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Christologie der Bilder im Johannesevangelium: Die Christopoetik des vierten Evangeliums unter besonderer Berucksichtigung von Job 10.

CHRISTOLOGIE DER BILDER IM JOHANNESEVANGELIUM: DIE CHRISTOPOETIK DES VIERTEN EVANGELIUMS UNTER BESONDERER BERUCKSICHTIGUNG von JOB 10. By Ruben Zimmermann. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 17. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004. Pp. xx + 551. 99 [euro].

This scholarly study focuses primarily on John 10. As a long discussion of a single, short text, some will find Zimmermann's detailed analysis quite riveting, though others might need to proceed with trust that Z. can provide abundant and welcomed insights into the use of images in John's Gospel (which he does).

Z. groups John 10's christological images into several distinct sets: metaphorical (for example, "Son of God"), symbolic ("light"), titular ("Son of Man"), narrative ("bridegroom"), and conceptual ("from the Father"). He claims, against literalists and fundamentalists, that John's images, such as "bread of life" or "lamb of God," have their meaning as metaphors, that is, that they stand primarily for something other than the verbal pictures they present. To grasp metaphorical meaning requires understanding each image against the late first-century culture within which it was fashioned.

Z. claims that proper understanding of John's metaphorical images will open the reader to an awareness of the ultimately inexpressible reality of Jesus Christ. For example, the image "I am the door" pictures Christ as one through whom one might pass. Yet, common sense tells us, one cannot pass through an individual. Thus the inadequacy or inappropriateness of the "door" image leads the reader to the awareness that Christ is one who remains ultimately beyond the comprehension of any human being.

The "titular" images in John's Gospel ("rabbi," "Christ," "teacher," "prophet," "king of the Jews," "Lord") are, according to Z., John's interpretations of Jesus' actions: "Christ" suggests one sent by the Father; "Lord" is meaningful within the service of washing feet. Similarly, "Son of God," "King of Israel," "Devout Mender of the People," or a "heavenly (angelic) essence" all suggest actions by or to Jesus. These and similar titles, according to Z., were misinterpreted by later Christians as concerned with divine essence, rather than with divine actions. Similarly John's image of Jesus as God immanent--"the Father and I are one"--point to Jesus as receiving divinity; John had not intended, according to Z., to identify absolutely (ontologically) God and Jesus as one.

The "sheep" metaphor in John 10 includes the contrast between the shepherd and the thief that, again, points to something else. The sheep--that is, believers--know the voice of the shepherd by keeping their eyes upon the wholly trusted Lord, while those who reduce Jesus to logic or science are followers of the thief. John drew his Christology from the first-century interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The images of shepherd, sheep, and thief stood for realities within the world and the community in John's own day, as they can for realities within our own day.

John presented the paschal mystery of Christ as fulfilling images of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures had not understood the Logos's sharing in human nature. John fashioned Christ, the Logos, as fulfilling the hope that the Logos would be one with human nature. So too, John's Gospel portrays the paschal mystery as fulfilling the Hebrew scriptural expectation of messiah as transcendent.

John's narrative pictures of the woman at the well and the wedding feast at Cana point to Jesus as initiating ministry that the Christ continues in the community's reaching out beyond conventional boundaries. Polar images, such as clear-dark, warm-cold, strong-weak, heavy-light, are contrasting images that point to Christ and to those in the community who have lost their orientation. The image of Jesus' "glorification" in the Crucifixion is fundamentally an image of Jesus' narrative. As the Father had sent Jesus into this world, so Jesus, in being raised up, returns in glory to the Father. Again, the shepherd/thief metaphor points to narrative stories of the community. Those members of the community who had insisted that all believers be Jews (or any other category), or who seek ever to exclude some from the community, follow not the shepherd, but the thief.

John's multiple images of Jesus form a mosaic; they fashion a single whole that together present John's interpretation of Jesus' identity. Readers are thus challenged to fashion a synthesis of those images so that they too can perceive the identity of Jesus. No image was intended to be removed from the mosaic, say, by focusing on "the bread of life" imagery while ignoring "the gate." The reader is to perceive the uncontainable by imaginatively interrelating the images with one's own elementary experiences. Furthermore, the multiple images of John's Gospel demanded an open-ended reflection on the mystery of Jesus Christ. All these metaphors constantly challenge the believer to avoid idolatrizing any single image of Christ.

Z.'s book will be of great value both to specialists in New Testament and to serious students of Christian theology. Both will find in this book fresh perspectives and challenges regarding the role of images in John and in the life of the Christian.


Canisius College, Buffalo
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Author:Liderbach, Daniel
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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