Clement, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian of Carthage, the Gnostic Heracleon, and the historian Eusebius all credit John for the fourth gospel account. In addition to this external testimony, there is abundant internal evidence that points to John the son of Zebedee as the author. So far we have taken into account:
- His claim that he was an eyewitness of Jesus
- The intimate relationship he shared with Jesus, Peter, and James
- The obvious Jewish background of the author
The case in favor of John grows stronger when we add another internal element: the author of this account was familiar with Palestine. We noted the evidence of a Jewish background in my previous blog post, but this does not necessarily mean that the author was a fisherman from Galilee. Jews were scattered all over the Mediterranean and Middle East in the first century. Those who were dedicated traveled to Jerusalem on a regular basis and could be as conversant in social customs and temple practices as those who lived in that area. However, the author of John’s gospel account shows a familiarity with Palestine that a Jew living abroad would find difficult to accurately describe.
First of all, the author is acquainted with the topography of Palestine.
- 4:46,49,51: The phrase “come down” accurately describes the significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum
- 5:1: “went up” accurately describes ascent to Jerusalem
- 11:18: 15 stadia is the precise distance between Bethany and Jerusalem
While a Jew who traveled to Jerusalem for holy days might be familiar with the ascent to the holy city or the distance to Bethany, it is highly unlikely that they would know about the elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum. The combination of all three favors an author who knew the terrain.
Second, the author shows an an intimate knowledge of cultures and sects.
- 4:9: He knew of the significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans; this is confirmed by Josephus
- 6:15: The desire to make Jesus king is indicative of first century nationalist fervor
- 9:13-39: Expulsion from the synagogue was a legitimate fear among Palestinian Jews
- 11:47: He precisely describes the composition of the Sanhedrin
Once again, one who lived in the area would be far more likely to paint a true-to-life portrait of the religio-political landscape of first century Palestine.