s words or
deeds, is already presupposed in the concepts these interpreters use to
make sense of these acts and deeds. This fallacy of interpretation seems
to be inevitable. As a consequence, the way in which an interpreter char-
acterizes Pilate says more about the interpreter than about Pilate.
2. John 18,39 – 19,6
We offer a further illustration of the importance of the concepts the
interpreter uses in his/her act of interpreting Pilate’s acts and deeds.
The first interrogation of Jesus (18,33-38a) results in Pilate’s first at-
tempt to release Jesus (18,38b). As we discussed earlier, Tuckett con-
siders Pilate to be not really convinced of Jesus’ innocence. If Pilate
really was convinced of this, he would have released Jesus. yet, al-
though he does not find any legal ground to convict Jesus, he does not
release him either. In the eyes of Tuckett, Pilate manifests himself here
as dishonest, corrupt, and evil. According to Tuckett, it naturally fol-
lows from this that the sequence in the narrative tells us that Pilate
wants to continue his mockery of the Jews. In 18,39 Pilate knows full
well that Jesus’ kingship is not accepted by the Jews, and that is why
the Jews’ choice for Barabbas is inevitable 17. Piper remarks correctly
that this can be read as a strategy to trap the Jews. If the Jews accept
that Jesus is convicted as the king of the Jews, they demonstrate that
they are unable to keep control over nationalist messianic movements,
and therefore Roman involvement is justified. The Jews express this
fear in 11,48. This strategy is even more successful because of the Jews’
choice of Barabbas. Because of this open association with an enemy
of the empire, Roman involvement is even more justified 18. H.k. Bond
justifies this view by pointing out that, if we take Pilate’s proposal
in 18,39 seriously, John portrays him as “completely miscalculating
TUCkeTT, “Pilate”, 136.
PIPeR, “Characterisation”, 148.