Jesus the Judge: Forensic Process in John 8,21-59

Biblica 68 (1987) pp. 509-541

Jerome H. Neyrey
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556


This study of John 8 takes its clue from what appears to be a contradiction in the text. In 8,15 Jesus states that "I judge no one ", a fair statement in light of the fact that he is himself being judged by others (see 7,32.45-52). But in 8,26, the situation is reversed, as Jesus states "I have much to say about you and much to judge ". It is my hypothesis that John 8,21-59 contains a considerable amount of forensic imagery and that its narrative is formally structured as a forensic process, a trial in which Jesus is no longer plaintiff but judge. While a forensic approach to the Fourth Gospel is scarcely new (1), John 8,21-59 has not been examined in this regard, an important thematic perspective which thoroughly pervades the Fourth Gospel.

I. Typical Forensic Process

If, according to the hypothesis of this study, John 8,21-59 is structured as a typical forensic process, it is necessary to know what that process would look like. For only when we know that can we have a better grasp of the elements of John 8 and see how they conform to the cultural expectations of a forensic proceeding. The issue initially seems somewhat complicated, for the first-century world did not enjoy a uniform forensic system. From the Roman trial of Jesus by Pilate, we know a great deal about Roman judicial process (2). The following diagram indicates six formal elements in Jesus' Roman trial, as seen in the accounts of both Luke and John:

Forensic Elements Luke John (a) John (b)
1. arrest 23,14a 18, 1-11 -
2. charges 23,14b 18,29-30 19,7
3. cognitio 23,14c 18,33-38 19,8-11
4. verdict 23,14d 18,39 19,6
5. sentence 23,15b - 19,12-16
6. judicial warning 23,15c 19,1-4 -

This procedure is also evident in the trials of Paul before the Roman governors, Felix and Festus (3). In such forensic proceedings, the identity and authority of the judge is evident from the beginning; the process consists mainly in the cognitio of the judge, in which he evaluates the testimony of the plaintiff in response to the charges alleged against the plaintiff. In Acts, moreover, we have formal forensic speeches, both those of Paul's accusor, Tertullus (24,2-8), and those of Paul, the plaintiff (22,1-21; 24, 10-21; 26,1-23), which are readily intelligible in terms of classical forensic rhetoric (4).

But Jesus and many of his early followers were engaged in forensic proceedings with Jews as well as Romans, as is evident in the trials before the Sanhedrin both of Jesus in the synoptic gospels and of Peter and John in Acts 4 and 5. Jewish forensic process in many ways differed from Roman (5). Legal Authority: the "judges" may not necessarily be legal magistrates with clearly defined authority but the leading men (6) of the city or village. For example, Jesus is tried before the Sanhedrin, which consisted of the Chief Priests, as well as Scribes and Elders, and Susanna was simply tried before the Elders. Matters of Arbitration: as Harvey points out, some trials might focus on the establishment of fact, as in the case of murder or theft, for which purpose eyewitnesses are indispensable. But many forensic situations might deal with allegations or claims by witnesses (see I Kgs 21,12-14), in which case the brunt of the process consists of the testimony of honorable witnesses and the scrutiny of these witnesses, as the case of Susanna and the elders demonstrates. No new evidence is presented before the judging elders, only the discrediting of the accusing witnesses whose testimony is shown to be contradictory, and so false (7). Considerable attention will be placed, then, on the veracity of the witnesses and on their character. Witness and Character: testimony from an honorable, educated, prominent person simply commands more credibility in forensic situations than that of a slave, a woman, or an uneducated person (see Acts 4,13). Jewish forensic process, then, was much less formally structured than Roman procedure. The judges might well be the elders of the city or village, assembled in the city gate, who attend primarily to the testimony of witnesses and their character. Obviously both Roman and Jewish forensic procedures are similar in that" judges" assemble to hear" charges" and investigate the truth of the witnesses in the case.

II. Jesus Does Not Judge (8,12-20)

Before we can examine the forensic procedure in 8,21-58, we must attend to 8,12-20, which is itself a forensic process. But in 8,12-20, Jesus insists that he does not judge (v. 15), whereas he shortly proclaims that he has “much to judge” (v. 26). This important aporia might be taken as a clue to different layers of tradition in the Fourth Gospel. At present, let us examine 8,12-20 in terms of the forensic process presented there.

Regarding 8,12-20, scholars agree that it is of a piece with John 7 (8). The occasion is still the Feast of Tabernacles (7,2), and Jesus claims to offer Christian replacements for the water (7,37-39) and light (8,12) which are prayed for at this feast. More importantly, the forensic process begun in ch 7 continues in 8,12-20, as the following synopsis indicates:

1. Legal Claim

claim: Jesus = light claim: Jesus = water
I am the light of the world. If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.
He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, "Out or his heart shall flow rivers of living water".

2. Basis for Testimony: First-Hand Knowledge

Even if I bear witness to myself, my testimony is true; for I know whence I have come and whither I am going. If any man's will is to do his will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

3. Demand for Impartial Judgment

You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Do not judge according to appearances but judge with right judgment. (See debate over whether the Christ or a prophet can come from Galilee, 7,27.40-44.52).

4. Acceptable Testimony: Two Witnesses

Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I bear witness to myself and the Father who sent me bears witness to me. My teaching is not mine but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

5. Authorized Testimony: Agent Sent From God

"Where is your Father?" Jesus answered: "You know neither me nor my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father also". Who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true and in him there is no falsehood.

6. Setting of the Forensic Dispute

These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple. Jesus went up into the temple and taught.
But no one arrested him. They sought to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

8,12-20 is linked with ch 7 not only in terms of Jesus' claims to be the replacement of the Feast of Tabernacles, but is formally shaped like ch 7 according to elaborate forensic procedure. Put simply, Jesus is the plaintiff and the assembled Jews are his judges. In both texts, (I) Jesus makes a claim before the assembly of Israel in its most sacred location, the temple: he is Israel's water (7,37-39) and its light (8,12). (2) The Jews examine the basis for his claim primarily in terms of the legitimacy of the claimant: a witness should have first-hand information (8,14) (9) or be informed on the topic to which he witnesses (7,15). What makes Jesus an apt witness in this instance is that he is truly" in the know": he knows whence he comes and whither he goes (8,14), while they do not know (7,27). They might be "in the know", if they were devoted to God (7,17). Because of his superior knowledge, Jesus' claim and testimony ought to be acceptable at court. (3) Instructions are given to the judging public to judge justly and fairly; they should not judge with partiality (10), according to the flesh or appearances (8,15; 7,24). (4) The testimony of a single witness is not acceptable in Israel's court (Deut 19,15); yet two witnesses testify to Jesus' claims: Jesus and the one who sent him (8,16-18; 7,26-28). (5) Jesus claims to be a valid witness, deputized by the most honorable person as his personal agent (11), and so he must be received as an acceptable witness (8,19; 7,18.28). In form, then, 8,12-20 resembles the kind of forensic procedure typically found elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, in particular 5,30-46 and 7,13-52 (12).

III. A New Trial

If in 8,12-20, Jesus the plaintiff was questioned by his judges about his claims to be the world's light, this is not the case in 8,21 ff, where the roles are reversed and Jesus becomes the judge and his audience the plaintiff.

1. 8,21-30 -The New Trial

8,21-30 sets the stage for the new forensic process which will be played out in 8,31-58. Typical of the Fourth Gospel, 8,21 functions on a literary level as the topic statement for the subsequent narrative (13), and consists of three items: (A) "I go away and you will seek me", (B) "you will die in your sins", and (C) "where I am going you cannot come".

Topic A. I go away and you will seek me (8,21a)
  B. and you will die in your sins (8,21b)
  C. where I am going you cannot come (8,21c).
Development C'. Then the Jews said: "Will he kill himself, since he says 'Where I am going you cannot come'?" (8,22).
  B'. You will die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I AM (8,24).

A'. When you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know that I AM (8,28).

The development of these topic items proceeds chiastically (14), starting with the third item. (C) While the statement, Where I am going you cannot come, sounds similar to 7,34, the narrator interprets it quite differently in 8,22-23. Of course, correct knowledge of whence Jesus comes and whither he goes is a major Johannine theme (15), knowledge of which divides insiders from outsiders. The audience "judges according to the flesh", when they misunderstand Jesus' remark as a prediction of his suicide: "Will he kill himself, since he says, 'Where I am going, you cannot come?'" (8,22). Something is askew, as the audience suspects Jesus of suicide, an unholy act which would imply that he is evil and not from God (16). The truth of the matter is just the reverse; inasmuch as Jesus is "going" back to God, he is going to a world "above ", which is "not this world" (8,23). “You cannot come”, then, is a statement of fact that Jesus and his hearers belong to two different worlds: "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world". This is a damning statement in the Johannine idiom, a formal forensic charge. Jesus and his listeners belong to irreconcilable, hostile worlds; he belongs to God's world which they cannot enter, for they are truly outsiders to God and God's covenant.

