How should we interpret the six stone jars in John 2?

This Sunday’s lectionary gospel (for Epiphany 3) is John 2.1–11. So I reproduce here an edited version of the article I posted last July, with some additional comments about symbolism.

The miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana comes early in John’s gospel, in John 2.1–11, and it offers us a first taste of John’s remarkable ability in story-telling, where he combines an intense attention to realistic detail with powerful evocation of the scene. In 11 short verses, we are taken into both the reality and the emotion of the event, so it is no wonder that the story is so well known that the phrase ‘turning water into wine’ (like ‘walking on water’) has become something of a cultural trope.

We have become used to reading John’s gospel on two levels, the literal and the symbolic, and so it is not surprising that we should be alert to anything that might suggest symbolic significance in this story. Already John the Baptist has proclaimed Jesus as the symbolic ‘lamb of God’ (so we are not surprised when we later read that Jesus dies in John’s chronology at the time of the sacrifice of the Passover lambs), and the first disciples ask Jesus ‘Where are you staying?’ (John 1.38) using the word later translated ‘abiding’, which becomes a symbolic term for the incorporation of the faithful disciple in the presence of God through Jesus in John 15.4. The Cana episode is introduced with one of John’s characteristic temporal markers: ‘on the third day…’ (John 2.1). Mark Stibbe and C K Barrett disagree on whether this implies the wedding takes place on the sixth or seventh day of the narrative so far, as indicated by the cumulation of temporal markers:

Day 1 John 1.19 John’s testimony to the Jewish leaders
Day 2 John 1.29 ‘the next day’ John’s declaration of Jesus as lamb of God
Day 3 John 1.35 ‘the next day’ The disciples seek Jesus
Day 4 John 1.43 ‘the next day’ Jesus leaves for Galilee
Day 5 The Sabbath?
Day 6 John 2.1 ‘on the third day’ The first day of the week?

(If ‘the third day’ implies and interval of two days between this and the previous event, then we are on to Day Seven in this ‘week’ of Jesus’ ministry.) But Stibbe and Barrett do agree on the significance of the phrase ‘on the third day’, anticipating the day of resurrection, the first day of the week and the first day of the new creation brought about by Jesus’ dying and rising again. Stibbe takes this further, and sees the wedding itself as presaging the eschatological wedding banquet of God with his people (compare Rev 19.7–9). We find this double meaning repeatedly as the gospel unfolds: Nicodemus, dimly grasping Jesus’ teaching, meets him in the twilight in chapter 3, the usual time for a meeting in a hot climate, whilst the woman by the well sees the light of the world by the light of the noonday sun in chapter 4, an unusual time demonstrating she is outcast; in John 9.7 the man born blind in chapter 9 is sent to the Pool of Siloam (which means ‘sent’, of course!); and when Judas goes out to betray Jesus ‘it was night!’ (John 13.30) which is was both literally and metaphorically.

So it is not surprising that many readers interpret the six stone water jars symbolically. Barrett comments:

It is possible although by no means certain that the number six is symbolic. Six, being less by one and seven, the number of completeness and perfection, would indicate that the Jewish dispensation, typified by its ceremonial water, was partial and imperfect. (p 191)

Augustine goes much further, connecting the six jars with the six ages of the world up to the time of Jesus:

But observe what Himself says, The things which were written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me. And we know that the law extends from the time of which we have record, that is, from the beginning of the world: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1 Thence down to the time in which we are now living are six ages, this being the sixth, as you have often heard and know. The first age is reckoned from Adam to Noah; the second, from Noah to Abraham; and, as Matthew the evangelist duly follows and distinguishes, the third, from Abraham to David; the fourth, from David to the carrying away into Babylon; the fifth, from the carrying away into Babylon to John the Baptist; Matthew 1:17 the sixth, from John the Baptist to the end of the world. Moreover, God made man after His own image on the sixth day, because in this sixth age is manifested the renewing of our mind through the gospel, after the image of Him who created us; Colossians 3:10 and the water is turned into wine, that we may taste of Christ, now manifested in the law and the prophets. Hence there were there six water-pots, which He bade be filled with water. Now the six water-pots signify the six ages, which were not without prophecy. And those six periods, divided and separated as it were by joints, would be as empty vessels unless they were filled by Christ. Why did I say, the periods which would run fruitlessly on, unless the Lord Jesus were preached in them? Prophecies are fulfilled, the water-pots are full; but that the water may be turned into wine, Christ must be understood in that whole prophecy. (Tractates on John 9.6)

And in popular preaching, this symbolic number is hard to resist. The Jewish system of the law is all about ritual; it separates people into the clean and the unclean, and so dehumanises them; and Jesus comes to do away with the lot.

There are multiple problems with this kind of reading. Theologically, we need to reflect on the origin of ‘the law’. In the OT, it is clearly seen as a gift from God—so in this reading we must believe that Jesus is doing away with a nasty, dehumanising system which originated with God himself. Canonically, there is a difficulty posed by Jesus’ insistence that he ‘has not come to do away with the law, but to fulfil it’ (Matt 5.17), and by Matthew and Paul’s insistence (strongly implied by all the other gospels) that Jesus’ life and ministry ‘fulfilled’ or was ‘according to’ the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.3–4)—a belief that marks out canonical from non-canonical texts. Within John’s gospel, despite the language of ‘the Jews’ (John 2.6), we find a very Jewish message which insists on the primacy of Jewish understanding (‘salvation is from the Jews’ John 4.22) and which centres around the Jewish pilgrim feasts. And in this narrative, absolutely nothing whatever is made of the number six—most notably, Jesus changes the water into wine within the six jars, and does not add a seventh. If we are to take the six as symbolising the apparent ‘incompleteness’ of Jewish belief prior to Jesus, then Jesus’ completion of it involves using what is already there—and not adding anything to it! Reading carefully, we also notice that the climax of the story is not the contrast between water and wine—but that the best wine has been kept until last. Just as John 1.16 (now rightly translated in modern versions) talks of Jesus bringing grace (the grace of the gospel) in place of (Gk: anti) grace (the grace of the law)—and not grace in place of legalism—so this miracle compares Jesus with the law as the best wine following good wine.

In his fascinating paper given last summer at the Tyndale New Testament Study Group, Richard Bauckham brought two other factors into play in reading this story historically. The first relates to the stone water jars themselves, about which much has been written in scholarship in recent years. There are several things to note.

