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The Jewish Targums and John's Logos Theology.

THE JEWISH TARGUMS AND JOHN'S LOGOS THEOLOGY. By John Ronning. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2010. Pp. xx + 315. $29.95

Ronning dedicates this book to Frank McNamara's vindication, "hopeful that at last Dr. McNamara's advocacy of the Targum background for the Logos title will find the acceptance it has long deserved" (xv). This monograph provides solid evidence for the Targumic position that should serve as a basis for scholarly acceptance of McNamara's perspective. R. convincingly demonstrates that "the Logos title is based on the Targumic Memra and that in John's adaptation, 'the Word' means 'Yahweh the Son'" (222). R. also explicates the Johannine view that the Son of God was present throughout the Old Testament as the preincarnate Yahweh the Son--the God of Israel.

Methodologically, R. employs intertextual analysis, consisting largely of meticulously detailed comparison of Johannine passages to material found in the MT, LXX, and Targums. The comparisons include parallel structures, allusions, and echoes. R.'s method, however, discloses a weakness: since he scarcely discusses his methodology, methodological terms--such as "allusion"--are undefined, and important distinctions within intertextual method are unnoticed. For example, R. cites allusions (e.g., Jn 1:32-33 alluding to Tg. Ps.-J., Num 7:89, and Isa 11:1-2) and echoes (e.g., Jn 12:34 echoing Isa 9:6-7) without identifying or distinguishing them as such, suggesting that they may carry the same intertextual certitude and function as the same kind of trope. This methodological disconnect neglects important developments of intertextual analysis during the past three decades by such notables as Robert Brawley, Richard Hays, and Kenneth Litwack. Intertextual clarity would further strengthen R.'s thesis. Nonetheless, his intertextual observations and insights are impressive.

R. begins by discussing three predominant scholarly proposals that explain appropriative influence on John's title of "the Word" in his Prologue. The first is the OT Word of the Lord, the second is wisdom in wisdom literature, and the third is Philo's Logos. R. presents a plausible case for each position, but then contends that a fourth one--the divine Word of the Targums forming the background of the Word of John's Gospel--is the most plausible. This proposal carries strengths of the other three, and, unlike the others, does not require modification of the source concept. R. argues that in the Targums, the "Word (Memra/Dibbura) of the Lord"--or even just "Word" (Dibbura)--is used in substitution of the Tetragrammaton. The divine Word, then, is a metonym for God, and is not a hypostasis distinct from the divine.

R. elucidates the nature, categories, distinctions, and relevance of the Targums, and refers to various Targumic passages hundreds of times in his analysis. He also counters an obvious objection to his thesis: the Targums postdate the Gospel of John. R. supplies persuasive evidence that the Gospel of John is illuminated by Targumic passages that feature the divine Word--passages that likely would have been read publicly in synagogues in first century CE in Palestine. The development and influence of the Targums predated extant copies, and R. reminds us "that we are dealing with likely allusions rather than direct quotations" (271). He also shows that Philo's Logos shares conceptual similarities to Memra and may have been influenced by it. Both Philo's Logos and the Targumic Memra were used to guard God's transcendence, and the Targums used the divine Word to refer to God's interaction with creation. In the latter, John adapted the Targumic use of the divine Word to depict the novelty of the incarnation.

Throughout the book, R. discusses insights implied by his thesis. For example, positing a Targumic background to John's Logos title in the Prologue complements the divine "I am" sayings in the body of the Gospel. This shows that both identify Jesus as divine, and the complement connects the Prologue to the body of the Gospel.

R.'s study monumentally contributes to Johannine scholarship. However, in addition to providing methodological clarity, R. would enhance the clarity of this impressive work by identifying spiritual senses of Scripture when he clearly discusses spiritual senses at certain junctures. Perhaps most importantly, R. argues for the superiority of the Targumic view over the plausibility of the other three without exploring enough the possibility of John's familiarity with and use of all four. For example, the OT Word of the Lord and passages in the Book of Wisdom may at times suggest circumlocutions for the divine as well, and could be the foundation of John's appropriation of the divine Word title into his Prologue. John subsequently may have considered and appropriated Philo's Logos and Wisdom. In this more comprehensive scenario of Johannine appropriation and adaptation, the Targumic Word would have further clarified John's intentions of using the divine Word as a means of expressing that Jesus Christ is YHWH the Son. In any case, R.'s fresh insights will stimulate further research.


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Author:Koehne, Mark W.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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