(B) You will die in your sins. Jesus pronounces a sentence on the hearers, viz. that they will die in their sins and never come into God's presence. This is explained in 8,24 to mean that "unless they believe that I AM" they will be sinners and die fixed in that sin, thus truly not of the world above which is God's world. 8,24 is the latest and most exalted of the absolute demands issued in the Fourth Gospel:

3,3 Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
3,5 Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
6,53 Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (17).

Whereas these functioned at one time as formal criteria according to which one is reckoned an insider, 8,24 becomes the newest and most transcendent forensic norm of judgment according to which Jesus' listeners will be judged. The ultimate and fatal sin becomes non-compliance with the demand to acknowledge Jesus according to the special formula, “I AM”.
(A) The original remark of Jesus, I go away and you seek me, again sounds similar to a remark in 7,33:

--------- I shall be with you a little longer
I go away and then I go to him who sent me
and you will seek me You will seek me
and die in your sins, and not find me;
for where I am going

where I am

you cannot come. you cannot come.

But in Johannine logic, 8,21a contains a statement of double meaning (18), the cryptic significance of which is lost on Jesus' listeners who are from below and of this world. The narrator finally explains it in 8,28 in terms of Jesus' death. Jesus'" going away" and their "seeking" him refer to their attempts to kill Jesus: "When you have lifted up the Son of man. .." 8,21, then, serves as a topic sentence of three items containing Johannine double-meaning words which are subsequently explained in 8,22-30.

In terms of forensic procedure, 8,21-30 represents a forensic scenario different from that found in 8,12-20, as the following diagram indicates:

Forensic Aspect 8,12-20 8,21-30
Judge assembled Jews Jesus
Plaintiff Jesus assembled Jews (19)
Charge/crime false claims: water & light refusal to believe that Jesus is I AM
Sentence ----- die in their sins.

Let us not underestimate the aggressive tone of Jesus' remarks here. He has absolutely demanded of his audience that they confess him as "I AM", a life-and-death issue, failure to do which results in "dying in sin". Jesus has, moreover, accused his hearers of not being of his world: "You are from this world, you are from below", harsh statements of fact (20)that Jesus, who knows what is in the human heart (2,25), utters in solemn seriousness.

The audience of Jesus pleads "not guilty" to the charges, for as 8,30 indicates, "As he spoke, many believed in him". But this is just the issue that must be investigated (21), inasmuch as it belongs to plaintiffs to plead innocent. The charge still stands; the testimony of the plaintiff must be tested. The trial, then, has just begun: are these plaintiffs telling the truth that they are Jesus' disciples?

8,21 functions not only as the topic statement for the subsequent dialogue, but it heralds the mode of inquiry and the proof which make up the investigation by Jesus, the judge. The form of 8,21-30 differs from the forensic procedure described in 8,12-20, for it exemplifies the typical Johannine pattern (22) of statement/misunderstanding/ explanation. Jesus makes an initial statement in 8,21 containing a double-meaning remark which the hearers misunderstand because they are outsiders and do not grasp the inner, spiritual meaning of his words (8,22). Jesus then issues an explanation, a further word (8,23-30), which exposes the extra meaning coded in his original statement, a pattern found throughout the Fourth Gospel (23), as the following diagram shows.

Statement 3,3 4,10 4,32 6,41 11,11
Misunderstanding 3,4 4,11 4,33 6,42 11,12
Explanation 3,5 4,12 4,34-38 6,43ff 11,13-15

This literary pattern will function in 8,31-58 as the official forensic criterion for testing the truth of the plaintiffs' claims of innocence to the charge made in 8,23-24. Jesus makes this plain in 8,31 when he abruptly establishes a test to see whether the claim in 8,30 that" they believed in him" is true. He states, " You are my disciples, if you remain in my word ", that is, if they understand Jesus' words correctly (24) and agree with them. Their reaction to Jesus' words, then, will determine whether the protestations of innocence in 8,30 are true. The testimony of the plaintiffs must be tested, a process which is conducted by means of the form statement/misunderstanding/explanation which, as the following diagram indicates, regularly structures the flow of the discourse in 8,31-58.

Tests 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Statement 8,32 8,38 8,41a 8,51 8,56
Misunderstanding 8,33 8,39a 8,41b 8,52-53 8,56
Explanation 8,34-37 8,39b-40 8,42-47 8,54-55 8,58

The preliminaries of the forensic process are over, and it is time to get on with the substance of the trial.

2. 8.31-37 -The First Test

This first test of whether the alleged believers "are ..truly my disciples" is crafted in traditional chiastic form:

A. If you remain in my word (32a).
B. You will know the truth...set you free (32b).
C. We are the Seed of Abraham (33a).
D. We have never been slaves (33b).
D'. Everyone who docs sin is a slave to sin; the slave does not remain in the house forever, but the son remains forever (34-35).
C'. I know that you are Seed of Abraham. but you seek to kill me (37a.b).
B'. If the son makes you free, you will be truly free (36).
A'. My word finds no place in you (37c).

The chiastic structure highlights the central issue of the first test: authentic disciples remain in Jesus' words. This theme is presented in an inclusio: beginning in v. 32a, Jesus makes a conditional statement about authentic discipleship (if you "remain in my word"), and in v. 37c, he concludes by stating that at this point "my word finds no place in you". By v.37, the judge concludes that the audience has failed the first test. This motif of “truly abiding,” moreover, is highlighted in the middle of the passage when Jesus states that slaves do not remain but sons remain, indicating the overriding concern with establishing where the hearers truly stand or remain, i.e. discipleship with Jesus (25).

The rest of this exchange centers around the second issue, the meaning of the terms free and slave. Jesus' words alone make for authentic freedom; but the hearers claim that freedom comes by descent from Abraham, indicating by this that belonging to Abraham is more important to them than belonging to Jesus (26), which implies at the very least that they are loosely attached to him as disciples.

In terms of uncovering the truth of their claims to be Jesus' disciples, the probative force of this exchange comes precisely from the form in which the dialogue is cast, viz., statement/misunderstanding/explanation. Jesus issues a statement: "If you remain in my word, you will know the truth". They, of course, misunderstand his word, insisting that they have "never been slaves " (v. 33), implying that they do not need or want Jesus' truth or words which alone make for authentic freedom. Jesus then gives an explanation which indicates how wrong they are, that they are truly slaves, not free: "You seek to kill me" (v. 37), which must be understood in the Fourth Gospel as the ultimate sin. And, as Jesus indicates, "Everyone who does sin is a slave of sin and the slave does not remain in the house" (vv. 34-35). Slaves, therefore, because sinners! The dynamic of 8,31-37, then, is a forensic demonstration that these people who claimed to believe in Jesus (8,30), are not truly Jesus' disciples:

a) they do not remain in his word because they misunderstand it and reject it;
b) they are not free, but slaves because they are slaves of sin in virtue of their seeking to kill Jesus;
c) they prefer affinity with Abraham, rather than discipleship with Jesus, to give them right covenant standing with God.
d) they are lying when they say that they believe in Jesus.

The correct understanding of the allusions to Abraham in 8,31-37 greatly aids in appreciating the forensic thrust of this passage. A distinction is made between "free" and" slave" and between the son who "remains" and the one who does "not remain". It would appear that we have allusions here to Abraham's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. According to Gen 16, IS, the slave woman, Hagar, bore Abraham a slave son (Ishmael), whereas in Gen 21,1-8, Sarah bore Abraham a free son (Isaac). According to Gen 21, 10, however, the slave son did not remain in Abraham's house, because Sarah demanded, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac". Evidently, the free son remained in the house.

This material has a direct bearing on the argument in 8,31-37, where the primary issue is: who is truly a disciple of Jesus? who is free? and who remains? As the argument goes, the issue is one of being an authentic member of God's covenant community. Descent from Abraham, of course, was regularly claimed in post-biblical Judaism as grounds for membership in God's covenant (27). The Q-source passage (Matt 3,9/Luke 3,8) and the discussion in Gal 4,21-31 are evidence of the importance in the New Testament both of being of Abraham and of descending from Abraham's true son (28). While the audience claims to be such when they claim to be “Seed of Abraham,” such a claim is ambiguous, for Abraham had two sons, and so testing is needed to discover just how the audience is descended from Abraham and according to which son. Apropos of the argument in 8,31-58, Jesus would not seem to object if his audience really were of Abraham, for then they would do what Abraham did (8,39). What Jesus uncovers, however, is that they are not of Abraham's free son, Isaac, who remained in the house, but of Ishmael, the slave son, who did not remain.

True Disciples False Disciples
1. from Isaac 1. from Ishmael
2. free, legitimate 2. slave, illegitimate
3. remained in the house 3. did not remain in the house

Claiming to be "Seed of Abraham ", the audience passes itself off as authentic members of God's covenant, but their claim contains deception. They descend from Abraham, but through the slave, Ishmael, not through the legitimate and free son, Isaac.

