John: Background to the "I am the ..." Statements

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'I am the [predicate nominative]', spoken by Jesus in seven instances (plus two borderline cases at 8.18 and 8.23).  Data largely drawn from R. E. Brown, Anchor Bible commentary, plus Strack-Billerbeck, Bultmann and TDNT.

6.35, 51: "I am the bread of life [living bread]."
Bread = Torah/Wisdom (& Water = Torak/Wisdom - cf. Jn 7.38; 4.10-14; 19.34 - i.e. Spirit/
Wisdom as given by Jesus)
Setting: Passover season (6.4)
1) Gen R  (= Genesis Rabbah) 70
Proselyte Aquila to R. Eliezer (ca. 50 CE) re Deut 10.18 (God giving food to the stranger).  R. Eliezer replies re Gen 28.20: 'God will give me [= Jacob] bread to eat', and says Bread = Torah/Wisdom.
2) Num R (= Numbers Rabbah) 8 (repeated in bTal [= Babylonian Talmuid]), Chagiga 14a)
Isa 3.1: 'stay of bread', in connection with Prov 9.5: 'Come, eat ye of my bread', which is the cry of Wisdom, Prov 9.1.
3) Pesiqta 80b (Midrashim): R. Berekja (ca. 340 CE) draws on Prov 25.21: 'If thine enemy be hungry ... thirsty, give him bread to eat ... water to drink.  For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.' [cited in Rom 12.20], and then says Bread = Torah, Water = Torah.
//  Gen R 54: re Prov 9.6 for Bread of Torah; Isa 55.1 for Water of Torah.
4) bTal Sukka 52a // Exod R 25 // Pesiqta 178a
re Prov 8.10 with Isa 55.2 leading to Prov 9.5 - i.e. Bread = Torah
(cf. also Lev R 30).
8.12 (9.5): "I am the light of the world"
Light = Torah/Wisdom
Setting: Tabernacles (7.2, 14, 37), Probably by way of contrast with the festal lights
burning brightly in the court of the women at the Temple; Jesus in temple precincts (hieron), 7.14, 28; 8.20; leaves them in 8.59.
1) Zech 14.7 (in Tabernacles story): "And there shall be continuous day ... for there shall be light even in the evening.
2) Exod 13.21:  The flaming pillar that guided the Israelites through the darkness of the night [Tabernacles as historicized commemorated the Wilderness wanderings and God's providential care in the Wilderness.]
3) Wisd 18.3-4 identifies this pillar with "the imperishable light of the Law".
4) Prov 8.22: Wisdom says that she was made at the beginning of God's ways.
Gen 1.3: the first creation was light.
Wisd 7.26: Wisdom is a reflection of everlasting light.
[Pre-Christian identification of Wisdom with Torah is found in Sir 15.1and Baruch 4.1; at Qumran the Essenes are the sons of light; their hearts illumined with the wisdom of life (1QS ii 3), and they can look on "the ligh5t of life" (i.e. the Qumran interpretation of the Law - 1 QS iii 20-21).]
(8.18: "I am one who gives testimony on my behalf.")
(8.23: "I am of what is above.")
10.7, 9: "I am the [sheep]gate."  (thura, 'door')
[Sheep]gate = Messiah?
Setting:  'bridge' section between Tabernacles and Dedication (10.26-27, dated at Dedication
and mentioning sheep theme.  Dedication (25th Kislev) is known as ' Tabernacles in winter', and has much of the same ceremonial and themes as Tabernacles.
1) Ps 118 (LXX 117).21-28 (last psalm of Hallel, Pss 113-118, used at pilgrimage feasts, including Tabernacles and Dedication) was interpreted as applying to the Davidic Messiah.
a) Pesiqta 119a (quoting R. Schemuel b. Nachman (ca. 260 CE), citing R. Jonathan (ca. 220 CE) applies each verse of Ps 118.21-28 to David .
b) Similarly, Targ Ps 118.22-29. (Targum on the psalms)
c) Ps 118 cited in NT as applied to Jesus:
118.22 (the stone rejected): Lk 20.17; 1 Pet 2.4, 7:
118.22-23: Mt 21.42; Mk 12.10-11;
118.25-26 (Hosanna to the Son of David0; Mt 21.9; Mk 11.9; Jn 12.14;
118.26 (blessed ias the3 Coming One): Mt 23.39; Lk 13.35; 19.38.
2) Thus Ps 118.20: "Here is the gate (LXX: pulé; Heb. shcr) that leads to the Lord's presence, here only just souls find entry", may be alluded to messiaqnically.
2) There are substantial, but later, gnostic materials for a door-motif, largely dealing with the heavenly gate through which the soul passes after death.
10.11, 14 "I am the good/beautiful/model/ideal (kalos) shepherd."
Model shepherd = ideal (Davidic?) shepherd[-king?] and guide; God as Israel's shepherd.
Setting: as above, i.e. with Dedication/[Tabernacles?] in mind.
1) A. Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship (Clarendon Press, 1960), pp. 29-132, argues that all the regular synagogue readings on the Sabbath nearest Dedication were concerned with theme of sheep and shepherds. Gen 46.28-47.31; Ezek 37.16 ff (H to Gen 44.18).
2) Ezek 34 was the prophetic reading at Dedication time (H to Lev 26), and is single most important OT passage behind Jn 10.
Ezek 34.1-10: Israel as God's sheep;
34.11-16: God as Israel's shepherd;
34,.17-22: God as the judging shepherd, separating out rams and he-goats, etc.;
34.23-24: God to set his servant David as shepherd over them.
11.25 "I am the resurrection and the life."
Resurrection and life = God-typology? or the real possibility of a new and true humanity? (see below on 14.6)
1) On Ruddick's showing, Jn 11.1-18 matches Gen 49.1 (N1) * Gen 12.1 (T1); Jn 11.19-46 matches Gen 49.27-50.end (N1) & Gen 18.1 (T1).  In Gibbs' hypothetical second time John is read through, Jn 11.1-18 matches Gen 29.31 (N1) * Gen 49.27 (T1); Jn 11.19-46 matches Gen 29.31 (N1).  Guilding., op. cit., pp. 150-151, detects the following as lectionary background:
death of Joseph (Gen 49.28-50.26) & of Jacob, with mourning.
death of Joshua (= Greek 'Jesus') & Eleazar (of which 'Lazarus' is an abbreviation) (Josh 24.29, 30, 33) with Jesus' withdrawal to 'Ephraim' (Jn 11.54), where Joshua & Eleazar were buried.  [Joshua 24 as H to Deut 29.9, which on Ruddick/Gibbs showing is N3 reading for Jn 11.53-57]
2) Guilding, op. cit., p. 150, suggests Jn 11.25 may allude to Deut 30.20: "Choose life ... to love the Lord thy God, for he is thy life and the length of thy days."
3) Note parallels between Jesus' burial and Lazarus':
11..39 // 21.1 (taking away stone);
11.34 // 20.2 (where he has been laid);
11.44 // 20.7 (napkin on head);
11.33 // 20.11 (Mary weeping).
14.6 "I am the way, the truth and the life."
Way/Truth/Life = The embodiment of Wisdom, i.e. the true humanity
1) See on 11.25.
2) See Wisdom, Power and Well-being for the argument that Jesus is here presented as the source of true humanity:
'the Way' // Power
'the Truth'  // Wisdom
'the Life' // Well-being
3) In OT passages (Ps 99.30; Tob 1.3; Wisd 5.6) "the way of truth" is a way of life in conformity with the Law.
4) Ps 86.11 puts "way" and "truth" in parallelism:
"Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in truth."
Cf. Prov 15.24; Jer 21.8; Ps16.11; 1QS 4.15-16 (contrast between way that leads to life and way that leads to death.
5) The figure of Wisdom itself/herself is presented in Wisd 7.22b-8.8 as encompassing:


