“territoriality” in the Fourth Gospel

Spaces and places, whence and whither, homes and rooms: “territoriality” in the Fourth Gospel

Jerome H. Neyrey


The Fourth Gospel is inordinately involved with places and spaces, valuing some but dis- valuing others. The task of interpreting all such references is greatly aided by the use of the anthropological model of “territoriality” which shows how all peoples 1) classify space, 2) communicate this and 3) control access to or exit from this territory. The classifications might be as follows: public/private, sacred/profane, honorable/shameful, clean/unclean, fixed/fluid, center/periphery and the like. Where appropriate these classifications are used to interpret the Johannine data on spaces and places, particularly 1) Galilee/Judean, 2) public/in secret, 3) not on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, 4) whence/whither, 5) in my Father’s house there are many rooms, 6) “indwelling” and “being-in” another; and 7) two different worlds.


The Fourth Gospel names many spaces and places, some geographical and some not. Scholars first noted the geographical contrast between “Galilee” and “Judea/ Jerusalem”; they then advanced by inquiring what meaning the evangelist invested in both locations: how are “Galilee” and “Judea” classified in the symbolic world of the author? If not real places, then, what do they mean? Similarly, when the Samaritan woman declares that her people consider “this mountain” the correct place of worship, whereas Judeans worship in “Jerusalem” (4:20), her remarks reflect an investment of meaning given each respective mountain by Samaritans and Israelites. Jesus’ response, however, dis-invests both places of significance for worship (4:21-24). Furthermore, in the Fourth Gospel various narrative characters enjoy physical closeness to Jesus. Some anoint his feet, attempt to cling to him, or rest on his chest. This suggests that a person’s place relative to Jesus’ physical body might serve as an index of status within Jesus’ group. Finally, controversy surrounds “whence” Jesus comes and “whither” he goes. Characters considered “outsiders” by the evangelist invariably interpret “whence” as the village where Jesus was born or the region where he lived. These folk also misunderstand “whither” he goes, guessing that he is departing out of the land of Israel to the “Dispersion among the Greeks” (7:35). Answers such as these expose them as outsiders who think literally and physically about places such as Nazareth, Galilee or the diaspora. But in the eyes of the evangelist, the answers to “whence” Jesus comes and “whither” he goes are not geographical places.

These and other significant data about place in the Fourth Gospel deserve to be treated as redundant examples of the phenomena called “territoriality.” I propose to use the model of “territoriality” found in current anthropology because it is suited to both gathering data and assessing their social significance. This enterprise will make a contribution to Johannine studies, inasmuch as many spatial data relate to the gospel’s high christology and membership in the group. The mapping process of the Johannine author reinforces the view of Jesus as an alien and his disciples as living in “no where.”

The Anthropological Model “Territoriality”

What is “territoriality”? Robert Sack, a representative of modern research, defines it as follows:

Territoriality will be defined as the attempt by an individual or group to

affect, influence, or control people, phenomena, and relationships, by

delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area…. Territories

require constant effort to establish and maintain [Sack: 19; see Taylor:


His emphasis rests on the attempt to control some place or some persons. Control presumes that the controlling group has in some way labeled or classified some place in relationship to itself. Sack notes that the controlling group tries to “affect, influence or control” places, and the object of control might be “people, phenomena, relationships.” “Territory,” then, may be geographical or trans-geographical.

If we know some of the history of the development of the model of “territoriality,” we may better understand it and its utility. Modern research into “territoriality” began with studies of animal behavior, especially that of birds (Hall: 7-22 and Calhoun: 46-58). From early on, certain concepts emerged which remain integral parts of all models of it. Birds could be observed performing some conspicuous behavior which was interpreted as communication of an exclusive claim to a certain area, and which resulted in control of that territory. For example, a male bird becomes intolerant of other males as he confines himself to a certain area for the purposes of ensuring an adequate food supply and safe nesting space for his mate (Carpenter: 224-50). Even as anthropologists later focused on human patterns of “territoriality,” the three foci of the model remain: (1) classification of places, (2) communication of this, and (3) control of the places so classified.

Classification Systems

The classification system, the key to the model, refers to the ways in which humans invest space with meaning or label it for some purpose. For example, people declare this space “ours,” but that space “yours,” thus making “our” space sacred and set apart from other, profane spaces. Parents often classify their bedroom as “off limits” for their children, thus distinguishing adult from family space. Muslims and Israelis both claim that the temple mount in Jerusalem as their own sacred space, and thus see the presence of the other there as profaning it.

Anthropologists provide many general patterns for classifying territory, all of which contain binary opposites which set certain spaces apart as restricted and unrestricted, ours and yours, holy and profane, and the like. These labels are intended to have dramatic impact on how we and others think of and behave in regard to a certain space. A sample inventory of classification systems would include: 1) public/private, 2) sacred/profane, 3) honorable/ shameful, 4) clean/unclean, 5) fixed/fluid sacred space, 6) center/periphery and 7) civilization/nature. Inasmuch as only the first five have direct bearing on this study, they alone will be examined here.

Public and Private. The Greco-Roman world used labels such as “public/private,” “open/covered,” “outdoors/indoors” to indicate gender-divided space, with males in public, in open space and out of doors, and females in covered space and indoors. But they also distinguish occasions when males attend to civic affairs in the boule or agora as “public,” from occasions when males attend symposia, etc. as “private.”

The same “public/private” might apply to the situation whereby honorable men speak boldly in public, while others spread rumor and sedition in private. Jesus boasts to Annas that he has spoken publicly (parresiai) in synagogue and temple and has not spoken in private (en kruptoi) (18:20). Thus he has acted honorably according to expected male behavior in culturally appropriate space for males. Thus while some uses of “public/private” in antiquity pertain to male vs female space, this classification in the Fourth Gospel seems to concern males only, whether speaking publicly or privately within friendship or kinship groups.

Sacred and Profane. These categories have tended to have a religious connotation. Mircea Eliade, for example, declared that a theophany or revelation transformed a profane space into a sacred one, and thus it became locally fixed (Eliade: 23). Jonathan Z. Smith countered that sacred space is founded through ritual and thus is a human choice based on cultural distinctions (Smith 1987: 96-116). He goes on to say: “Within the temple, the ordinary (which to any outside eye or ear remains wholly ordinary) becomes significant, becomes sacred, simply by being there … there is nothing that is inherently sacred or profane” (1987: 104). A more functional definition is given by Bruce J. Malina, who attempts to give modern college students a broad, cross-cultural sense of “sacred” in their lives. Sacred = something set apart, such as a temple or a house, vestments or even my jeans and my toothbrush (Malina 2001: 161-64; House: 143-53).

The Samaritan woman’s remark about “this mountain” and the one in Jerusalem as places of worship depends on some notion of the sacredness of each place. Ethnic myths about each contain the reasons why each is classified as holy/not common and as sacred/not profane space. Samaritans and Judeans, then, created a “there” there.

