This brief volume in the Faith and Scholarship Colloquies series is a collection of five papers by well-established scholars sharing their discoveries and insights on the wisdom traditions in Judaism and earliest Christianity, especially the Gospel of John.
This book is interesting, but not because it coheres in any substantial way as a sketch of each scholar's contribution will indicate. Roland Murphy leads off by examining "Israel's Wisdom Tradition: Dialogue between the Sages" focusing on the varied ways that Israel's sages sought to understand sin and suffering, wrongdoing and punishment. In his paper "Wisdom Finds a Home: Torah as Wisdom," Peter Schafer points out that the association of wisdom, Torah and Israel found in biblical literature was continued later in the thought of the Rabbinic sages. Peder Borgen explores how several themes and passages in the Gospel of John are understandable when read in the light of Philo of Alexandria. D. Moody Smith's contribution "John and the Synoptics: Historical Tradition and the Passion Narrative" is a careful comparison of John's Passion Narrative with those of the Synoptics, particularly the Gospel of Mark. Charlesworth argues that both apocalyptic thought and the Jewish wisdom traditions definitively influenced the author of the Fourth Gospel.
Indices and a Selected Bibliography compiled by Michael Daise round out the volume. The essays by Borgen, Smith, and Charlesworth are particularly to be recommended to anyone interested in the Fourth Gospel. Borgen's comparison of Philo and the Gospel of John, which was begun by C. H. Dodd, breaks new ground in the ongoing project of interpreting this gospel. Dodd had compared Philo and John's ideas and outlook while Borgen is interested in John and Philo as exegetes of the Hebrew Scriptures. He notes eleven points of similarity and dissimilarity between then and shows how Philo's exegesis of Genesis and Exodus illuminates a number of puzzling passages in John's Gospel.
Smith does not deal with wisdom, the central theme of this colloquy. He is concerned instead with the historical traditions behind the gospels and whether the Fourth Gospel draws on independent traditions for its Passion Narrative. He concludes that whether or not John knew the Synoptics, it is clear that in many instances he used alternative versions of the accounts found in the Synoptics. He suggests that we should be open to the possibility that where John differs from the Synoptics, if the differences do not serve John's theological agenda, they may derive from old traditions and perhaps even historical facts. There is no reason to consider these traditions historically less reliable than the traditions found in the Synoptics, indeed some give the appearance of greater historical probability.
Charlesworth's essay on "Lady Wisdom and Johannine Christology," the longest in the book, not surprisingly stays closer to the central theme of this volume and provides the most thorough comparison between Jewish wisdom traditions and the Gospel of John although some of the analogies seem a bit superficial. Charlesworth maintains that the Christology of the Fourth Gospel was shaped by many aspects of Jewish theology, one of the most prominent of which was wisdom theology. He argues that the apocalypticism of the early edition of John was later modified and enriched by speculation on Jesus as the Wisdom of God.
While Charlesworth points to some common threads that shape these studies, their independence emerges more strongly than their commonality. Because the authors do not dialogue with one another or engage precisely the same subject matter each contribution in this collection must be read separately. An exception is Schafer's exposition of Rabbinic exegesis which sheds light on the exegesis of Philo and that of the author of the Fourth Gospel which are discussed in Borgen's article. Nevertheless readers of these studies will find them, just as Charlesworth hoped, "seminal and thought provoking." Walter Harrelson's assessment is well put "The book offers challenge and illumination for the mind as it feeds the spirit...."