First, the importance of stone vessels is that they are not subject to the impurity laws in Lev 11.32–35 which demand that clay vessels which become unclean must be smashed. So though they are much more expensive to make in the first place, in the long term they are more economic because they can be used repeatedly, even if they come into contact with things which are ceremonially unclean. So their presence indicates either that we are in a priestly household, or at least a household concerned with purity.

Second, these very large vessels are very difficult to make, since they must be carved from a single piece of stone. A quarry and workshop producing stone vessels was recently discovered not far from Cana in lower Galilee. But the technology to produce large vessels needed the kind of lathes that were used by the Romans in making stone columns—so these large stone vessels indicate quite a specific time period of the Roman occupation of Judea and Samaria. Thus John’s mention of them is pointing to a particular and limited historical period.

Thirdly, because these items were expensive, it was thought that they might be ostentatious luxuries which were put on display—and in fact you can see from the examples in the picture above that they were finely made, with a consistent and sophisticated design around the rims, for example. But archaeological evidence, particularly from the Burnt House in Jerusalem (a first century dwelling destroyed in the Roman siege of 70 AD) shows that the large stone jars (qalal in Hebrew) were in the working areas of the house. In other words, they had a practical importance, rather than being for display.

But Richard added another dimension to this discussion. In 1 Chron 24.7–18 are listed the 24 ‘priestly courses’ or divisions (Hebrew mishmar) which set out the pattern of duties of the priests through the year, which each ‘course’ doing duty for two weeks each. Although there is some doubt in scholarship as to whether this was a historical reality in the time of the first temple, or an idealised reconstruction by the writer of Chronicles after the destruction of the temple and the exile, the pattern became important in the Second Temple period—and in fact allows us to determine the approximate date when Jesus was born. But why would such a schedule be so important if all the priests lived in Jerusalem? In fact they didn’t, and so this schedule allowed them to know when to travel to the city to complete their duty. A number of inscriptions have been found in synagogues from the period (and later) which list these divisions, include the names of the towns related to each division, and include an additional column of names, which Richard argues are the particular families within the divisions who lived in the various towns listed, and so were the ones actually travelling to perform their duties.

Why are these lists so important? Firstly, because they have a good claim to indicating actual historical practice at the time of Jesus, not least because no towns established after 70AD are included. They all date from the Hasmonean period, when priestly families settled throughout the country. Secondly (something I pointed out and Richard agreed with), these lists show the connections between Galilee and Jerusalem, with the priestly families settled in the region providing a link with the temple. This is important given John’s focus on Jersusalem—and Richard’s argument that John’s gospel was not written by John the apostle, brother of James, but by someone based in Jerusalem, which account for the focus on Jerusalem throughout the gospels, in contrast to the focus on Galilee in Mark, and the importance of the pilgrim festivals. Thirdly, Cana is listed as one of the 24 towns in which priestly families lived.

Put together with the role of stone jars, it looks quite likely (though of course not provable) that the wedding in Cana was taking place in the house of this priestly family, which accounts for the presence of jars themselves because of the family’s concern for ritual purity. And why, then, does John record that there were six? Because, as in the picture of the Burnt House above, that is how many there happened to be!

Although there is much symbolism in John’s gospel, we are increasingly realising that there is also much history. Why does John note (in John 5.2) that the Pool of Bethesda has five stoa (colonnades or porticos)? Until the 19th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for the existence of this pool; therefore, scholars argued that the gospel was written later, probably by someone without first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, and that the ‘pool’ had only a metaphorical, rather than historical, significance. But when the site was excavated, it was discovered that it did indeed have five colonnades—not in a pentagon, but as a rectangle with one colonnade crossing the middle. (See to the right my photograph of the scale model in Jerusalem taken last year, with the Antonia Fortress behind the Pool of Bethesda.) And why does John note (John 5.5) that the man had been there for 38 years? Probably simply because he had.

When reading John, and the other gospels, we need to be alert to their symbolism. But we also need to take them with their full historical seriousness too—as previous generations have often failed to do.

Additional note:marital imagery in the Bible In the first posting of this piece, Colin Hamer (who has published a fascinating study of ) offered this further observation about symbolism in the episode:

When asked to make up the shortfall of wine Jesus is said to declare that ‘My hour is not yet come—Jesus is nonetheless recorded as performing the miracle and when the wine is produced the master of the feast comments on its quality and assumes it is the bridegroom who has made the provision (vv. 9–10). Brant Pitre (Jesus the Bridegroom, 35–39; also: McWhirter, The Bridegroom Messiah and the People of God, 57) suggests that this was in accord with the Jewish wedding tradition where it was the bridegroom’s responsibility to provide the wine (as inferred in v. 9). It follows that Mary had been, in effect, asking Jesus to act as if he was on that day the bridegroom—such an analysis would explain his enigmatic reply to her. Pitre further suggests Mary’s reference to the lack of wine is an echo of Isaiah 24:7, 9, 11—Isaiah subsequently describing a future restoration of Israel when Yahweh will ensure wine will be in abundance (Isa 25:6–8). Thus Pitre sees that the writer of the fourth Gospel, in recounting such an extravagant supply of wine, is employing contemporary Jewish marriage traditions to portray Jesus as the divine bridegroom self-consciously taking the role occupied by Yahweh in the Old Testament imagery.

I think that that is a plausible observation, but with one qualification: why should we see this symbolism only as the creation of the gospel writer, rather than as something in the mind of Jesus to which the gospel writer is alert? I always find it odd when we ascribe theological sophistication to later characters rather than to Jesus himself! (See also Colin’s own volume The Bridegroom Messiah which offers his PhD research in a popular format.)

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59 thoughts on “How should we interpret the six stone jars in John 2?”

  1. If we are to be interested in this story “historically” then we might wish to ponder that this is the only mention of this event in world history. A single attestation of an incident that it is not remotely hard to read symbolically in a gospel that, to this day, most scholars who have not already decided, a priori, that the whole Bible is true would regard as the least historical gospel. This scholarly view goes even as far as that of Maurice Casey in his 1996 book, “Is John’s Gospel True?” The short version of Casey’s answer is “No.” In his later book “Jesus of Nazareth” Casey puts John along with the Gospel of Thomas in his list of sources and that’s not because he values Thomas!

    Would that this were John’s only problem, however. I could also refer readers to several Jewish commentators who would argue that John is the most antisemitic book in the New Testament and certainly, from even my own researches, it is not hard to show that one of John’s interests is making Jesus superior to the Torah, whatever Matthew 5:17 says, which, as John says openly, is regarded as a testimony to Jesus, and in which Jesus claims the divine name of Exodus 3:14 for himself. When you add in John’s assertion that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” and that “no one comes to the Father” but through Jesus, thus negating the entirety of Judaism as traditionally understood, it is not hard to see why Jewish commentators have a problem with John. Oh, and then there is the little matter of the fact that in John “the Jews” are those who persecute Jesus and seek his death. I defy anyone to argue that Jews throughout history have not had to bear the brunt of such a presentation. As Adele Reinhartz points out in her introductory notes to John in “The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” John has been used to promote antisemitism and not least on the basis of John 8:44. All things to remember when one reads John.

