Reviews of

Old Testament Conceptual Metaphors and the Christology of Luke’s Gospel

In Bloomsbury, Christology, HB/OT, Kai Akagi, Luke-Acts, Metaphor, New Testament, T & T Clark on October 30, 2020 at 6:27 pm

2020.10.19 | Gregory R. Lanier. Old Testament Conceptual Metaphors and the Christology of Luke’s Gospel. LNTS 591. London: T&T Clark, 2018.

Review by Kai Akagi, Japan Bible Seminary.

Gregory R. Lanier’s Old Testament Conceptual Metaphors and the Christology of Luke’s Gospel uses conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) to consider the christological significance of four metaphors in the Gospel of Luke: “horn” in 1:68–69, “dawn” in 1:78–79, “mother bird” in 13:34, and “stone-rock” in 20:17–18. After an opening chapter consisting of a literature review, a description of the topic of this volume, and an explanation of method and research objectives, the subsequent four chapters in turn each consider one of the metaphors. The final chapter summarizes the results and offers a synthesis of their christological significance.

Lanier describes his thesis as follows: “GLuke re-maps these metaphors to conceptualize Jesus’ identity in terms that are reserved for deliverer-figures in some cases in OT/Jewish tradition, but uniquely for the God of Israel in others” (p. 2). Finding the method of identifying one particular Old Testament source text for each these metaphors (which Lanier considers “intertextuality”) inadequate because of inconclusive previous research, and identifying the four metaphors as “novel” in Luke, Lanier presents CMT as an alternative method for discerning their significance. In his application of CMT, Lanier’s focus is not the study of lexical correspondence, but rather of the “mapping” of concepts across cognitive conceptual domains that are part of “encyclopedias” (drawing from Eco and Peirce via Hays, Langford, and Alkier). Lanier prioritizes the Old Testament as the source of concepts for the study. In his consideration of Old Testament texts, he focuses primarily on texts in Greek, although in places he notes differences between Greek and Hebrew forms of Old Testament texts. Beyond Old Testament texts, Lanier also considers the use of the images in question in other Jewish literature as well as in a wider ANE and Greco-Roman textual and material corpus. For example, in considering the association of a horn with deities, Lanier provides drawings of depictions of Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek figures featuring horns.

In his study of Luke 1:68–69, Lanier maps the horn metaphor to “defeat of enemies,” “status,” “God’s blessing,” and “God himself” (48). He notes the problem that many have simply considered κέρας to be a reference to the messiah without consideration of the various ways in which κέρας is used in other texts and the problem of a failure to distinguish “between the κέρας as a material object belonging to the ‘anointed’ person and the κέρας as a circumlocution for the ‘anointed’ person” (44-45). Lanier rightly observes that in the Benedictus the horn metaphor designates Jesus as the means by which enemies are defeated rather than being an object belonging to Jesus that is raised, and that the messianic association of the metaphor in 1:68–69 is a result of its place in the Benedictus rather than a previous messianic “horn” concept. From the use of Exodus language in the Benedictus and from God as the “horn of salvation” in Psalm 18[17]:3 as providing “conceptual parallels” to the Gospel of Luke, Lanier views Luke as drawing from the metaphor of God as the horn of salvation to Jesus doing what God as the horn of salvation does.

Lanier concludes concerning the “dawn” metaphor in 1:78–79 that it may be mapped to the conceptual metaphors of “agent of salvation is a shining light” and “the coming of God is the dawn” (123). The function of the metaphor in Luke is similar to the messianic reception of Numbers 24:17 and the interpretation of “star” in Qumran literature (CDa7.15–8.3; 4Q175 1.9–13; 1QM 11.5–8), targumim, Sibylline Oracles 5:155–158, and other texts. At the same time, Lanier considers the use of the “dawn” metaphor in Luke unique through its association with divine visitation and epiphany. He states that both of these, “in the OT/Jewish ‘encyclopedia’ of conceptual metaphors, map to God alone” (p. 110).

In his treatment of 13:34, Lanier commendably observes that the significance of ornis has been overlooked because of the assumption that it means “hen” even though the word has a wider semantic range. He provides a significant discussion concerning motifs of wisdom in view of the common association of this metaphor with wisdom in previous research. This section provides an effective critique of labeling features of texts “wisdom” that are not clearly so and of reading wisdom into texts by reading content of the New Testament gospels back into other Jewish literature. Lanier argues that Luke 13:34 is not a “wisdom” saying. In order to establish the significance of the metaphor in this chapter, Lanier draws from a wide range of concepts, including occurrences of birds, cities as mothers, wings, and God gathering Israelites in literature and artifacts. This leads to the conclusion that Luke uses Jerusalem as “mother of her children the Israelites” and “God is the mother bird” metaphors mapped to a new metaphor by which “Jesus is the mother bird who gathers the children of Jerusalem,” putting Jesus in the place of God in the metaphor (165).

Finally, Lanier’s treatment of the stone metaphor in Luke 20:17 provides an example of application to CMT where use of one specific text is demonstrable, in this case, because of the presence of a quote from Psalm 118:22. Lanier makes significant observations concerning the translation tradition of rendering Hebrew terms for “rock” with θεός or others words not meaning “rock.” These observations suggest potential for further work focused on variation among Greek translations and in non-Greek texts. Lanier concludes that, through appropriation of the “Israel’s judgment/salvation is their encounter with God as a stone-rock” (p. 212) metaphor, what Jesus does in a judgment role exceeds what messiah figures do in other Jewish texts in that he does what God alone does.

Lanier’s study is significant as an innovative contribution to high christology research in Luke. Lanier has managed to deal with a significant breadth of material without offering only a surface-level treatment. As points of critique, this volume opposes intertextual research (primarily in the tradition of Richard Hays) to the use of CMT at several points. In some cases, however, the application of both approaches to the study of the same texts may provide fruitful results. Furthermore, some work on both allusion and intertextuality is not only concerned with one-to-one association of texts of the sort that Lanier considers to provide inconclusive results for the texts discussed in this volume. On occasion, the extent of the material considered in Lanier’s study draws into question its relevance for Luke (e.g., the extent to which ancient Sumerian horn imagery would influence the production and reception of metaphors in Luke), and some assumptions seem questionable. As an example of the latter, Lanier considers the son of man in 1 Enoch 48:2–10 (and presumably other portions of the Similitudes of Enoch) to be “non-Davidic” (p. 33). While this portion of the Similitudes does not explicitly state the figure to be Davidic, it never defines that the figure is not Davidic, and it uses a collection of scriptural texts used in other texts of the same period for Davidic figures. These points do not, however, take away from the usefulness of the volume as a whole or its significance.

Engagement with Lanier’s book will not only be beneficial for research on the texts in which the metaphors he discusses occur, but this volume will also prove useful for those working on related metaphors in the New Testament, in Jewish texts contemporary with the New Testament, and in other early Christian literature.

Kai Akagi
Japan Bible Seminary


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