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.
402 THoMAS ToPS
and ineffectual” 19. Bond presupposes here that the Jews would never
release Jesus, because they handed him over for execution earlier in
the story in 18,28-29. At the same time, she presupposes that the chief
priests would always have used the opportunity to release a political
activist, a lh|sth,j. Therefore, Bond considers Pilate’s proposal not as a
serious attempt to release Jesus, but as a way for Pilate to mock Jewish
“nationalistic hopes” and “messianic aspirations” 20.
By contrast, de Boer sticks to his characterization of Pilate as re-
luctant, interpreting Pilate’s proposal in 18,39 as a sincere attempt to
release Jesus. Pilate is rather unwilling to convict someone he considers
not-guilty. Instead, Pilate is sincerely in search of a way to release
Jesus. De Boer interprets 19,1-3 in this regard as again such an attempt
to release Jesus. 19,4 confirms this according to de Boer 21. The line of
thought that de Boer unfolds here is that it is clear to Pilate that Jesus
has done something wrong in the eyes of the Jews, although there are
no juridical grounds for Jesus’ alleged wrongdoing. Pilate scourges and
ridicules Jesus in 19,1-3 with the intention of tempering the anger of
the Jews, so that he can free Jesus afterwards. John 19,6 proves that
his intent was unsuccessful.
Tuckett, however, not unexpectedly conceives ivdou. o` a;nqrwpoj in
19,5 as a mockery, but at the same time he also perceives Johannine
irony in it. Following naturally from this frame of interpretation, Tuck-
ett interprets 19,6 as a “mocking jest”. Pilate knows very well that the
Jews are not allowed to execute anyone, and so Tuckett interprets Pi-
late’s words la,bete auvto.n u`mei/j kai. staurw,sate as a way of mocking
the Jews. Regardless of “the historical realities of Jewish powers of ex-
ecution at this period of history”, we can conclude from “John’s story
world”, which in the eyes of Tuckett deserves our primary attention,
“that the Jews are not allowed to execute anyone, as the Jews have al-
ready told this to him [Pilate, T.T.] in 18,31” 22.
De Boer responds to this by claiming that “a Johannine reader
would probably assume that the Jewish authorities could kill someone
with the Roman governor’s approval and indulgence” 23. With this
claim de Boer points out that e;xestin in 18,31 might perhaps only refer
to the Jewish law. Consequently, the Jews could execute someone, if
BoND, Pontius Pilate, 181.
BoND, Pontius Pilate, 181-182.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 143.
TUCkeTT, “Pilate”, 136-137.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 144 n. 13.