The Roman Empire And John’s Passion Narrative In Light Of Jewish Royal Messianism -- By: Mavis M. Leung

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 168:672 (Oct 2011)
Article: The Roman Empire And John’s Passion Narrative In Light Of Jewish Royal Messianism
Author: Mavis M. Leung


The Roman Empire And John’s Passion Narrative In Light Of Jewish Royal Messianism

Mavis M. Leung

Mavis M. Leung is Assistant Professor of New Testament, Evangel Seminary, Hong Kong.

Johannine scholars are increasingly interested in interpreting the Fourth Gospel within the Roman imperial context. A number of recent publications emphasize that John’s portrayal of Jesus as king is politically subversive, and they point out that this portrayal endeavors to confront Roman imperial ideology. Richey argues that “on both a structural and a lexical level, the final redactor(s) of the Fourth Gospel made a conscious effort to address issues raised for the Johannine community by the Augustan ideology.”1 Carter asserts that “John’s Gospel with its ‘rhetoric of distance’ is a text of imperial negotiation.”2 And Thatcher contends that “imperial terms and images were foundational to John’s Christology, and that his thinking about Christ was always informed by the premise that Jesus is greater than Caesar.”3 These three studies, published in the last few years, witness to a growing scholarly interest in John’s political perspective and the critical role of Roman imperial ideology as a key to understanding Johannine Christology.

Without denying the insights offered by the imperial approach to John’s royal Christology, a correct construal of the Johannine

kingship motif must give due weight to the stated intent of the Fourth Gospel, namely, to induce faith in Jesus as “the Christ,” that is, the Messiah (20:31). In this Gospel the majority of kingship terms (e.g., βασιλεύς and βασιλεία) are in the trial and crucifixion accounts (18:33, 36 [three times], 37 [two times], 39; 19:3, 12, 14, 15 [two times], 19, 21 [two times]), accounts that exhibit sundry points of contact with Rome. Given John’s explicit concern about Jesus’ messianic identity, it is reasonable to suppose that these contact points serve primarily a royal messianic purpose. This article seeks to demonstrate that the Johannine passion narrative’s thematic and conceptual resonances with Roman imperial ideology serve to enhance the Christological depiction of the universal Messiah-King. By accentuating the universality of Jesus’ kingship, these royal resonances reinforce the Johannine claim that the crucified Jesus is Israel’s Messiah-King. The following sections survey biblical and postbiblical Jewish texts in which the royal M...

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