“The world will see me no longer” : themes of divine presence and absence in the Fourth Gospel.


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John’s Gospel exhibits distinctive emphases on Jesus’s relationship to God’s presence and Jesus’s impending (from the narrative’s perspective) absence. This dissertation offers a new perspective on the integral role these foci play in John’s narrative. While some contend that John characterizes Jesus through allusions to various figures who represented YHWH’s presence, I argue John presents Jesus not merely as a divine emissary but as the enfleshed divine presence and that this depiction has important implications that have been neglected in contemporary scholarship. Consequently, the authorial audience would have understood Jesus’s absence as divine absence, with corresponding theological implications. A seemingly inaccessible deity compounded the challenges of maintaining belief in that deity in the face of social opposition and the reality of human fragility and mortality. John responds to these challenges in two ways that echo motifs prevalent in the authorial audience’s symbolic world. First, a common way to explain the destruction of a deity’s temple or idol was to emphasize the deity’s agency and contend the deity departed in judgment on impious worshipers. Similarly, John characterizes Jesus’s departure as divine judgment on unbelief. Simultaneously, John leverages precedents for one party to retain access to the divine presence even as another was abandoned, enabling John to depict the Spirit-Paraclete as the provision of divine presence for believers. Throughout the narrative, the more John accents Jesus’s significance as the enfleshed divine presence, the more consequential Jesus’s absence becomes for the authorial audience. John employs a tension between these two emphases for two rhetorical purposes: (1) to move those considering the Gospel’s claims toward belief and (2) to encourage believers struggling with the reality of Jesus’s apparent absence in their current sufferings. The dissertation makes two important contributions to Johannine scholarship. First, it shows how two foci of the Johannine narrative which are often considered separately (i.e., Jesus’s divinity and physical absence) would have functioned together in a way that met early audiences’ rhetorical needs and expectations. Second, the dissertation provides a new outlook on familiar concerns in Johannine scholarship, including the “temple motif,” John’s (alleged) “anti-Jewish” character, the Spirit-Paraclete, and Johannine eschatology.