But what is wrong with being a descendant of Abraham through Ishmael? While the MT Gen 21,9 only says that Sarah saw Ishmael "playing" with her son Isaac, this point is elaborately developed in the midrashim. In some streams, Ishmael's "playing" was interpreted as idolatrous worship, whereby he was seducing the young Isaac into sin (29); in other places, "Sarah has seen how Ishmael took arrows and shot, with the intention of killing Isaac (30)," a tradition reflected also in Gal 4,29. I suggest that this latter understanding of Ishmael-as-murderer might also be operative in the Johannine argument, for Jesus accuses his hearers of "seeking to kill him" (8,37; see 8,28.40.44 and 59). In fact, this "seeking" of Jesus functions precisely as the proof that the audience is not descended from Abraham through Isaac, but through Ishmael, for they do what Ishmael did, i.e., attempt to kill. This means that they are sinners, slaves of sin (8,34b), and so will not remain in the house. Besides attempted murder, the audience is guilty of lying, for, while they are "Seed of Abraham", they are descended from Ishmael, but would pass themselves off as free sons (8,33). Knowing the Abraham allusions, then, furthers our appreciation of the forensic argument operative in the passage, how their claim to be "Seed of Abraham" needs to be tested to determine from which son, Isaac or Ishmael, the audience is descended.

3. 8,38-40 -A Second Test

As in 8,31-37, these verses are also crafted in a chiastic arrangement which focuses their meaning.

A. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father (v. 38).
B. They answered him: "Abraham is our father" (v. 39a).
B'. Jesus said to them: "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God" (vv.39b-40).
A'. “This is not what Abraham did” (v. 40c).

The key issue in this passage concerns doing, either doing what "your father told you" (v. 38) or doing what Abraham did" (v. 40c), the argument resting on the presumption that one's pedigree and ancestry are established by doing what one's ancestor did (a chip off the old block). On this point, the passage is picking up a point raised in 8,32-37, that Jesus' audience claims to be "Seed of Abraham", a claim partially disputed by showing that the claimants are descended from the slave son, Ishmael. But when the audience again claims that "Abraham is our father", are they truly Abraham's offspring in any sense? Whose offspring are they?

The forensic importance of 8,38-40 lies in the way the passage is once more presented in terms of the familiar pattern. Jesus states, "I speak of what I have seen with my Father and you do what you have heard from your father". Indeed this is a cryptic remark, open to many interpretations, the correct one of which only the true disciple will know. The audience misunderstands Jesus' remark about his father, that he speaks of God, as well as his remark about their father, who is the Devil. Their claim that “Abraham is our father” is now shown to be totally false, because they do not do what their father did.

We must ask, however, what did Abraham do? Traditionally, this has been interpreted in terms of Abraham's faith, a point clearly made in Rom 4 and Gal 3. But post-biblical Jewish authors praised Abraham equally for his hospitality (31), when he received the three heavenly messengers at the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18). If Abraham were the father of Jesus' present audience, they would do what Abraham did, viz., show hospitality to the present heavenly visitor who has come into their midst, even Jesus. But as the text indicates, hospitality is far from their minds, which are set on murder, “but now you seek to kill me” (v. 40a).

A second time, then, the judge has probed their testimony and found them not to be telling the truth. Again they do not understand Jesus' word, so how can they remain in it? Again, their claim to be legitimate in virtue of descent from Abraham is challenged and refuted. What remains is the second, insistent charge from Jesus that they "seek to kill me" (8,37.40). If that is the case, then they cannot truly be his disciples.

4. 8.41-47 -A Third Test

Once again, the passage enjoys a chiastic shape which helps to convey its argument:

A. You do what your father did (v. 41a).
B. They said to him: "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God" (v. 41b).
B'. Jesus said to them: "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me..." (vv.42-43).
A'. "You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature" (v. 44).

The key issue is again doing what one's father did. Linked with 8,39 and the argument that children prove their ancestry by doing what their fathers did, 8,41-44 begins and ends with Jesus' severe statement that his audience does what its true father did, which in this case means murder and lying. The audience, of course, claims to be holy and to be children of God, but Jesus successfully refutes that with his argument that "if God were your father, you would love me ", the one whom God sent, whom they seek to kill (8,40a), hardly a "loving" act.

I suggest that there are further allusions to Abraham and his sons in 8,41-44, which have a bearing on the forensic argument here. If we are correct in describing how Jesus has rebutted the claims of authentic membership in God's covenant family because the audience, despite their claims to be "Seed of Abraham", are not descended of Isaac but Ishmael, then we can more easily see how the audience reacts to this slur on their legitimacy. They counter in 8,41 that they are “not born of fornication”, that is, illegitimate "Seed of Abraham" and bastards (32) to God's covenant. Philo, for one, clearly indicates that Ishmael was a bastard, not a legitimate son and heir (33). The claim in 8,41, then, is a disclaimer by the audience, but is it true? The testing of this lies in finding out the audience's pedigree by examining what they do, for the principle has been established in 8,31 IT that sons do what their fathers did. Now what did Ishmael do?

As noted above, many midrashic texts state that Ishmael tried to kill Isaac. Gen 21,20 indicates that Ishmael was an accomplished archer, a point which is read back into Gen 21, 10, viz., that Ishmael “played with” Isaac. He "played with" Isaac by shooting arrows at him, trying to kill him (34). Gen 16, 12, moreover, calls Ishmael a "wild ass of a man", which is interpreted to mean that Ishmael lives in constant conflict with family and neighbors: “His hand against every man and every man's hand against him.” Some midrash even interpret this as Ishmael's "plundering lives." (35) Such an understanding of Ishmael will become an important item when we try to understand the remarks in 8,44 that the audience is a murderer, thus taking after their father, doing what he did. But more on this later. Sufficient now to know that Ishmael was considered a bastard son of Abraham, a son who tried to kill the legitimate son, Isaac. By their deeds you shall know them!

Again the familiar formal pattern we have observed continues to prove that these people who claim to be Jesus' disciples do not remain in his word. Jesus states something, albeit cryptic, but something the inner meaning of which a true disciple would know: "You do what your father did ". In one sense they understand part of this statement, for they take offense at the slur implied, that they are bastard children of Abraham: "We were not born of fornication!" But they misunderstand the reference to their true father, or rather they attempt to keep it hidden, for they claim just the opposite. God is our Father, not the devil! This, of course, is not only incorrect, but a lie. Jesus proves in 8,42-43 that the audience is not obeying their Father/God as they claim, and so are sinners, a point he made earlier in 8,34. Of course the Fourth Gospel debates how one becomes a true child of God. In 1,12-13, it is not those born according to material, physical and earthly criteria (i.e., right clan, circumcision or adoption) who are God's children, but those born according to spiritual criteria, such as belief in Jesus. In 3,3-5, moreover, those who qualify to enter God's kingdom are those born anothen, not simply "again" (birth in a literal and material sense), but "from above" (birth by spirit; see 3,6). Having God as Father, then, is a spiritual claim which, according to 1,12-13 and 3,3-6, means belief in Jesus. Not believing in Jesus, how can this audience in 8,41 truly claim that God is their Father? They are perpetrating a lie and deception.

Jesus' explanation is anything but an explanation, for it is an undisguised charge that the audience is totally evil. Jesus' remarks in 8,44-47 contain the following four charges:

1) their father is the devil, not God;
2) he was a murderer and a liar, and so are they;
3) "you do not believe me" (v. 45) and "if I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me? (v. 46);
4) "you are not of God" (v. 47).

Jesus' remarks in 8,45-47 make abundantly clear that this audience is not "remaining in my word ". Jesus continues to give them “the word,” but it is clear that they are neither accepting that word nor remaining in it. They cannot, then, truly be his disciples! They have been lying all along! Jesus the judge, then, has tested their claims to innocence and shown them to be utterly false.

The judge's cognitio, moreover, leads to specific formal charges against those being examined. As the trial continues, Jesus formally accuses them of being enemies of God, offspring of Cain and spawn of the Devil (8,44) (36). "You do what your father did" (8,41a), a general accusation which includes the specific charges of murder and lying. Concerning murder, Jesus states, "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning" (8,44b). It is one thing to indicate that their father is the devil and that he was "a murderer from the beginning"; but that remark also accuses the devil's offspring of the same crime: "Your will is to do your father's desires ". The charges of Jesus are, at this point, just that, charges. Proof is needed! If proof is forthcoming, then the main point of this forensic process, the truth or falsehood of the claim in 8,30 to be followers of Jesus, would be settled. If this audience is truly "of the devil" and does what the devil did (murder), then they cannot be telling the truth in 8,30 and cannot be Jesus' disciples, and so would come under the sentence enunciated in 8,24.