Honor and Shame. All of us are familiar with Nathanael’s slur about Jesus’ place of residence: “Can any good come from Nazareth?” (1:46), an excellent example of a classification which denies honor to someone based on an honor-less home-of-origin. Correspondingly, Paul boasts of being “a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no low-status city” (Acts 21:39). These are representative examples of a pattern taught in rhetoric. Villages, moreover, are mean places in which to live, utterly lacking the facilities found in Greco-Roman cities for elite citizens. Richard Rohrbaugh cites Pausanias about what it takes to make an honorable city, emphasizing how honor is tied to the city’s public architecture:

… if indeed one can give the name of city to those who possess no public

buildings, no gymnasium, no theater, no market-place, no water descending

to a fountain, but live in bare shelters just like mountain huts on the

edges of ravines [DESCRIPTIONS OF GREECE, X.iv.1; cited in Rohrbaugh 1991:


Pure and Polluted. Students of second-temple Israel know that Jerusalem’s holy temple was polluted when a non-Israelite conqueror sacrificed an unclean animal there by (see 1 Macc 1:54; 2 Macc 6:1-2). The undoing of this pollution was commemorated at egkainia, the Feast of the Rededication, which John 10:22 cites as the occasion of one of Jesus’ arguments with the Jerusalemites. A holy place may be made polluted and then re-sanctified.

Similarly, when they hand over Jesus to Pilate, the behavior of the high priest and cohorts illustrates this classification. “They themselves did not enter the praetorium so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” (18:28). This passage contains both a classification of Pilate’s official space by elite Judeans according to their elaborate purity system and an ironic twist to that by the author. The praetorium is unclean, and the mere entering of it contaminates. By remaining outside, the elite Judeans communicate this and claim respect for observing the purity code (Malina 2001: 164-80; Neyrey 1986: 91-128, 1991: 271-304). The author, however, sees irony in the fact that while they observe purity, they nevertheless instigate the murder of Jesus, which is vastly more defiling than entering Pilate’s chambers. Thus both the author and his characters label space clean/unclean, but from different classification systems.

Fixed/Fluid Sacred Space. Anthropologists and students of religions have developed various versions of this classification (Lyman & Scott: 240-41; Smith 1978: xi-xv and 67-207). Jonathan Smith, for example, contrasts two types of space, locative and utopian (Smith 1990: 121-42). Locative space focuses on a “Center”; it is closed and centripetal in direction (Smith 1978: 101, 186437). Utopian space refers to an “open” society, periphery (not center) in focus, and centrifugal in thrust. At heart Smith’s energies and insights are with utopian space, characterized by rebellion, freedom, and breaking of limits and boundaries by humankind. Yet his insights do not offer the usefulness of an explanatory model such as one finds in the works of Bruce. J. Malina. Malina operates out of Mary Douglas’ model of “group/grid,” with provides him with many descriptive characteristics of fixed/fluid sacred space. Since this material is pivotal for classification of space in the Fourth Gospel, let us take time to digest these insights. Of fixed sacred space, he writes:

Just as persons have their statuses by ascription and perdure in that

status indefinitely, the same holds true for places. The topography of the

main places where people in this script live out their lives is rather

permanent. A palace location, a temple location, and a homestead stay in

the same place and with the same lineage through generations [Malina 1986:


Thus fixed sacred space correlates with fixed roles and statuses. All of this is characterized by redundant aspects of stability, permanence and continuity. The temple-city of Jerusalem exemplifies this well. Of fluid sacred space, he writes:

This situation of porous boundaries and competing groups stands in great

contrast to the solid, hierarchical, pyramidal shape of strong group/high

grid [fixed space] … as groups form and re-form anew, permanence is no

longer to be found outside the group; and where the group is, there is

stability. Sacred space is located in the group, not in some impersonal

space like a temple. The group is the central location of importance,

whether the Body of Christ, the church, for Christians, or the synagogue

gathering for Jews, or the philosophical “schools” … Discourse within

these groups, whether the words of a portable Torah, the story of Jesus, or

the exhortations of the philosopher-teacher, becomes the mobile, portable,

exportable focus of sacred place, in fact more important than the fixed and

eternal sacred places [Malina 1986: 38].

For our purposes, we note four things. (1) “Group” becomes the equivalent of fixed space, and so the social dynamics of a “group,” such as loyalty (pistis, aletheia), love (agape), service, etc., rise in importance. 2) Since stability and permanence are not found outside the group, we are clued to consider the “spatial” quality of “remain” in the Fourth Gospel. 3) The group might be a scholastic enterprise, either a philosophical school or a midrashic one (Culpepper). If worship entails the reading and hearing of sacred writings, then it can occur anywhere; thus sacred space is mobile and portable. 4) The group, then, is the central location of importance; and so it is not accidental that the New Testament often calls the Christian group “temple” and “household of God.”

Communication and Control

Communication of these classifications could be relatively simple. All a prosperous city need do to communicate that it is honorable or civilized space is to build a wall around itself with a well guarded gate (e.g., Josh 2:1-21). The same would apply to sections within cities where various trades or occupations or ethnic groups were separated from each other and from the elites by interior walls and gates (e.g., Acts 19:23-25). Non-elites are thus kept away from the urban elites as well as from other non-elites with whom there might be rivalry or conflict. Similarly, what a wall and gate are to a city, a barred door manned by a guard would be for a house or residence (see John 18:15-17; 20:19, 26; Acts 28:16). Perhaps the most dramatic example we have of this principle of communication and control is the balustrade in the Jerusalem temple which prohibited Gentile access to the court of the Israelites. Recent temple archaeology has recovered samples of the inscription carved on the balustrade, which reads:

No foreigner is to enter within the forecourt and the balustrade around the

sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent

death [Segal: 74-84].

Both Philo and Josephus comment on this, indicating that it was a well-known device for controlling access within the Temple (Philo, Embassy to Gaius 212; Josephus, Ant. 12.146; 15.417; Wars 5.193-94). Thus by the very building of a door to close a building, a fence and gate to protect animals or property, and a wall and gate around a city, people communicate that the space within is “ours,” “sacred,” “pure,” etc. The major reasons for control of space seem to be protection and taxation.

Johannine “Territoriality”

We turn now to the Fourth Gospel and from the many instances of place we have found in the Gospel, we choose the following six as the most significant.

(1 “Galilee” and “Judea” seem at first to refer to actual geographical places, but study of this Gospel’s symbolic world turns us in another direction.

2) “Public and private” depend on cultural notions of appropriate male behavior.

(3) “Not on this mountain, not in Jerusalem” urges us to think of fluid sacred space.

(4) “Whence” Jesus comes is understood by some characters in terms of actual places; but the true “whence” and “whither” of Jesus take us out of this world. The same applies to the antithesis Jesus makes between “above” vs. “below” and “not of this world” vs. “of this world.”

(5) Where do disciples “worship in spirit and truth”? In the Father’s house with its many rooms?

(6) Finally, we must consider the repeated assertions that some persons are “dwelling in” or “being in” another–the cryptic basis of the evangelist’s definition of sacred space for the group.

