Thoughts on Rhetoric and Theology, Figural Reading of John 9, William M. Wright (1)

This is a multi-part series, taking each section at a time. Some of my conclusions will no doubt change as I get deeper into the book.I will post the final review at my other site when it is complete.

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William M. Wright’s book, Rhetoric and Theology, Figural Reading of John 9, attempts to view the scene contained within the said chapter as a two level drama, based in two points of history, both on an action by Christ and, primarily, on the action of the community, later excommunicated from the synagogue.

Wright introduces Martyn’s groundbreaking reading, that the Gospel of John is an allegorical reading focused on the community rather than the historical Christ, as authoritative and while the author does this well, he fails to give Martyn’s reasoning which is detrimental to Martyn as Wright examines the view’s critique.

Wright, in trying to decipher a proper understanding of allegory, in support of Martyn against the allegorical critique of his opponents, uses three sources which only aides the opponents – Cornutus, Heraclitus, and Dante (p48). Martyn’s opponents, as Wright points out, criticizes the theologian on the grounds that his theology is more 20th century than 1st century, in that it appears that Martyn’s hypothesis was developed in the radical change in society away from the harsh views of the past, and in doing so attempted to make the Gospel of John, seen as an anti-Semitic diatribe, more palatable to academic studies (p40).  However, but using Cornutus and Heraclitus who both saw Homer as allegorical, but in different respects, can to conclusion on the ancient poet and his intentions which not surprisingly suited their own positions. With Dante, Wright makes the error of using the 14th century Italian poet to build to a definition of allegory. In doing so, Wright solidifies Martyn’s critical opponents by showing that interpretation of ancients texts is more often than not politically motivated.

While the author has a solid hand on the critiques of Martyn’s position, he doesn’t do so in support of it, which is odd given that he is intimately familiar with the allegorical position and supports it. While he lists Martyn’s influences on such side studies as contextual, historical, social oriented, and literary critical studies, he provides very little in the way of those who agree, even in a round about way such as Dr. Maurice Casey (From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God) and Dr. James McGrath (John’s Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology). If his intent was only to set himself apart while standing upon Martyn’s theory by offering both support and critique, Wright only accomplishes this haphazardly to the rest of his theory. He may have helped his case, and thus Martyn’s, had he rather used Clement of Alexandria, and other notable 2nd and 3rd century Christian philosophers who regularly made use of allegory instead of criticizing the Reformers for their break with the medieval trend of Catholic theologians (he notes that the celebrated Erasmus preferred allegory to that of Luther and Calvin’s literalism, p53).

His goal, stated in the conclusion to the first part, is to answer modern critiques to Martyn’s hypothesis, which itself is a modern invention, that it and thus John 9 can be taken in a variety of ways, including allegory, if, seemingly, allegory is redefined to allow Martyn’s theory to be seen as such.

Post By Joel Watts (10,056 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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