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BRITE DIVINITY SCHOOL

TEXAS CHRISTIAN UNIVERISTY

FORT WORTH, TEXAS

Heaven Has Opened Up: Finding an Intertextual Relationship between Zechariah LXX 3:1-10
and John 1:47-51

BRITE DIVINITY SCHOOL

NETE 70133: Exegesis in the Gospels and Acts: Johannine Literature

DR. FRANSCISCO LOZADA, Jr.

March 8, 2009

RODNEY A. THOMAS JR.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009


Introduction

Warren Carter notes that the Evangelist in the Gospel of John utilizes a mosaic of

traditions from the Hebrew Bible, and in particular the traditions that highlight the limitations

and destruction of earthly kingdoms. Metonymic intertextuality, which Carter is referring to, is a

tactic in which the author of a text, who is specifically located in an oral culture, makes

“abbreviated references to larger well-known cultural codes, relying on the audience to supply

and elaborate the assumed cultural tradition as the work is performed.” 1 In other words, the

author, and her/his readers possess a common frame of reference and vocabulary in which only

they comprehend; usually, this may leave those outside of the community at a disadvantage

when they attempt to examine the writer‟s texts. A number of scholars 2, with Carter, Adele

Reinhartz, John Dominic Crossan, and John J. Collins among them, have noted the importance of

Zechariah‟s royal visions in chapters 9-14 and their influence on the Evangelist‟s telling of the

Passion narrative; however, a comparison between the divine council court scene in Zech LXX 3

and the final four passages in the first chapter of John has yet to be examined. In this work, I

hope to first, evaluate Nathanael‟s confession of Jesus in light of the meanings of the dual title of

the Son of God/King of Israel (ὁσἱὸςηοῦθεοῦβαζιλεὺςηοῦἸζραήλ); second, remark on the

Johannine Jesus‟s re-enactment of the conclusion of the oracle in Zech LXX 3:10; and lastly,

evaluate the prevailing cosmic dualism of the Evangelist and Zechariah.

1
Warren Carter. John and Empire: Initial Explorations. New York: T & T Clark, 2008, 339.

2
See for instance, Dominic Crossan‟s God and Empire; Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan‟s The Last Week:
The Day-by-Day Account of Jesus‟s Final Week in Jerusalem.
Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009
Messianic Names

“Now Listen! Joshua, the High Priest, you and your neighbors, the ones who are seated in front
of your face. These men will be signs of wonders. For, Behold! I bring my servant the Branch.”
(Zech LXX 3:8, author‟s translation)

Nathanael answered and says to him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; you are the King of
Israel.” (John 1:49, author‟s translation)

The story that we find in John 1 after the Prologue contains several witnesses who make

confessions either about themselves or concerning the identity of others, specifically Jesus of

Nazareth. When the two disciples that John commands to follow Jesus first address Jesus, they

refer to him as Rabbi, which the Evangelist goes on to explain means teacher (διδαζκαλε) in this

context (1:38). If we go further along in the text, we observe that Jesus of Nazareth meets a man

named Nathanael and calls him “a true Israelite” who does not have any treachery within him

(1:47). The Evangelist‟s record of Nathanael‟s final response to his encounter with Jesus

concludes with him telling John‟s audience that this Jesus is again, first, a Rabbi, and then the

Son of God as well as the King of Israel (1:49).

Warren Carter contends that the Fourth Gospel was written sometime around the first

century in the city of Epheseus.3 If this is the case, it would not be a stretch to say that Israelites

like Nathanael, located within the Roman Empire, were familiar with the language used by

Hellenistic ruler cults. The act of attributing divinity to a military conqueror was normative

several centuries before the Common Era. For example, the Ptolemies‟ dynasty attempted to

synthesize the phaoronic and the Greco-Hellenistic traditions; Ptomely I was enshrined as Soter