    So when Ian Paul asks why we have to ascribe “symbolism” only to writers and never to Jesus my reply would be “because the gospels we get seem so obviously deliberately created as literary wholes”. What is easier to believe, that EVERYTHING in the gospels goes back to Jesus and just happens to look exactly like a book we actually get or that people with the time and tools to write have more time on their hands to create narratives which serendipitously line up? The gospels, and John no less than any other, take place in narrative time and space and their fundamental logic is a narrative one. They are not journalism. So that is why we should lean in favour of ascribing symbolism to writers and not those written about as a general, but not unquestionable, principle.

    But then again, perhaps instead we should go along with George Carlin. Carlin, as caustic a wit as ever there was once famously said as part of his act that he leaves symbols to the symbol-minded. Well, it always makes me laugh.

    • There are lots of events in world history with only a single witness. (Of course, the vast majority of events in world history have no permanent witness at all.) Sometimes, a single witness proves to be corroborated. I recall slogging through Caesar’s ‘Invasion of Britain’ in Latin classes at school. As far as I know, this is the only record of the events (although I don’t think many doubt it happened). As it happens, in 2017 (I think) archeologists found in the area of Thanet what seems to be a Roman military encampment, dating from the 1st century BC. A clue that Caesar’s work may not be complete fiction. If there were doubts about the invasion, this find acts to remove them. There is an analogy to the five porticos at the Pool of Bethesda in John.

      • Hello David. Is it your suggestion that finding an encampment proves a narrative? It would seem more convincing to me if you could show how a narrative can be historically true as a record of events which I concede is a philosophical, historiographical and semantic question. As I understand such things, all historiography is “fiction” because it is all equally interpretive and rhetorical. That is, it is not a reproduction of all the events of the past in their actuality and reality but a hand picked selection authorially arranged in an artificial way. This doesn’t mean that it cannot contain factual detail. A story about the crucifixion may contain a cross that is a historical fact, for example, and this doesn’t mean it cannot be true. But it does recontextualise what true means and it does suggest that narratives about the past are not naively or simply true at all. “The past” is not literature but “history” is.

        • The discovery of the camp does not provide the whole narrative with ‘proof’. However, it does provide some evidence against the claim that all of it was made up.

          I was responding to your sentence,’if we are to be interested in this story “historically” then we might wish to ponder that this is the only mention of this event in world history.’ While postmodernism views all metanarratives with scepticism, from a number of comments you have made, I see some scepticism towards “historical” narratives. I was wondering if this applies to all such narratives, i.e. including Caesar’s, or just to Christian ones.

          • David, my belief that history as narrative makes it fictive applies to all and any history. Jesus and gospels are not unique in this matter and, in fact, whatever history is AND IS NOT they are fully implicated in.

  2. (I do think 6, just like ‘3rd day’ and ‘2 or 3’, has numerical significance for John, but to go into that would require laying out a whole system. So…)

    This post only goes to show how much there is in the text, how many dimensions, and how carefully it is written.

    Meanwhile, to address the number 38 that was touched on:

    153 is a triangular number and is 17xNINE. There are 17 numbers 1-100 in John and if we put them in 2 sides of a triangle measuring NINE (with 1, 10, 100 at corners, and the key number NINE being unspoken) we get:
    extrapolate remainder of 7x table:
    10 =10 +(1×7) = 17 TOTAL OF THESE 4 LINES: 153
    8 +12 =20 +(2×7) = 34
    7 + 15 =22 +(3×7) = 43
    6 + 25 =31 +(4×7) = 59
    5 + 30 35 = 5×7 TOTAL OF THESE 3 (7x table) LINES: 126
    4 + 38 42 = 6×7
    3 + 46 49 = 7×7
    2 + 50 52 TOTAL OF THESE 2 LINES: 153
    1 + 100 101
    TOTAL OF ALL 9 LINES: 432 = PANTA in gematria.
    See comments on Psephizo Lauschagne / Wright post 2014 for how John already uses 432 = panta (syllables in 2.1-13) to express totality. 432 is a very central (Pythagorean) number, and others have linked it to Hebrew ‘tevel’ inhabitable world [and also by multiplication to Hebrew for ‘all nations’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Bethlehem’ and so forth – these sometimes come out at 432,000 and the like. Gematria is normally by addition, but if we do multiplication instead it apparently produces these results.]. The clincher is that the triangle above is made out in 4 – 3 – 2 form (4 lines then 3 lines then 2 lines) to express ‘432’ (panta).

    The numbers in John that are above 100 are four in number. These are 153 (which is the number that the whole picture is about) and 200, 300, 5000 the 3 numbers gleaned from Mark. The numbers 100, 200, 300, 5000 are the products of the numbers in the bottom section of the triangle: 1×100, 2×100, (1+2)x100, 50×100. We can if we wish write them along the bottom of the triangle, so that the 3 sides of the triangle consist respectively of 1-10, 10-100, and 100+ numbers. (If we include mia and hen as well as heis, the total of the 1-100 numbers is 364, the number of days in a year as was thought, and the syllables in 2.1-11.).

    How is the triangle composed? The *fifth* line is by addition *five* times seven, the *sixth* line is *six* times seven and the *seventh* line is *seven* times seven. This cordons off lines 5-7 and thus makes the triangle split into 4+3+2 levels. By extrapolating the rest of the 7x table and adding it to lines 1-4, we make lines 1-4 total 153, as do lines 8-9 already total 153. Lines 5-7 total 126: so lines 1-9 total 432. These are the only 3 ways in which 3 different digits can total the special number 9: 1+2+6, 1+5+3, 4+3+2.

