Convinced of the essentially inclusive nature of Johannine discipleship and of a discipleship that "incorporates difference" (1) Beirne aligns herself with a new stage of feminist biblical interpretation. She perceives in the literary and theological development of the Fourth Gospel a "consistent balancing of female and male" (21) characters. Among the relatively few studies that include both women and men (2,n.4) she follows the lead of T.K. Seim, The Double Message: Patterns of Gender in Luke/Acts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), and "Searching for the Silver Coin," Bible Review 42, 1997. Focusing on "gender patterns"of interaction between the presentation of women and the presentation of men, she finds them consistently portrayed in literary and theological "partnership." Examples of this partnership reveal a parallel literary structure (20-5). Gender pairs of disciples are portrayed as catalysts for Jesus' self-revelation that draws the reader to a more authentic faith (26). The Johannine community is characterized by "a profound interior life of ... indwelling" expressed in mutual service in a community structured as a "circle of love"; there is no "pyramid of authority" (37-8).
Beirne analyzes six gender pairs. The Mother of Jesus at the Cana wedding (2:1-12) and the Royal Official at Cana (4:46-54) although not presented in immediate narrative sequence their stories do frame a literary unit. Each character demonstrates exemplary faith in the face of an urgent problem, faith that inspires a "sign" on Jesus' part in which they experience his "glory." Nicodemus (3:1-12) and the Samaritan Woman (4:7-30) are both led on a journey out of "darkness into light," albeit a much longer journey for Nicodemus. The Man Born Blind (9:1-41), and Jesus' dialogue with Martha (11:1-54) sustain an internal parallel structure of common themes and imagery (106) as well as parallel stages in coming to believe (e.g. 11:37). The narratives form, moreover, a structural and thematic unit around the story of the Good Shepherd (10:1-42).
In Mary of Bethany (11:2,45; 12:1-8; 13:20) and Judas one sees examples of true discipleship and false discipleship in parallel structure. Mary participated in the supper at Bethany with Jesus and the family he loved; Judas at the Passover supper with those whom Jesus loved. Mary introduces the passion narrative and ultimate glorification of Jesus by a symbolic anointing for burial; Judas conspires in the plot to kill him (6:64,70-71; 12:4; 13:2,11, 26-7; 18:2,5; 21:20) Whereas Judas, "a shadowy figure," walks away from the light, Nicodemus comes into the light. A true disciple he completes Mary's symbolic gesture, anointing Jesus' body for burial.
The Mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple (19:25-30) are presented as equal partners in a single scene, primary witnesses to the 'hour' of Jesus' glorification, the theological and literary climax of the Fourth Gospel. Jesus "sees" (19:26-7) and addresses "his own" as woman...son... mother. In so doing he commissions a "discipleship of equals" (192-3). Transferring his mission and pouring forth the Spirit upon his mother and the Beloved Disciple he returns to the glory of the Father (17.5) (183-5). The mother "moves into the public arena," (191) to his home (19:27) whence the gender partners continue Jesus' mission to draw all people to himself (12:32). Beirne concludes the chapter with a citation from Scott (1992) appealing for mutual acceptance among male and female disciples.
In the Resurrection Narratives Mary Magdalene (20:1,11-18) and Thomas (20:24-9) function as a gender pair (206-217) who act in narrative partnership. Their encounters with the risen Jesus illustrate the meaning of the resurrection and exemplify life-giving faith in Jesus (217). Their stories sustain a theme of faith in the risen Jesus and form a literary parallelism. (196-206)
Beirne's study is original, insightful and well informed. It is richly documented, an excellent source for bibliography. She relies on the work of Brown, Schnackenburg, Bultmann, Barrett, Schussler-Fiorenza, and more recent works of Moloney, Schneiders, Seim. Earlier British and French biblical scholars are well represented as are a broad spectrum of feminist writers. Her careful exegesis adheres rigorously to the text, and presumes some knowledge of New Testament Greek. At the same time, her interpretation is exceptionally sensitive to profound spiritual insights. Although somewhat encumbered by a dissertation format, this is a rewarding book.