John’s Use of Drama

I’m currently reading George Parsenios’ work Rhetoric and Drama in the Johannine Lawsuit Motif for review. In it Parsenios explores the implications of reading John’s Gospel through the lens of Greek tragedy and forensic rhetoric. I must admit that I’m a bit skeptical of this endeavor, namely because I don’t see how we are supposed to conclude that John had Greek tragedy or legal rhetoric in mind while writing his Gospel. Parsenios admits as much in his opening chapter, saying:

We can say almost nothing with certainty about what [John] read, apart from the Old Testament. We know only such generalities as the fact that the tragedians were part of the school curriculum throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods in the East, or that many prose authors in the Roman Empire regularly rely on tragic language and scenarios in a phenomenon that is called the “thearicalization of ancient culture.”

Parsenios then concludes this section by arguing that:

regardless of what John read, if we read John in concert with ancient rhetoric and ancient drama, we will read John differently, and with greater insight.

My question is whether Parsenios can legitimately move from his first statement to his second without doing detriment to John’s intention for his Gospel.

I’m inclined to say that he cannot and should not.

What about you?

2 thoughts on “John’s Use of Drama

  1. On the basis of what you have supplied to us, Dr. Emerson, Parsenios cannot deduce his conclusion from his premise. Just because we cannot “know anything with certainty about what John read, apart from the OT,” does not necessitate that we “ought” to read John juxtaposed to the “theatricalization of ancient culture.” If he wants to make this argument, he must (in spite of my ignorance of not reading Parsenios) provide historical evidence that John read, quoted, and/or alluded to the ancient Hellenistic culture, like the theater. Secondly, Parsenios has to answer why we “should” (prescriptive) read “John in concert with ancient rhetoric and ancient drama,” besides for the purposes of “greater insight.” I’m sure he flushes this out in his book, but Parsenios must show the reader why his reading trumps any other hermeneutic (like OT influences or the like) and provides a better perception of the Johannine literature.

    Does he provide any warrant why his rendering is more comprehensive (than any others) Dr. Emerson?

    • Michael,
      Yes I completely agree. Thus far he has provided no evidence that John intended to allude to Greek theatrical or rhetorical works or that he was at the very least influenced by it during his education. Nor does he intend to demonstrate either of those things, but only wants to show the “cash value” of reading John through those lenses.

      I’m quite skeptical of the validity of such an approach.


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