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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 67, 2019

WILLIAM G. FOWLER AND MICHAEL STRICKLAND, The Influence of Ezekiel in the Fourth Gospel: Intertextuality and Interpretation (BIS 167; Leiden: Brill, 2018). Pp. xii + 160. Hardback. US$100.00.

This book began life as a doctoral thesis by William Fowler in the 1990s and then, with recent updating and editorial work by Michael Strickland, has now been published. It takes its place among other intertextual studies of John’s Gospel looking at a particular OT book such as Isaiah, or the Psalms, and more recent monographs on John and Ezekiel by G. T. Man-ning (2004) and Brian Peterson (2015).

The first chapter would be helpful for any graduate student on the recent history of the shift in perspectives on John, from a Hellenistic back-ground to Judaism, and from historical critical to narrative critical methods. In particular Fowler outlines the socio-rhetorical method of Vernon Robbins. For students unfamiliar with this method, this chapter offers a helpful synthesis and introduction to Robbins narrative approach. Since there is some doubt about any explicit scriptural citations of Ezekiel in John, the description of first century oral culture where texts could be recited from memory rather than copied from a written document was very useful, as was the discussion of Richard Hay’s work on criteria for echoes and allusions; these two alerts can overcome any demand for exactitude in using the OT.

The method used for comparing Ezekiel and John is firstly, to examine the commonality of “themes, motifs, phrases and vocabulary” (22) and the number of times these occurred. Following this statistical approach, the author/s then follows the gospel’s narrative order examining major themes that have their background in Ezekiel (Chapter 3) and minor points of contact (Chapter 4), followed by a conclusion.

I found the statistical approach, comparing the usage of particular words in Chapter 2, rather tedious. In my opinion it is not simply the number of times that words are used, but their context and the constellation of other words used with them that builds a particular interpretive matrix. I found the later chapters far more convincing where the gospel was the starting point. The primary points of contact that are examined are: the New Temple, the rivers of Living Water, the Good Shepherd, and the Resurrection—clearly major themes/images in both Ezekiel and John.

This chapter begins with the sensitive issue of how to speak about the relationship between the Johannine theological position and Judaism. Does faith in Jesus replace Judaism? Or transform it? Or fulfil it? The author/s preferred to use the term “embody” which takes up the Johannine incarnational theology, without the pejorative sense of replacing Judaism.

The work on the New Temple is very sound, but limits itself to Jesus as the embodiment of the Temple, and does not look beyond Jesus to the later community continuing this embodiment. Remember, this was originally a doctorate in the 90s; since that time there have been other studies on the Temple in John’s Gospel which make use of the Qumran material, and take the Temple symbolism further. The theme of Living Water examined John 7:37–39 within the Feast of Tabernacles. Once again, this study provides a helpful synthesis of the many different views about these verses: its punctuation, the possible citation, the subject from whom “rivers of living water” will flow. The Good Shepherd image of Ezekiel 34 is considered the most likely background to the Johannine imagery in John 10. Within the discussion of the Good Shepherd image there is a brief reference to the allegory of the “two sticks” in Ezekiel 37. This is mentioned but not developed. For a more developed use of this allegory I refer readers to my study of the Samaritan Woman in God Dwells with Us: Temple Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001). I consider that this passage of Ezekiel 37 lies behind the meeting of the woman in John 4. I was not so convinced by the comparison made between Ezekiel’s image of the “dry bones” in Ezekiel 37, and the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. While the theme of resurrection is obvious in both I do not see strong textual links.

The following chapter examines “secondary points of contact” such as: born of water and spirit, son of Man, Paraclete, “die in your sins,” “I have glorified it,” the Christ remains forever, I will do it, the true vine, the one hundred fifty-three fish. Of all these sections, the one I find most compelling is the link made between the one hundred and fifty-three fish and Ezekiel’s image of the water flowing from the Temple in Ezekiel 47. Here, the author/s uses the work of John A. Emerton (“The Hundred and Fifty-Three Fishes in John 21:11,” JTS 9, 1 [1958]) and makes a brief reference to a later rabbinic tradition describing the waters “flowing north into the sea of Tiberias” (120). To my chagrin there is no footnote directing the reader to this rabbinic literature. Thankfully, an email to William Fowler was helpfully followed up with a reference to the Tosefta. The final chapter considers Hay’s criteria for identifying textual echoes: availability, volume, recurrence, thematic coherence, plausibility, history of interpretation and satisfaction. Based on these criteria, the author/s conclude that the book of Ezekiel had had a strong influence in “shaping the portrait of Jesus provided in the gospel of John” (129).

This is a worthwhile addition to any library. My major lament is that it has taken so long to appear in a published book. This fine research, done in the 90s, could have made significant contribution to Johannine scholarship in the past two decades.

Review by
University of Divinity, Melbourne