Our questions about these two places are not at all topological (Kundsin; Dodd: 233-47) or traditional (Meeks 1963: 159-63). We ask instead with what meanings the author has invested each place, their “symbolic” meaning if you will (Fortna: 58-95; Scobie: 77-84; Mollat: 321-28). Yet this study is not simply redaction criticism of John, although such studies will be valuable in the course of this inquiry. It has been observed that while Jesus is described as “remaining” in various towns in Galilee and even in Samaria, he never “remains” in Jerusalem. Using “remain” (menein) as a clue (Brown 1966: 510-12), disciples “remain” with Jesus (1:38-39); Jesus “remains” at Cana (2:12), Samaria (4:40) and in Galilee (7:9). Conversely, Jesus urges his disciples to “remain” in the vine (15:4), in Jesus himself (15:5-7) and in his love (15:9-10). Thus, if “remaining” indicates loyalty and adherence to Jesus, then the gospel tells us that this happens in “Galilee,” wherever that might be. But it does not happen in “Judea.” Thus scholars assess these two places, not as geographical locations, but as “symbolic” places: in “Galilee” Jesus is accepted, gains disciples and remains; in “Judea” he is harassed, put on trial, and killed (Bassler: 243-57). He does not remain in “Judea.”

But what contribution does “territoriality” bring to this conversation? It facilitates the classification or meaning invested by the author in these two places. The author labels each place in terms of some dualism or binary opposite: “love/hate” or “friendly/hostile” or “remain/not remain.” The communication of this is made in the course of the narrative: it is a matter of discovering what place is welcoming or hostile; by noting whether Jesus “remains” or not, one learns the code. Some places in “Galilee,” such as Cana, are friendly and safe, but not the synagogue in Capernaum (6:59). In general Jesus finds hostility in “Judea,” although not in Bethany (11:1ff; 12:1-8). As regards control of these spaces, the author does not prohibit disciples from residing in any place, nor does he encourage them to migrate to other places. Unlike Mark 13:14, Jesus does not urge the disciples to leave Jerusalem; nor is it clear that he wishes them to flee to Galilee and safety. He does not pray that God take them out of the world (17:15), but protect them from the evil one. Thus “Galilee” and “Judea” indicate that the disciples have friends and foes everywhere, and the control that issues from the classification governs the disciples’ association with this or that group, not this or that place.

Yet if a disciple goes to certain places, such the local synagogue, this may result in being expelled from it for one’s confession of Jesus (9:22; 12:42; 16:1-2), presumably according to a classification based on notions of purity/pollution. Thus the synagogue would be classifying its gathering as a place where Jesus should not be acclaimed; and it exercises its control by expelling anyone who does so.

What is communicated by “Galilee” and “Judea,” therefore, is not classification of real or topological space, but rather social space, the Jesus gathering and the Judean synagogue. Thus no specific geographical space is identified. Moreover, groups need not have a fixed place, as they can meet in various places at diverse times. Yet “Galilee” and “Judea” are genuine classifications, informed by the dualistic system which contrasts friend/enemy, ours/there, or love/hate. Some control is exercised because this classification creates a sharp boundary between disciples and foes which functions as a dividing wall or a fence/gate which make up a sheepfold (10:1-11).

Public and Private

Investigation of Johannine territoriality next leads us to a native classification of space which is communicated by Jesus himself. When his captors questioned Jesus about his teaching, he answered: “I have spoken openly (parresiai) to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple … I have said nothing in secret (en kruptoi)” (18:20; see 10:23-24). This juxtaposition of “public” vs “private” may be taken in two senses: 1) acceptable speech = “public,” but subversive speech = “private” and 2) “public” = authorized speaking role, whereas “private” = no such authorization. In general, the classification “public” pertains to males gathered in public places such as courts and assemblies who have “public voice” to speak on certain matters (Rohrbaugh 1995: 192-95). The issue of who has “public voice” is no minor matter in the Fourth Gospel, as the questioning of John in 1:19-23 indicates. For if it could be maintained that Jesus lacks appropriate schooling (7:15), then he should not be acclaimed as “teacher” (didaskalos 3:2; 13:13-14) or “Rabbi” (1:38, 49; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:3; 20:16). Only Jesus’ disciples call him “rabbi,” never his enemies; Nicodemus, a would-be disciple, addresses him as “teacher.” Moreover, if Jesus breaks the Law by violating the Sabbath, he should be disqualified from public speech as a malefactor. From ch 5 on, most of Jesus’ “public speech” is a forensic duel with his accusers, Jesus both defending himself and judging his judges (Neyrey 1987: 509-42; 1996: 107-24).

Jesus often claims “public voice” on the basis of his authorization (Borgen: 137-48; Buchanan: 172-82). “He whom God has sent utters the words of God” 3:34 (see 5:30, 38; 7:18; 8:42). God precisely authorized him “what to say and what to speak” (12:48-49; 7:16-17). In his Farewell Address, Jesus honorably claims “to have given them your word” (17:14). Yet a quick look at the formal aims of various speech episodes by Jesus indicates a broad range of things Jesus claims authorization to say: (1) to proclaim God’s word, (2) to conduct a cognitio of those who claim to be his disciples (3:3-20; 8:31-58), and (3) to mount a public defense of his claims and actions (5:19-46; 10:25-39; see 9:8-34). Jesus, one might say, speaks as long as he pleases, where he pleases. The fact that Jesus continued speaking in public despite the extreme displeasure of the temple elite is narrated to the audience. In 7:15, they challenge his right to speak; in 7:32 they send soldiers to seize him and thus silence him; but in 7:43-48, the painful persuasiveness of Jesus’ “public” speech drew a sharp rebuke from the Pharisees. Later at the feast of the Rededication, the same elites demand that Jesus speak boldly about whether he is the Christ (10:24), only to have Jesus foil their traps. Alternately, those who accept Jesus as “prophet” accord him “public voice” (7:40); they argue that he must be from God (3:2; 10:21). His “speech,” moreover, results in his hearers having eternal life (5:24) and in being made clean (15:3). The evangelist, then, classifies Jesus as authorized for public speech, which is communicated by Jesus’ bold public behavior (parresiai). This classification builds on the gender-division of space, whereby males are in public, but females in private; but in addition it discriminates over which males have public voice. The control of space from the point of view of the narrator seems to be the celebration of Jesus’ bold public speech, with a corresponding censure of those hiding in private who will not publicly show allegiance to Jesus. Public speakers receive honor, but cowardly non-speakers, shame. The issue of public space, then, is situational: in certain circumstances (and places) public speech is both legitimate and urged.

Many, however, deny him “public voice,” for they consider him a deceiver and a false prophet who leads the people astray (on the power of deviant labels, see Malina & Neyrey 1988: 34-67). At Tabernacles the crowds divide in their judgments of Jesus: the positive evaluation of him (“he is a good man”) is countered by those who claim that “he leads the people astray” (7:13; 7:43; 10:19-21; see 9:16). If this were sustained, then Jesus would surely be removed from this space. More proof that “he leads the people astray” comes with the failure of the troops sent to capture Jesus; they blame it on his speech: “No man ever spoke like this man!” (7:46), which the Pharisees interpret as more evidence that Jesus deceives the people (7:47). It goes without saying that in the Fourth Gospel the Pharisees and the Jerusalem elite classify public space in the Temple as sacred or restricted, such that Jesus should have no “public voice” there. They communicate this in a variety of ways: (1) by questioning Jesus’ credentials; (2) by sending soldiers to arrest him; (3) by charging him with breaking the Sabbath; (4) by scrupulous examination of his speech to find errors so as to discredit him; and (5) by direct questioning of him (10:22-25). On the side of the temple elite one finds a series of cultural norms which allow “public voice” only to adult males (not women and children), and only to males of a certain status (to elites, but not to non-elites, and to rabbis/pharisees/teachers but not to the am ha-aretz, see Acts 4:13). Thus they seek to control Jesus’ speaking in the Temple and elsewhere in Jerusalem, labeling Jesus as a non-observant, self-important, sinner and deceiver.

