The following review first appeared in Scripture Bulletin 28/1 (January 1998), pp. 48-9. It is reproduced here with permission.
John Ashton (ed.), The Interpretation of John (Second Edition; Studies in New Testament Interpretation; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997) pp. xiv + 329 ISBN: 0-567-08546-5
The first edition of The Interpretation of John, edited by John Ashton and published in 1986 in the Studies in New Testament Interpretation series (SPCK / Fortress), was a fine collection of articles on the Fourth Gospel, most of them dating from the 1960s and early 1970s, described as "an exceptionally fertile period for Johannine scholarship" (p. 1). All the articles presupposed that historical criticism is the route to recovering the meaning of the Fourth Gospel. "All to a greater or lesser extent intermingle history and exegesis" (p. 24).
But in this second edition, published just over a decade after the first, five fresh articles are added, four of which do not make the same assumption. "Varied as they are," Ashton says, all adopt an approach to the Gospel which at its most extreme "veers away sharply and wilfully from the time-honoured methods of historical criticism by insisting on the need to take a synchronic as opposed to a diachronic view of the Gospel" (p. 1). One cannot help detecting some coolness here towards the new "often misleadingly labelled 'literary'" approach (p. 1). Ashton's heart is still with Bultmann, Bühner, Dahl and Meeks, whose articles stand out as proud monuments in a collection that now has a strange profile.
The new articles, though, are well chosen, highly varied samples of New Testament scholarship in the 1990s. Each provides a good introduction to different contemporary approaches and a useful taster of their key practitioners at work, Francis Moloney with some nuanced reader-response criticism, Mark Stibbe with a structuralist approach, Sandra Schneiders with a feminist hermeneutic and Stephen Moore on "Deconstruction, Feminism and the Samaritan Woman". Moore's is undoubtedly the finest of the new articles. "She," says Moore of the Samaritan woman, "has insisted in effect, that earthly and heavenly, flesh and Spirit, figurative and literal, are symbiotically related categories: each drinks endlessly of the other, and so each is endlessly contaminated by the other. To draw a clear line between them, as Jesus attempts to do, is no more effective than drawing a line on water" (pp. 292-3).
Although there is no real segue from the last of the original collection's articles (Bühner's, from 1977) and the first of the new ones (Moloney's, from 1992), the volume appropriately concludes with M. C. de Boer's "Narrative Criticism, Historical Criticism, and the Gospel of John", a good introduction for those unfamiliar with narrative criticism, distinguishing it from reader-response and criticising the latter where it eschews historical criticism. De Boer has, no doubt, been saved until the end for a reason -- the volume (appropriately from Ashton's point of view) ends with de Boer's pronouncement subordinating narrative criticism by making it (at best) the hand-maiden for historical work, "There is no reason, it seems, why narrative criticism cannot be another useful tool in the repertoire of the historical critic. For the historical critic, however, the real work of interpretation has only begun when the work of the narrative critic is finished." (p. 309).
This is a collection that is worth owning, especially if one does not have the first edition. Wayne Meeks's article "The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism" is seminal. Add to this Bultmann, Bühner, Dahl and Martyn, Ashton's two introductions and the taste of the latest in New Testament studies, and this is a very good buy.
University of Birmingham