Festivals, cultural intertextuality, and the Gospel of John’s rhetoric of distance
Imperial and civic-religious festivals pervaded the late first-century city of Ephesus where John’s Gospel was, if not written, at least read or heard. How did Jesus-believers as likely members of somewhat participationist synagogue communities negotiate such pervasive and public celebration of festivals? Did they participate in, ignore, or oppose such festivals? And how might John’s Gospel have encouraged them to respond? This article engages these questions by focusing on the narrative presentation of festivals in John’s Gospel (some 42 times) as, amongst other things, occasions of conflict and condemnation. Employing Sjef van Tilborg’s notion of ‘interference’, which prioritises the Ephesian civic interface of the Gospel’s audience, the article argues that the cultural intertextuality between the Gospel and an Ephesian context destabilises and problematises Ephesian civic festivals and shows there to be fundamental incompatibilities between Jesus’ work and Ephesian society, thereby seeking Jesus-believers to absent themselves from festivals. The Gospel’s presentation of festivals belongs to the gospel’s rhetoric of distance vis-à-vis societal structures.