Johannine Sectarianism in Perspective: A Sociological, Historical, and Comparative Analysis of Temple and Social Relationships in the Gospel of John, Philo, and Qumran

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Johannine sectarianism in Perspective: A Sociological, Historical, and Comparative Analysis of Temple and Social Relationships in the Gospel of John, Philo, and Qumran. By Rare Sigvald Fuglseth. NovTSup 119. Leiden: Brill, 2005, xiv + 450 pp., $139.00.

This monograph is a revision of a Dr.Art. thesis presented to the University of Trondheim in September 2002. Its stated purpose is to investigate the "community" behind the Gospel of John with methods primarily derived from sociology and with comparisons to texts from two contemporary Jewish milieus, the community in Alexandria as reflected in writings of Philo, and the community of Qumran as reflected in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Following the scholarly tradition that the Gospel originated in a local group of some kind and that the experiences of this group influenced the character and content of the text in a particular way, this study attempts to define more clearly the "sectarian" claim found in much of this scholarly tradition. It also seeks to provide focus to numerous terms (school, church, group, association, etc.) used to delineate this Johannine "community."

The first three chapters set the tone for remainder of the analysis. In chapter 1, "Problem and Method," Fuglseth locates the study in the history of discussion concerning the audience and origin of the Fourth Gospel. In this historical sketch of Johannine studies, Fuglseth reveals the difficulties in characterizing the Johannine community as a "sect." "The debate on 'sect' in studies of early Judaism and New Testament literature generally, as well as the criticism specifically concerned about the Gospel of John, presents a confusing and even contradictory picture" (p. 27). In chapter 2, "Models and Questions," Fuglseth examines the models frequently used to delineate the audience behind the Fourth Gospel. After noting the problems with the common categories used, especially with regard to communities from the distant past, Fuglseth explains that his heuristic method attempts to define the Johannine community's social tension by examining how the Gospel handles the replacement of the temple in the story of the temple cleansing (John 2) and the Samaritan encounter (John 4). In sum, Fuglseth's stated goal is to "study the question of recruitment and the maintenance of social cohesion, the introversionist withdrawal from society through an evaluation of the attitudes towards Others' or Outsiders' " (p. 63). Important here are the categories that Fuglseth will use: "church," "cult," and "sect." The differences in these categories are used to explain the different social tensions revealed in all three sets of documents. In chapter three, "From Text to Community," Fuglseth asks if the entire heuristic model should even begin with the assumption of a real "group" reflected behind the text. Was there a Johannine community, Philo community, and Qumran community? His answer is a carefully-stated "yes." Fuglseth explains that "there is not much evidence for the existence of a 'qualified group' [in contrast to a 'plain group' or general audience] participating in the production of the Gospel in an interactive way, although there are some indications. . . . Therefore, the assumption of its existence cannot be based upon 'empirical' studies of the text only, but derives from a chosen perspective as well-our hermeneutic position or metareflection" (p. 114). Because of this admission, Fuglseth spends this entire third chapter (50 pages) to make his case-a case he will hereafter assume for his heuristic purposes.

In the next three chapters, Fuglseth examines the temple theme in John (chap. 4), the same theme in Philo and Qumran (chap. 5), and temple-related festivals in John (chap. 6). He establishes three different models for evaluative purposes: a rejection model; an acceptance model; and a conjunction model. The rejection model reflects a strongly anti-temple group that has protested and broken away from the temple institution in principle and practice. …