So much for “in public.” But what if Jesus only had nighttime conversations with people “in private”? What if, for fear of the repercussions that speech “in public” would bring, either Jesus or his disciples “hid themselves” (8:59; 12:36) or met secretly? This Gospel repeatedly classifies such “private/secret” space as cowardice for fear of discovery and so the sanctions imposed on those professing to be disciples of Jesus (see 9:22; 12:42). Thus when the reader hears Nicodemus’ confession of Jesus as “a teacher come from God,” which is given “at night,” that is, “in private,” he is classified as a cowardly person. When he appears in public, carrying spices to bury Jesus, even then he retains the stigma of the one “who had at first come to him by night” (19:39). “In private,” then is classified for the Johannine group as un-holy, un-virtuous space. Both Jesus’ public behavior and the scorn directed against those afraid to speak (9:22; 12:42) communicate this evaluation. Control in this instance means urging or requiring bold public speech by authentic members and scornful sanctions on those afraid to speak. It is doubtful how welcome such persons would be in the circle of disciples.

In summary, the classification “in public” is clear and meaningful to all the characters in the narrative. On the side of Jesus, it was communicated by Jesus himself who claimed ascribed authority from God about “what to say and what to speak.” Since “in public” refers to many specific places such as synagogue, Temple and the like, control over them for Jesus means that he and others demand access to places where they are not wanted. In short, they insist that the boundaries be porous, not firm. In contrast, the Pharisees and the Jerusalem elite dog Jesus whenever he appears “in public.” Because they classify the public areas of the temple as holy and sacred, they judge the presence of a deceiver such as Jesus as a pollution. The communication of their classification may be observed in 7:13 where people are afraid to speak of Jesus “for fear of the Jews” (once more: 9:22; 12:42). Control means the attempt to remove Jesus from public space, such as in 7:32, 45-49, and finally to kill him (11:45-50).

“Not on This Mountain Nor in Jerusalem …”

Struck by Jesus’ knowledge of her life, the Samaritan woman said: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (4:19). In light of this she asks his prophetic opinion on the classification of “this mountain” or Jerusalem as “the place where one should worship.” Both mountains compete for the label “holy,” “sacred,” and “set apart” according to native, traditional classifications (4:20). Jesus, however, completely de-classifies both mountains as “holy” or “sacred” space (4:21), even as he classifies a re-placement for temple-situated sacred space when he declares that “true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth” (4:23; see Boers: 198-200). Communication of this facilitates the process whereby the Samaritans later acclaim Jesus as “the Savior of the world.” (4:42). By Jesus’ dealings with the Samaritans, which we are told are contrary to custom (4:9), and by the de-classification of both Judean and Samaritan temples, we learn that there is no “holy land,” no sacred turf, and thus no chosen place. Classification of space, then, replicates classification of people. We note, moreover, that a “temple” on sacred ground consists of more than a building, but implies a system of worship: (1) a building complex, (2) priests to minister, (3) objects to offer, (4) taxes, tithes and offerings to support the whole system (see 8:20), (5) an articulated calendar of feasts, (6) a myth about the temple’s origins, which justify it (Clements: 300-12), and (7) a succession of barriers and walls to keep priests separate from worshipers, males from females, and Israelites from Gentiles. In de-classifying all and every space, Jesus also de-classifies the entire system represented by a temple, logically abolishing control of “this mountain” and “Jerusalem.”

“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (4:23), but is there a specific, fixed place for this? The disciples do not appear to have a fixed sacred place for worship, but what have they? At Jesus’ first Passover, he creates an incident (Bauckham: 72-89), which leads to a double-meaning remark: “[You] destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). His opponents misunderstand him to mean the physical temple, thus proving themselves to be outsiders who take his words literally (2:20). In the most famous aside in this gospel, the author communicates the spiritual, hidden meaning of Jesus’ word: “He spoke of the temple of his body” (2:21). Thus from the beginning, the author classifies a place (his body) as “holy,” even as the new “temple.” The author communicates that this equation of new temple and body of Jesus will be made clear after Jesus’ resurrection. Thus the body of the risen Jesus is in view. In what sense is this “new temple” a place? Inasmuch as Jesus shows himself bodily after his resurrection in a great variety of places, there is no fixed, sacred space as was Mount Zion. It is a fluid sacred space, which materializes (so to speak) at no fixed time or place. Moreover, is there control of the risen Jesus? Since only insiders believe that he was raised, they alone have access to Jesus. In this first remark about temple, the audience learns that the “body” of the Risen Jesus is its new temple, which is not located in Jerusalem or any other fixed geographical place.

We turn to John 20-21 only because the author links the new temple with the body of the risen Jesus (2:21-22). At first, the Risen Jesus seems to discourage access to his body by telling Mary Magdalene: “Do not hold me for I have not yet ascended …” (20:17). But the obvious fact is that she sees his body and would touch it: the temple, once destroyed, is now raised up. And since she is the first person to be so close to Jesus/temple, her significance is celebrated by this proximity. Inasmuch as temples were often sites where oracles and revelations were delivered, Mary receives a remarkable revelation about Jesus, that he is “ascending” to the holiest of all holy places, the presence of Father/God (20:17b). Later Jesus shows his disciples his “hands and his side” (20:20), proof that the temple destroyed is reconstituted. And holy things again happen in this temple: a commission is given along with a unique gift of spirit for purification purposes (20:21-23). Thomas flippantly demands to probe the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, an offer on which Jesus takes him up (20:25, 27). This too is proof of a new temple; and in Thomas’ case, we hear a most profound confession or holy prayer addressed to Jesus (20:28). Each of these appearances might well be classified as a “christophany,” a manifestation by a heavenly being who on occasion delivers an oracle or commission. Moreover, the “bodily” appearances of the heavenly Jesus occur (1) in a variety of otherwise non-sacred places (garden, graveyard, room, the Sea of Galilee and its shore), (2) at irregular times (20:19, 26; 21:1), but (3) with important representative characters in the narrative (Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Simon Peter, the Beloved Disciple, Nathanael and James and John). (4) Certain disciples are favored with commissioning by Jesus (20:21-22; 21:15-19), that is a status transformation to a new role and status within the group. On most occasions in John 20-21, the body of the risen Jesus, whether touched or just viewed, is linked with (1) great revelations (Mary), (2) exalted confessions (Thomas), and (3) authorization to forgive sins (disciples). These types of activities, we suggest, take place in the new temple, which is the risen Jesus; these are the stuff of worship.