    In my belief the ever-precise John is eager to distinguish ‘on the third day’ (from Hosea 6.2, 1 Cor 15.4) from ‘in three days’ (Mk 14.58). There was a controversy about which was correct (the Quartodeciman controversy would also take place in the same region) and his solution was that they both are correct but refer to 2 different things (this gets rid of the perennial problem that Jesus was in the tomb for only about 1.5 days). Jesus was raised on the third day but the temple of his body (in the Ephesians sense, with suitable sequential reference to the 5fold ministry) was restored in or ‘on’ three days. These are prefigured in the 3 different days / locations travelled to / events in 2.11-13 [on the 3rd of these days Jesus speaks of ‘in three days’] and realised on the three different days / locations / events in chs 20-21. As 1.1 ‘en arche’ has to be the first day of the week as in Gen 1.1, this means John splits his primordial microcosm week (or extended jubilee week) 1.1-2.13ff into three threes (369 is the number of ‘mathetai’): the 3 days of John the Baptist being the only follower (1.1-34), whose syllables total MARTUS 1041; the 3 days of the new disciples (1.35-51), whose syllables total PANTES 636; and the 3 days separated-off after the Sabbath (2.1-13), whose syllables total PANTA 432. For neatness (or from conflict) he ignores the Jewish/Saturday Sabbath in such schemes throughout. Cana (wine) and the fishcatch (food/’to eat’) show the Jubilee overflow out of lack extending to Day NINE as in Lev 25.

    To honour the separateness of 1.1-18 we can also divide the days into 1+5+3, and thus we are back to 153.

    • (The triangle arrangement of nos 1-100 does not come out when I press ‘post’: instead we see 2 columns. But it is not important. 10 is the apex and 1-8 ascending form the left flank, while the numbers from 10 to 100 descending stand opposite 1-8 down the right flank.)

      • I misspelt Labuschagne.
        1-5-3 division of the initial 9 days gives:
        MONOGENES – Jesus – 2nd most syllables at 496
        GEORGOS – The Father – most at 1181
        PANTA – The Spirit (cf. John 3.35, Eph. 4 ‘fill all things’) – 3rd most at 432.

          • Alas, I sometimes wish that 5 things could be seen to be as noncontroversial as they actually are: (a) John manifestly loved numbers and the calendrical; (b) in that, he was not unusual in either his intellectual or national culture; (c) what is true of him is not necessarily true of other writers; (d) there are intrinsic properties of numbers beloved of mathematicians, which are nothing to do with occult numerology, star signs etc.; (e) even if we like neither of the things in d, we are studying not the things we like but the things John liked.

            Note that the entire 1-5-3 or 3-3-3 (1.1-2.13) adds up to 2109. 21 being the number of different numbers there are in John, and 09 being his most important number systematically.

            As the triangle did not come out properly last time, I’ll type the patterns again to show them to best advantage. Down the 2 left columns we have respectively the 1-10 and 10-100 numbers in John:

            ———————TOTAL OF TOP 4 LINES = 153 (as in: fish)
            ———————TOTAL OF MID 3 LINES = 126
            ———————TOTAL OF BTM 2 LINES = 153 (as in: fish)
            _____________________OVERALL TOTAL = 432 = ‘PANTA’.

          • Please forgive me my humour Christopher. I am aware of gematria and I believe I was first introduced to it in a class on Revelation led by Stephen Moore many moons ago. (666 or 616?) Last year in the course of pursuing one of my own projects I had cause to read the proto-kabbalistic work “Sefer Yetzirah” (Book of Formation) which gives a fascinating account of creation based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten numbers 0-9 in an interestingly linguistic and quite complex conception of the work of creation. The entire work is formed around various patterns, conjunctions and uses of these things in ways frankly unfathomable to me until I found some clever Jewish interpreters to help explain to me how it all worked.

            Yet there is also a serious point to my humour and its this: are you suggesting that John is something similar for, if it is, then I feel called to remark that a wholesale pastoral deficit has been revealed regarding the church and its scholars in pointing out such things to their congregations at large. Such complexities would seem to have ramifications that are quite far reaching for the exegesis and understanding in the pew and the classroom of John. But, on the other hand, it may help explain why Casey found it so historically useless.

          • John is doing an awful lot of things in his work, each of which ought to be mentioned by pastors. The more pastorally edifying aspects should be those which are most mentioned.

            He includes everything in his vision. As a priest (quite likely) he was fascinated by the calendar, therefore by the solar and lunar cycles, therefore by the universe. Think how Tolkien includes the highest serious drama and spiritual war together with the most homely, sheltered and gossipy/trivial scenes – all within the confines of a single work. All of life is there. Just as it is in real life. So John is interested in knowing the *whole* system of how numbers fit together in patterns, and in a greater sense how the entire cosmos and the whole salvation history fits together.

          • (As for ‘historically useless’, it actually contains the best historical information of any gospel besides Mark – and even Mark is hampered by not being always historically sequential, as the first witnesses attest. John also is the gospel that has the best information on Jerusalem personnel and locale. If the point is that John is the one of the four which makes least use of the eyewitnesses and events and the most of its own presupposed synchronic system [just as in the case of The Lord of the Rings there is a whole unspoken Silmarillion-like edifice lying behind it] then that is accurate. John has always been noticed to be the one that is different. System looms larger, whereas narrative progression (as in Rev) can be eccentric.

          • Christopher, such rhetorical flourishes as “it actually contains the best historical information of any gospel besides Mark” may sound good in your ears yet without independent third party verification they remain empty claims. John has always had a pretty poor historical reputation and the fact that some few scholars, often of faith, periodically try to resuscitate that reputation doesn’t change the fact that nearly everyone who bothers to present a historical Jesus presents an almost wholly synoptic one to the exclusion of John. Obvious fictions like Nicodemus and the inclusion of events like the raising of Lazarus, omitted in the synoptics without explanation, should lead the reader in the direction that the common epithet “the spiritual gospel” suggests. Unfortunately, there will always be, and I share my former teacher PR Davies’ bafflement at this, “some peculiar literal-minded historicist brand of (largely Protestant) Christianity [which] finds impossible the temptation to replace the icons of Orthodoxy or statues and images of Roman Catholicism with the One True Image of the Lord: the Jesus of History. The result: poor history and, dare I say, even poorer theology.” If John wrote “a spiritual gospel” with rather looser ties to history, and I say “if”, no more than that, then there would be nothing wrong with that.

          • Wow, where to start? How on earth can you at your distance of time say Nicodemus is an obvious fiction? He would have been a contemporary of the writer (and in the same Jerusalem-authorities milieu) if he is the well-known individual isolated by Bauckham, ‘Testimony’ (different generations are discussed).

            Bauckham also discusses Lazarus’s family ibid.. It seems clear that Mary is a real individual who is in Mark and on whom John gives further clarification. So how can he just make up who is in her family? A family that will have been alive at the time of writing (like Naqdimon ben Gurion too, probably)

            If he is saying that Lazarus rather than a temple-event was the reason for the authorities fearing Jesus’s following in the final week, then that could be a typical ‘correction’ of Mark from John’s perspective – there are other instances (see Robinson, Greenberg).