3
Warren Carter. John and Empire: Initial Explorations. New York: T & T Clark, 2008. 15 &52

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009


(ζωηηρ), or Savior, while Ptomely V was declared the son of sun god.4 Collins notes that Philo‟s

adoration for Augustus proves that there were at least some Judeans who viewed the

emperor/king as a representative of deity. 5

Starting with John‟s Prologue, Jesus the Messiah is described by the Evangelist as “That

Unique One, the one who was explained, existing in the Father‟s bosom” (1:18). There are two

things that I would like to note. First, God is referred to as Father here, implying a familial

relationship between Godself and Jesus the Messiah. Second, the God of Moses (1:17) is also

the same one who has a Son who exists close to God‟s heart; this may be the Evangelist‟s way of

reiterating her/his Jewish-Christian argument for the pre-existence of the Word (1:1-3) in

Hellenistic divine ruler cult terms. The Psalter LXX, in a much similar fashion, may express

messianic beliefs within the royal psalms. 6 Psalm 88:27 LXX reads, “I will make him firstborn,

highest among the kings of the earth.” The lexical version for the Greek word used for the

English verb make is , which means „I place or to set up‟ in both the active and passive

voices. However, when the verb is followed by at least two nouns in the accusative, it can mean

„making someone into something‟; in the case of Psalms LXX 88:27, God is making Israel‟s

monarch into God‟s firstborn child.

Nathanael‟s confession in John 1:49 reveals the Evangelist‟s knowledge of the tradition

in which the king of Israel (βαζιλεὺς ηοῦ Ἰζραήλ) is begotten by God as God‟s child (ὁ σἱὸς ηοῦ

θεοῦ). Kingship within the context of this passage does not necessarily have to be associated

with a ruler in the line of David. Both of the disciples of John the Baptizer as well as Nathanael

identify Jesus the Messiah as Rabbi, or Teacher at first. The declaration made by Nathanael

4
Collins, Adela Yarbro, and John Joseph Collins. King and Messiah As Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblica
and Related Literature. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008. , 52-53.

5
Ibid, 54.
6
Ibid, 56.
Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009
then, is not two fold, but actually threefold: Teacher, Son of God, and King of Israel. This

affirmation denotes not only that Jesus as a rabbi is the Messiah, but also that the Messiah has

come as a teacher, much like the priestly tradition we find in the Hebrew Bible. The major and

minor prophets do not share a monolithic understanding of God‟s chosen savior for Israel, but I

would like to focus on is the priestly vision of a messianic figure found in Zech LXX 3. Collins

observes that the Septuagint form of Jewish prophetic literature “construes a number of passages

in an apparently messianic sense, when no such sense is apparent in the Hebrew.” 7

Unfortunately, like many scholars, John Collins interprets ηὸν δοῦλόν μοσ Αναηολήν

“my servant, the Branch” in Zech LXX 3:8 as the governor Zerubbabel who we learn about in

the writings of the prophet Haggai and to whom we see Zechariah first discussing in chapter

four.8 Zerubbabel is not named in the Zech LXX 3 or the Masoteric Text, as John A. Davies

points out, so we must allow for both the literary context determine the identity of the Branch.9

Later in Zech LXX 6, the LORD promises that the Branch will be enthroned as a priest on his

throne; Zechariah compares the character of the Branch/Shoot with Joshua, son of Zephaniah,

the high priest who is being addressed by the angel of the LORD in the third chapter. Whether

or not one chooses to understand the branch/shoot as an individual or as a community is not

pertinent; what matters is that the Zecharian understanding of ἀναηολὴ excludes any

immediate reference to a Davidic monarchy.

7
Collins, Adela Yarbro, and John Joseph Collins. King and Messiah As Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical
and Related Literature. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008, 59.

8
For ex., see Ben C. Ollenburger‟s translation and commentary in the New Interpreter‟s Bibe, p. 765-766.
9
John A. Davies. A Royal Priesthood : Literary and Intertextual Perspectives on an Image of Israel in Exodus
19.6, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement Series. London ; New York: T & T Clark
International, 2004.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009


Jesus the Messiah, as he is introduced by the Evangelist in John 1, has been revealed as a

pre-existent Priest-King. Raymond Brown adds that some of the elements of the Johannine

community contained Samaritan elements where Moses piety was prevalent.10 The Taheb (the

Messiah in the Samaritan tradition), much like Moses, would function as a Revealer and

Restorer, who as the Samaritan woman tells Jesus, “will proclaim all things” to them (John 4:25).