Jesus’ risen body is a “temple” or holy space wherever Jesus chooses to appear. Hence it is not a fixed place that can be suitably labeled and thus controlled. This space, while eminently holy, cannot be classified or controlled as are temples build on fixed sites. Such is the nature of fluid sacred space. Wherever the Risen Jesus is, there is the new temple. But the gospel has more to say about this temple space, as we will see in the next two sections, “My Father’s House” and “In-Dwelling and Being-In Another.”

Whence and Whither

Johannine territoriality addresses not only space and place, but also the directional markers which indicate the place whence Jesus came and whither he goes. This pair of markers, moreover, functions like other double-meaning words, admitting a literal and so erroneous meaning, as well as a symbolic, correct meaning. “Whence” and “whither” have everything to do with Jesus’ fundamental “territoriality,” the bosom of the Father (1:18; 17:5).

When outsiders hear about or ask whence Jesus came, their literal meaning serves as a classification which would control Jesus by disqualifying him as prophet or Christ. For example, Philip told Nathanael that “we have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (1:45). The fact that Jesus comes from Nazareth trumps the claim that he could be the unique person Philip proclaimed: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46). The classification of someone on the basis of place of origin was a standard element the way persons were described (Malina & Neyrey 1996: 25, 113-25; see, Aristotle, Rhet 1.5.5; Cicero, Inv. 1.24.34-35; Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 3.7.10-11; 5.10.24-25). Nathanael’s classification of whence Jesus comes argues against his having any significant role or status. It is to Nathanael’s credit that when he discarded this erroneous classification, he could come to Jesus and earn his praise as one “without guile.” Later, when some bystanders wonder if the authorities believe that Jesus is the Christ, they resolve the issue by claiming to know whence Jesus comes. But “when the Christ appears, no one will know whence he comes” (7: 26-27). An arbitrary classification it would seem, but one which would control Jesus’ activity by rejecting his role as “Christ.” In the same episode, some acclaim Jesus as the Christ, but others counter that with, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?” (7:41-42), a mantra repeated by the Pharisees, “Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee” (7:52). The very act of speaking like this to would-be believers in Jesus communicates a classification. And on the basis of this, Jesus’ role and status are degraded and he is controlled. Similarly, when Jesus claims to be the “bread come down from heaven” (6:38, 41-42), the audience refuses one meaning of the remark (“come down from heaven”) by countering it with a literal explanation of Jesus’ “whence,” namely, his parents: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (6:42). Thus their classification of his origin controls their crediting him with a public role and voice.

But the Fourth Gospel offers another classification of Jesus’ place of origin, this time from the side of the author. At a low level of Johannine argument, Jesus’ signs are read as his authorization by God, for example, Nicodemus’ statement “We know that you are a teacher come `from God’; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (3:2). Although all parts of this confession seem correct, it is inadequate, because Nicodemus clearly does not believe that Jesus descended from heaven into this world (3:13). Similarly the crowd at one point declare: “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (7:30). Favorable, but not enlightened. Similarly, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (9:33). In contrast, the gospel tells us that he came into the world from heaven (1:9); he is both the bread which came down from heaven (6:38) and the Son of Man who first descended from heaven into this world (3:13). Thus, Jesus’ true “whence” is heaven, the realm of God. Both Jesus and his evangelist communicate the full, spiritual sense of “whence” Jesus came, which serves as the legitimation of Jesus’s works and words, thus controlling access to Jesus. Only insiders, drawn by the Father, will know this knowledge, thus admitting them, but excluding others, to enlightened group membership. Thus false understandings of “whence” Jesus comes discredit outsiders, whereas correct understandings exalt both Jesus and the disciples who accept this. Thus group access is controlled by the true classification of “whence” and “whither.”

“Whither” does Jesus go? Like “whence,” “whither” serves as a double-meaning word which admits some and excludes others from the group. The classic instance of this arises in the chaotic narrative of Tabernacles. After hearing of the misunderstanding of “whence” Jesus comes (7:26-27), we observe a comparable difficulty with “whither” he goes: “I will go to him who sent me; you will seek me and you will not find me; where I am you cannot come” (7:33-34). The outsiders guess that Jesus “intends to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks” (7:35), but in fact they do not know what he means when he says “Whither I am going you cannot come” (7:36). Later the crowd offers another literal, dumb interpretation, suggesting that Jesus’ “going away” means that he will kill himself (8:22). These and other classifications are communicated to the gospel characters and the gospel audience. Were they successful, they would control Jesus by wishing him off the scene (to the Diaspora, dead), gone from their midst, and thoroughly discredited.

As with the positive meanings of “whence,” so also we have positive classifications of “whither.” Although the parabola of descent/ascent occurs often in the gospel (1:1-18; 8:14; 13:1), the Farewell Discourse provides the richest source of ore on “whither” Jesus goes. Jesus “goes away,” the disciples are told, “to prepare a place for them” (14:2-4). True, the disciples do not understand completely, but then they do not interpret him basely and literally like the outsiders. In fact, Jesus explains his “whither,” classifying and communicating it to his disciples and the audience. He is going to God “to prepare a place for you” (14:2); “I am going to him who sent me” (16:5). Finally, Jesus delivers the most complete and candid explanation of “whither” he goes: “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made” (17:5). This insider, positive classification of Jesus’ “whither” means the bosom of God (1:8); it is of course communicated only to insiders. And it thus controls their loyalty during his passion by affirming that they have “rooms” in God’s house and thus God’s benefaction and protection.

One might assess this in a more abstract vein and conclude that true knowledge of Jesus’ “whence” and “whither” distinguishes two groups in the gospel: insiders and outsiders. It functions as barrier or wall which cannot be spanned or crossed. Thus knowing “whence” and “whither” serves to control authentic or elite membership in the Johannine circle by defining that as group sacred space.

Do “whence” and “whither” designate a real place? Insofar as journeys are made from heaven and back to heaven, it is a true, genuine place. It is conceptualized the same as any territory on earth: according to Revelation, it has a wall with twelve gates, a temple in its midst and a throne room for its Sovereign. Presumably, this is the place a vision of which is promises in 1:51. It is to this place that those whom Jesus raises from the dead will go (5:28-29) as well as those who have eaten the bread of life which comes down from heaven. It is a place known only by the Johannine elite, to which only they will go.

In My Father’s House There Are Many Monai

Since God wants “true worshipers” to “worship in spirit and truth” (4:23), does the gospel provide any clues about a sacred “place” for this worship? One attempt to answer this takes us to parts of the gospel where God is said to have a dwelling. The earliest mention of this is found in Jesus’ demand that “unless one is born again … of water and of spirit,” one cannot either see or enter “the kingdom of God” (3:3, 5). This “kingdom,” which is classified as sacred and holy because it is God’s, is also controlled by admission restricted only to those born “from above.” But this is hardly a place such as the land of Israel. Sverre Aalen argued that we best take “kingdom” as referring to God’s “house” or household, which may be entered here on earth. It is “there” that “the goods of salvation are available and received.” Aalen: 223). Thus, birth by water and spirit serves as the entrance rite into the household of God. And where he is, there too are the “goods of salvation.” Thus God’s “kingdom” is where initiated disciples gather, the household of God (van Tilborg).

