"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gospel of John and Intimations of Apocalyptic Follow-up, Finally

Now, almost two months since the colloquium at the University of Bangor, I will offer some final comments on the well-run colloquium that was put on by Catrin Williams and facilitated by Hazel Thompson.

Attending a small, intimate conference on a single topic is of so much more value than any large conference with multiple sessions. With everyone in attendance for all the papers, it is possible to have ongoing discussion about certain topics and for links to be made and suggested between papers.

One thing that is abundantly clear to me is the continual need to address the definition of 'apocalyptic' and 'apocalypse'. These words, particularly the former, are often used in various ways that can cause confusion about what is being discussed. Numerous texts that are not generally considered apocalypses can be fit under the heading of 'apocalyptic' and there usually is no rationale as to why this is the case. Clearly, texts can have 'apocalyptic' material, but what makes this material 'apocalyptic' and how then does the text refer to the 'apocalypses'? Imposing modern scholarly definitions on ancient documents is inherently problematic, but I am more and more convinced that setting up some definitional parameters is necessary for useful debate and dialogue. Some of that dialogue can and should include the debate about the definition itself and the process of arriving at that definition, but the definition itself offers a starting point for discussion. Without it, I think that discussion can quickly become ambiguous.

Regarding the Gospel of John and Apocalyptic literature, the relationship between Revelation and the Gospel is an entirely important and necessary topic, even if not all scholars see Revelation as Johannine. Such a comparison highlights similarities and contrasts between them. Ian Boxall and Jörg Frey each presented papers that drew together Revelation and John. Christopher Rowland gave an intriguing paper with William Blake's illustrations of the Book of Enoch, especially at the end of long day of papers. His forthcoming book on Blake will be worth a read. Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer and Loren Stuckenbruck finished off the colloquium with papers focusing on the presence of evil in John and apocalyptic literature. The 'ruler of this world' played an important part in both papers, as it should. Clarification of this figure may occupy further study since there seems to be no consensus and some parallels in other Jewish literature.

The revised papers will be published by T&T Clark. The book will be an appropriate continuation of the discussion begun by John Ashton in Understanding the Fourth Gospel, and hopefully it will spark further scholarship on the Gospel of John and its relationship with apocalyptic literature.

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