Jesus confesses to her that he is the Taheb (4:26); this is the Evangelist‟s way of reaffirming the

instructing vocation of God‟s anointed one much like the messianic figures in the prophetic

traditions of Zechariah and Ezekiel.

Prophecy Performed

“In that day,” says the LORD Almighty, “Each will summon his neighbor under a vine and
under a fig tree.” (Zech LXX 3:10, author‟s translation)

Nathanael asks him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Phillip
summoned you, I saw you under the fig tree.” (John 1:48, author‟s translation)

I will now continue to presuppose that the Evangelist intentionally alludes to the imagery

described of Zechariah‟s fourth vision in John 1:47-51. We have very little evidence that a

redactor or an editor made additions to the last four verses of John; all we have is the text. The

Evangelists in all four gospels deliberately merge the drama of Jesus the Messiah with the

metaphors, similes, and stories from the Old Testament. According to Craig A. Evans, instances

such as Jesus quoting Psalms 22 while he is dying on the cross cannot be easily explained as

features of a hopeful Jewish eschatology or messianism. 11 Evans proposes that in light of the

religious context of the Second Temple period, Jesus patterned his actions and ministry after

10
Raymond Brown,. The Community of the Beloved Disciple. New York: Paulist Press, 1979, 44.

11
Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. New Testament tools and studies, v. 28, 2. [L]eiden: Brill, 1999,
374.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009


patterns found in Scripture much like several religious leaders in that era acted out biblical

passages as they were inspired by the hope of Israel‟s restoration. 12 While Evans‟s primary

focus is on the Passion Narrative and Jesus‟s triumphant entry into Jerusalem (by noting the

words in Zech 9:9 with the actions of Jesus found in John 12:15 and Matt 21:5), I will compare

the promise of the LORD Almighty in Zech LXX 3:10 with the words and deeds of Jesus in John

1:48.

There are a few examples of prophets during the first century Common Era whose actions

ministries drew their inspiration from the biblical narrative. Josephus recorded a story about one

prophet who convinced a great crowd to join him at the Jordan River where he would part it and

they could escape to safe passage.13 He also tells us about another prophet from Egypt who

deceived around thirty-thousand people and leading them around a circular route until they came

to Mount of Olives in the hope that the walls of Jerusalem would fall. The false prophet escaped

from battle while a vast majority of his army was hunted by Felix and the Romans. Theudas, the

false prophet from the first story, was inspired by Deuteronomy 18 where Moses promises safe

passage into the promised land; the second prophet may have been motivated by Amos LXX

2:10 where God recalls that God led around the Israelites in the desert. 14

In a similar manner, the mission of the Johannine Jesus is informed by the prophet

Zechariah. After John the Baptizer is questioned by the Levites and priests, he sees Jesus

coming and introduces Jesus as the Messiah “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Two days later, Phillip summons Nathanael, and Jesus spots him under a fig tree (John 1:48).

12
Ibid, 375.
13
Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. New Testament tools and studies, v. 28, 2. [L]eiden: Brill, 1999.
377.

14
Ibid, 379.
Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009
The LORD promises the high priest Joshua through the prophet Zechariah that God will remove

wickedness ( from the land in a single day and then every person will be able to invite

her/his neighbor to sit under her/his own vine and fig tree (Zech 3:9-10). In both scenarios, the

promise of the LORD and the interaction between Jesus and Nathanael, sin is pronounced as

something that must be removed from the Earth/World (in Zech LXX 3:9 and

in John 1:29). Both nouns are in the genitive case which indicates possession in

this context; the Earth‟s/ World‟s sin needs to be eradicated.