Later Jesus states that “in my Father’s house (oikiai) there are many `rooms'” (monai, 14:2). Moreover, he goes “to prepare a place (topon) for you,” after which he declares “I will take you to myself, that where (hopou) I am you may be also” (14:2-3). Does “my Father’s `house'” tell us anything different from “kingdom of God”? Aalen says no: “the `house of the Father’ in John xiv.2, as well as in viii.35, is simply another expression for the kingdom of God” (Aalen: 238). Again, the reference would be to a “household,” that is, a community of disciples. But James McCaffrey argues that “house” and “rooms” here are readily explained by reference to the complex of courts, porches, chambers in the Jerusalem temple (McCaffrey: 67-70). He calls attention to the parallel expression in 2:16 and 14:2, namely “my Father’s house,” concluding that since “house” meant “temple” in 2:16, it likely means the same thing in 14:2. I am hesitant at this point to accept “temple,” if this means the heavenly temple such as one finds in Colossians, Hebrews and Revelation. A heavenly temple out of reach and sight of the disciples is misleading, but if it were thought of as a fluid sacred place where disciples worship in and through Jesus, I would accept oikia as “temple.” Then Jesus’ remark that he would come and “take you to myself” is adequately explained as the risen Shepherd gathering his sheep around him–something that takes place here, not in heaven.

What, then, are the monai in the Father’s house? Gundry argues that John 14:2 does not speak of a heavenly hotel for transients, especially since the language of chs 14-15 emphasizes “dwelling” as a present spiritual experience: (“the Father … dwells in me,” 14:10; the Paraclete dwells in you, and will be in you,” 14:17; also 15:4-7, 9-10; Gundry: 70). If we accept oikia as household/temple, then monai (“rooms”) indicate ample space for the disciples in God’s residence. Jesus, of course, is going to prepare a place for the disciples, which suggests that he secures insider status for then. I find the meaning of oikos, monai and topos adequately explained by reference to household, ample residence, and insider status. Despite McCaffrey’s argument, “temple” would only be adequate if it referred to the controlled and secure gathering of the disciples around Jesus, who is their liaison with God. Jesus does not promise to take the disciples to the monai in the Father’s house; for he only says “I will take you to myself, that there I am you may be also” (14:3; Gundry: 70). Just as 2:18-20 spoke of Jesus’ body as the new temple, so too being attached to him means belonging to “the Father’s house(hold).” Thus, we should not think of the “Father’s house” as heaven, but as God’s family or household here on earth, a common enough metaphor found throughout the New Testament. It is a social, but not necessarily a spatial metaphor (on church as “temple,” see Gartner: 47-98; on church as “household,” see Verner: 128-79).

Clearly Jesus classifies a certain place as sacred, the very dwelling place of God. His discourse in 14:2 and 23 identifies the place and communicates its sacred quality. Inasmuch as only disciples are told of this, control operates here in the sense of exclusivity: insiders vs outsiders, which we take as a replication of the classification systems sacred/profane and holy/polluted. But there is no “there” there because God’s “house” with many “rooms” is not a building erected on a sacred mountain, nor is it a heavenly temple. Rather it is fluid sacred space which is only occasionally realized in time and place when the disciples gather in the name of the risen Jesus. Nevertheless we learn of a place where worship will take place. A remark like 14:2-3, moreover, may take on added significance in the light of the disciples being ex-synagoged (9:22; 12:42; 16:1-2) and excluded from the Jerusalem temple.

“In-Dwelling” and “Being In” Another

Certain words in the Fourth Gospel carry an enriched meaning, such as “light,” “hour,” “true” and “dwelling” (menein), the verb from which mone (“room”) comes. Raymond Brown’s classification of “dwelling” yields two basic meanings: (1) permanence and (2) immanence/relationship (1966: 510-12). For example, the Spirit of God “dwelt/remained” on Jesus (1:33), indicating a permanent relationship with him (see 8:35; 12:34; 15:16); Jesus, on the other hand promises to “dwell” with his disciples (14:25) and demands that they “dwell” in the vine (15:4, 5, 7)–all of which express both permanence and closeness. The majority of the references to “dwell” occur in the Farewell Address and function to balance Jesus’ unsettling remarks about “going away” and “coming back” with a strategy of loyalty and faithfulness. Several important usages then emerge: “dwell” refers to “the Father dwelling in me” (14:10), implying that Jesus is like a shrine or temple where the presence of God dwells. But turning to the disciples, Jesus commands them to “dwell” in him in an immanent relationship as branches remain in the vine. Aspects of this relationship include (1) having “the Spirit dwelling in you” (14:17) or the “words of Jesus dwelling” in you (15:7), and (2) “dwelling in Jesus’ love” (15:9, 10) which is achieved by keeping his commandments. Thus “dwell” connotes strong relational ties, but not spatial location. Yet, we were told, “dwelling” in Jesus means corresponding proximity to the Father who “dwells” in Jesus. This dwelling-as-relation is not located in any fixed place, yet it is treated as such. Truly it points to Jesus as pontifex, mediator, broker, and priest uniting both God and the disciples.

The relationship is classified (God in Jesus and they in the disciple = maximally holy), communicated by Jesus’ very discourse, and with control envisioned (members only). The unfruitful branches, on the other hand, are “taken away and cast forth” (15:2) and “gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (15:6). Fruitful branches remain, even if they are purified (15:2).

In addition to “dwell in,” the author speaks about persons “being in” another, which resembles the immanence/relationship idea of “dwell in.” For example, one stream of this speaks of “being in” God and Jesus: “believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:10, 11). This expresses a profound relationship: “I am in the Father” states that Jesus is with, alongside, in the bosom of, or in union with the Father–the holiest possible position in all the world (see 1:18). If that expression looks to the world above, from which Jesus descended, then the second part, “the Father is in me” seems to reverse that direction and envision God enfolding Jesus and empowering him with powers to do God’s works (10:38; 14:10) while on earth. Again, Jesus is positioned as the bridge between the heavenly and earthly worlds.

Several highly significant references remain. Jesus states that on a future day the disciple will “know” the ultimate knowledge: “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (14:20; see 14:10-11; 17:21, 23). The triple “being in” expression, of course, refers to relationships. “I am in my Father” and “I am in you” describe Jesus’s bridge position as the link binding him to the Father and then to the disciples. Thus the Father is intimately joined to the disciples through Jesus. Other NT writings call Jesus “mediator” (1 Tim 2:5) and “priest” (Heb 7:26-28), two different ways of explaining Jesus’ pontifex role. But where is this? Although the Fourth Gospel does not talk of a heavenly temple, a sacred space is localized when disciples gather to worship as God’s household, and when the risen Shepherd gathers them around himself.

