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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 68, 2020

LAURA J. HUNT, Jesus Caesar: A Roman Reading of the Johannine Trial Narrative (WUNT 2/506; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019). Pp. xv + 417. Paperback. €99.00.

Jesus Caesar is the revision of Laura Hunt’s doctoral thesis, completed under Catrin Williams at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. The monograph is a study on the functions of Pilate, Caesar and Rome in John 18:28–19:22. At four hundred and seventeen pages, it is longer than most volumes in the second WUNT series. It is also dense, with liberal use of quotations in original languages (always translated in footnotes)—in one very demanding case Hunt moves from seven lines in German, to one in English, and then three in French (57). Readability aside, the study exudes learning and innovation. Hunt has investigated a lot of material, and she has interpreted John in a fascinating way. I hope to see more from her in the future about what everyday ancient audiences of the gospel might have thought about it.

The first three chapters lay the theoretical and historical foundations. Some of the key categories drawn from semiotics, such as “an object against which to produce an interpretant for the Sign of the Johannine trial narrative” (41), might confuse New Testament critics—most take for granted that a text should be interpreted in context anyway. But Hunt advances awareness of Johannine openness and ambiguity, as well as the possibility of more nuanced engagement with empire than polemical opposition. She also establishes contact between Latin and Greek in Ephesus, Antioch, and Alexandria at the levels of the army, administration and commerce. Her argument that “Roman-aware auditors” were part of John’s audience will be difficult to dismantle (119).

The next three chapters deal with interpretation. The fourth chapter is an application of categories such as recusatio (refusal of office or honour) and adventus (city entrance procession) to Johannine interpretation (143–86). Hunt’s treatment of triumphal themes sends some mixed messages. Either “the distinctive elements of a triumph are missing” from John (172) or John clothes Jesus in triumphal garb” (199). And whereas Hunt proposes “a three-part triumph with Jesus in the dress of imperator, his seating as reigning judge, and his apotheosis as a Caesar” (297), she does not incorporate the triumphal procession and propaganda of the Flavian dynasty. The fifth chapter is an argument that idou ho anthrōpos (namely Jesus) in John 19:5 alludes to hic vir, hic est (namely Augustus) in Aen. 6.791 (187–241). Hunt acknowledges that LXX 1 Sam 9:17 “might be the most obvious referent to anyone hearing the trial narrative using a Jewish encyclopaedia,” but she emphasises that the words do occur “on the lips of a Roman” (221). The sixth chapter walks through John 18:28–19:22 according to a novel demarcation of two four-part cycles, 18:28–19:5 and 19:6–22 (242–97). Hunt’s brief discussion of the maiestas crime—where she rejects its relevance to John (256)—does not reflect the state of current Roman studies. Considering that diminishing the maiestas (superiority) of the emperor means disloyalty, this blind spot hampers her argument that John conceptualises loyalty in imperial terms.

Hunt’s final chapter is a “concluding synthesis” (298–302). She restates the initial aim of the study as to demonstrate “the pervasiveness of the Roman encyclopaedia” both in the ancient Mediterranean and in John 18:28–19:22 (302). The second aim was to evaluate that pervasiveness. Proposing that “John presents Jesus in the guise of Caesar” (1), Hunt has made bold strides, and Johannine studies would do well to follow.

The monograph includes three appendices. The first appendix presents sources for ancient translations of the Aeneid from Latin into Greek (303–18). Hunt qualifies that she has no space to consider “Vergil’s influence on Greek authors” (303 n. 2), but I wonder whether this is where the emphasis should be. The second appendix probes the ambiguity of ekathisen epi bēmatos (“Pilate sat on the judgement bench,” or “Pilate seated Jesus on the judgement bench, or both) in John 19:13 (319–31). Closer attention to the syntactical parallel of v. 13 with v. 19 (320, also 326 n. 49) would bolster the second meaning (“Pilate seated Jesus”). The third appendix tabulates different demarcations of the trial episode (332, also 257 n. 99). Hunt demarcates 18:28–19:22 on the basis of where words with “Roman specificity” occur (91), though she does not examine why other critics close the unit at 19:16a.

The editions and translations of primary sources are sometimes up to date, sometimes not. Hunt is one of the first Johannine critics to use Cooley’s 2009 edition of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Yet she lists in the bibliography Forester’s 1890 translation of Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, instead of Edwards’ 2000 translation. And she lists Whiston’s 1737 translation of Josephus’ The Jewish War, not Hammond’s 2017 translation. (The referencing system she then adopts for Josephus is dated, except for when she slips into using Thackeray’s 1927 edition, which is not in the bibliography.)

The script has few typographical errors. An early parenthetical citation to “John 19:3” should be “John 19:13” (2 n. 8). Another reference is to “Suetonius, Aug. 994.4,” not “94.4” (149). Some random underlining appears in “… the torture of Jesus might be seen …” (255 n. 88). A space has infiltrated “18: 24” (264). And the en dash intended for “Carter only includes 19 22” in the fourth column of Appendix C has moved to the column on its right (332).

Review by
Blake Wassell
Australian Catholic University, Sydney