In December 2008, I had an article come out on the Gospel of John:
‘A Man of No Reputation: Jesus and Ascribed Honor in the Gospel of John’, Ashland Theological Journal 40 (2008): 43-59.
Though I am no Johannine expert, I had read Jerome Neyrey’s work on honor and shame in Matthew and Luke. I thought to myself, when it comes to ascribed honor, it seems like a lot of the features in Matt and Luke are absent from John. For those that don’t know, there are generally two kinds of honor in the ancient world – achieved and ascribed. Achieved is when one gains honor for himself or herself by good teaching, earning wealth, virtuous deeds, etc… Ascribed honor happens passively, by birth place, inherited wealth, lineage, physical appearance (height, ‘natural beauty’), and so forth.
It occurred to me – John’s Gospel seems to ignore or eliminate many if not all the details of Jesus’ ascribed honor from a worldly standpoint. Could this have at least something to do with the absence of the birth narrative? I mean for the article to be suggestive- again, I am no expert. I think, though, when we compare John to Matthew and Luke, there seems to be (of course) intentionality in his portrayal of Jesus that is quite a bit different.
So what? Well, I think this means something about how we approach things like pedigree, wealth, where someone is from, etc… It has real value in terms of our own tendencies to put the emphasis on ascribed versus achieved honor (think about how we admire very well-born, but very ignoble celebrities!). In the end, I also make a connection to the Isaianic prediction that the Suffering Servant would be a ‘man of no reputation’ – one without ascribed honor, if you will.
In its own context, ‘John’ may have done this as a way of communicating to his readers that, whatever their own background, they can emulate their Messiah and glorify him. If Burridge is right that a bios was, in part, an encouragement to imitate the hero, this suppression of Jesus’ ascribed honor would make it all the easier to be (in achieved honor) like the one who was honorable in deed. Again, though, reflecting on the rhetorical purpose of this move by John is more difficult than simply cataloging and describing how he underplays Jesus’ ascribed honor.
So, order your copy of Ashland Theological Journal today! :)