The Prologue of the Gospel of John: Abstract Theology or Jewish-Christian Polemic?
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The Gospel of John, a late first-century Christian text, has generated much debate over the centuries because of its use of language and concepts that suggest both Jewish and Hellenistic origin. Hellenism refers to the dominant Greek milieu that existed throughout the Mediterranean from the late fourth century B.C.E. onward; it has had a complex role in the subsequent Western imagination, representing rationality, truth, fortitude, progress, enlightenment, and civilization. Biblical scholarship since the late nineteenth century, especially, has tended to pit a more 'sophisticated' Greek culture against a primitive, inflexible Judaism in its reconstructions of the period. My research focused on John's Prologue, the first eighteen verses, in light of Hellenistic and Jewish influence. In studying the history behind the Prologue's vocabulary, I discovered that Jewish authors often related to Greek audiences by identifying Hellenistic values, concepts and narratives within Judaism. This served not only to make the Jewish way of life more acceptable to the wider Hellenistic world, but also to represent it as superior by virtue of its antiquity and adaptability. The Prologue employs the same kind of polemic: it confidently asserts a Judeo-Christian worldview, subverting other ideologies by appropriating Greek philosophical terms and identifying them with Jesus and the Judeo-Christian god. This analysis gave me new perspective on how Jews both incorporated and undermined Hellenistic thought, and the way in which Christians used this rhetorical strategy for their own purposes.