What is History? Reading John 1 as Historical Representation

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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As Pontius Pilate nearly asked, What is history? This article draws upon memory and media studies to question the notion that we find history within the text of the Fourth Gospel. Rather than trying to identify and isolate history within John’s Gospel, our discussion aims to recover how the Gospel works as a set of historical claims, joining with or competing against other historical claims within the social sphere of its author, redactor, and/or audience. After a précis of memory’s and media’s significance for our question (What is history?), we will localize these abstract issues by turning to the Johannine portrayal of John the Baptist and his testimony for Jesus. This approach respects the Fourth Gospel as a written text that developed and was compiled/redacted in the late first century without imposing a rigidly atemporal conception of Johannine theology onto John’s claims about events six or seven decades earlier.

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