            Having studied under both Davies and Moore you will have been at the edge of NT studies least sympathetic to Christianity; so long as we discuss without dogmatism and sweeping statements, that is fine by me.

            On the quality of history contained in John, see Westcott, Dodd, Robinson, Tabor, Blomberg, and especially Bauckham. Casey does make points of value, but was not a John specialist: his big Jesus book is the creme de la creme of his (or most people’s) output.

          • Christopher, I am quickly learning that you take a rather eclectic view of historical verification in the gospels. You are adamant that Q has none, although we can point to passages of Matthew and Luke that have verbal agreement, sometimes of a very high degree, and which some scholars quite reasonably argue may be the basis for positing a further document in common, yet you exploit multiple aporia to posit a possibility in the case of Nicodemus and Lazarus.

            When do you think John was actually written that people who are adults from the late 20s CE were still alive? Most are relegating John to around the 90s CE and others make it a 2nd century affair. These people were still alive? Do you think “John” wrote John?

            You talk of John “correcting” Mark but who says these things are correction and what further, independent evidence is being called upon to arbitrate? I see very little in your continued replies to me which isn’t a simple choice to believe something because someone wrote it down, an apologetic concern to speak to the support of what is already there. Perhaps this is your hermeneutic context, much, indeed, as it is Bauckham’s.

            What I can say about my own education under Davies and Moore, as well as Cheryl Exum, Loveday Alexander and one or two others, is that they all were concerned with reading books AS BOOKS. The literary context was primary and directly influential on, and constitutive of, the text. You would be able to see this from the notable scholarlship they have each produced over decades. This promotes sensitivity to character, plot, theme, textual ideology, purpose, etc., in literature rather than with the historical-apologetic fixation that scholars such as your here chosen Bauckham represent. So the quick answer on Nicodemus is that because I read John as a book in which Nicodemus is a character who plays a necessary literary role – yet only for John.

            But if you think that’s whacky you better not ask what I think about Joseph of Arimathea.

            PS it is because the synoptics know of Mary and her family that their omission of Lazarus is so remarkable. This is, in my view, not an item in favour of Johannine historicity. Given no one thinks he got the temple action right chronologically, why should we think he gets other things right or that a straight bat version of history is his interest? It will take more than a roll call of scholars carrying out their faith-induced apologetic duties to convince me. Since you rate Casey’s “big Jesus book” so highly go back and read it. You will find John in an appendix at the back of the book labelled “other gospels”. On p.512 he states “The fourth Gospel is profoundly untrue. It consists to a large extent of inaccurate stories and words wrongly attributed to people. It is anti-Jewish, and as holy scripture it has been used to legitimate outbreaks of Christian anti- Semitism.” In the same section on John he attacks scholarship as a whole on exactly the same basis as I do here: that much of it is bureaucratised apologetics for ecclesiastical institutions. This is one reason I chose Sheffield for my studies over Durham or St. Andrews (where Bauckham then was), where I was also offered places. I do not mind coming to conclusions which historically validate or support religious beliefs but its certainly no historians job to set out to find support for them or work in their service. So, in that respect, I had the right teachers.

          • The word ‘eclectic’ is nonsense, because it frames everything in terms of ideological position rather than in terms of evidence, which is the currency of scholarship. As for ideology, no real scholarship wants anything to do with it. As for position, how does anyone know what their position is till they have first studied?

            Yes, my conclusions are very eclectic if you (misguidedly!!) match them up with ideological positions as opposed to with evidence, because that is what will often (not always) happen if you are truthful and honest, and of course being truthful and honest is the first requirement not the last.

            Where do you get sweeping statements from? From the non-eclectic and non-nuanced.

            In general it is not too good to rely on one author whether Alexander, Casey or whomever. Bauckham does sometimes go well beyond what other people have done, so I do sometimes (on a few topics) find myself relying virtually on Bauckham alone.

            I think John was written in 72ish, but that requires a 20-minute talk to set out the evidence. I am very grateful that this post has brought the important topic of John’s historicity to the fore.

            Matthew and Luke have much verbal agreement?! Of course they do. So do Mark and Luke. So do Mark and Matthew. What has that to do with any imagined thing called Q?

            Do I think ”John” wrote John? I think John the Elder wrote John.

            Reading books as books? Caution! You are recommending full literary awareness. I am recommending full comprehensive awareness – literary and historical and theological and everything else: all dimensions. (Or the best that we can do.) All that you recommend here I also recommend, but to stop there would be skewed and disastrous.

            Nicodemus plays a necessary literary role? Yes. So therefore he is not a real person? Not sure of the logic there.

            No-one thinks John got the temple-action right chronologically? In fact they do. Robinson and others think he may be more right than Mark here, just as he may be on the date of Last Supper, and various others of Jesus’s movements. Several reasons why. (1) Mark organises his narrative to make Jesus visit Jerusalem once only – which is not likely to have been the real total. (2) If Jesus cared as he did about the traders, he would presumably treat them the same *any* time he saw them – I know that is the normal approach of activists. (3) Mark does not present Jesus’s visit as a Passover visit (not till ch14init). He has Jesus entering to an end-of-Tabernacles harvest-branches ritual (inclusio with Transfiguration maybe), proceeding to an Enkainia action in the temple, then to a ‘two days before passover’ action that correlates in 3 or 4 ways with Purim. Passover is not mentioned before that. It could be that Mark is having Jesus recapitulate the annual feasts. (4) John has new eyewitness details as often in Jerusalem – ‘a whip of cords’ etc.. John’s gospel for its part needs structurally for the Jews to have a reason to want to kill Jesus from the very start. So it is hard to make a historical call on the date of the ‘cleansing’.

          • Christopher, “evidence” is a product of ideology or what you the other day called “presuppositions”. You, in fact, in that earlier post claimed that proper historical study was “all about” having the “right” presuppositions. I, in response, mischievously said I was glad to have the wrong ones. This, in fact, is the difference between us. What this results in is that “evidence” arbitrates precisely nothing if its status as evidence, and as being evidence for something in a given scholar’s own artificial narrative rather than “the past”, is at issue. This, in turn, means that claiming something to be evidence is itself an ideological or rhetorical claim.

            I can also give you an example. “Whip of cords”, you say, is “new eyewitness details” provided by John. Let us imagine I say it is, instead, simple invention from a writer looking to give literary detail to his picture to make it more vivid and seem more realistic. Is it not the case that your view of John as a whole has led you one way and my view of John has led me another? Here “evidence” as an independent thing that was related to us in no way whatsoever, as a self-contained arbiter, was nothing to do with it. Rather, “evidence” was constructed and constituted WITHIN out our beliefs, ideologies or presuppositions.

