Three Book Reviews: Dialogue in the Book of Signs—A Polyvalent Analysis of John 1:19-12:50 (Leiden/Boston: E. J. Brill, 2015)

Posted: January 3, 2018 in General

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Review One: “Scholarly and well-researched—an essential reading in Johannine studies”

The book Dialogue in the Book of Signs by Johnson Thomaskutty concerns itself with the study of dialogue as a literary category in the Book of Signs. The book predominantly uses a synchronic approach but does not distance itself from the questions of authorship and other “historical” aspects. The study mainly focuses on a fairly “empty spot”—the study of dialogue and its literary and theological significance in the Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50). The beauty of the book lies in its methodology. With a tri-partite layer of structural analysis combined with a deeply informed and intuitively discussed scholarship of the literary text, Thomaskutty shows that through a discussion regarding the literary category called “dialogue” many new insights in the Gospel of John are possible. His tri-partite methodology consists of a micro, meso and macro analyses of the text that slots the text into various frames that have their structures and gives a detailed analysis of the function as well as nature of the dialogue in these frames. The categories or exchange units that comprises of the dialogue are analyzed individually (micro), in relation to each other (meso) and as a whole (macro).

While constructing these frames, he uses many established scholars in a manner that not only explains their textual categorizations but also inter-reflects within their views to bring out clarity and a sound understanding of the text itself. This work champions the literary critical methods and sets a literary paradigm for studying Johannine literature as dialogue. This paradigmatic understanding is achieved also on the level of the relationship of “dialogue” with the other literary genres found in the text like the ‘I AM sayings’ or the uses of metaphors as well as Platonic and Aristotelian forms of dialogue. Studying dialogue as genre in the gospel as well as its rhetoric in unfolding a drama for the reader, Thomaskutty unearths insights in the content, form and function of the dialogue in the Book of Signs. Thus he calls this multifaceted approach to the study of the Book of Signs as polyvalent analysis, due to the incorporation of multivalent methodological frameworks in his analysis of the text. He has thus achieved a multidimensional literary reading of the Fourth Gospel. The purpose of the entire book is deeply ingrained in the assumption that the phenomena of the text take place between the narrator and the reader. Hence by analyzing ‘dialogue’ in the Book of Signs, Thomaskutty pursues to clarify, augment and amplify the relationship between the narrator and the reader which is accomplished through the means of a final tool that he calls as the ‘rhetorical thrust.’

In conclusion, this book is, in its own unique way, enlightening for students of theology interested in the scholarship of Johannine studies as well as for the ongoing discussions regarding dialogue in Johannine literature.

-by Rohan Abraham

Review Two: “I would highly recommend this book for all those engaged in serious Johannine studies”

Dialogue in the book of Signs is a thoroughly researched and well-written book. In methodology, it is mostly synchronic and at the same time multifaceted. In the Johannine scholarship, the Fourth Gospel’s dialogue has not been treated as a literary genre but rather considered as part of its narration. In his title, Johnson Thomaskutty pays exclusive focus on the study of John’s dialogue arguing that it is a literary genre the author/narrator of the Fourth Gospel uses within its narrative framework. The method that Thomaskutty uses is of polyvalent nature having literary, genre and narrative critical analyses merged with description and classification and analytic and synthetic methods. Using this multivalent approach, he analyzes the varied layers of Johannine dialogue providing setting, form, content, and function of each dialogue within the first twelve chapters of the Fourth Gospel.

Thomaskutty analyzes dialogue at three levels. First, at the micro-level, he discusses the individual utterances of the interlocutors and their dynamic interwovenness and function. It is analyzed alongside the narrative annals of the Fourth Gospel and within the master plan of the exchange units. Second, at the meso-level, he analyzes how each exchange units coherently relate to one another and how they together form the episodes. Finally, at the macro-level, he considers the entire Book of Signs as a ‘single literally whole’ and demonstrates the holistic features of the dialogue. In that process, a dual-layered analysis of the dialogue is elaborated: first, between the characters within the story; and second, between the author/narrator and reader within and beyond the narrative framework. On the one hand, Thomaskutty draws reminiscences between Platonic/Aristotelian and Johannine dialogues, and on the other hand, he brings out the uniqueness of the Johannine dialogue as a unique literary genre and a rhetorical category. At the macro-level, Thomaskutty also expounds the role of the dialogue alongside of other literary elements found within the text.

I would highly recommend this book for all those engaged in serious Johannine scholarship. In the words of Alan Culpepper: “Thomaskutty’s extensive research, eclectic methodology, expanded focus on the functions of dialogue in multiple narrative relationships, and his sheer industry and attention to detail will establish this volume as an important resource for the ongoing study of the role of dialogue within the Fourth Gospel.” I am in total agreement with what Culpepper recapitulates above.

-by Arnon Christian

Review Three: “Great insights through a well-written monograph”

Johnson Thomaskutty’s monograph entitled Dialogue in the Book of Signs (Brill, 2015) is a seriously researched and richly thought-provocative work using a wide range of literary critical methodologies. Focusing chiefly on the use of a polyvalent approach in the Book of Signs, the title makes an extensive terrain in its contribution on dialogue in the Johannine scholarship. Moreover, the book, through the incorporation of a multivalent methodology, helps us in understanding the overall content and rhetorical thrust of the Book of Signs.

Thomaskutty has skillfully brought out the Johannine phenomenon of dialogue at three levels. At the micro-level, the book discusses the dynamics of the individual utterances and their interconnection and role within the narrative framework. It exquisitely brings out on how the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic aspects of dialogue dynamically aligned within the exchange units. At the meso-level, it analyses how the exchange units are stitched together and how they together form the episodes. At the macro-level, it describes the holistic feature of the dialogue within the Book of Signs.

Thomaskutty has also very well brought out on how dialogue establishes polyvalent connections with some of the other narrative elements such as signs, “I am” sayings, metaphors and dramatic movements in addition to its parallelism with the Platonic and Aristotelian dialogues. Overall, Thomaskutty has pretty well done and brought out a broad and comprehensive understanding of the dialogue within the Book of Signs. He has provided us a monograph which significantly develops our understanding on dialogue and in this way serves and illuminates an abnegated area within John’s Gospel from a polyvalent approach and it provides avenues for further research and study.

-by Akumtila Jamir

See the links here:

(1) Brill site; (2) Amazon; (3) Google Books; (4) World Cat;

(5) eBay; (6) Interview-I; (7) Interview-II

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