June 1, 2009

Locating the Events of John's 21st Chapter

This is more warm-up for my upcoming series. Location matters in a story, as in history, and I believe John 21 is both. However, this post won’t belong in the middle of the series I’m preparing. So let’s get it out of the way. Here goes:

What is the location of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21? Most likely, it seems, this dramatic event took place on a beach near the city of Tiberias.

In John 6:1, apparently having just come from Jerusalem, Jesus sails across the Sea of Galilee. This is the first of three references to Herod Antipas’ city of Tiberias on the southern point of the Lake. It is also natural that Jesus heading north would sail across from Tiberias to Bethsaida, which is where the synoptics place the next event, feeding 5,000. Further, Cheney’s blended chronology of all four gospels shows Jesus laying low during the winter (as he almost always did in winter) between Tabernacles in autumn of 30 AD (Jn.5) and the execution of John the Baptist by early spring of 31 AD (the only other event recorded before the sailing to Bethsaida – that news also coming when his disciples found him after their winter spent going out in pairs, after which Jesus left the place he had been).

Assuming all details are historical, the natural blending together of data suggests Jesus just as likely laid low in Tiberias during that winter and then sailed from there in the spring. And if Jesus wintered [incognito] at Tiberias, then the text of John 6:1 chose no random moment to rename the Sea “of Tiberias”. In fact, 22 verses later, John says boats from Tiberias traced Jesus to Bethsaida, and then further traced his steps from there west to Capernaum. With the double reference to the city in this chapter, it seems more likely the boats followed Jesus from Tiberias, than to be sailing from a random location. In conclusion, John does not ever specifically say Jesus was IN Tiberias, but it seems strongly suggested by all the circumstances just related.

Of course, none of this touches John 21 directly. However, it may set a precedent for a similar inference of the third and final reference to Tiberias in scripture, which comes at John 21:1. Once again, there are also sequential story elements favoring Tiberias as the location, mainly stemming from the fact that Peter left Jerusalem over a week after Resurrection Sunday, eager to go fishing. With no notable sense of direction as yet for his own future, Peter would likely not prefer to go all the way home. More significantly, the distance to Tiberias was closest, near the southernmost point of the Lake. Finally, the likelihood of Peter finding a boat and fishing gear to rent would be best if he went near the city, as opposed to some random point down the southern coastline.

All of this strongly suggests the events of John 21 took place near the shores of Tiberias.

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