Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
FM 16:1 (Fall 1998) p. 118
The Discipleship Paradigm: Readers and Anonymous Characters in the Fourth Gospel by David R. Beck. Biblical Interpretation Series 27. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1997. Pp. 173.
In The Discipleship Paradigm: Readers and Anonymous Characters in the Fourth Gospel, David Beck, currently associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, addresses the issue of anonymity in the Fourth Gospel. Although the work represents the fruit of Dr. Beck’s doctoral dissertation under D. Moody Smith, its final form is both concise and readable. Beck defines his terms carefully and systematically explains the narrative methods he is using, rather than taking for granted his readers’ familiarity with all these tools.
Beck’s primary approach to the question is through the tools of narrative analysis. In the introduction to his work, Beck provides useful principles for analyzing characters in general and those in the Fourth Gospel in particular; he provides a fair and unbiased presentation of various views on the subject. His second chapter, devoted to the analysis of character, provides a carefully nuanced introduction to narrative analysis from which all readers unfamiliar with the discipline’s leading voices and themes will learn a great deal. It is, however, in his subsequent chapters that Beck takes us deeper into a question which his predecessors have not adequately explored, namely the function of anonymity in John’s Gospel. After some helpful comparisons, in chapter 3 Beck concludes that this Gospel uses anonymous characters differently than most other works. He then begins examining the anonymous characters, providing many helpful insights.
Through examining the responses to Jesus among each of the anonymous characters, Beck recognizes a pattern for discipleship that applies consistently to each of them. Starting with Jesus’ mother, these characters believe Jesus’ word without a sign and without witnesses for it. He argues that anonymity in this Gospel facilitates reader identification with the anonymous characters, hence constitutes an invitation to participate in their pattern of discipleship, which involves faith without a sign, as well as witness.
This pattern applies above all to the beloved disciple, hence contributes to our understanding of his role. Beck rightly accepts the Gospel’s claim to be the voice of an eyewitness (p. 6), and though he focuses on the function of the beloved disciple’s anonymity in the text, he does not deny that the first readers may have had extratextual knowledge of who the author was (p. 9). The point is thus not that the disciple is anonymous because he is unknown, but rather that
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