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Lazarus, Mary and Martha: Social-Scientific Approaches to the Gospel of John [Paperback]

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Item Number 51284  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   201
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.5" Width: 5.58" Height: 0.5"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 1, 2006
ISBN  0800638301  
EAN  9780800638306  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
What social identity theory actually means, how it works, and how it applies to John's Gospel. How the authors ecclesiological reading of the Lazarus story finds confirmation in the catacomb art from Rome.

Publishers Description
Using social identity theory, Esler and Piper set out what social identity theory actually means, how it works, and how it applies to John's Gospel. They then show how their ecclesiological reading of the Lazarus story finds confirmation in the catacomb art from Rome. The book includes four pages of full-color illustrations from the catacombs and concludes by setting out some of the theological dimensions of the investigation, and ultimately provides fresh theological insight into this New Testament text.

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More About Philip Francis Esler & Ronald Allen Piper

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
John's three heroes  Aug 4, 2006
Esler and Piper raise intriguing questions about the role of gospel heroes and their relevance in the modern age. The heroes in question are Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, whom we are to understand as prototypes for Christian believers in John's gospel (Jn 11:1-12:11). Against scholars who insist that the raising of Lazarus primarily prefigures Jesus' own resurrection, the authors favor soteriology over Christology. It's not always easy to separate the two, but the former wins out by a long shot in this case. As the authors put it:

"In the context of the Lazarus narrative the phrasing 'I am the resurrection *and the life*' is not just saying something about Jesus. Its main point is to say something remarkably specific relating to the fears about believers who have died."

Confirmation of this comes from Roman catacomb frescoes and sarcophagi dating to the third century. These artistic representations of Jesus are valuable, say the authors, because they represent a common point of view more than that of elites and theologians. By this time the Christian tradition had become suffused with pagan elements, the most notable one being Jesus depicted as using a wand to raise Lazarus. Whether Jesus had become assimilated into a magician or god, the salient point is that he was understood primarily as one who raised other people (with a wand) -- something that has nothing to do with his own resurrection through the agency of God.

The book's major contribution lies in its use of social identity theory to understand prototypes (Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, in this case) and the manipulation of collective memory. Too often in honor-shame cultures the past becomes a battleground as religious sects compete and claim ownership of heroes (whether real or fictional) for support of their vision. Just as Paul used Abraham to redefine what it meant to be an heir to salvation, so John uses three characters -- Lazarus, Mary, and Martha -- to redefine what it means to be true followers of Christ, over against other (synoptic) understandings.

In the authors' view, "it is difficult to understate the significance of John taking the tradition of a woman, whose very name was unknown, who anointed Jesus shortly before his death (Mk 14:3-9/Mt 26:6-13; cf. Lk 7:36-50), and identifying this woman with Mary". Indeed, Jn 11:2 represents "an audacious attempt by the evangelist to rework the collective memory of the Christ-movement". John evidently saw the unnamed woman's anointing of Jesus as a powerful tool that he could re-use for his purposes stressing devotion and care in grim domestic settings. Mary becomes as much a prototype (representing care and devotion) as Lazarus (representing the fate of believers).

The book concludes by asking how the heroes may continue to function as prototypes for modern believers. Esler and Piper see the raising of Lazarus more a sign of divine love than victory over death, offering the reassurance of care and support in Christian households. John had little use for the new heaven-and-earth anticipated by Paul and the synoptic writers, thinking more in terms of a new "house" (Jn 14:2-3) -- and that's exactly what is prefigured in the account of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (Jn 11:1-12:11). "The imagined future stresses care and support (and in a domestic context) more than victory".

The authors even suggest that a revival of house churches may be in order, especially in a world where many of us have lost direct experience of death (as the corpses of loved ones are immediately whisked away to mortuaries and the crematorium). I agree that something has been lost here. We have become increasingly screened from the natural process of death, and a "mystery" is muted as a result. But at the same time I should be honest: I'm rather comfortable being shielded this way in my modern lifestyle. Maybe that's part of the problem.

This is the best book to date dealing with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. There's something about a Philip Esler book that makes it impossible to put down. I don't know what his trick is, but he's got some failsafe -- you just have to keep turning the pages. That reflects well on Piper too (though I have to read more of him). For whatever my opinion is worth as an infidel, the way these authors bridge historical criticism and modern theology represents the best approach I'm aware of.

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