Reviews of

Reading the Gospel of John’s Christology as Jewish Messianism

In Benjamin E. Reynolds, Brill, Gabriele Boccaccini, Gospel of John, Jewish Backgrounds, John, Messianism, R. B. Jamieson on August 27, 2021 at 3:00 pm

2021.8.14 | Benjamin E. Reynolds and Gabriele Boccaccini (eds). Reading the Gospel of John’s Christology as Jewish Messianism: Royal, Prophetic, and Divine Messiahs. Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 106; Leiden: Brill, 2018. ISBN: 978-9004349759.

Review by R. B. Jamieson, Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Among the four canonical Gospels, the Christology of John is often taken to be the least Jewish because it is the most divine. The essays collected in this volume aim to show not only that John’s “messianology,” so to speak, is recognizably Jewish, but that even its divine claims for Jesus have at least some clear antecedents in Jewish messianic expectation. In this twofold aim the volume amply and admirably succeeds. 

This volume’s essays represent a selection of the papers given at the Sixth Nangeroni Meeting of the Enoch Seminar, held in Camaldoli in June of 2016. 

Framed by an introduction and conclusion, each written by co-editor Benjamin E. Reynolds, the body of the book has five parts. Part 1 is a pair of fine essays by Reynolds and James F. McGrath that survey scholarly trends on the relationship between John’s Christology and Jewish Messianism. Reynolds surveys “challenges and possibilities” involved in reading John’s Christology as an instance of Jewish messianic expectation. In his chapter, as frequently elsewhere in the volume, Daniel Boyarin’s recent essays on early Jewish texts that mirror the New Testament’s high Christology (particularly in 4 Ezra and the Similitudes of Enoch) play a catalytic role. And McGrath aptly argues that John’s Gospel and a wide range of early Jewish texts that attest messianic expectation should be allowed to mutually illumine one another. 

Part 2 considers John’s relationship to Jewish messianic exegesis of Scripture, and consists of three rigorous, well-argued, instructive essays by Adele Reinhartz, Catrin H. Williams, and Jocelyn McWhirter, on, respectively, the content of Jesus’s testimony to himself, the imprint of Isaiah on John’s Christology, and John’s strategies of messianic exegesis. McWhirter’s essay in particular unearths a number of striking insights about the seminal role played by, as well as hermeneutical knock-on effects of, passages such as Psalms 22 and 69, and Zechariah 9:9; 12:10. 

Part 3 focuses on themes pertaining to royal messianic expectations, with essays by Beth M. Stovell on Davidic Christology, Marida Nicolaci on divine kingship, and Joel Willitts on how David’s “sublation” of Moses—that is, how David, matryoshka-like, subsumes, retains, and transcends aspects of Moses’s role—sheds light on John’s configuration of Jesus’s relationship to Moses and prophet-like-Moses expectations. The essays in Part 4, by Meredith J. C. Warren, Andrea Taschel-Erber, and Paul N. Anderson, discuss prophetic motifs: signs, living water, and Jesus as the eschatological prophet. Part 5 features five essays on aspects of John’s how John’s testimony to Jesus’s divinity intersects with Jewish messianic expectation by William Loader, co-editor Gabriele Boccaccini, Ruben Zimmerman, Charles A. Gieschen, and Crispin Fletcher-Louis. 

This is an unusually cogent volume of collected essays. Its overall argument is far more cohesive, and, ultimately, compelling than many comparable volumes. It mounts a serious, and in my view convincing, case that not only does John evince a divine Christology, but that this Christology is intelligible as a species of, and recognizably draws on the resources of, early Jewish messianic expectation. To give a specific instance, here Gieschen throws down somewhat of a gauntlet: “For example, any discussion of the Johannine Son of Man that does not see the influence of Ezekiel 1 to Daniel 7 through Second Temple Judaism (e.g., 1 Enoch 37–71) to the Gospel of John is simply inadequate” (p. 408 n. 49). Though perhaps somewhat overstated, Gieschen’s essay and that of Fletcher-Louis offer detailed, textured support for the claim—though the latter’s case is weakened by reliance on repeated, compounding speculations about the role that the Similitudes of Enoch played in early Christianity (pp. 427–28). 

As should only be expected, there are points of tension between some of the essays. One of these concerns exactly how “high” John’s Christology is, and what conceptual resources do or don’t grant fruitful purchase on it. For instance, Nicolaci wants to reread John’s Christology “in terms that are ‘Jewish’ rather than Chalcedonian” (p. 185); the contradiction is assumed rather than demonstrated. In a somewhat similar vein, Anderson argues that “the unity of the Son with the having-sent-me-Father in John is a factor of agency rather than metaphysical ontology” (p. 281). It is difficult to see how the divine prerogatives Jesus claims for himself (5:21, 26), or the worship he claims is his due (5:23), or the mutual indwelling he asserts (14:9–10) could leave his unity with the Father entirely free of metaphysical or ontological dimensions. Finally, while Boccaccini’s essay offers a useful account of how John’s Jesus, as the incarnate Word, is both uncreated and created, it neglects recent works on the divine Christology evident in Paul and the synoptic Gospels, leaving the misleading impression that John’s is the only New Testament Christology to combine these claims (pp. 342–44). By contrast, the essays by Gieschen, Fletcher-Louis, and a number of others offer more robust accounts of John’s ascription of divinity to Christ, including, in Gieschen’s case, the recognition of material continuity between John’s account of the Father’s eternal gift of his “name” to the Son and the Nicene Creed’s confession that the Son is of “one substance with the Father” (p. 408). 

This is a volume that all students of John’s Gospel, New Testament Christology, and early Jewish messianism would do very well to consult. And, far more than is the case with most volumes of collected essays, the chapters’ consistently high quality, rigor, and cohesion make this a book that richly repays a cover-to-cover reading. 

R. B. Jamieson
Capitol Hill Baptist Church
bobbyjamieson [at] gmail.com

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