Ph.D Dissertation Summary in English: “The Nature and Function of Dialogue in the Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50)”

Posted: August 7, 2015 in General

AcademiaSome friends requested me a summary of my Ph.D Dissertation (that was defended on 19th June 2014 @ Radboud University Nijmegen, Holland). Herewith I publish the English version of the ‘Summary.’ My Promoter was Prof. Jan G. van der Watt.

[[The primary aim of this dissertation is to analyze and identify the nature and function of dialogue in the Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50). Though the Gospel of John is extensively studied, a comprehensive treatment of its dialogue, i.e., within the framework of narratives and in relation to monologues and other literary genres, has not been adequately explored by scholars. This specific context necessitates a genre analysis of John’s dialogue. Questions such as ‘how does John use the literary genre called dialogue?’ ‘what is the central idea that governs the dialogue?’ ‘what type of information is conveyed through them?’ ‘how are they structured?’ ‘what are their peculiar literary characteristics?’ and ‘what is their theological/rhetorical function?’ are extensively treated and evaluated within the present study. Moreover, other hypothetical questions like ‘how are the self-revelatory aspects conveyed through the dialogues?’ ‘what are the ways exchanges/episodes function within the narrative framework?’ ‘how do the content, form, and function contribute to the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic levels?’  ‘how are dialogues involved in expressing the aspects of the Johannine community?’ and ‘how is Johannine dialogue related to or different from other dialogues of the time?’ are also treated here. In this study, our focus is on the Book of Signs in which the reader identifies a great deal of dialogue in comparison to the latter half of the gospel. The layers such as the dialogue among the characters of the story and the dialogue between the narrator and the reader have a significant place and are closely examined. Through this study, the hermeneutical interests and insights of the dialogue and its interpretative significance are brought to the forefront.

In Part One, the following things are outlined. First, it introduces the rationale, aim, and task of the dissertation, where the primary questions of the thesis, as mentioned above, are introduced. Second, it attempts to review some of the works related to dialogue by scholars such as Bultmann, Strachan, Dodd, Brown, and others. The review is designed to show that the previous studies either lack breadth or depth. Third, the methodological aspects of the research are stated with an intention of filling the gaps that are obvious in the previous works. Fourth, the use of dialogue as a literary genre before and during the time of John (i.e., religious and philosophical, and OT and Synoptic traditions) is brought to the fore in order to state that dialogue was a well-established genre in John’s thought-world. A proposed definition of dialogue in John and the plan of the research bring to a close Part One of the study.

In Part Two, the Book of Signs (1:19-12:50) is analyzed genre-critically. The use of a problem-oriented approach in order to discern the nature and function of dialogue provides extensive results. In the analysis, we are able to show that the first half of the gospel is divided into thirteen episodes (i.e., 1:19-2:11; 2:13-22; 3:1-21; 3:22-36; 4:1-42; 4:43-54; 5:1-47; 6:1-71; 7:1-52/8:12-59; 9:1-10:21; 10:22-42; 11:1-54; and 11:55-12:50) and those episodes are composed of several exchanges and sub-exchanges. The genre-theories of David Hellholm and David Aune are applied to the Johannine text in order to show the development of dialogue in relation to other literary genres within the narrative framework of the gospel. The elaboration of settings at the beginning of each episode provides dramatic appeal to the storyline. The content, form, and function analysis of the utterance, exchange, and episode units provide us with the important details concerning the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic levels of the dialogue. While at the micro-level the utterance and exchange dynamics are explained, at the meso-level we assess how the utterance and exchange units contribute to the development of the individual episodes. In our analysis, we also identify the way episodes are stitched together to present the story with suspense and surprise. Along with other aspects, the attempt of the narrator to engage the reader, through the medium of character-dialogue, is made conspicuous in the analysis of the text.

In Part Three, first of all, we go one step further to see the development of the dialogue at the macro-level of the Book of Signs. While Part Two focuses on the description of the dialogues, here we discuss the classification of the dialogue(s) at the micro- and meso-levels. This further helps us to come to an understanding of the dialogue at the macro-level (i.e., within the extended framework of 1:19-12:50). We discuss the exchange and episode development and some of the significant features of Johannine dialogue at the outset. Then, we examine the signs and ‘I am’ sayings in relation to the subject matter, the genre elements such as content, form, and function, the Johannine community aspects, and the contribution of the dialogue at the macro-level of the Book of Signs. The discussion is conducted with the help of several literary critical tools and with the help of classical (i.e., ANE and the Greco-Roman world) sources. As a result, the study helps us to identify the distinctive features of dialogue in the Book of Signs. Part Three also contains the concluding remarks, where we pinpoint the significant features or insights that are the results of this study. The aspects such as the characterisation, point of view, plot structure, dramatic aspects, thematic development, and theological contribution are discussed in summary fashion at this point. Following the concluding remarks, suggestions for further study are offered. The study as a whole confirms that the questions raised at the beginning are adequately addressed.]]

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

  1. ponnvandu says:

    A fascinating abstract. Will it be possible to get a copy of your complete dissertation (English)?

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