Two Different Worlds, We Live in Two Different Worlds

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus divided the world into antithetical halves: “that which is born of flesh is flesh and that born of spirit is spirit” (3:6). Since the issue is being “born,” we learn that some are born to flesh and others to spirit, who alone may “enter the kingdom of God.” We have here an instance of boundary language which separates insiders from outsiders, namely, those born of spirit with relationship to God’s household are juxtaposed to those born of flesh who know only this world. Note how this boundary language replicates the “whence” and “whither” categories. “The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know `whence’ it comes and `whither’ it goes” (3:6-7). Those born of flesh know something, but not “whence the wind comes and whither it goes.” Others born of water and spirit know quite accurately whence and whither Jesus comes and goes. We have authentic Johannine dualisms here which separate two different worlds, two kinds of people, and insiders from outsiders.

But is “territoriality” involved here? This antithesis of two different worlds truly serves as a classification of groups, i.e., insiders and outsiders. Its very communication to Nicodemus serves to control his access to Jesus. Because Nicodemus knows in a limited, fleshly manner, he is shown not to be a denizen of the real world of spirit, but of the world of flesh. The Johannine elites, who look down upon the Nicodemuses of this world, have access to the world of spirit and true gnosis, that is, the “kingdom of God.” Two different worlds, and the insiders live in the better one.

This mechanism of boundary making and separation matures later in the narrative when Jesus is confronted by enemies who seek to arrest him or lie to him or kill him. He says: “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world; I am not of this world” (8:23). The issue has escalated from incomprehension of Jesus’ words to open hostility to him. Jesus’ remark serves to classify each world, one as worthy and holy, and the other as worthless and profane. The manner in which Jesus communicates this classification creates a legal norm, whose sanction is to “die in your sins” (8:24). Thus Jesus controls entrance into the kingdom of God. Being “from below” and “of this world” now are sins or crimes, which preclude one’s access to God and God’s world.

What makes Jesus’ remark so frightening and definitive is a quick glance at how the “world” is treated in this gospel. We all know the beginning of the story, how “God so loved the world that he sent his only son …” (3:16). Classified as the object of God’s compassion, this world does not experience control, that is, no attempt is made to keep heaven and earth separate or saints and sinners apart. For, the Son came to save all in the world (3:17; 4:42; 12:47), to give life to the world (6:33, 51), to be the Lamb which takes away its sin (1:29), and to be its light (8:12; 9:5). In this view, while heaven is still separated from earth, the boundary between them is porous and allows the benevolence of God to enter the world.

This changed, of course, as the world proved to be a hostile place. As Brown remarked, “The reaction of those who turned from Jesus was one not simply of rejection but also of opposition” (Brown 1966: 509). Correspondingly the world came to be seen as controlled by Satan, who enters into a disciple of Jesus (6:70; 13:2, 27) and whose offspring both lie and murder like their father (8:44). Balancing statements that Jesus did not come into the world to judge (3:17) are statements insisting that he does judge (9:39; 12:31). Thus, the classification of this world changes. It is a place of unmitigated hostility and obtuseness; using the Judean purity system as classification, this world is profane, corrupt, polluted, and ruled by the evil one. The communication of this occurs when Jesus unmasks its crimes and stands in judgment of it. In this context, 8:23, with its declaration of two different worlds, both communicates the new labeling of “the world” and establishes control over it in the sense that a radical boundary is drawn between “above” and “below”/”not of this world” and “this world.” Later Jesus prays for his own, but not for the world (17:9). Because he gave the disciples God’s word, the world hates them because they are not part of it (17:14). He does not pray that God take them out of the world, but only keep them from the evil one (17:15). Thus Jesus’ classification creates a boundary radically separating him and his disciples from their enemies. Because it would definitively control access to God’s world, it must be taken with utmost seriousness. But it also means that Jesus and his disciples are out of place here. They are aliens in an alien land.

On this topic, Meeks described how Jesus was an alien in the world and then how his followers found themselves comparably situated: “The depiction of Jesus as the man `who comes down from heaven’ marks him as the alien from all men of the world. Though the Jews are `his own,’ when he comes to them they reject him, thus revealing themselves as not his own after all but his enemies, not from God, but from the devil, from `below,’ from `this world'” (1972: 69). Of the disciples he says: `The book defines and vindicates the existence of the community that evidently sees itself as unique, alien from the world, under attack, misunderstood” (1972: 70). The experience of the alien leader-hero, Jesus, is replicated in the comparable alienation of his followers.

But where is this other world? The world “below” may be some specific place such as Jerusalem, the Capernaum synagogue, and the like. But in fact, “this world” and “below” really refer to wherever Jesus is rejected, such as we saw earlier in the classification of “Judea” and “Jerusalem.” Two different worlds, then, are not so much about space as about welcome to and acceptance of Jesus and disciples.

Summary, Conclusions, and Further Questions


The model of “territoriality” allows us to see things in the narrative of John which would otherwise go unnoticed and undigested. Moreover, it enables us to relate and coordinate data that are generally treated discretely. The model, we saw, consisted of three items: (1) classification of space, (2) communication of the same, and (3) control of it. In regard to classifications, the Fourth Gospel uses the following ones: public/private; sacred/profane; honor/shame; pure/polluted and fixed/fluid. Many of these relate directly to Jesus: (1) Jesus’ speech is always in “public” and not in “private,” thus classifying him as a male with public voice. (2) His homeland (Nazareth and Galilee) is classified by others as “shameful,” a classification that would control his ability to function as sage, prophet, or Christ. His true “whence,” however, is in the presence of God, hence “honorable,” sacred and pure. (3) “Sacred/profane” refers to what many narrative characters considered the most dedicated and most “pure” place on earth, the Temple. But Jesus de-classifies (i.e., profanes) all temples and mountains as sacred, even as he presents his own body as the new temple, the new sacred space. Hence his body becomes the dwelling of God which is most “sacred” and “pure.” But other classifications, such as “public/private,” relate both to Jesus and the disciples, namely public speech on Jesus’ behalf. But the most useful classification of space in the Fourth Gospel is fixed/fluid sacred space. This shifts our focus to the group which is truly no-where: neither in the temple nor the synagogue. When it meets, it does so around Jesus-the-temple, and here worship of God takes place through prayer, by listening to Scripture, the Words of Jesus, and utterances of prophets. It is likely that this group has entrance rituals as well as sacred meals. Yet this remains fluid space, as the components of sacred space disperse immediately after worship; and the gathering site could be anywhere.

Each of these classifications would exercise control over the place so classified. “In public” is a value statement that urges disciples to imitate Jesus in bold, public speech, even if it results in expulsion from synagogue space. Similarly, knowing “whence” Jesus came and “whither” he goes belongs to elite insiders in the group, a mark of distinction. Inasmuch as this is insider knowledge, control in this case means that it is off limits to all non-members and non-elites. They cannot enter the kingdom of God, nor do they have dwellings in the Father’s house. Classified as creatures “of this world” and “of the world below,” they are controlled in the sense that they cannot know Jesus’ “whence” and “whither” nor find this “way.” Knowledge, then, becomes a door, a wall, a gate, a boundary.

Jesus’ very group is space that is variously classified as pure (“kingdom of God”), honorable (true children of Abraham) and sacred (vine). Aalen’s article argued that these classifications overlap in meaning: kingdom = household; son of Abraham = legitimate member of the household; vine = the people. Access to Jesus and to the household of GOd is controlled by many “unless …” demands: “unless one is born of water and the spirit …”; “unless one eats my flesh and drinks my blood ..”; unless you confess that `I AM’ …”; unless I wash you …” These function as doors, barriers, and checkpoints which prohibit admission until the criteria are met. And control also functions in Jesus’ boundary-making remark: “No one can come to me except the Father draw him” (6:44, 65)–the most radical of all boundaries.