The progress of the forensic proceeding thus far gives strung support to Jesus' charge that his audience is plotting murder. This charge explains the cryptic double meaning in the remark that they were" seeking" Jesus, for while on the surface it might mean that they were seeking the truth, Jesus proves that their "seeking" (8,21.28.40) was rather a "seeking to kill" him (8,37). At first Jesus ambiguously remarks," You will seek me" (8,21), whose sinister meaning is hinted at in the remark, "When you have lifted up the Son of man" (8,28), but which is finally exposed for what it really is when Jesus states plainly: "You seek to kill me" (8,37) and "... but now you seek to kill me" (8,40). Inasmuch as they actually take up stones to throw at him (8,59), they prove the truth of Jesus' charge of murder. Like their father, moreover, they were murderers from the beginning. So much for the charge of murder, but the demonstration of lying will come up in the next part of this trial in 8,48-55.

5. 8,48-55 -A Fourth Test

The trial which continues in 8,51 is punctuated here with a brief, bitter exchange. Jesus the judge has accused his hearers of lying and of being offspring of the devil. Typical of this type of name calling, they accused Jesus of the same thing, under the rubric "It takes one to know one ". If they are liars, he is an apostate from Israel, "a Samaritan"; if they are offspring of the devil, then he "has a demon" (8,48). At the very least, this outburst clearly indicates what the audience really thinks of Jesus, that they could never have been his disciples. Whereas the audience never attempts to refute Jesus' charge of demonic descent, Jesus offers as apology to their slurs the fact that he honors his Father, who is God, a fact completely incompatible with allegiance with the devil. They come from two different worlds (8,23).

The testing of the audience continues in the form we have come to expect. Jesus makes another statement: "If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death" (v. 51), which is misunderstood: "Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, as did the prophets; and you say, 'If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death'" (v. 52). The misunderstanding lies in the way they repeat Jesus' word, indicating that they took it in a literal, material fashion:

Jesus' Word Their Version
If anyone keeps my word, If anyone keeps my word,
he will never see death. he will never taste death.

Jesus never stated that his disciples would never die, although there is a great deal of confusion on that point in 21,20-23 and 11,21.37. The probative force of this exchange rests on the original accusation of Jesus that these people are "of this world and from below", that is, not of Jesus' world. They, like Nicodemus in 3,6 and 12, are flesh, not spirit, and so cannot understand heavenly or spiritual things. By taking Jesus' words literally, they demonstrate that they are not spiritual and that they do not understand spiritual things, thereby proving what Jesus had charged them with, being "of this world" and "from below".

Their misunderstanding is compounded by their reduction to the state of questioning in 8,53. Those who ask questions demonstrate that they do not have answers (37); by asking "Whom do you make yourself? Are you greater than our Father Abraham?" the audience indicates that they do not know who Jesus is, even though he told them in 8,24 that he is "I AM". Not knowing even then who he was (e.g. "They said to him, 'Who are you?'" 8,25), they nevertheless claimed to believe in him. Now when they ask" Whom do you make yourself?" they prove that they have never known who he is, neither "greater than Abraham" nor" I AM". Their questioning proves that they were lying from the beginning when they claimed to know Jesus and asserted that they were his followers.

Jesus' explanation is not really an explanation as much as an argument proving the audience's guilt. He indicates how different he is from them, confirming the charge in 8,23 that he is "not of this world" nor "from below", as they are. In substance, Jesus proves now what he had charged earlier, viz., that they are liars.

As regards lying, Jesus conducts a complicated proof. Of their lying father it was said: "He has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his nature, for he was a liar and the father of lies" (8,44). Lying, then, has two aspects: (a) having nothing to do with the truth yet (b) dissembling that one knows and says the truth. Of the listeners it is argued in fact that they have nothing to do with the truth; for if they were truly Jesus' disciples, "they would know the truth and the truth would make them free" (8,31). They dissemble, moreover, when they claim to be (legitimate) "descendants of Abraham" (8,32) but are not (38), and boast that they are "sons of God" (8,41) but are not.

Finally in 8,55, Jesus finishes his argument proving them liars. Speaking of God, Jesus claims to be the complete opposite of his audience: "You do not know him; I know him." This judgment of fact serves as the basis for Jesus' next remark: "If I said ‘I do not know him’ I should be a liar like you; but I do know him". Implied in this comparison/contrast is an accusation that they are liars. Were Jesus to dissemble, he would reverse his statement and say "I do not know him ". But Jesus speaks the truth when he claims "but I do know him". The liars, on the contrary, dissemble when they say "I know him (God)", for their judge has persuasively shown that they do not know God or understand God's words, despite their dissembling to the contrary (39).

In proving them liars, Jesus demonstrates the forensic purpose of the entire dialogue in 8,31-58. Recall that Jesus already judged his listeners to be "from below" and "of this world" (8,23). To paraphrase, "they speak according to their nature" (8,44), that is, they naturally dissemble and lie when they say that they believe Jesus (8,30). It belongs to Jesus the judge to ferret out the truth, which in this case is to demonstrate that like their father they are “liars from the beginning”. They always were and will be outsiders to God's word and God's covenant.

Furthermore, an evident allusion to Abraham in 8,52-53 functions in the forensic argument. Jesus, of course, has made a claim in his statement that "if one keeps my word, he will never see death" (8,51); such a claim is easily refuted by the literal, physical argument that people celebrated in Israel for "hearing" God's word have all died. Abraham, canonized because he "believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Gen 15,6), died; the prophets, all of whom received a word of God, died. Despite Jesus' claim, the literal facts seem to speak otherwise; and so, the reference to Abraham in 8,52 functions on the part of the hearers as a refutation of Jesus' claim, once more proving that his words do not find a home in them.

At stake is an important forensic element. As we noted at the beginning of this study, the social standing or character of a witness or claimant is a pivotal factor in forensic proceedings for evaluating the truth of a testimony given (40). Jesus is making extraordinary claims which are not acceptable to others. A factor inevitably must be Jesus' character. Who is Jesus that anyone should take him seriously? Jesus dismissed the audience earlier because of its base character: they are not descended from Abraham through Isaac, but take their lineage through the illegitimate Ishmael and finally from Cain and the Devil. The appropriate question now becomes Jesus' own character or standing: "Are you greater than our rather Abraham? Whom do you make yourself?" (8,53). Abraham is an uncontested saint and a thoroughly honorable character, whose holiness and honor exist apart from Jesus' claims. What, then, is Jesus' character that anyone should listen to him, especially as this character is measured by the standard of Abraham?

Jesus immediately claims to be a holy and honorable person. He disclaims that he is vainglorious (41), "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing" (8,54a), and then goes on to assert his character: "It is my Father who glorifies me, or whom you say that he is your God" (8,54b). This affirms his character: he is honorable, for God, who is a prominent person, attests to his honor (42); he is a holy person, for the attesting person is the Holy One, Blessed be He (43). While Jesus' honorable character supports his claims in 8,51, the relationship of Abraham and Jesus remains unexplained, as there is still more to say about them in the rest of the forensic proceeding.

6. 8,56.59 -A Final Test

Jesus concludes the trial, bringing it back to where it began. In 8,24, he charged that they would die in their sins if they did not confess him as "I AM". In 8,58-59 a final test demonstrates conclusively that they will not accept him as "I AM", for they took up stones to throw at him when he affirms once more that "I AM". 8,56-59, then, clinches the argument and proves beyond any shadow of doubt what the audience really thinks of Jesus.

Jesus makes a final statement, "Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (8,56). Again, the audience misunderstands Jesus' words:

Jesus' Word Their Version
Your father rejoiced You are not fifty
that he was to see my day; years old, and
he saw it and was glad. you have seen Abraham?

In Jesus' version, he is the prominent figure, the one whom Abraham is privileged to see, whereas in their version the roles are reversed and Jesus is privileged to see Abraham. This type of gaffe indicates what they really think of Jesus, as some minor figure out of the mainstream of things. It proves, moreover, that they are impervious to Jesus' word which never finds a home in them (8,31), and so they cannot be his true disciples.

Jesus' finishes the proceedings with the true explanation of his relationship with Abraham, "Before Abraham was coming to be, I AM" (8,58). In Jesus' version, his superiority to Abraham is reaffirmed, for his being is "to be" (eimi) and Abraham's is "to become" (ginesthai). Jesus, moreover, claims that his "being" is prior to Abraham's "coming to be," a statement of radical precedence (44). Their question in 8,57 about how a young Jesus could have seen an old Abraham is simply reversed by Jesus' remark that he is the old, ancient, eternal figure who "is" before the recent Abraham" came to be ". Not understanding the spiritual import or Jesus' words, they prove that they are not of his world, but from below. And their reaction to his word in 8,59 proves that they will not accept him as "I AM", a figure of another world.

