Reviews of

The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church

In Charles E. HILL, Dan Batovici, John, NT reception history, Oxford University Press, Patristics, Second century on October 7, 2010 at 11:20 pm

2010.10.03 | Charles E. Hill. The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church. Oxford: OUP, 2006 (Hardback, 2004). xiii-531 p. ISBN 0-19-929144-6. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dan Batovici, University of St Andrews.

This is the pre-print version of the review published in Religion and Theology 17 (2010), pp. 166-7.

Since Walter Bauers’s Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesen Christentum (Tubingen, 1934) an important scholar trend deems that the Johannine corpus met in the Early Church the suspicion and avoid of the orthodox due to its presence and importance in gnostic milieu. Hill names this alleged antique attitude ‘orthodox Johannophobia’ (11), and challenges the general trend holding this position over more than four hundred pages of demonstration divided in two main parts. The first part contains a historiographical presentation of past scholarship concerning this matter, from Bauer to Nagel (11-55) and an argument for the present book (56-71). The remainder of the book is also divided in two, of which the first is a detailed analysis of the presence of the Johannine writings in texts of the second century that forms the bulk of the book (73-446), while the second explores the evidence for their common use as a corpus in the same era (447-75). The volume also contains a chronology (476), a bibliography (478-98), and three indexes: ancient texts, modern authors and a subject index (499-531).

Yet I would like to present further Hill’s methodological stance on the general question of textual reception of the Johannine corpus in second century texts (67-71). Within the larger frame of recent past scholarship on the New Testament presence in the second century, and in respect of the two quite opposed positions of É. Massaux, Influence de l’Évangile de Saint Matthieu sur la littérature chrétienne avant Saint Irénée (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1986, réimpression anastatique, original 1950) and H. Köster, Synoptische Überlieferung bei den Apostolischen Vätern, TU 65 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1957), Hill is obviously closer to the former, who states that the influence of the NT text (Matthew in his case) is not to be confined only to strict literary contact between the alleged source and the posterior author but sought also in the simpler use of source text’s vocabulary, themes and ideas (xviii). Hill is not alone here, as F.-M. Braun, Jean le Théologien et son Évangile dans l’Église Ancienne (Paris: Gabalda, 1959) has already adhered to this rather maximalist approach and continued developing Massaux’ perspective: with respect to John’s influence on the Shepherd of Hermas as an example, he concludes that since the influence of John on Hermas can be found without much effort on one or two occasions, it is only natural to extend this conclusion to other passages that seem of Johannine inspiration, even though he advises cautiousness about being all too categorical about this (170).

In a rather opposing approach, J. N. Sanders, in The Fourth Gospel in the Early Church. Its Origin & Influence on Christian Theology up to Irenaeus (Cambridge: CUP, 1943), notes, with respect to the textual relations within the Johannine corpus: “the Johannine epistles afford an example of works very close in temper and outlook to the Gospel which yet are not dependent of it,” pointing to the fact that “the general tone of the Gospel was characteristic of a number of writers, who did not acquire it from the Fourth Gospel,” and therefore, “common temper or outlook is not sufficient to prove actual knowledge of the Gospel”(11). Obviously, an important part is played by the discussion as to whether a similarity is due to dependence, or to independent use of the same tradition. Furthermore, within this admittedly minimalist approach, Köster’s mentioned book – and reiterated in H. Koester, ‘Written Gospels or Oral Tradition’, JBL 113 (1994) 293-7, esp. 297 – places the solution of the problem in redactional criticism, as his criterion states that a reading can only be considered a certain use in one text of another, if that reading is an identifiable redactional particularity of the alleged source text, with the consequences that if strong verbal agreement is found between the two texts, but is not a surely redactional element of the latter, this cannot point to dependence but, at most, to a common source.

Hill lists the possibility of depending on commune source rather than on one another among the established yet seemingly debatable takes on this issue (67) and challenges its starting point, namely the requirement of having strong verbal agreement in order to establish literary contact, as a possible projection of modern structures on ancient texts (68), stressing out that the custom in antiquity was not the usually expected exact quote but indeed imperfect quotation (68-70). Consequently, in assessing the influence of one text on another,

“much will depend upon factors such as the length or level of detail of the parallel material, the secondary author’s use of elements characteristic of or unique to the proposed source, the presence of other reminiscences from the same source, contextual references or allusions to the (presumed) author of the source, a comparison with the author’s use of OT or other NT sources, and other contextual features which might reflect on the probability of the secondary author’s knowledge of the proposed source. The question of possible alternative sources, whether oral or written, must also frequently come into play. (70)”

When applying this, the emphasis may be not on the textual reception as on the knowledge of the supposed source text. Exemplifying with his take on the Shepherd of Hermas, one can read: “It appears likely, then, that the author did know the Fourth Gospel” (emphasis added) at least when he wrote the part of the Shepherd that is generally considered to be the last written part, the 9th Similitude (380).

In the interval between its publication in hardcover in 2004 and paperback in 2006, the volume has already meet some critical evaluation on the perspective proposed in this review, namely Hill’s methodological stance on what can be named the presence of one text in another. A perhaps useful example is afforded by the volume A. Gregory, C. Tuckett, eds., The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: OUP, 2005). The two editors sign the methodologically programmatic essay (Reflections on Method: What constitutes the Use of the Writings that later formed the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers?, 61-82) where, while presenting and comparing Massaux with Köster, emphasize the importance of the Köster’s criterion. Placed in this line, they warn against the “risk of reaching potentially maximalist results by an uncritical application of a methodology akin to what Neirynck called Massaux’s principle of simplicity” (74). Nevertheless, when they consider John, they mention cautiously that “it is extremely difficult to apply Köster’s criterion without first making other far-reaching decisions” (79), seemingly on what might constitute redactional elements and sources in John. Consequently, when the contributors  – assessing the reception of NT text in the Apostolic Fathers that are too considered by Hill – turn to John, they generally question more ore less Hill’s methodology. P. Foster on Ignatius (159-86) notices Hills emphasis on Ignatius’ knowledge rather than use of John, and that, in doing this, his approach contains not only textual but also historical considerations (184). M. W. Holmes on Polycarp (187-227), with regard to Hill’s position of very probable dependence, estimates that “an argument composed by compounding possibilities […] is simply not compelling”(199). Finally, J. Verheyden on the Shepherd of Hermas (293-329) also notices the prevalence of knowing the ideas of John over the literary contact and places him near Massaux (319).

Finally, the volume under review is announced to be followed by two volumes, of which the first will ‘examine the controversy which lies behind the rupture reported in 1 John 2:18-19 and echoed elsewhere, and the part it played in the origin and reception of these books’, while the second ‘will centre on the question of authorship and authorial setting for each of these books ‘(2).

Dan Batovici
University of St Andrews
db47 [ at ] st-andrews.ac.uk

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  1. […] become the New Testament. For this reason, his essay is a follow-up of his 2004 book – reviewed here – where he engages with the criticism his book met since its publication. Hill introduces […]

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