AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 62, 2014
LORNE R. ZELYCK, John among the Other Gospels (Wissenshcaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/347; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013). Pp. xii + 262. Sewn paper. ISBN 9783161523991. 25.00 RRP.
This revised version of the authors doctoral dissertation, undertaken at Cambridge University and completed in 2012, examines the influence of the Fourth Gospel upon the extra-canonical Gospels of the second and third centuries CE. The first chapter defines what is meant by a gospel, and categorises the various early extra-canonical gospels into groups based on their forspecifically, the narrative gospels, sayings gospels, dialogue/discourse gospels, and gospel fragments. Zelyck limits his analysis to gospels written in Greek or Coptic and dated no later than the third century CE; he also excludes extra-canonical gospels focusing on the infancy of Jesus, choosing to focus instead on those gospels dealing with Jesus adult life. Zelyck considers whether it is useful to categorise the gospels he examines under broad, theological rubrics, such as Gnostic, Valentinian and Thomasine, but eventually decides that these labels ought to be used with caution. Included in Zelycks analysis, therefore, are some of the well-known extra-canonical gospels like the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, Philip and Peter, as well as some shorter texts that typically receive less scholarly attention, such as the Gospel of the Saviour, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, the Egerton Gospel and Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 840.
Zelycks method of analysis involves identifying parallels between each extra-canonical gospel and the Fourth Gospel; he then grades every verbal and thematic correspondence, ranking them along a spectrum ranging from probable influence to plausible influence and finally, down to possible influence. His goal is to assess the degree to which an extra-canonical author was influenced by the Fourth Gospel, and, briefly, to ask what practical shape that influence took on: was it due to literary dependence on a version of the Fourth Gospel, or was it due to secondary orality, or to memory? Each subsequent chapter in his monograph attends to an individual extra-canonical gospel, outlining its date and provenance, assessing its relationship to the Synoptic Gospels, and then considering which parallel texts it shares with the Fourth Gospel fit into his three-fold categorisation (probable/plausible/possible). Each time, Zelyck rejects the thesis that, where commonalities are found, it is because the extra-canonical author and the author(s) of the Fourth Gospel reliedindependentlyon a common source or tradition. Zelyck argues, instead, that the Fourth Gospel influenced the respective extra-canonical works.
While Zelycks approach is methodical, it is not, in my view, theoretically sophisticated. Zelycks approach is an exercise in relative probability, and not much more than thata dense cataloguing of literary or thematic parallels, with not enough analytical work. Zelycks goal is to answer yes or no to the question of Johannine influence upon the extra-canonical gospels, but rarely to ask how or why. Significant terms in his book, such as influence, reception, and parallel, invite theoretical reflection but do not receive it; in an age of scholarship on biblical inter-textuality and in the decades following Samuel Sandmels incisive essay on parallelomania (JBL, 1961), this seems a particular oversight. Zelycks approach is firmly author-focused, that is, he assumes that second- and third-century authors deliberately evoked the Fourth Gospel, but in the end it is due to the modern readers (here, Zelycks own) critical perspicacity to determine those evocations and parallels. Some consideration of reader-centered theories of intertextuality and allusion would not have gone amiss in Zelycks discussion.
No doubt Zelycks strong point is his comparative reading of early patristic interpretations of the Fourth Gospel, and the reception of the Fourth Gospel in the extra-canonical gospels. Zelycks last chapter (a short conclusion) discusses how early and widespread were the traditional (i.e. patristic) interpretations of Johns Gospel, based on what he finds in the extra-canonical material. These observations are Zelycks most fruitful and analytical, and they open up avenues for further study on the reception of the Fourth Gospel in other Christian traditions. Most fascinating, in my mind, was Zelycks attention to the directions taken by the Gospels of Thomas and Philip in reusing and reapplying Johns polemical language. Hopefully Zelyck can address these issues in future publications.
Broken Bay Institute