One more reference to Abraham occurs in this forensic context. The honorable Jesus asserted in 8,56 that "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad ". There is considerable debate over which precise theophany in Genesis might be alluded to here, the Covenant of the Pieces (Gen 15) (45), or the Visit at the Oak at Mamre (Gen 18) (46). Because of the possible correspondences between Abraham's hospitality in Gen 18 and John 8,39 and between laughter in Gen 18,12-15 and John 8,56, it seems that the Fourth Gospel alludes to Gen 18. More importantly, it implies that Abraham received a christophany in the visit at the Oak of Mamre (47). This is no mere academic excursus, for according to the argument in 8,56-58, the substance of Jesus' forensic law in 8,24 and the exposition of his character in 8,52-53 depend on an allusion to an appearance by the heavenly Jesus to Abraham.

In short, Jesus claims to be a character of extraordinary eminence and holiness (recall 8,23, "I am from above... I am not of this world"). He claims to be nothing less than the appearing deity who gave christophanies to Abraham, Isaiah, Moses etc. (48) He is superior to Abraham, as the argument shows how important it is to get straight whether Jesus saw Abraham (lower status for Jesus) or whether Abraham saw Jesus (higher status for Jesus). He is superior in that he is "I AM" (eimi), eternal in the past and imperishable in the future, whereas Abraham has both a beginning, "coming to be" (ginesthai) and an ending, "Abraham died" (apethanen), indicating radically contingent being. Jesus' superior character, moreover, is communicated especially in the sobriquet "I AM", which must be taken as a reference to the name of the appearing deity of the Hebrew Scriptures (49). Whereas it might have been conceivable for the audience to fail to understand the content of Jesus' claim in 8,24, that content is now revealed. And Jesus as "I AM" is an extraordinary character both in honor and holiness as the one who bears God's name (see 17,6.11-12.26) and who acts as a deity in giving christophanies. His character as a trustworthy and acceptable witness is unimpeachable; his claims, therefore, must be accepted.

The action of the audience in 8,59 indicates many things. By "taking up stones to throw at him ", they indicate that they now understand the substance of the claim to be "I AM" (8,24) and the answer given to their question in 8,53, "Are you greater than our father Abraham? Whom do you make yourself?" They have heard the answer and understood. But they formally reject the claim by "seeking" Jesus, that is, seeking to kill him. This action confirms the charge of Jesus throughout the forensic proceeding that they are murderers, like their father the devil. The attempt at murder, moreover, proves that Abraham cannot be their father, who showed only hospitality, not hostility to Jesus. Their attempt to stone Jesus conclusively proves what Jesus had asserted in 8,23, viz., that they are "of this world" and "from below", locations which in the context mean that they are not part of God's world but of the other world, the world of Satan, their father. The forensic proceeding is now complete; the judge's cognitio has proved conclusively the charges made in 8,21-29.

IV. Resume, Conclusions, Further Questions


The Fourth Gospel apparently redacted John 8,21-59 to present the whole episode as an extended forensic process in which are pre- sent all of the formal elements of a typical forensic process: a judge, plaintiffs, a norm of judgment or law, testimony from witnesses, a judge's cognitio, and forensic proof. Judge and Plaintiff: Although 8,12-20 records the testimony of Jesus as a knowledgeable, deputized witness 10 his Jewish judges, 8,21-30 portrays a shift in forensic roles whereby Jesus becomes the judge and his listeners the plaintiffs (50). Norm of Judgment: As judge, Jesus establishes a most solemn law, complete with punishment for non-compliance:

Law: Unless you believe that I AM
Punishment: you will die in your sins (8,24).

Charge: Along with this, Jesus the judge accuses his hearers of a serious sin, viz., not belonging to Jesus' world, which is the world of God: "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world" (8,23). His audience pleads "not guilty", alleging belief in him (8,30), which would mean that they do not come under his judgmental statement in 8,23-24. But is their protestation of belief true? Judges Cognitio: In 8,31-59, Jesus the judge conducts a cognitio of his plaintiffs to see whether they are in fact telling the truth that they are authentic believers (8,31). Testimony of Witnesses: As tile judge speaks to them, they bear testimony against themselves, proving that they are liars and so pseudo-believers. In forensic proceedings this is considered to be the best testimony at a trial, to have unwilling witnesses testify against themselves (51). As a result of his cognitio, Jesus has discovered that they are really slaves of sin, bastards of Abraham, murderers, liars and sons of the devil. It turns out that their character is base. they are bastards, descendants of a slave (Ishmael), and offspring of the devil. Forensic Proof: The proof that they are not genuine believers and true disciples comes in the Course of Jesus' cognitio that they do not remain in his word:

1) they misunderstand him constantly,
2) they dispute his assertions, and
3) they make false claims.

In the Course of his cognitio, Jesus actually discovers that they are murderers and liars, both of which indicate that they cannot be Jesus' disciples. The clinching demonstration comes when they take up stones to throw at him for the revelation that he is "I AM ". The plaintiffs, then, have demonstrated beyond any shadow or doubt that they do not in fact believe in Jesus as "I AM" and so they stand condemned to "die in their sins ". The law, which was stated in 8,24, is shown by 8,58-59 to apply to them with devastating effect. They are duly charged, tried, convicted and sentenced. The importance of this recognition of forensic process can only aid in the proper interpretation of other situations where testimony is scrutinized, where charges are made and where Jesus acts as judge (3,1-21; 5,16-46; 6,24-66; 7,32-52; 8,12-20; 9,13-41; 10,19-39; and 11,45-53).

Conclusion: The Social Significance of Jesus’ Judgment

If 8,21-59 is presented in the Fourth Gospel in precise, formal forensic terms, how does this function? What does this suggest about the life and setting of the Johannine community (52)? One way of answering this entails reflection on the meaning of "judgment" in the Fourth Gospel and other New Testament writings.

What, in fact, goes into "judgment "? On one level, a judge hears charges and claims, which he tests for validity. Yet in the gospel tradition, judgment also has to do with separating the good and the bad. For example, Matthew records at least five parables in which judgment is described as an act of separation:

13,36-43 separation of wheat from tares
13,47-50 separation of good from bad fish
22,11-14 separation of those with from those without wedding garments
25,1-13 separation of wise from foolish maidens
25,31-46 separation of sheep from goats.

It belongs to a judge to sift witnesses' testimony so as to know what kind of character they are. The wicked have no place with the just and must be winnowed out, as chaff is separated from wheat (see Matt 3,12). Jesus' dialogue with the pseudo-believers in 8,31-58 generates an elaborate series of dualistic contrasts which force a separation of (a) true, free sons of Abraham from false, slave sons, (b) sons of God from Sons of the devil, and c) true disciples from false ones.

A. True Covenant Members A. Pseudo-Covenant Members
1. free 1. slaves
2. legitimate sons, who remain in the house 2. slave sons, who do not remain
3. descendants of Abraham, through Isaac 3. descendants of Abraham, through Ishmael
4. they do what their father did: hospitality 4. they do what" their father" did: murder
B. Father is God B. Father is the Devil
1. my father, who is God 1. your father is the devil
2. I told you the truth from my father 2. there is no truth in your father
C. True Disciples C. Pseudo- Disciples
1. remain in my word 1. my words find no place in you
2. who is of God hears God's words 2. the reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God
3. I honor my Father 3. and you dishonor me
4. I know him 4. you have never known him

It follows, then, that Jesus' forensic inquiry in 8,31-58 serves to draw firm boundary lines between true and false disciples, between authentic offspring of Abraham and bastard descendants, and between members of God's covenant community and members of Satan's household. In doing this, Jesus the judge has conclusively proved his original charge in 8,23, viz., that his audience belonged to a world totally and completely opposed to his world: he is "from above", while they are "from below"; he is "not of this world", while they most surely are "of this world". Failing to belong to Jesus' world, the audience is shown to be of a cosmos ruled by the Devil. The forensic process, then, serves precisely to separate the evil from the good, a process necessary in a world of ambiguity, masquerade and deception. It belongs to the judge to sift testimony, to read hearts, and to unmask deception, which power is abundantly credited to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (see 2,23-25).

Jesus' judgment in 8,21-59, moreover, deserves to be seen in connection with the larger pattern of judgment of "the World" which develops in the Fourth Gospel. Although it is not always perceived so negatively (53), "the world" came to be viewed as a hostile place which rejects Jesus (1,9-10) and hates him (7,"), precisely because he is not of the world (15,18-19), And so he shifts from being its savior to its judge (9,36). Probably as a result of the failure of its mission, the Johannine community came to see "the world" as a totally evil place of deceit and sin, over which the "ruler of this world" presided. This point of view reflects the dualistic perspective of a cosmos divided into two worlds, that of God and of Satan, Since one can only serve one master, one is either a member of God's world or of Satan's. Jesus' assumption of the role of judge in 8,21-59 inaugurates in the Fourth Gospel an aggressive stance toward" the world", proclaiming in 8,23 a radical division of the cosmos so that one is either with Jesus in being "from above" and "not of this world", "for which the reward is holiness and eternal life, or one belongs "from below" and is part of "this world", for which the recompense is to "die in sin" (8,24). Jesus' judgment in 8,21- 59, then, inaugurates a trial with "the world" which has not accepted him as God's agent, a trial which the Spirit will continue (54). This is hardly an ecumenical perspective, but reflects the hostile situation of the Johannine community (55).

