Reviews of

Richard Hays, “The Temple of His Body: Reading Scripture with John”

In Edinburgh, Gospels, Gunning Lectures, HB/OT, Hermeneutics, Intertextuality, John, Kerry Lee, New Testament, Richard HAYS, Scripture, SEMINAR REPORTS on February 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm

A report on a paper given by Richard Hays (Dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke University in Durham, NC), 24 January 2012. Professor Hays is delivering this year’s Gunning Lectures at New College, University of Edinburgh, on the topic “Israel’s Scripture Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers.” I should note that Professor Hays has let me know that he is preparing a book for publication based upon these Gunning lectures.

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In the penultimate Gunning lecture, Richard Hays turned his attention to the fourth Gospel where, once again, Jesus is described as “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote” (John 2:45, RSV). The character of Jesus makes this claim, as well, saying “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (John 5:46, RSV). However, like the Synoptics, John does not say specifically where and how Moses and the prophets wrote about Jesus. Rather, it remains for the reader to reconstruct this.

Unlike the Synoptics, though, John’s use of the Old Testament depends on a very few allusions and citations (according to the count of Westcott and Hort, 27 direct citations in John versus 124, 70, and 109 citations in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, respectively), but these references are explored deeply over a longer stretch of the narrative, in what Hays calls sustained meditation. The manner of allusion in John differs from that in the Synoptics, as well. Rather than finding points of contact in words and phrases, John uses images and figures. Another way of saying this is that John is more visual, the Synoptics more auditory. Also unlike the Synoptics, John is less concerned with narrative continuity, that Jesus is continuing and bringing to a climax the story of Israel. The Old Testament, rather, provides a treasury of images and symbols which prefigure Jesus and only find their true significance in him.

Such direct citations as there are in John very often come in authorial commentary rather than in the voice of one of the characters. Two significant instances of this come in the form of paired quotations in 12:38-40 and 19:36-37. Interestingly, these double citations both conclude a major section of the Gospel (the former concluding the so-called “Book of the Signs” and the latter the “Book of the Passion”). Hays notes that the typical source of John’s citations also changes after 12:38-40, from varied sources in the first half to predominately (more than 60%) Psalms in the second half. Furthermore, only one citation can plausibly be ascribed to the Pentateuch. This raises the question, where does Moses write about Jesus (according to John)? To answer this, among other questions, Hays turns to specific examples.

The prologue to John’s Gospel draws on imagery from Genesis 1 and Wisdom literature, specifically the image of personified Wisdom being present or instrumental in creation, not only to establish the theological significance of Jesus but also, secondarily, the justification for his own hermeneutical method. Jesus is the Logos, the fundamental logic by and through which all things were created. All creation, in other words, has the blueprint of Jesus built into it, much more so the texts of the Old Testament. This function is very much akin to the role of personified Wisdom in creation in Israel’s Wisdom tradition. Moreover, there are texts (Sirach 24, Baruch 3:35-4:4, and 1 Enoch 42:1-4) which talk of Wisdom seeking a home in the world. In Sirach, Wisdom successfully finds a home among Israel. In 1 Enoch, on the other hand, Wisdom finds no dwelling place and returns to live among the angels. The Logos of John 1, however, finds only rejection among humanity (John 1:11), but rather than returning to heaven he becomes flesh and dwells (“tabernacles”; cf. Sirach 24:8) among humanity. Without a direct citation (other than the first two words εν αρχη recalling Genesis 1:1), John makes an elaborate use of creation and personified Wisdom images in his depiction of Jesus.

This theological perspective/hermeneutical strategy permits John to have Jesus, as the Logos, take up into himself the significance and function of the temple. In John 1:51, Jesus identifies himself with the image of the ladder at Bethel (Genesis 28:12). According to the narrator, he uses the word “temple” as a cipher for his own body in 2:13-22 (“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”). Jesus predicts the end of the significance of the physical temple in Jerusalem (and of the Samaritan temple), that significance shifting to “spirit and truth,” the latter of which Jesus claims to be in 14:6-7.

Not only does John show Jesus assume the function of the Temple through images, he also depicts Jesus fulfilling the significance of the festivals. One of the notable unique features of John’s Jesus is his claims to certain images (bread, water, light, etc.). These images can be shown to draw upon significant ritual features associated with the celebration of Sukkoth, Passover, and the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). A part of the celebration of Sukkoth was the pouring out of water, and it is during Sukkoth in John 7:37-38 that Jesus says, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (RSV). Similarly, whereas during Sukkoth golden lamps were lit in the temple court, Jesus says in 8:12, “I am the light of the world.” While the association of Jesus’ passion with the time of the celebration of the Passover is clear in all four Gospels, it is in the Gospel of John that Jesus is himself identified with the image of the Passover Lamb (John 19:14 – the discrepancy in precise timing of the Last Supper and Crucifixion among the Gospels is attributable, in part, to theological concerns – see Helen Bond, “Dating the Death of Jesus”; also vv. 31-36 where legs are not broken in accordance with Exodus 12:46). During the Feast of Dedication, a celebration of national liberation, Jesus identifies himself with images related both to royalty and to God himself. He walks in Solomon’s portico. He claims to be the Good Shepherd and otherwise uses shepherd imagery in 7:11-18 and 25-30. This calls to mind Ezekiel 34 (among other texts – king-as-shepherd imagery is very common in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East), where there is some ambiguity as to who is to be the shepherd of Israel, David or God himself? This ambiguity in image gains a new significance when Jesus dramatically claims in 7:30 “I and the Father are one.”

One other image Hays notes (and one which is not directly related to the Temple) is Jesus’ identification of himself both with the manna in the wilderness (“I am the bread of life” in 6:35) and with the giver of the manna (i.e. his explanation of who it was who gave the bread in 6:31-33).

Looking at this evidence, Hays concludes that John sees all of Israel’s Scripture as allegorically transparent in reference to Jesus, not just as predictive proof-texts. Whereas for Luke the Old Testament is plotted script, a story or a collection of stories which find their climax in Jesus, for John it is a vast matrix of symbols, all pointing to Jesus. The reason this can be, according to John, is that all of creation, and especially Israel’s scriptures, have been created according to the blueprint of the Logos/Wisdom, which has become flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.

Kerry Lee
University of Edinburgh

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  1. […] Hays’ lecture, let me refer the reader to the reports already posted on Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. However, there were a few comments in this half of the lecture which were new and noteworthy. […]

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