Understanding the Fourth Gospel

Understanding the Fourth Gospel

Understanding the Fourth Gospel

Understanding the Fourth Gospel

Synopsis

The first comprehensive study of St. John's Gospel in forty years, this book provides new and coherent answers to what Rudolf Baltmann regarded as the two great riddles of the Gospel: its position in the history of Christian thought, and its central or governing idea. Ashton provides translations of all non-English quotations, and confines detailed exegetical arguments and intricate questions of specialized concern to the footnotes, therein making Understanding the Fourth Gospel an accessible study of the Gospel for the general reader.

Excerpt

As we prepare to embark upon the search for the origins of the Gospel a few more words of methodological explanation are in order. of the many questions one may have in mind when perusing a work of literature two are especially important. the first is that of someone interested in literature for its own sake. We may call this person the exegete, whose central concern, as we saw at the beginning of this book, is the work itself. the exegete is prepared to use a variety of different tools--whatever comes to hand--in determining the meaning of the work, and this requires some understanding of its content.

The second question is that of the historian: how may this particular writing help us to understand the period in which it was composed? the historian may be interested in a variety of different subjects: politics, trade, social change, botany, agriculture, and many other things besides. What generally characterizes the historical approach, however, is that it does not tackle the writing for its own sake but for what it can tell us about something else. E. P. Sanders , for example, in his Jesus and Judaism explores and exploits a large number of literary works, including the Synoptic Gospels. But what he seeks to reconstruct and explain in that book is not the origins of the Gospels but the career of Jesus. He writes as a biographer.

There remains, however, one kind of historian with a direct interest in the literary works that furnish other historians with much of their source-material. This is the literary historian, who, unlike the exegete, is less concerned with interpreting the works in question than in situating them in their historical context, either by relating them to contemporary culture and society or by accounting for their genesis in terms of sources and influences. This involves flinging the net far and wide, for the explanation sought here encompasses much more than a single text or group of texts: it depends upon an understanding of the circumstances in which a particular work or series of works was composed and may, as Lucien Goldmann has . . .

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