Other Questions

This inquiry raises fresh questions. What is being signalled, for example, when Jesus is formally credited with judgmental powers and portrayed exercising them, when so much of the text insists that he does not judge? I have suggested elsewhere that the Fourth Gospel credits Jesus with God's full eschatological power (5,21-29), a key element of which is power to judge (5,22.27), in virtue of which Jesus is acclaimed "equal to God" (56). Other aspects of Jesus' eschatological power are also discussed and demonstrated in John 8, his "honor equal to God's" (5,23//8,49-50), his "having life in himself" (5,26//8,24.28.58), and his ability to "give life" (5,21//8,51-53). A full study of John 8, then, would try to see Jesus' judgment related to his exercise of God's eschatological power whereby he is "equal to God".

This inquiry called attention to the mutual accusations or demon possession in John 8. Jesus accuses them of being offspring of the Devil and doing the deeds of their father (8,44), while they in turn accuse him of demon possession (8,48.52). The analysis of John 8 in terms of forensic process cannot deal with such questions, but invites a consideration of this phenomenon from the viewpoint of cultural anthropology, which would evaluate such mutual accusations of demon possession as formal "witchcraft accusations" (57). The focus of such an analysis would rest on the social dynamic of intense, unbridled competition which tends to characterize groups who engage in "witchcraft accusations ".

Finally, if this analysis is correct about the intentional ambiguity of 8,30 and its clarification through the forensic process in 8,31-59, then we must begin to pay more attention to internal (58) problems among the groups which make up the community of the Fourth Gospel. Raymond Brown pointed in this direction when he listed "other christians detectable in the gospel": 1. crypto-Christians still within the synagogue; 2. Jewish Christian churches of inadequate faith; and 3. Christians of apostolic churches (59). This analysis suggests that we consider those who believe in him" in 8,.10 as a Christian group not trusted by the author of the Fourth Gospel and so severely scrutinized and discredited by him (see 9,22; 12,42).

Forensic trials, moreover, can be fruitfully analyzed in light of sociology. According to that discipline, trials function as status degradation rituals whereby an interest group attempts to label someone a "deviant" and to impose censure and penalties by virtue of a process which publicly defames the alleged "deviant" (60). This model invites us to examine 8,21-59 as an attempt by some in the Johannine community to label others (e.g. the alleged "believers") as deviants and to degrade them within the Johannine circle.

This inquiry into 8,21-59 suggests that a fresh investigation be made of the history of John 8. We noted the aporia that Jesus does not judge (8,15), yet he does judge (8,21-29). The forensic process in 8,12-20, moreover, differs radically from that described in 8,21-59. These phenomena and others in John 8 suggest that an early story of Jesus' trial by the Jews in connection with the feast of Tabernacles has been redacted at a later time to carry a different message and describe a different historical process in the Johannine group.

Yet the author's choice of portraying Jesus as judge and his intent to describe Jesus' dealings with these pseudo-believers in terms of a forensic process are important foundational considerations which should facilitate a further inquiry into the christological and social dynamics described in John 8.


1. The progymnasmata used in this study are: Aelius Theon of Alexandria (Spengel II.112.20-115.10; see James R. Butts, The Progymnasmata of Theon. A New Text with Translation and Commentary [unpublished dissertation: Claremont, 1986]); Hermogenes of Tarsus (Spengel II.14.8-15.5; see C.S. Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic [New York: Macmillan, 1928] 23-38); Menander Rhetor (see D.A. Russell and N.G. Wilson, Menander Rhetor [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981]); Aphthonius of Ephesus (Spengel II.42.20-44.19; see Ray Nadeau, "The Progymnasmata of Aphthonius in translation," Speech Monographs 19 [1952] 264-285 and more recently Patricia P. Matsen, Philip Rollinson and Marion Sousa, eds., Readings from Classical Rhetoric [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990] 266-88); Quintilian, Inst. 3.7.10-18.

2. D. A. Russell, "Progymnasmata," The Oxford Classical Dictionary (2nd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980) 883.

3. See Ronald Hock and Edward O'Neill, The Chreia in Ancient Rhetoric (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986); Henry A. Fischel, "Story and History: Observations on Greco-Roman Rhetoric and Pharisaism," Essays in Greco-Roman and Related Talmudic Literature (New York: KTAV, 1977) 443-72.

4. See D. A. Russell, "On Reading Plutarch's Lives," Greece and Rome 13 (1966): 150-151; P. A. Stadter, "Plutarch's Comparison of Pericles and Fabius Maximus," GRBS 16 (1975): 77-85; Abraham J. Malherbe, "Antisthenes and Odysseus, Paul at War," HTR 76 (1983): 143-73; Christopher Forbes, "Comparison, Self-Praise and Irony: Paul's Boasting and the Conventions of Hellenistic Rhetoric," NTS 32 (1986): 1-8; Peter Marshall, Enmity at Corinth: Social Conventions in Paul's Relations with the Corinthians (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1987) 53-56, 325-29, 348-65.

5. David L. Balch, "Two Apologetic Encomia: Dionysius on Rome and Josephus on the Jews," JSJ 13 (1982) 102-22; Philip L. Shuler, A Genre for the Gospels. The Biographical Character of Matthew. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982; George Lyons, Pauline Autobiography. Toward a New Understanding. SBLDS 73. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985; his work basically depends on the study of Theodore Burrows, "Epideictic Literature," Studies in Classical Philology 3 (1902): 89-261; Thomas R. Lee, Studies in the Form of Sirach 44-50 (SBLDS 75; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986); see Theodore C. Burgess, Epideictic Literature (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1987) 118-37; O. Crusius, "Enkomium," PW 5.2 (1905): 2581-83; T. Payr, "Enkomium," RAC 5 (1962): 331-43.

6. See D. A. Russell and N. G. Wilson, Menander Rhetor and James R. Butts, The "Progymnasmata" of Theon. A New Text and Translation and Commentary; Katherine Thaniel, Quintilian and the Progymnasmata (unpublished thesis, McMaster University, 1973); the introductory essay in Ronald Hock and Edward O'Neill's The Chreia in Ancient Rhetoric is excellent; see also Ian H. Henderson, "Quintilian and the Progymnasmata," Antike und Abendland 37 (1991) 82-99. Older discussions of progymnasmata are still worth consulting; see E. Jullien, Les Professeurs de Litterature dans l'ancienne Rome (Paris: Leroux, 1895) 282-331 and W. Stegemann, "Theon," RE 5A (1934): 2037-54 and "Nicolaus" RE 17 (1937): 424-57.

7. C.S. Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic, 1928, 23-38; Ray Nadeau, "The Progymnasmata of Aphthonius in translation," 264-285); Stanley F. Bonner, Education in Ancient Rome (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1977) 250-74; H.I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity (Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982) 196-200; George Kennedy, Greek Rhetoric Under Christian Emperors (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963) and Greek Rhetoric Under Christian Emperors (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983) 54-73; Klaus Berger, "Hellenistiche Gattungen im Neuen Testament," ANRW II.25.2 1296-98; and Francis Cairns, Generic Composition in Greek and Roman Poetry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1972) 73-75 and 89-90.

8. Its counterpart is the speech of vituperation. Praise and blame are natural rhetorical counterparts, as 1 Cor 11:2 and 17 indicate. The ancient art of praise and blame became a standard feature of preachers at the papal court in the Renaissance, when classical rhetoric was rediscovered and flourished; see John O'Malley, Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1979) 36-76.

9. In his instructions on the attributes of persons upon which an orator should comment, Cicero presents a list which is strikingly similar to the formal categories of the encomium: "We hold the following to be the attributes of persons: name, nature, manner of life, fortune, habit, feeling, interests, purposes, achievements, accidents, speeches made" (De Inventione I.xxiv.34).

10. Aristotle describes good birth: "Now good birth in a race or a state means that its members are indigenous or ancient; that its earliest leaders were distinguished men, and that from them have sprung many who were distinguished for qualities that we admire. The good birth of an individual, which may come either from the male or the female side, implies that both parents are free citizens, and that, as in the case of the state, the founders of the line have been notable for virtue or wealth or something else which is highly prized, and that many distinguished persons belong to the family, men and women, young and old" (Rhet. I.1360b 31-38; Richard McKeon, The Basic Works of Aristotle [New York: Random House, 1941] 1340). See also Cicero, De Inventione I.xxiv.34-35 and Quintilian, Inst. Orat. III.vii.10-11; V.x.24-25. See Christopher Pelling, "Childhood and Personality in Greek Biography," Characterization and Individuality in Greek Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) 213-44.

