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Monday, November 21, 2011

Anastasia’s reading of John 5:1-18

In the last post Anastasia the head librarian from the lost tribe of Koine speaking Greeks ran into difficulty making sense of John 5:1-18 the story of the healing at pool. She didn’t understand why why the invalids were found gathered around the pool. The response to Jesus’ question “Do you want to be healed?” appears unrelated to the question and Jesus responds as if the man had given a simple affirmative reply. Anastasia’s inability to make the story coherent can be attributed to ignorance of the healing scenario, a cultural artifact which is implicit in the story. The healing scenario is provided by a textual variant/gloss fond in some NT manuscripts:
“for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.” —NRSV [note]  
This variant/gloss provides the key to the healing scenario and makes story coherent. It also illustrates that the meaning of the story is not entirely in the text as code. The healing scenario associated with the pool called Bethesda is a part of the shared cultural assumptions among first century palestinian Jews from Jerusalem.

Anastasia notes that once the man is healed the story takes an abrupt turn and becomes a dispute over the Sabbath. She has been reading the Gospel of John for a month now and has been able to construct a tentative framework for this dispute between Jesus and those who want to kill him. Never the less, the importance of the Sabbath to the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem is still something mysterious. The prohibition against certain activities on a certain day doesn’t seem to follow any pattern. No matter what a person does on this day it seems to be prohibited. Once again the Sabbath observance scenario is only partially discoverable from the the text [code] of John’s Gospel. Sabbath observance is a part of the shared cultural assumptions among first century palestinian Jews.         


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