A Meal in the Background of John 6:51–58?

The new paradigm that the SBL Seminar “Meals in the Greco-Roman World” presented among other results challenges the exegesis of John. Both the question of “eucharistic overtones” of selected passages in the Gospel of John as well as the assumption of a cultic meal on the level of the community has become disput-able. In my paper, I will argue that the bread of life discourse is to be analyzed as a textual phenomenon that makes use of an imagery of eating and drinking, but does not refer to a specific meal practice on the ritual level. For heuristic reasons one should argue, that the conceptual metaphor EATING/DRINKING IS ADOPTING TEACHING – widely used in the ancient world – is the conceptual basis on which the complex metaphor network in the bread of life discourse is formed. The sources show hat the drastic intensification of the metaphoric language of adopting teaching in the sense of eating flesh or similar like in John 6:53–58 is has several parallels in antiquity. Moreover, the drastic metaphoric language in John 6:53–58 is part of a conscious provocation of the recipients at the level of the narrated world, and part of a typical Johannine misunderstanding scene. In the narrative strategy of John 6, the crucial moment of using the drastic metaphors is their function in the narratively enacted separation of the believing from the unbelieving disciples. However, the motif of drinking the blood of Jesus in John 6:53–58 is not a metonymic description of drinking wine. Analyzing the reception of this motif of drinking the blood of Jesus in the Ancient Church, it becomes evident that this motif first infiltrated the discourse on meals. Only in a second step, the motif of drinking the blood of Jesus became part of ritual semantics itself. This observation corresponds to the highly dynamic and complex historical development on the ritual level, which M. Klinghardt, A. McGowan, and M. Wallraff amongst others have described. In sum: In its reception, the text of the Gospel of John influenced the development of ritual, but not did the ritual influenced the text.