11. This information constituted the basis for ascribed status and is best seen in terms of the pivotal value of "honor"; see Bruce J. Malina, New Testament World. Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981) 25-50 and Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey, The Social World of Luke-Acts (Peabody, MA: Stephen Hendrickson, Inc. 1991) 25-65.

12. Menander Rhetor advises: "If the city has no distinction, you must inquire whether his nation as a whole is considered brave and valiant, or is devoted to literature or the possession of virtues, like the Greek race, or again is distinguished for law, the Italian, or is courageous, like the Gauls or Paeonians. You must take a few features from the nation . . . arguing that it is inevitable that a man from such as [city or] nation should have such characteristics, and that he stands out among all his praiseworthy compatriots" (Treatise II 369.26-370.12); Isocrates, Panegyricus 23-25.

13. For example, nation: "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12); city: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46); country: "No prophet is to rise from Galilee" (John 7:52); parents: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary?" (Matt 13:55).

14. Menander Rhetor instructs the composer of an encomium to note such phenomena: "If any divine sign occurred at the time of his birth, either on land or in the heavens or on the sea, compare the circumstances with those of Romulus, Cyrus, and similar stories, since in these cases also there were miraculous happenings connected with their birth -- the dream of Cyrus' mother, the suckling of Romulus by the she-wolf" (Treatise II. 371.5-14). The births of Alexander (Plutarch, Alex. 2.1-3.2), Plato (Diogenes Laertius III.1-2), Heracles (Diodorus of Sicily 4.9.1-4.10.4) and Apollonios of Tyana (Philostratus 1.4-5) contain such notices. See David L. Dungan and David R. Cartlidge, Sourcebook of Texts for the Comparative Study of the Gospels (SBLSBS 1. Missoula MT: Scholars Press, 1974) 7-49 and Louis Feldman, "Josephus' Portrait of Saul," HUCA 53 (1982): 60-61.

15. Aphthonius' encomium notes three things in regard to training: "inclination to study, talent and rules." But Menander Rhetor gives a fuller description: "Next comes 'nurture'. Was he reared in the palace? Were his swaddling-clothes robes of purple? Was he from his first growth brought up in the lap of royalty? Or, instead, was he raised up to be emperor as a young man by some felicitous chance? If he does not have any distinguished nurture (as Achilles had with Chiron), discuss his education, observing here: 'In addition to what has been said, I wish to describe the quality of his mind.' Then you must speak of his love of learning, his quickness, his enthusiasm for study, his easy grasp of what is taught him. If he excels in literature, philosophy, and knowledge of letters, you must praise this. If it was in the practice of war and arms, you must admire him for having been born luckily, with Fortune to woo the future for him. Again: 'In his education, he stood out among his contemporaries, like Achilles, like Heracles, like the Dioscuri'" (Treatise II. 371.17-372.2; see Quintilian, Inst. Orat. V.x.25; Plato, Menex. 238c). W .C. van Unnik (Tarsus or Jerusalem [London: The Epworth Press, 1962] 19-27) identified three verbs in Acts 22:3 which pertain to this topic in the encomium: gegennêmenos (birth), anatethrammenos (rearing), and pepaideumenos (education) and cited a wealth of literature illustrating just this encomiastic formula.

16. Again, Menander Rhetor: "'Accomplishments' also will give scope for discussion ('accomplishments' are qualities of character not involved with real competitive actions) because they display character. For example: 'He was just (or temperate) in his youth.' Isocrates used this idea in Evagoras, in the passage where he shortly goes on to say: 'And when he became a man, all this was increased, and many other qualities were added.' Similarly, Aristides in the Panathenaicus shows that Athens was humane (he treats this quality as an 'accomplishment') in harbouring the refugees" (Treatise II. 372.2-13).

17. In his instructions on composing speeches of "praise and blame," Cicero likewise divided the deeds of a person into these three standard categories: "(Deeds) may be divided into mind, body and external circumstances" (De Inventione II.lix.177).

18. Butts (The "Progymnasmata" of Theon, 483) identifies "health, strength and beauty" as a topos stemming from Aristotle (Rhet. I. 1361b.3-27); see Cicero, De Inventione II.lix.177; Rhet. Herr.; Teles III.17-20; and Louis Feldman, "Josephus' Portrait of Saul," 62-63.

19. According to Quintilian, "physical and accidental advantages provide a comparatively unimportant theme" (Inst. Orat. III.7.12); yet when he extols beauty and strength, he refers to Agamemnon (Il. II.477) and Achilles (Il. II.180); Tydeus, who was small of stature, was nevertheless a good fighter.

20. Although the four cardinal virtues are characteristic of Stoicism, they are also part of the common discourse on virtue; see Diogenes Laertius VII.92; Cicero, De Inventione II.lii.129; Rhet. Herr.; Quintilian, Inst. III.vii.15. For their place in biographical description, see Louis Feldman, "Josephus' Portrait of Saul," 63-82; see also Harold W. Attridge, The Interpretation of Biblical History in the Antiquitates Judaicae of Flavius Josephus (HDR 7. Missoula MT: Scholars Press, 1976) 109-19.

21. See also II.375.24-376.24; 385.8-386.10 and 415.24-417.4. Cicero likewise discusses virtue to be praised in terms of the four cardinal virtues; see Cicero, De Inventione II.liii.159-liv.165.

22. See James Butts, The "Progymnasmata" of Theon, 468-69 and H.I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, 197.

23. Hermogenes gives a convenient summary of what is meant by the deeds of Fortune: "Then external resources, such as kin, friends, possessions, household, fortune, etc. Then from the (topic) time, how long he lived, much or little; for either gives rise to encomia. Then, too, from the manner of his end, as that he died fighting for his fatherland . . . You will describe also what was done after his end, whether funeral games were ordained in his honor, whether there was an oracle concerning his bones, or whether his children were famous" (C. S. Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetics, 32; see also Cicero, De Inventione I.xxiv.35 and II.lix.177). Cicero defines "fortune" as "whether the person is a slave or free, rich or poor, a private citizen or an official with authority, and if he is an official, whether he acquired his position justly or unjustly, whether he is successful, famous, or the opposite; what sort of children he has" (De Inventione I.xxv.35). See Quintilian, Inst. Orat. III.vii.13 and V.x.26.

24. See note 4; Ray Nadeau, "The Progymnasmata of Aphthonius," 276-78; James Butts, The "Progymnasmata" of Theon, 494-512.

25. Another native model for describing a first-century person is found in the instructions for a forensic speech in which the character of the accused is described. See Jerome H. Neyrey, "The Forensic Defense Speech and Paul's Trial Speeches in Acts 22-26: Form and Function," Luke-Acts. New Perspectives from the Society of Biblical Literature Seminar (ed. C.H. Talbert; New York: Crossroad, 1984) 210-24.

26. David Barish ("The Autobiography of Josephus and the Hypothesis of a Second Edition of His Antiquities," HTR 71[1978] 69) argues convincingly that the Vita is an appendix to Josephus' Antiquities. If, as I will show, Feldman's studies of various figures in the Antiquities are basically patterned after the form of an encomium, then such a form is readily available to Josephus for his account of himself.

27. Louis Feldman has written a number of articles on "portraits" in Josephus' Antiquitates. In "Josephus' Portrait of Saul" (HUCA 53 [1982] 52), he formally calls these various portraits "encomiums." This study draws considerable strength by comparing Josephus' treatment of himself in the Vita with Feldman's "portraits" of biblical heroes in the Antiquitates, especially in the following articles: "Josephus as an Apologist to the Greco-Roman World: His Portrait of Solomon," Aspects of Religious Propaganda in Judaism and Early Christianity (Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, ed.; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976) 69-98; "Abraham the General in Josephus," Nourished with Peace: Studies in Hellenistic Judaism in Memory of Samuel Sandmel (Frederick Greenspahn, ed.; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984) 43-49; "Hellenizations in Josephus' Jewish Antiquities: The Portrait of Abraham," Josephus, Judaism and Christianity (Louis Feldman and Gohei Hata, eds.; Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987) 133-53; "Josephus' Version of Samson," JSJ 19 (1988): 171-214; "Josephus' Portrait of Jacob," JQR 79 (1988): 101-51; "Josephus' Portrait of David," HUCA 60 (1989): 129-74; "Josephus' Portrait of Hezekiah," JBL 111 (1992) 597-610.

28. See Louis Feldman, "Flavius Josephus Revisited: the Man, His Writings, and His Significance," ANRW II,21.2 (1984): 763-862.

