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 403
the Roman emperor approved it. De Boer brings to our attention that
the Jews already sought to kill Jesus (5,18; 7,184.108.40.206; 8,22.37.40;
11,53). They only needed the approval of the Romans for this. Then
they could crucify Jesus by Roman law. Pilate opposes this endeavor:
la,bete auvto.n u`mei/j kai. staurw,sate (19,6). He refuses to give his ju-
ridical approval for this, because he does not find any guilt in Jesus:
evgw. ga.r ouvc eu`ri,skw evn auvtw/| aivti,an (19,6). That Pilate says these
words to the Jews is reasonable according to de Boer, because in 8,28
Jesus says to his Jewish opponents that “they will lift him up” (i.e.,
“crucify him”). It seems obvious to de Boer that in 19,6, John has Pilate
“repeat the command for ‘the Jews’ to crucify Jesus themselves (la,bete;
as in v. 31) [...] to depict the Jewish authorities as bearing primary re-
sponsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion” 24.
Again, it is hard to discern who has the correct interpretation, i.e.,
whether Pilate is aggressive or reluctant. It does not seem to be an issue
of true or false. Things are more complex than that. It is the interpreter’s
conceptual framework that fills in the gaps of the text, and offers us an
intelligible view of the characters in the narrative. The interpreter is
more of an artist than a scientist. His/her job is to actualize the literary
and artistic potential of the text, and not to scientifically dissect it in
search of an all-encompassing and exhaustive meaning. Without
the key concepts of reluctance and aggressiveness, there would be no
understanding of the actions and deeds of the Johannine Pilate.
3. John 19,7-16
We continue to illustrate this further. For de Boer, the actual accu-
sation against Jesus is that he supposedly made himself the Son of God
(19,7). The charge, “king of the Jews”, was simply a smokescreen 25.
Be that as it may, Piper is correct in remarking that with the charge of
19,7 the Jews switch “from the political to the religious sphere” 26.
As a reaction to this shift, 19,8-9 tells us that Pilate became “more
afraid” (ma/llon evfobh,qh), and he asks Jesus where he comes from:
po,qen ei= su,; Jesus does not answer, because, as de Boer states, “Pilate
will not understand the answer to the question and the Johannine reader
already does” 27. In 19,10-11 Jesus makes it plain to Pilate that “his
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 144 n. 13.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 143-144 n. 13, 153.
PIPeR, “Characterisation”, 148-149.
De BoeR, “Narrative Function”, 153.