Monday, October 25, 2010

Encountering Jesus

I've recently begun reading Cornelis Bennema's new book, Encountering Jesus: Character Studies in the Gospel of John (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2010). [Authentic Media's website is currently unavailable, but you can find the book's details on Prof. Bennema's webpage.] In Encountering Jesus, Bennema offers a literary analysis—or historical narrative criticism, as he calls it—of all the characters in the Fourth Gospel who encounter Jesus and exhibit some faith-response to him. This analysis fleshes out in detail the literary theory of character Bennema proposed in a recent article, "A Theory of Character in the Fourth Gospel with Reference to Ancient and Modern Literature" (Biblical Interpretation 17 [2009]: 375–421).

Besides Bennema's BibInt article I've only read the Introduction (1–21), so I can't comment too much on the book just yet. But I've enjoyed what I've read so far. Bennema rejects the dominant view among Johannine scholars of the characters populating the Fourth Gospel as "flat" figures who function as ethical types and embody a single trait (typically "faith" or "unfaith"). Instead, Bennema suggests that the Fourth Gospel provides a range of characters; some may indeed be flat, but others exhibit an impressive range of complexity, development, and/or inner being.

Although Bennema sets out to provide a comprehensive literary analysis of all the characters who "encounter Jesus" throughout the entire Fourth Gospel, he explicit avoids applying his theory of character to the gospel's protagonist, Jesus, as well as to the Father or the Holy Spirit (18). We will see how this affects his analysis. At this early stage in the game I think this may be an unfortunate limitation. If John's characters are as "round" and true-to-life as Bennema suggests, then it would be interesting to see how this roundness relates to the character who inhabits centerstage. Indeed, it seems to me an analysis of Jesus' character—and perhaps also of the Father and the Spirit—would have provided an interesting benchmark from which to begin his comprehensive analysis of John's other characters.

Even so, I've enjoyed the first twenty pages, and I look forward to reading—and commenting upon—the remaining two hundred.


Tyler Stewart said...

Interesting, does he interact much with Kingsbury's book on Matthew's characters?

I will be very interested to hear your thoughts on what he does with Nicodemus. I think he is one of the most complicated characters in any of the the Gospels.

Rafael said...

Good question, Tyler. Which of Kingsbury's books do you have in mind? Matthew as Story? Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom?

I briefly skimmed Bennema's bibliography, and I didn't see that he interacts with any narrative criticism of the synoptic gospels. Kingsbury's books aren't listed; neither is Rhoads and Mitchie (Mark as Story,) or any of the other significant narrative-critical work on Mark.

I don't necessarily have a problem with this, except that Bennema's emphasis on historical narrative criticism—in which he incorporates relevant extra-textual information about John's characters into his analyses—would seem to require accounting for the synoptic gospels' portrayals of their characters.

I'll try to remember to comment specifically on Nicodemus after I read that chapter.

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