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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 56, 2008

JÖRG FREY, JAN G. VAN DER WATT AND RUBEN ZIMMERMANN (eds), Imagery in the Gospel of John: Terms, Forms, Themes and Theology of Johannine Figurative Language (WUNT 200; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006). Pp. ix + 495. Hardback. €109.00.

This volume brings together papers from the international conference held in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany, 30 July–1 August, 2005. Ruben Zimmermann, who initiated the gathering, introduces the collection with a review of the various lines of approach to the present day, at the level both of formal classification and of theological and hermeneutical function. Harold Attridge then draws attention to what he calls “the ‘cubist’ principle of disorienting complexification deployed in the interest of ultimate focus” (51), a phenomenon John shares with other writings of the period (Philo and Plutarch), illustrated by the way the images of shepherd, Son of Man, temple and cross are refracted. Rainer Hirsh-Luipold also addresses the Fourth Gospel in relation to the intellectual world of its time, pointing to the importance of Middle Platonism, already signaled by Bultmann and Dodd. Language of “true/truth” reflects both an ontological dimension beholden to this background and an aspect of trustworthiness derived from the biblical heritage.

Uta Poplutz points to similarities between Mark and John: Mark's outsiders (4:10–12) and the disciples’ lacking understanding have their equivalent in the unknowing crowds and the disciples’ misunderstandings in John. For both, true understanding comes only after Easter and not automatically. Silke Petersen examines the image of light in comparison with its usage in early Gnostic texts. There, and in most other literature, light imagery is about gaining knowledge, but in this the Fourth Gospel shows little interest, and has reduced the focus of light imagery to Jesus, not even applying it to the disciples or God. The effect is then to release it from limited application to the few and render it universally accessible. Jean Zumstein uses 15:1–17 to argue that we misunderstand John’s imagery if we see it as intended to throw open to the hearer a wide range of possible interpretations. Despite its playful polyvalence, it serves focused argument with defined outcomes. Through a consideration of the passion narrative, Paul Anderson examines the extent to which images in John function symbolically and what might be the criteria for distinguishing more likely from less likely instances. Folker Siegert addresses the confusion he sees in John 6 with a hypothesis about the Gospel’s origins. Jesper Nielsen employs conceptual blending theory to discuss the metaphor of Jesus as the Lamb of God, a new semantic creation based on the use of at least the image of the Passover lamb and the servant figure of Isaiah 53, which he sees as interpreting the death of Jesus.

Marianne Thompson turns attention to images used of God, which are fewer than those used of Christ, but nonetheless significant. They derive primarily from the biblical heritage and portray “God as the God of Israel, creator and source of life who loves and cares for his people” (276), which is realised above all in the coming of the Messiah, Son of God. Ulrich Busse addresses the way in which the author develops the image of Jesus as king, setting it over against dominant models of kingship of the time, not least those which saw royal legitimacy through wonders and military might. Mary Coloe unpacks the nuptial imagery that underlies the depiction of John the Baptist as the witness and friend of Jesus, which now underlies the narrative of the Gospel as a whole and which the author has developed on the basis of the Jesus tradition, the biblical imagery used of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and common human experience. Petrus Moritz and Gilbert van Belle focus on the imagery of thirst beside hunger in 6:35, noting its background in metaphors of water, and exodus and wisdom tradition. Francois Tolmie provides a rereading of Peter’s characterisation in John as a failed would-be shepherd set in contrast to Jesus, the good shepherd. Alan Culpepper shows how John 21 coheres with the preceding chapters, building on them to address ecclesiological issues of mission, leadership and unity. Craig Koester considers images used of the human condition, particularly, thirst, hunger, and darkness, including the way they relate to the woman at the well, the crowds, and Nicodemus. Jan van der Watt examines the role of imagery in relation to ethics in John, focusing especially on the filial metaphor in John 8, the dying seed in 12:24, and noting the importance of the social dimensions of the former reflecting a world of ethical implications related to family and group life, and the networking of the latter with contexts where the imagery disappears, but its message reappears, not least in relation to Peter and leadership in chapters 13 and 21.

This is a rich mine of resources for all future investigation of Johannine imagery.

Review by
William Loader
Murdoch University WA