29. For other examples of this in Josephus, see Feldman, "Portrait of Abraham," 137-38; "Portrait of Jacob," 106-8; "Portrait of Samson," 173-74; "Portrait of Saul," 59-62; "Portrait of David," 134-37; for a collection of other important notices by Josephus of good birth, see Feldman, "Portrait of Samson," 173 # 8 and "Portrait of Saul," 60 # 37.

30. The text and translation of Josephus' Vita are that of H. St.J. Thackeray in the Loeb Classical Library.

31. On the social importance of this, see Josephus, Ap. I.30-31.

32. It was a commonplace in ancient biography to describe the precocity of a youth's intellectual achievements; Shaye J.D. Cohen documents this in regard to "Josephus . . . Homer, Aeschines, Apollonius of Rhodes, Nicholas of Damascus, Ovid, Moses, Jesus, Apollonius of Tyana, Alexander the Great, and Augustus" in Josephus in Galilee and Rome (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979) 105.

33. For example, (1) He was commissioned to destroy a palace of Herod because it contains representations of animals, which are forbidden by the Law (65); (2) he criticized John's profiteering on kosher oil (74); (3) he prevents the forcible circumcision of certain nobles from Trachonitis, which certain Jews demanded as a condition of residence among them (113); (4) he cites the commandment against theft (128); and (5) he prohibits soldiering on the Sabbath (159-162).

34. On "physical attractiveness" in Josephus' encomia in his Antiquitates, see Feldman, "Portrait Jacob," 108; "Version of Samson," 176-77; "Portrait of Saul," 62-63; "Portrait of David," 137-38; a collection of Josephus' remarks on beauty and appearance can be found in Feldman's "Portrait of Saul," 62 # 42.

35. It would be interesting to compare the presentation of military commanders in ancient literature with Josephus' self portrait; Onasander, who wrote a treatise on The General, devotes only brief introductory remarks to the character of the military leader, but focusses on his "deeds of the soul": temperance, self-restraint, vigilance, frugality, hardened to labor, freedom from avarice, etc. (I.1).

36. For a discussion of courage in Josephus, see Carl Holladay, Theios Aner in Hellenistic Judaism (Missoula MT: Scholars Press, 1977) 69-71; Harold Attridge, The Interpretation of Biblical History in The Antiquitates Judaicae of Flavius Josephus, 113-115; and Louis Feldman, "Josephus' Portrait of Saul," 66-72.

37. See, for example, Cicero, Tusc. Disp. IV.22iv.53; Philo, Leg. All. I.68; Plutarch, Virt. 441A and Stoic. Rep. 1034D.

38. See Feldman, "Portrait of Abraham," 139-40; "Portrait of Jacob," 110-12; "Version of Samson," 179-89; "Portrait of Saul," 66-79; "Portrait of David," 141-47.

39. See Feldman, "Portrait of Abraham," 138-39; "Portrait of Jacob," 109-110, 119; "Version of Samson," 177-78; "Portrait of Saul," 64-66; "Portrait of David," 139-40; "Portrait of Solomon," 85-88; for a collection of instances where wisdom is credited to Josephus' heroes, see Feldman, "Portrait of Saul," 64 # 44.

40. See, for example, Cicero, Tusc. Disp. III.viii.16; see also egkrateia (Acts 24:25; Gal 5:23; 2 Pet 1:6); Henry Chadwick, "Enkrateia," RAC 5:343-65.

41. See Feldman, "Portrait of Jacob," 112; "Version of Samson," 190; "Portrait of Saul," 79-82; "Portrait of David," 147-49.

42. See Feldman, "Portrait of Abraham," 140; "Portrait of Jacob," 112-13; "Version of Samson," 190-92; "Portrait of Saul," 82; "Portrait of David," 150-56; a summary of this virtue in Josephus' encomia can be found in Feldman, "Portrait of Saul," 82 # 73.

43. See Feldman, "Portrait of Abraham," 143-44; "Portrait of Jacob," 113; "Portrait of Saul," 83-90; "Portrait of David," 156-61; "Portrait of Solomon," 73-74. See Adolf Büchler, Types of Jewish-Palestinian Piety from 70 B.C.E. to 70 C.E. (London: Oxford University Press, 1922) 158-64.

44. See John H. Elliott, "Patronage and Clientism in Early Christian Society," Forum 3,4 (1987): 39-48; Bruce J. Malina, "Patron and Client. The Analogy Behind Synoptic Theology," Forum 4,1 (1988): 2-32; and Halvor Moxnes, The Economy of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988) 22-47 and "Patron-Client Relations and the New Community of Luke-Acts," The Social World of Luke-Acts, 241-68.

45. Feldman only gradually came to see this as a regular item in the encomium's formal structure; see "Portrait of Jacob," 108-9 and "Portrait of David," 138-39.

46. See note 11.

47. See Fredrick W. Danker, Benefactor. Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament Semantic Field (St. Louis: Clayton Publishing House, Inc., 1982).

48. On "challenge and riposte" as part of the honor game, see Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey, "Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts," The Social World of Luke-Acts, 36-38 and 49-52.

49. See Peter Walcott, Envy and the Greeks. A Study of Human Behaviour (Warminster: Aris and Phillips) 1978; John H. Elliott, "The Fear of the Leer: The Evil Eye from the Bible to Li'l Abner," Forum 4/4 (1988): 42-71.

50. Although the main trust of the "comparison" in Josephus' Vita is between two writers of history, two cities are likewise compared, Sepphoris and Tiberias, in terms of their loyalty or revolt. Sepphoris was faithful to its alliances and remained loyal (345-348), whereas Tiberias epitomizes the spirit of revolt (349-352). See Peter Marshall, Enmity at Corinth, 54.

51. On Justus, see Tessa Rajak, "Justus of Tiberias," Classical Bulletin 23 (1977): 345-68 and "Josephus and Justus of Tiberias," Josephus, Judaism and Christianity (Louis Feldman and Gohei Hata, eds.; Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987) 81-94.

52. Shuler (A Genre for the Gospels, 36-46) argues that the distinction between history and bioi and history and encomia is one of degree. Encomia, he notes, contained a high degree of exaggeration or false praise, whereas history must deal with the truth, that is, the firm basis for the praise. His study reminds us that we should not drive too sharp a distinction between history and bioi or encomia; for the aim of all was praise and praise according to certain culturally defined categories.

53. Shuler (A Genre for the Gospels, 64) notes that several of Isocrates' encomium are formally labelled "apologia" in the manuscripts; formally, an apology seeks praise by vitiating the blame charged by others; a polemic heaps blame or vituperation on another. Even in the progymnasmata, praise and blame are treated as two aspects of the same form, which extends as well to apology and polemic.

54. David Balch ("Two Apologetic Encomia: Dionysius on Rome and Josephus on the Jews," 114) indicates that one of the formal functions of an encomium is that of an "apologetic" to accusations and to speeches and writings of "invective" (or "vituperation"). All of Louis Feldman's "portraits" in Josephus' Antiquitates begin by stressing their apologetic nature; for Feldman always cites the charge that the Jews failed to produce outstanding people (Apion 2.135), thus suggesting that apology is a formal aim of encomia.

55. David Balch ("Two Apologetic Encomia," 114-21) indicates that Josephus was using the formal elements of the encomium in his apology for the Jews in Against Apion. The genre and its contents, then, are familiar to him.

56. See Shaye J.D. Cohen, "History and Historiography in the Against Apion of Josephus," History and Theory 27 (1988) 1-11.

57. Philip L. Shuler, A Genre for the Gospels, 36-42.

58. One of Shuler's parade pieces is Polybius' "history" of Philopoemen (10.21-24). Yet even this is quite clearly in accord with encomiastic categories: (1) origin and birth (10.22.1); (2) education and nurture (10.22.2-5); (3) deeds and accomplishments (10.22.6-24.7).

59. We noted earlier that Louis Feldman labelled the portraits in the Antiquitates as encomia. His wide knowledge of the classics aided him in regularly identifying many of the individual classifications which we have found summarized in the encomium: genealogy, birth, educational precocity, the four cardinal virtues. He notes, moreover, the traditional quality of these items. While scholars benefit greatly from his articles, one might ask whether Feldman fully appreciated the full schema of material in the encomia for describing persons. For example, he seems oblivious of the ancient interest in "deeds of fortune" such as health, fortune, strength, honor; only twice did he comment on wealth; and never did he mention a glorious death and how this was assessed by the ancients.

60. See Arnoldo Momigliano, The Development of Greek Biography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971) 17; see David E. Aune, "Greco-Roman Biography," Greco-Roman Literature and the New Testament. Selected Forms and Genres (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988) 109-10; Christopher Pelling, Character and Individuality in Greek Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

61. The embeddedness of Mediterraneans has been studied by Bruce Malina, "The First-Century Personality: The Individual and the Group," The New Testament World. Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981) 51-70 and by Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey, "First-Century Personality: Dyadic, Not Individualistic," The Social World of Luke-Acts, 67-96.

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