            So I put it back to you that your “evidence-led” version of history is nothing more than a rhetorical construction, a fiction and a sham. If evidence has no independent existence then what even is evidence is fully implicated in the processes of a historian’s history tout court. What is claimed as objective and arbitrating becomes rhetorical and ideological.

          • All study is by definition evidence-based: how else to differentiate between good and bad work? Otherwise why have universities at all. Otherwise it is a bit suspicious that science has been even slightly successful let alone as successful as it has been.

            Calling history fiction is just nonsense. Everyone agrees that there is a fictional aspect to it, but you actually make that aspect 100% which is quite breathtaking. I have met bias towards scepticism before, and also toward credulity. They are both equally bad, although the first is in addition gratuitously negative.

            When talking of first-hand details I am doing the same as Casey, namely speaking with the word ‘probably’ taken as read, but on the basis of multiple pre-considered factors. To the fore here is that John suddenly becomes more vivid when speaking of the temple and Jerusalem personnel, and the fact that this is exactly what we would expect of a man of priestly family (Polycrates).

            The judgments that we make are based on multiple factors and indeed on overall theories that arise only because well-evidenced data have already converged into a coherent broad picture.

          • Christopher, I didn’t dispute that study is evidence-based. I disputed where evidence comes from. On the general point of history, which is literature, and ‘the past’, which is not, I cannot but agree with Jenkins and Munslow in their introduction to “The Nature of History Reader” from 2004. To wit: “Any text, including this one, stakes out a claim, is inevitably intertextual and partial/partisan, and thus an engagement which is unavoidably polemical, for it is impossible today – in fact, strictly speaking it may always have been ‘logically’ impossible – to write in any other way. And this is because there just is a condition of polemos whenever (and this seems to have always been the case) there is no metalanguage or locus of truth or absolute criteria or universal method or transcendental viewpoint (a god’s­ eye view) outside of the
            discursive field to act as arbiter between positions, the consequent radical historicising and relativising of the field necessarily ‘guaranteeing’ multiplicity and heterogeneity forever.”

            They continue: “Basic to our position(s), then, and informing this text throughout are, on the one hand, certain anti­post­empiricist and anti­post­epistemological assumptions and, on the other, certain pro­deconstructionist and pro­aesthetic perspectives. We are anti­post­empiricists because we think that the historicising of the past (the turning of what seems to have happened ‘before now’ into something the ‘before now’ never actually was – an article, a film, a book, a conference paper – a history), is as much a linguistic undertaking (and especially a narrativisation, an aestheticising and thus a figurative undertaking) as it is an empirical one. To turn (to trope) something that isn’t in the form of a narrative – all that has gone on before everywhere – into a narrative (that is, into a linguistic convention, a
            literary mode of structuration, a genre) is just an act of the imagination. And this imaginative, constitutive element gives history qua history the unavoidable status of being fictive.”

            Quite. The other day I quoted Allison saying we find Jesus with the “imagination”. Wright has spilt plenty of ink talking about “stories” and “worldviews”. It seems even these bastions of orthodoxy are more in line with a nuanced, literarily-aware conception of history than your good self with your “evidence”. The point common to the historical theorists and biblical scholars mentioned here, and to myself, is that we all see that evidence does not, cannot, speak for itself. You, on the other hand, seem to have taken up a position that it does, at least, that’s all opposing “evidence” to “ideology” can eventually mean. That was why, 20 years ago, I began studying to write a PhD thesis in which the essential element was that every “historical Jesus” was itself a fiction. It applies no more and no less to every gospel too. It could be nothing else.

          • I certainly hope you did not decide what the main point of your thesis was *before* you began the research (some do, but none should).

            Take 100% evidential and 100% ideological as the two poles. You seem to be taking the impossible position that every nonfiction work is at the same point along that spectrum. I am saying that wide variation is going to happen along that spectrum, which seems a lot more commonsensical. You are denying in principle that we can get beyond say 90% evidential, whereas I am keeping an open mind and not denying any such thing.

            Just because Allison said (not without context) that we find Jesus with our imaginations, the fact that he researched and wrote as much as he did suggests that there is a great deal more to it in his view than more simplistic interpretations of those words might suggest.

          • What I am saying, Christopher, is that every 100% ideological study is 100% evidential and every 100% evidential study is 100% ideological. There are no scholars who seek to present essays, papers, books or proposals, and who need to demonstrate things, who do not do so without presenting things that they deem evidence and without doing that FROM INSIDE a framework which is an ideology that they think appropriate and that they think makes a difference in the real world. So I’m saying there is no sliding scale at all. Where there is evidence there is ideology and where there is ideology there is evidence.

          • So you are saying that every study is as evidential as it can be. Well, of course it is not. A person could fail to do any research and then produce a study based on their wishes.

            And you are also saying that every study is as ideological as it can be – an absolutist position that allows not merely for minimal gradation but for no gradation whatever.

  3. What is the significance of the fact that there are 11 articles featured on the homepage of this excellent blog? 12 tribes of Israel minus Dan? 12 apostles minus Judas? Perhaps because 11 means 3 in binary code, therefore a it’s hidden reference to the Trinity for those who have eyes to see.

    Or maybe there’s no “meaning”, there are just eleven articles on the home page of this blog.

    Maybe someone (John?) was just a bit of a nerd for numbers, and bothered to count six water jars at the wedding and 153 fish in the net – and that’s all.

    • Can you honestly say that there is no significance in the fact that the person making your objection is called John?

      What more confirmation do you need? Only a few hours ago I was writing of the topic of ‘432’. Lo and behold, a few hours later there are precisely 432 votes against the government tonight – I am sure there have never been so many before? Are you saying that that is not a sign? 😉

      • The thing is that all positive integers (whole numbers) are interesting. The proof is straightforward. If there are interesting and not-interesting integers, as most small integers are interesting, there has to be a smallest not-interesting integer. But the fact that this integer is the smallest not-interesting integer would make it interesting. Therefore, there can be no smallest not-interesting integer, and thus no not-interesting integers at all. QED.

        • Your logic is impeccable, and yet the resulting picture is counter-intuitive; I need to mull that one over. As there is an infinite number of numbers, and the interestingness of each one can only rest upon its interrelationship with other numbers, I believe that dilutes the average interestingness somewhat – or even perhaps to an infinite degree….

  4. I normally find the comments below Ian’s excellent posts both interesting and enlightening. On this occasion I am totally baffled; I guess (hope?) I’m not alone!

