Reading John in Delos: The genres of the Johannine Farewell
In the Fourth Gospel, the final discourses of Jesus to the disciples comprise over four chapters (13:31-17:26). These protracted speeches present several enigmas to the critical reader, e.g., abrupt narrative shifts; disparate speech content. Traditional methods tend to account for these supposed incongruities by positing an underlying historical cause, whether in the life of Jesus or in the history of the gospel's composition; by ascribing them to deliberate authorial invention; or by attributing them to some accidental occurrence during the transmission or preservation of the text. Further, the absence of a consistent form- or genre-based frame of reference in these chapters serves only to confuse the reader and impoverish the interpretive process. The exegetical challenge, therefore, is to find a fresh approach that accepts the literary and historical complexity of the Johannine Farewell speeches while still pursuing the need to grasp their controlling ideas. If modern linguists and literary critics are correct in their assessment that human language is articulated through structures of implicit meaning, the first-century author and audience of John had numerous cultural "meaning patterns" (as they may be called) at their disposal. If identified, these structures theoretically can serve as useful templates with which to read this gospel in general, and its Farewell in particular. This research has tried to determine the efficacy of this approach by employing the hellenistic aretalogy, or recitation of divine wonders, as a test case. A comparative study of primary texts yielded two major points of contact: (1) an emphasis on the polyonymous naming and addressing of the focal deity, and (2) a pervasive interest in soteriology and the various modes of divine agency. These in turn served as a templates for the exegesis of the Johannine Farewell, and related sections of the Fourth Gospel. The results included fresh insights into Jesus' use of "name" in the Farewell and a broader understanding of soteriological expectations in the first century. The final chapter offers a preliminary sketch of three other genres (testament, homily, and epitome) which, if utilized as templates, hold promise for the further interpretation of John 13:31-17:26.
Donald J Rappe,
"Reading John in Delos: The genres of the Johannine Farewell"
(January 1, 1999).
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