(details in Wisdom, Power and Well-being)
6) On the basis of (2) and (5) above, Gibbs is convinced that Jn 14.6 is a further Wisdom-based predicate wherein Wisdom is intimately related to the God-intended humanity
15.1, 5 "I am the [real] vine."
I. Vine = Israel (Thus Jesus as the righteous remnant of one)
1) Vine as metaphor for Israel: cf. Jer 6.9; Ezek 15.1-6; 12.5-10; 19.10-14; Hos 10.1; Ps 80.8-17; 2 Esd 17.5-10 (and this usage is frequent in rabbinic sources).  The interchangeable image of the vineyard is applied to Israel in Isa 5.1-7; 27.2-6; Jer 2.21; 5.10; Ezek 17.5-10.
2) Sometimes the symbol is one of fruitfulness (Isa 27.2-6), but more often the vineyard is unproductive or desolate and disappointing to Yahweh (Jer 5.10; 12.10-11).
II. Vine = Wisdom (and hence life-giving)
1) Sir 24.17-21 (which appears to lie behind Jn 6.35): Personified Wisdom says, "I bud forth delights like the vine; my blossoms become fruit fair and rich.  Come to me, all you who desire me, and be filled with my fruits.  ...  He who eats of me will hunger still; he who drinks of me will thirst for more."
2) Annie Jaubert, "L'image de la Vigne (Jean 15)", in Oikonomia (Cullmann Festschrift; Hamburg: Reich, 1967), p. 95, argues that in post-biblical Judaism there had been a certain assimilation of the vine to the tree of life.  Brown comments that this may well have been taken up in sapiential thought as a means of symbolizing the life-giving power of wisdom, the Law, or the word of God.
SUMMARY: From R. E. Brown, Anchor Bible, pp. 534-535 (typographically changed):
The predicate is not an essential definition or description of Jesus in himself;
it is more a description of what he is in relation to man.
In his mission Jesus is the source of eternal life for men ("vine", "life", "resurrection");
he is the means through whom men find life ("way", "gate");
he leads men to life ("shepherd");
he reveals to men the truth ("truth") which nourishes their life ("bread").
Thus, these predicates are not static titles of autodoxology but a revelation of the divine 
commitment involved in the Father's sending of the Son.  Jesus is these things to men because he and the Father are one (10.30) and he possesses the life-giving power of the Father (5.21).  Jesus' statement, "I am the truth, the light, ..." must be related to similar statements about the Father's relation to men: "God is Spirit" (4.14); "God is light" (1 Jn 1.5); "God is love" (1 Jn 4.8, 16).