What do we know if we know this? First, there is relatively little geographical or topological space of concern in the Fourth Gospel. “Galilee” and “Judea” are not real places, but code names for welcome or rejection. “Not of this world … not from below” likewise indicate non-geographical but social space. The very classification of these spaces in this manner reinforces the group’s sense of dislocation in synagogue and temple, and its positioning of itself totally with Jesus.

Second, we call attention to the classification which distinguishes between fluid and fixed sacred space. Although current anthropology of space does not pay much attention to this, it is a classification of considerable use to New Testament scholars who note that the Jesus group is regularly called “house,” “household,” and “temple,” but not in the sense of fixed sacred space. It provides a scenario for imagining how, when the disciples gathered, they formed a sacred space, albeit a fluid one, which reverted to profane use after their gathering was completed. Thus the Jesus group becomes the prime example of fluid sacred space.

Third, with his de-classification of the temples on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Zion, Jesus erased the category of fixed sacred space for the Fourth Gospel’s audience. We saw, however, that he replaced what the old temple represented by his body, which, because of the nature of bodies, is fluid. This new temple is not something to which disciples make pilgrimage, but which comes into being when the circle of disciples is gathered. In Johannine terms, this group can be called “household,” “kingdom” = household, or the place where one “worships in spirit and truth.” This is fluid sacred space, for the group can gather anywhere. The alternative space is the synagogue, to which Johannine disciples may not go any more, another instance of fluid sacred space.

Fourth, many of the spatial categories we examined point to a new temple in which worshipers will worship in spirit and truth. “Dwelling in” and “being in” either God or Jesus refers to their presence with the disciples. Jesus’ body, which is now a temple, is “where” God comes and is found. Finding the Risen Jesus, one finds the presence of God. Jesus is understood in the role of mediator (or priest), thus forming a link between God/Patron and Disciples/Clients. Jesus serves as consummate broker between heavenly patron and earthly group.

Fifth, “there is no `there’ there.” There is no mountain nor building where the Johannine group worships. Even Jesus’ remarks about above/below and “not of this world/of this world” do not point to specific geography, but classify and communicate a cosmic dualism. Jesus may return whence he came, but again there is no “there” in the sense of fixed sacred space. When he “goes away” and “comes back,” it is to meet disciples in a variety of places, none of which appear to be canonized as pure, sacred space. Hence consideration of where Jesus is in John 20-21 indicates that his presence and so the presence of God are attached to the group of his disciples. Again, there is no “there” there; the classification labels are transferred to the social body of disciples.

Are the disciples any different, then, from the synagogue? In one sense, no. The synagogue which gathers in a regular place, would be accustomed to classify this space as “ours,” which is made “sacred” when Torah is read and prayers are made. Yet the synagogue members could likewise make the pilgrimage feasts to Jerusalem and its Temple. In contrast, the Johannine disciples likewise have gathering space, but increasingly less and less in the local synagogue; and one wonders if they continued to attend the pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem. What is different between disciples and synagogue is the rejection, hatred, and excommunication the disciples experience. This increases their self-understanding as “aliens in an alien world.”

Further Questions

This article only studied what I consider the main spatial references in the Fourth Gospel. A complete study would consider motifs such as congregational places which become off limits to Jesus and his disciples (temple, synagogue) and houses (where the wedding was held in Cana, where Jesus was staying in 3:1; the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus; and the houses of Annas and Caiaphas). Since the disciples are likened to a flock of sheep, it would matter if they were gathered safely together (10:15-16; 12:32) or scattered (10:12; 16:32). One suspects that Johannine interest in houses and households (4:53; 8:35; 14:2) provides further definition to what we are calling fluid sacred space.

Consideration of the type of social group represented in the Fourth Gospel offers a further sharpening of our analysis of fluid space. Scholars now generally agree that the Johannine group can profitably be called a sect (Brown 1966; 1979: 14-16, 61-62, 89-91 vs. Meeks 1972: 69-70). “Faith in Jesus, in the Fourth Gospel, means a removal from `the world,’ because it means transfer to a community which has totalistic and exclusive claims” (Meeks 1972: 70-71). But although they are not of this world, they must remain in it as greater hostility rises against it. Such experiences affect how a group understands itself and locates itself. Moreover, if the cultic hero is an alien here below, this is replicated in the way the disciples likewise experience hostility. They too are aliens, but unlike Jesus they may not leave the world.

Worship, although not strictly a spatial concern, would mimic a temple system. With the rejection of fixed sacred space, other aspects of the system likewise fall away: there is no need for an order of priests, animal or grain sacrifices, calendar, sacred garments and vessels, and tithes or taxes for support. Important in this context is the role of Jesus as the ideal broker between God-Patron and the disciples-clients.

Jesus’ remark to Annas about speaking only in public might well be extended to the circle of disciples to see if any of them speaks boldly and in public about Jesus. We know that Pharisees tried to control confessional behavior in some synagogues by declaring that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Christ would be expelled (9:22; 12:42). And this enjoyed considerable success, if we examine which Jews kept their mouths shut for fear of the Jews: both the parents of the man born blind, but also “many even of the authorities believed in him but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it” (12:42). The otherwise noble Joseph of Arimathea, who buried Jesus, was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews” (19:38). These characters did not imitate Jesus’ bold, public speech, and they did not have courage to violate the control extended by the Pharisees. Yet of course, there are other characters, such as the man born blind, who speak boldly about Jesus and for this is thrown out. Classification and control are most evident here.

Finally, I would suggest a closer look at physical proximity to the body of Jesus. Not just anyone may touch Jesus; this is reserved for special characters, such as Mary (12:1-8), the Beloved Disciple (13:23), Magdalene (20:17) and Thomas (20:27-29). Two of these characters are identified as those whom Jesus loved: Mary and Martha and Lazarus (11:5) and the Beloved Disciple (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). They also are most intimate with his person: Mary anoints his feet; the Beloved Disciple leans on his chest. We are invited, then, to arrange the status of the disciples in terms of physical proximity to Jesus, thus envisioning a fully articulated map of persons.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Leland White, who shared in the production and promotion of quality biblical scholarship, especially in this journal. He will be remembered as a man of ideas who did not suffer from “hardening of the categories.”

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Jerome H. Neyrey, S. J., Ph.D. (Yale University), is Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN 46556 (e-mail: neyrey.1@nd.edu), associate editor of the CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY, JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, and HERVORMDE TEOLOGIESE STUDIES, executive secretary of the Context Group; his recent books are HONOR AND SHAME IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998 and with Bruce Malina, PORTRAITS OF PAUL (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1996); prior contributions to BTB include The Trials (Forensic) and Tribulations (Honor Challenges) of Jesus: John 7 in Social Science Perspective (26:3) and What’s Wrong With This Picture? John 4, Cultural Stereotypes of Women, and Public and Private Space (24:2).

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