    • I’ll explain it in one long sentence. John is known to be interested in numbers; his numbers 1-100 number 17 (153 of fish-fame being 17 triangular) and can be laid out in a pattern (with 1, 10, 100 at the 3 corners) which is 9-high (153 being 17×9 and 9 being a cherished number to John) where the highest is opposite the lowest, 2nd highest is opposite 2nd lowest and so on (see above); adding the 2 columns produces 5×7 at level 5, 6×7 at level 6, 7×7 at level 7, so making (if we separate these levels 5-7 off) 3 sections for the table (4, 3, and 2 levels deep respectively); extrapolating the former part of the seven-times-table (1×7 to 4×7) and adding it at the appropriate levels 1-4 makes a total of 153, 126, 153 for these 3 sections; the total of this is 432, already a top favourite among mathematicians, which is ‘panta’ (everything: cf. 2-1-13 syllables) in gematria, a device which John uses in both his narratives; so a 4-3-2 table/triangle totals 432.

    • You are not alone. 😉

      Clever use numbers can provide an extra layer of meaning within a text, communicating another idea (or symbol) that can only be appreciated when viewed differently, or though an interpretive lens. It’s very interesting, and I think Christopher is largely right to make the links he has. John’s use of numbers is complex but not indecipherable, and critically, not implausible.

      No one is seeing patterns where there are none, but that said we must be careful not to attach to the patterns too great a significance. The commentator “John” above could well be right to say that there is no significance at all, though it seems unlikely.

      The important thing is that it’s not a secret code, or way of hiding ‘extra’ knowledge within a text, but rather a literary device that enhances said text, and makes you appreciate it more when viewed from a different perspective. It is not novel to John’s gospel either.

      So with this passage given that we know John frequently attaches symbolic meaning to numbers and is intentional about the numbers he chooses, it stands to reason that there may be a particular reason he tells us about the number of jars, even if we can’t be too dogmatic about what significance is.

      I hope that’s helpful, and not too patronising?

      • Mat, good one. John quite rightly takes a big-picture cosmic view, which means he realises the awesomeness of things. It is fitting that he is the solemn climax of Nine Lessons and Carols. He finds in the music of the spheres and so forth order and design in their mathematical basis, and his fascination with the intrinsic properties of numbers (and numbers lie at the basis of everything that there is) is merely giving numbers their due as a foundational dimension of the awesome creation whose workings he studies and expounds systematically.

        • John has been called an expanse of water in which a child can paddle and an elephant swim. This has proven precisely right. Very simple repetitive vocab. Timeless, formative and unparalleled theology. His carefulness, detail and precision as a writer (though Rev was written in a rush, for very good reasons…) mean that he has unplumbed levels and depths, rather like a master craftsman or builder who has hidden secret cavities and hidden doors. He would never have ‘done’ numbers without doing them justice, getting them exactly right, the best he could.

          For example, references above to the numbers 17 (the 7th prime) and 153 hide that there are some 12-15 separate very plausible reasons for John being interested in the number 153. If he was to highlight one main ‘choice’ striking number, he would pick the best he knew, which by definition would be the one which out of all numbers he found interesting for the most reasons, more reasons than for any other number.

          • “John has been called an expanse of water in which a child can paddle and an elephant swim. “

            Yes, I like that image. The first time I read John with any intent to study it was as a teenager, and I stayed very much in the metaphorical ‘shallow end’. You need to though, so I don’t regret missing what I couldn’t have seen.

            It may be a slight aside, but interestingly it was my study of orthodox Iconography that opened my eyes to the extra ‘layers’ in John. Once I was led to appreciate that you could fit multiple symbolic ideas within even the most simple visual depiction (say, an image of the blessed virgin), I realised that the same was true of text, and an inspired writer could nest multiple ideas within a few lines.

            I have to admit though, that I’m still very much a novice when it comes to swimming.

          • It is a book you can grow up with, and appreciate new things as you go along. (C S Lewis emphasised the pleasures and importance of re-reading.)

  5. The fact that there are six water jars might be significant not because John is pointing out the inadequacy of the law, but because he is inviting us to ask: where is the missing jar?

    There are, I think, one and perhaps two possible answers to this fascinating question: both are immensely fruitful for the preacher.

      • Well, you have argued that there are difficulties with taking six as “symbolising the apparent ‘incompleteness’ of Jewish belief prior to Jesus”, and I think the same. But given the importance for John of numbers generally, I believe that if he goes to the trouble of mentioning the number of jars rather than simply saying ‘some jars’, this raises a presumption that it may have some significance. There may well have been six jars as a matter of fact, but John’s linguistic precision is such that we are entitled to assume that the fact that he mentions it suggests some theological significance, unless we can demonstrate otherwise.

        Ruling out the idea that the six jars symbolise the incompleteness of Jewish belief does not mean that the number six has no significance other than as a historical detail. There may be no overt suggestion in the text that it is significant in being one less than seven, but we bring to our interpretation of the text our knowledge that, for John, the number seven is very important. At the very least, we are entitled to treat the six as suggestive of the question: where is the missing jar?

        Whether or not we can establish definitively that John meant us to ask this question, his writing is, like poetry, full of suggestive imagery and allusion. All the best poets expect more to be found in their work than they might consciously have intended to put there. But this is another question, of the extent to which we may treat scripture as having life independent of authorial intention. I believe that we may, one we have done our exegesis and ruled out what readings are *not* open to us.

        • With many writers a number means what it says with no extra dimensions, and it is as it is because of reportage of the way things were. John likes numbers and number systems and is therefore a special case. He has just as much ‘the way things were’ in his experience as anyone else does, upon which he can meditate. But he is liable to choose numbers that fit his system. And moreover he is such a careful writer that he writes syllable by syllable, so he is extremely deliberate about which particular things he includes. He also tells us that what he does include is a tiny minority; and also, we would probably already have known that.

          • This makes sense. Perhaps John was atuned to numbers, so specific numbers will sometime ‘stick’ if they are significant in some way. A more contemporary example comes from a visit of G.F. Hardy to the Indian mathematical genius Ramanujan,

            ‘I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney. I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. “No”, he replied, “it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.’ (from Wikipedia)

          • He must have learnt the properties of a lot of other numbers before learning those of 1729, and once one gets into numbers and their intrinsic qualities it can become all-consuming, too much so. John is a good example in treating those intrinsic properties as important in combination with a lot of other dimensions of reality which he also treats as important.