John does not give a timeline for how many days it will take to do this, but Zechariah

tells Joshua the high priest that the process will only take one day. By renaming Nathanael as a

true Israelite in which there is no deceit, Jesus is inviting Nathanael in a new messianic age

reminiscent of Zechariah‟s dream of human beings enjoying each other‟s fellowship under their

own fig trees. The removal of sin from the world, the process of summoning neighbors, and the

establishment of communities are the common threads in Zech LXX 3:10 and John 1:48.

Walter Brueggeman contends that the oracle we see in Micah 4:1-5 “is a practice of

knowing, subversive political imagination” in which the logic of promise serves as a criticism of

the present.15 The promises of the LORD change religious symbols and offer different policy

options from the status quo. The prophets Micah and Zechariah draw upon a common tradition

of prosperity and peace represented by the idea of “every person under her/his own vine and

under her/his fig tree.” Therefore, the prophet provides a link between the hopes of a community

and its religious history. The phrase ἕκαζηος ὑποκάηω ἀμπέλοσ αὐηοῦ καὶ ἕκαζηος ὑποκάηω

ζσκῆς αὐηοῦ appears in Micah LXX 4:4 and Zech LXX 3:10. There is a slight differentiation in

the Zecharian text because not only will each person have her/his own fig tree, but also she/he

15
Walter Brueggeman, A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel‟s
Communal Life. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994, 97.
Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009
will also invite her/his neighbors to share in this peace. Micah foresees in his oracle that no one

will be afraid. Zechariah and Micah are, in Brueggeman‟s words, “practicing bold imagination,

evoking an alternative community yet anticipated.”16 The Johannine Jesus participates in the

fulfillment Zechariah‟s fourth oracle by acting out the Scriptural patterns of the prophetic

vine/fig tree blessing tradition. Fast forward to the day Jesus of Nazareth finds Nathanael under

the fig tree and so begins his mission to transform his own community (John 1:10) into the true

Israel (1:47).

The King‟s Court

And the Angel of the LORD warned Joshua saying, “Thus says the LORD Almighty, „If you walk
in my ways and if you keep my commandments, then you will pass judgment on my house. And if
you will guard my court, then I will give you men who walk in the midst of these standing.”
(Zechariah LXX 3:6-7, author‟s translation)

And he [Jesus] says to him [Nathanael], “Truly, truly, I say to you (plural), you (plural) will see
heaven has opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
(John 1:51, author‟s translation)

The Evangelist‟s insistence on the pre-existence of the Logos signals to the reader to

know that Jesus the Messiah is a foreigner to this world. Robert Kysar interprets the two-story

cosmos he discovers in John‟s gospel as a metaphor for how us human beings must understand

ourselves either as beings self-reliant apart from God or as creatures dependent upon God.17 The

narratives in Zechariah 3 and John 1:51 depict a world in which the reign of God is placed in

stark contrast with the powers that only temporarily succeed in the here and now. For Jesus, the

age to come looks like heaven opening up, with celestial hosts of God going up and going down

upon the Son of Man. The general direction in which these angels are manifesting themselves

16 16
Walter Brueggeman, A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel‟s Communal Life.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press,, 103.

17
Robert Kyser. John, the Maverick Gospel. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1976, 76-77.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009


give the read a hint about God‟s location as well as Jesus‟s point of origin: heaven. God is all

the way up there in heaven while we, the world Jesus has come to save, are all down here. There

are other dualisms, such as the darkness versus the light, the true Israel versus the Jews, truth as

opposed to lies, as well as spirit as opposed to flesh. 18

These dualisms, however, point to the importance of Jesus the Messiah as God‟s

revelation and our dependence on God‟s manifestation in order to understand who we really

are.19 A possible Johannine view of salvation could be the passive reception of knowledge that

God gives directly through God‟s own self-disclosure; just as Nathanael accepts Jesus as Rabbi,

Son of God, and King of Israel without any signs or evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is God‟s

chosen one, so must we just receive the knowledge of God the Evangelist witnessed in the life of

