Abstract

Since the immensely influential work of J. Louis Martyn, many Johannine scholars have interpreted John’s ἀποσυνάγωγος passages (9:22, 12:42, 16:2) as reflective of the gospel’s outsider position in relation to Jewishness. In Martyn’s model, as well as in the model of his contemporary Raymond E. Brown, “the synagogue” functioned as synecdoche for “Judaism,” leading both scholars to the conclusion that John’s ἀποσυνάγωγος passages reflected the experience of a late first-century community that was on its way out of the “household of Judaism.” In this article, I draw upon recent advances in scholarship on ancient synagogues to problematize the equation of “the synagogue” with “Judaism” in toto, still a very prominent analytical framework in Johannine studies today. I then argue that John’s expulsion passages are helpfully illuminated when the sociohistorical context of the events described in the text itself are viewed from the broader perspective of expulsions from public assemblies in Jewish and Greco-Roman antiquity. From this angle, John’s story of ἀποσυνάγωγος can be read as an account of the contentious politics of popular assemblies, in which there were winners and losers in the competition over political influence, rather than as part of a compositional strategy of disaffiliation from Jews and Judaism tout court.

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