  6. Taking a two other points.

    If day 5 in the chronology is a Sabbath then the wedding cannot have been on the 6th day. John tells us that they started somewhere near Bethany (John 1:28) then unless they had moved north during some of the previous days, that is about 80 miles to walk to Cana! That would take around 28 hours which would have to be spread over at least 2 days. That’s not counting the Sabbath as they would not have walked far on that day.

    On the places where the priestly courses lived. The literature I have seen seems to relate to the situation post AD70. Is there evidence from before that time?

    • This is a great point about the walking, although I’m fairly sure 1.40-2 is not a Sabbath anyway. The Sabbath is the blank day before the wedding. There may be various possible reasons why there is no ‘the next day’ at 1.40 unlike on the other days (it is clear that Peter’s coming to Jesus *does* happen the next day). The strongest I have seen is that within a larger gematria system Day 4 has the syllabic value 164 HEMERAI = DAYS (and there are very good reasons why he wants this particular word, which I cannot go into here). So John playfully makes a ”plural day”, as it were, at 1.35-42.

      The itinerary depends where we locate ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’. Bethanys (perhaps a generic term: see Capper) were apparently springing up having been absent in NT times! There is one possible location at the edge of Peraea near Jericho, but another (more convenient for Andrew’s travel) right up north near Gadara (and not far from John’s ch3 oases). If it’s the 2nd of these, the itinerary is no problem.

      John’s clipped style is a sign that he is including only the details that contribute to the message: he is not setting the scene or anything like that. On (by my count) Day 6 (1.43-51), Jesus decides to go to Galilee and accordingly does so. It is not said that he goes to Bethsaida, just somewhere in Galilee. This fits well with the near-Gadara option for Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, Though we do not know where Jesus’s lodgings of 1.38-9 are, they must be near Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan since he has appeared there twice already. So the only real journeying takes place at 1.43 (most naturally and economically to somewhere round Nazareth, which Nathanael despises) and thence to Cana which Nathanael inhabits.

      Of course, it could be that the near-Gadara location was posited to cope with this very same itinerary problem, and the near-Jericho location (near likely location of Jesus’s baptism) would in normal circumstances have been seen as the likeliest (Priests and Levites can come there; Jesus’s baptism can take place there). Jesus’s baptism location may not be relevant here as John may be only *reminiscing* about Jesus’s baptism (he reverts from present tense to past) – but that is the less likely option. So the near-Jericho location seems best to us for the John bits, but clearly worse than the near-Gadara one when it comes to itinerary, unless 1.43 involves Jesus travelling supernaturally.

      • I don’t at all think they did travel supernaturally! ‘They’ – because Andrew, Peter and John also needed to be at the wedding in time.

        It was Bethany beyond the Jordan as said, but (see above) the question is whether that is located near Jericho or near Gadara. I have not come up with a coherent itinerary because the near-Gadara location would solve problems later on but the near-Jericho looks considerably more likely to be implied earlier on. It is certainly possible that priests and Levites were sent a long distance and that when John spoke of Jesus’s baptism he was just reminiscing; but the problem with that is that the near-Gadara option was perhaps only posited at all to rescue the itinerary (the near-Jericho site Al-Maghtas being the obvious choice), so we would then be arguing in a circle.

      • I am told that a fit and healthy person can walk between 20-30 miles in an 8-hour day. So with an extended day on the first two days 80 miles is just about possible. Also we do not know when the wedding started so it is possible the last (short) leg could have been on the day of the wedding. So even if it is the traditional site near Jericho, then it is just about possible to be at the wedding on the third day.

        Of course Archeology has sometimes reminded us that we should not be too sure about the location of these sites as some traditional sites have been proved wrong in the past.

        • Yes, I think that would require a lot of walking on the day when Peter is introduced to Jesus. They turned in for the evening at 4pm on the previous day. But 1.43 Jesus making a decision only on that day to go to Galilee suggests that they have been walking on the ‘Peter’ day a very substantial amount without having any particular destination in mind. This would be odd even if there were indication that they walked that day (which there isn’t). Normally when you have no destination in mind you don’t walk far; walking far suggests you already have a destination in mind.

        • At 16 I walked 30 miles in two hours…. at 62 I ran 26 miles in 255 minutes. Its by no means impossible to do 80 miles in two days…if that’s actually what the text demands.

  7. Ian
    Setting aside the stone jars, the question the passage asks me is in v5 – if this is the ‘first sign’ why does Mary assume Jesus will act ?

  8. I notice in verse 4 that the NIV translates Jesus’ remark as: “What is that to me?” whereas the NRSV translates it as “What is that to you and to me? “. Looking at the Greek text I have the NRSV seems nearer to the Greek. Why did the NIV translators remove the reference to Mary?

    This might affect how we see the relationship between Mary and the wedding couple.

  9. I was convinced by this blog post by the late John Richardson that the significant seventh (no-one disputes that the writer at least sometimes sees significance in the number 7!) vessel occurs in 19:30, when Jesus drinks the sour wine from the cup of God’s wrath and so completes his purpose on earth and immediately dies, at which point his hour has finally come, and because of its saving effect he has truly saved the best till last.

    • For those who might see 6 as representing Israel being on the brink of fulfilment and/or having hitherto fallen just short of that fulfilment, ‘Israel’ is the theme of Day number 6 (1.43-51). We gauge that by counting its syllables to 349 which in gematria is the value of ‘Israel’ in Greek. (John may or may not also have in view the idea 349 falling just short of 7 jubilees, though the Cana wedding does have the jubilee theme of abundance out of lack at the start of a new cycle.)

      Of the 5 instances of ‘Israel[ite]’ in John, 2 come precisely in these 9 verses, 1 slightly earlier at 1.31, and 1 with reference to Nicodemus at 3.10. There is a pair of N characters who suddenly appear afresh in John alone, and of the many ways in which they form a pair, perhaps the most striking is that both begin as an individual and then (and this would be odd in any circumstances, let alone for a pair who were already a pair) start being addressed as a collective and/or representatives [also, 3.10 ‘*the* teacher of Israel’ is a remarkably representative designation]. So it looks like they represent the kernel of the new Israel. N is for neos as A was for archaios (and for those initial/kernel figures Adam and Abraham of whom they are respectively types [figtree, spotted under it, ‘guile’ though that is mainly Jacob; theophany by night, miraculous birth scoffed at, gave ‘only son’] ; N in both Hebrew and Greek is the jubilee number 50 that either completes a cycle or begins a new one or both.

    • (And of course 1.51 refers to the story wherein Jacob becomes ‘Israel’, and the same day associates the concepts of ‘Israel’ and Jacob-like ‘guile’)

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