Jesus. The one cosmic dualism in Zechariah LXX 3 is the dichotomy that the angel of the

LORD creates between Joshua‟s filthy clothes (which are mentioned twice in v. 3 and 4) in

contrast with the clean turban the high priest receives (clean turban appears twice in v. 5) along

with the rich garment he is given (v.6). The maintenance of the separation between the clean and

the unclean as important for the priest‟s vocation as texts such as Leviticus chapters 11-14

demonstrate. The removal of Joshua‟s filthy clothing was to represent God removing his sin in

order that Joshua could serve in the temple. Joshua the high priest is in complete need of God‟s

forgiveness in order for him to be restored to his true self.

The final passage in the first chapter of John‟s gospel introduces us to the Evangelist‟s

unique angelology. Jesus‟ prediction that the heavens would open up and God‟ angels would

descend and ascend upon the Son of Man was one of the few times the Evangelist mentions

Jesus‟ concept of angels. Some traditions about John 5 point to a tradition in which angels were

18
Robert Kysar. John, the Maverick Gospel. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1976, 74.
19
Ibid, 79.
Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009
able to touch one of the pools in the temple and heal the blind, deaf, and paralyzed. Two angels

appear after the resurrection to tell Mary Magdalene that her Rabboni (Aramaic form of Rabbi,

or teacher) is risen (20:12). For John, angels have the capacity to communicate with human

beings and they may have the power to heal humanity‟s medical ailments. Correspondingly, the

angel of the LORD in Zechariah LXX 3 commands the other angels to remove Joshua‟s filthy

clothes, speaks for God to human beings, and is not identified as the LORD. 20 Angels, then,

represent God‟s Wholly Otherness where God is so Holy that God has to use mediators in order

to talk to us sinful humans or to heal us from our diseases. God‟s transcendence is underscored

in Zechariah‟s and John‟s theology by way of their angelology.

Lastly, I would like to make a few comments on John‟s and Zechariah‟s idea of the devil.

The Greek term is used in both the Gospel of John and Zech LXX 3. The devil in

Zechariah is only able to stand at Joshua‟s right hand side and accuse him. The devil is actually

one of the attendees in the LORD‟s court. In stark contrast, the devil in John‟s Gospel is free

agent working in this world, functioning as the father of all lies (8:44), and who is able to place

wicked notions into the hearts of human beings. The devil is also seen by the Johannine Jesus to

be the ruler of this present as the personification of evil. 21 John‟s Gospel transforms the

conception of the Accuser in Zechariah to a celestial being accomplished enough to rule the

world as Jesus knew it.

20
Peter R Carrell. Jesus and the Angels: Angelology and the Christology of the Apocalypse of John. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1997, 25.
21
Robert Kysar. John, the Maverick Gospel. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1976, , 79.
Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009
Works Cited

Brown, Raymond Edward. The Community of the Beloved Disciple. New York: Paulist Press,
1979.

Brueggeman, Walter. A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel‟s
Communal Life. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.

Carrell, Peter R. Jesus and the Angels: Angelology and the Christology of the Apocalypse of
John. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Carter, Warren. John and Empire: Initial Explorations. New York: T & T Clark, 2008.

Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. New Testament tools
and studies, v. 28, 2. [L]eiden: Brill, 1999.

Collins, Adela Yarbro, and John Joseph Collins. King and Messiah As Son of God: Divine,
Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature. Grand Rapids,
Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008.

Davies, John A. A Royal Priesthood : Literary and Intertextual Perspectives on an Image of


Israel in Exodus 19.6, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement Series.
London ; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004.

Keck, Leander E. Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature; Daniel; Additions to Daniel; Hosea;


Joel; Amos; Obadiah; Jonah; Micah; Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Haggai; Zechariah;
Malachi. The New Interpreter's Bible : general articles & introduction. commentary, &
reflections for each book of the Bible, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books;
in twelve volumes / [ed. board: Leander E. Keck ...], Vol. 7. Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon
Press, 2000.

Kysar, Robert. John, the Maverick Gospel. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1976.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009