6. The Qumran Community and the Gospel of John

testimony.jpgBauckham, Richard.

The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John

Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Pp. 313. Paper. $29.99.

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In this chapter (originally published as “Qumran and the Gospel of John: Is There a Connection?” in The Scrolls and the Scriptures: Qumran Fifty Years After, ed. S. E. Porter and C.A. Evans, JSPSup 26, Roehampton Institute London Papers 3 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 267-79.) Bauckham deconstructs the commonly accepted position of many Johannine scholars that parallels between the Fourth Gospel and the Dead Sea Scrolls “are so impressive as to require a historical connection closer than could be provided merely by the common Jewish milieu of late Second Temple Judaism.” [p. 125]

Bauckham doesn’t waste much time setting up his argument and instead dives right in, focusing on the “connection to which most weight is usually given: the expression of dualistic thinking in light and darkness imagery in both the Qumran texts and the Fourth Gospel” [p. 126].  He begins by noting the two different sets of dualistic images in John’s Gospel, i.e., (1) light/darkness; (2) spatial imagery that appears in in the terms: from above/from below, and not from this world/from this world.  He says that “[i]t is very important to notice that these two sets of images never combine or overlap in the Fourth Gospel. Each is kept distinct from the other.” [p. 127]

It is only in the light/darkness imagery that the Fourth Gospel and the Qumran texts have parallels but this is found in other Jewish literature that pre-dated the Qumran community.  Aside from the fact that this dualism is extant in a plethora of ancient Jewish literature, Bauckham notes that it’s the most obvious dualism in the natural world.  He argues that the parallels are actually more dissimilar than they are similar.

He notes the dissimilarity in terminology saying that aside from “light” and “darkness” there is only one shared term (“sons of light”) which appears once in John 12:36 as opposed to numerous times in the Qumran material: (1QS 1.9; 2.16; 3.13, 24, 25; 1QM 1.1, 3, 9, 11, 13; 4QCatenaa (4Q177) 2.7; 4.16; 4QFlor (4Q174) 1.8-9; 4QSongs of the Sagea (4Q510) 1.7; 4QDamascus Documentb(4Q267) 1.1) [p. 130, n. 12].  Bauckham concludes that “[t]his single coincidence of terminology cannot carry much weight . . . it occurs only once in John, and is therefore no more characteristic of John than of Luke, Paul, and the author of Ephesians, each of whom, like John, use the expression just once.” [p. 130]

But the light/darkness imagery in John:

have no parallel in the Qumran texts: “the true light” (1:9; cf. 1 John 2:8), “the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5), “to have the light” (8:12; 12:35-36), “to come to the light” (3:20-21), “to remain in the darkness” (12:46; cf. 1 John 2:9), and the contrast of “day” and “night” (9:4; 11:9-10). [p. 131]

He also argues that the way in which this imagery functions in the Qumran material is absent from John.  The Qumran material depicts spirits of light and darkness at war with each other while in John’s Gospel Jesus is depicted as the light while the devil is never depicted as darkness, instead he is seen as the ruler of this world or the father of lies.  Neither is the conflict of light and darkness within the heart of the individual or the conflict between the sons of light and the sons of darkness present in John.  He also argues that the imagery is not used in an eschatological  sense in John as it is in the Qumran texts and other Jewish literature.  In short, the parallels aren’t that similar.

He goes on to note that aside from one reference in the Qumran material (1QM 1.8), light is never seen shining in the darkness to give light to people so that they can come out of darkness.  Yet this is precisely the manner in which the duality is seen in the Fourth Gospel.

Bauckham finishes off the chapter by noting the various examples of light/darkness imagery in other ancient Jewish literature such as Genesis, Isaiah, 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, 2 Enoch, et al., and showing how exegetes throughout history have drawn from the images in these texts (esp. the creation narrative of Genesis).  In other words, John didn’t need the Qumran material or community to draw his inspiration (I use the term loosely) from.  In addition to this chapter I would recommend Craig Keener’s 2 Volume commentary on the Gospel of John to see a multitude of examples of the light/darkness imagery in ancient sources from which John likely did draw.

This was a solid chapter but decidedly not my favorite.  I appreciated the brevity with which Bauckham addressed the issue but I think he could have left this chapter out of the book without doing it any harm.

B”H

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5 thoughts on “6. The Qumran Community and the Gospel of John

  1. Babajide: There’s quite a few but the most obvious is that both Genesis and John begin “in the beginning” (Gk. en arche). In the creation narrative from Genesis 1 God creates through speaking; in John’s prologue all things are created through the Word. In Genesis 2:7 God forms man and breathes into him the breath of life; in John 20:22 Jesus breathes on the disciples and the receive the Holy Spirit. There’s much more that can be said but these are some of the more straightforward things that come immediately to my mind. A good book to check out is Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

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