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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 62, 2014

RUTH SHERIDAN, Retelling Scripture. ‘The Jews’ and the Scriptural Citations in John 1:19–12:15 (BIS 110; Leiden: Brill, 2012). Pp. xvi + 294. Hardback. ISBN 9789004214422. €113.00 RRP.

This book is a revision of a doctoral thesis submitted to Australian Catholic University. Its central thesis is that the Old Testament citations in the first half of John’s Gospel function rhetorically to present, not only the identity of the Johannine Jesus, but also the identity of “the Jews” as an antagonistic and inimical group. This presentation of “the Jews” in relation to the Old Testament, so it is argued, thereby contributes to the anti-Judaism of the Fourth Gospel.

The opening chapter introduces the paradoxical issue of anti-Judaism in John, and outlines John’s dependence on the Old Testament, giving an evaluative overview of scholarly interpretation of John’s Old Testament citations. It describes the shape of the book, including the issues it raises and the focus of its research. It indicates that the purpose is to explore the ideological function of the citations within the Johannine worldview. Chapter two sets out the methodological grounds for a narrative reading of the Gospel, with the focus on rhetorical criticism. The literary context in which the Old Testament citations are embedded function rhetorically to shape the ideal reader and his or her values. The narrative works, in this sense, to form and guide the reader’s ideological viewpoint, particularly through characterisation and intertextuality. The effects of this rhetorical strategy by the Johannine narrator is to create an adverse characterisation of “the Jews” precisely through the use of the citations.

In Chapters 3 to 5, Sheridan explores the specific texts in the Fourth Gospel’s narrative of Jesus’ public ministry where the Old Testament is cited, through a literary and chronological reading of the narrative. These chapters, which are the heart of the book, examine the six Old Testament citations (John 1:23; 2:17; 6:31; 6:45; 7:37–39; 10:34; 12:14–15). In each case, the evangelist uses these Old Testament references to reveal the significance of Jesus, particularly in relation to the theme of glory. At the same time, it is argued, these citations in their narrative context also operate in a rhetorical fashion to present “the Jews”—to whom the citations are broadly directed—to the ideal reader in an unsympathetic and even hostile light.

The final chapter briefly summarises the argument and the approach of the book, reinforcing the view adopted in the study: that John paints a distinctive characterisation for “the Jews” as the chief interlocutors of the Old Testament citations, whether directly or indirectly. The exegetical results are tabulated on pp. 238–39, setting out clearly Sheridan’s conclusion about the text, its relationship to the Old Testament, and its narrative connection to “the Jews.” It draws conclusions for John’s intertextuality, conceding finally that John’s damaging portrait of this group can be explained, and even understood, within its historical context, despite the dangers for succeeding generations of biblical interpreters—including for us today in a post-Holocaust setting.

As a whole, the book is well written: lucid in its presentation and sophisticated in its articulation and treatment of the biblical text. It is exegetically insightful and challenging for Johannine scholarship, betraying a commendable grasp of the unwieldy breadth of scholarly writings on the Gospel of John and its treatment of “the Jews.” Not all readers, however, will find it persuasive, especially in its basic presupposition of anti-Judaism in the Fourth Gospel. Some will continue to find the entire construct anachronistic—the judging of a text by later standards that are not applicable to a late first century context. Moreover, rival theories of Rome as the historical context of John’s struggle for identity (such as Warren Carter’s, John and Empire), rather than Judaism, are not discussed in the text. This is, nonetheless, a fine book by a gifted exegete with a challenging thesis. It is written by a younger scholar from whom we hope to read much more.

Review by
Trinity College, MCD University of Divinity